July 28, 2017

How to Find a Used Car on Craigslist

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Internet Sites

This How-To will teach you how to find a used car on Craigslist in 5 simple steps. Following these steps you will be able to find on Craigslist Cars for Sale a car that matches your preferences in any of the hundreds of regions covered by Craigslist worldwide. Whatever type of car or truck you’re looking for, be it low mileage, below a certain price, a specific make and model and/or model year, this How-To will show you how to search Craigslist easily and quickly for your next vehicle. You’ll even learn how to exclude cars, if for example you want to make sure the ads you find do not include any orange cars. If you prefer a new car, be sure to read How to Find a New Car on Craigslist.

The above video shows a test drive of a 2011 Porsche 911 GT2 RS, with race driver Walter Rohrl putting the car through its paces. A similar 2011 Porsche 911 was posted for sale on the Orange County Craigslist pages on September 18, 2010, listed at $169,700. While you may not be in the market for such a high end car, the steps below will show you how to easily find ads for the kind of car you want.

Craigslist, one of the top ten highest-ranked English language websites in the world, is a community-moderated online classified ad service. In addition to its classified ads, Craigslist provides over a hundred topical forums [1]. Craigslist classifieds include personals ads, housing rental ads, houses for sale, help wanted ads, textbooks for sale, etc. You can even find stuff on Craigslist that people are giving away free of charge. Craigslist has over 700 regional pages, including more than 70 countries. The site serves over 20 billion page views monthly to more than 50 million US users, and many more users overseas. Each month, on average, more than 50 million new ads are posted on the site. In addition, Craigslist forums include more than 120 million postings [1].

The Craigslist Terms of Use clearly decline any liability for the ads posted by users, their content, or the results a user gets from either posting an ad or responding to an ad [2]. While the overwhelming majority of Craigslist users will genuinely follow through on what they post, or what they agree to when responding to a post, there are the inevitable bad apples out there who will try to scam and cheat legitimate users. To protect yourself, read How To Avoid Craigslist Scams, as well as the Craigslist advice on avoiding scams on the site [3]. Since on rare occasions Craigslist users have been robbed, or even suffered personal injury or death, you should make sure to read and follow the site’s guidelines on maintaining your personal safety when transacting business with other Craigslist users [4].

Step 1: Decide what kind of car do you want

As obvious as it may sound, before you start searching for your next car, you need to decide exactly what you’re looking for. You may be looking for a low-cost older model pickup, a lightly used low-mileage late model sedan, a large and powerful off-road vehicle like an H2 Hummer (see image below), or something else entirely. Whatever it is, your first step is to list the criteria for your next vehicle. Several helpful resources that can help you choose include the Consumer Reports annual cars report, which shows reliability and pricing information for a very wide variety of vehicles in separate tables based on the vehicle type. This report is available in the April Consumer Reports issue, or online [5]. Another great resource is the highly respected Edmunds.com website [6].

Late model H2 Hummer

In this image you see a late model H2 Hummer similar to a 2007 Hummer posted on the “cars for sale” section of the Washington DC Craigslist site on June 2, 2009 for $34,997. The image, taken in Maryland by Wikimedia Commons user IFCAR was released to the public domain. A high resolution version is available through http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hummer_H2_.jpg

Step 2: Decide where should the car be

With more than 700 regions covered by Craigslist, chances are you could find almost any car you’re looking for somewhere on Craigslist. However, if you’re in Alaska, finding a used car you’re interested in available in New York City would make it difficult for you to check out the car and get it home. Fortunately, Craigslist redirects you to the nearest regional page, based on where your IP address shows you to be located. If you’re surfing the web from your Anchorage home, it will take you to the Anchorage Craigslist site. However, if you’re visiting a friend in San Diego, you’ll need to type in the specific site address for Anchorage and then click on the link for the cars and trucks for sale to get to the car listings for your hometown [7].

Step 3: Use the Craigslist search tool to define your search

As an example, if you’re looking for a used, low-mileage Toyota Camry for under $20,000, want to make sure it’s not green, and prefer to deal with a dealership so your risk of being scammed or assaulted will be as close to zero as possible, you’d put together your search as follows. First, go to your local region cars and trucks for sale page. Next, enter into the search string area the following terms: Toyota Camry “low miles” –green. Then, in the block intended for maximum price, enter $20,000. Click the link “by dealer only”, and finally hit the search button. By putting a minus sign in front of the word “green” you’re telling the Craigslist search tool to exclude any ad in which the word “green” appears. The quotation marks surrounding the words “low miles” ensures that only ads where the two words appear next to each other will be returned. For more details on how to use the Craigslist search tool, see the relevant Craigslist help page [8]. Running this search recently in the Washington DC area returned 3 ads, with another 21 ads from nearby locations. The ads run from a $4995 1998 Camry V6 titled “1998 Toyota Camry V6 Great Car LOW MILES” to a 2006 5 speed Camry listing for $9,899 under the ad title “Low Miles 2006 Toyota Camry *Hot Car, 5SPD Manual”.

Step 4: Click on the ads you like

Of the list of links returned by the Craigslist search tool, click on whichever ad or ads you think may be your next car. This will open up the ad itself, where you can see who the seller is, the exact car model, the specs, asking price, photos, etc. depending what the seller posted. If you find the car attractive enough, go on to the fifth and final step.

Step 5: Buy the Car

To keep safe and avoid scams, contact the seller and set up a meeting in a public place at a time when others are likely to be there. If the seller is a dealership, you should be fine going there during business hours. When buying from a private party, you would be well advised to set up with your mechanic to meet the seller at the auto shop and have your mechanic look it over to ensure you’re not buying a car that’s on its last legs. Assuming the mechanic gives you a thumbs-up, and you decide to buy the car, make sure to take car of both the financial and ownership aspects of the transaction at the same time. You can go with the seller to the bank where he can witness your buying a cashier’s check for the agreed upon amount made our in his or her name. Then, the two of you can visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, or Motor Vehicle Administration, or whatever your state calls its agency responsible for vehicle registration and transfer ownership from the seller to you. While doing these things may take several hours that you’d rather spend some other way, it will help avoid the heartache and financial loss you’d suffer if you simply paid the seller, only to later find out the car was not his to sell, and the real owner takes it away from you.

Quick Tips

  1. The Craigslist search tool allows you to easily set up a customized search with terms, phrases, and even vetoed terms.

  2. Craigslist is not liable to you if an ad you respond to is a scam. As the buyer, it is your responsibility to verify take steps to avoid being scammed, and to set up the meeting with the seller someplace safe. Craigslist provides advice on avoiding scams [3], as well as safety tips [4].

  3. When buying a used car via Craigslist especially from an individual seller, make sure you see the car in person, and preferably have a trusted mechanic check it out for you. Verifying the title is transferred to your name before handing over the check is also a good way to reduce the risk of being scammed.


[1] http://www.craigslist.org/about/factsheet. [2] http://www.craigslist.org/about/terms.of.use [3] http://www.craigslist.org/about/scams [4] http://www.craigslist.org/about/safety [5] http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/used-cars/index.htm [6] http://www.edmunds.com/used-cars/ [7] http://anchorage.craigslist.org/cta/ [8] http://www.craigslist.org/about/help/search

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Series NavigationCraigslist Cars for Sale – a Huge Car MarketHow to Find a New Car on Craigslist

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