How to Buy a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed (2023)

If you are planning to buy a used car online from classified sites like Craigslist, you must know how to buy a car on Craigslist without getting scammed and what are the essential things to know when buying a car on Craigslist. Isn’t it?

People usually prefer to buy a second-hand or used car rather than buying a brand new one. Undoubtedly, it saves a lot of money buying a used car compared to a new one. However, certain risks also come with buying a used car.

how to buy a car on craigslist without getting scammed
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and images. I earn advertising/referral fees if you make a purchase by clicking them. There is no extra cost to you. See our full disclosure here. )

There are numerous online platforms available that allow buying or selling used cars. From all others, Craigslist is a well-known platform to look for used cars even though there are plenty of car scam cases on this platform.

With complete transparency, scammers still find a way to manipulate buyers and snatch the money. Therefore, people always feel skeptical when buying a used car online from free classified sites like Craigslist and that’s why they always ask; Is buying a car from Craigslist safe?

With all precautions, you don’t know where scammers are waiting for you with various scam techniques. Putting fake car ads and asking for advance payment, hiding internal damages, engine issues, and whatnot scammers do.

Talking specifically, the more famous Craigslist is, the more scammers have the chance to scam people on it.

If you are thinking about how to buy a car on Craigslist without getting scammed as a buyer then no matter what scams could be, this guide will assist you with the usual car scams on Craigslist and how to avoid them while buying a used car.

Is It Safe to Buy Cars on Craigslist?

Craigslist is undoubtedly the most famous online marketplace globally that works as an intermediary between sellers and buyers. However, before proceeding on this platform, a new user always thinks about it legitimacy.

Is Craigslist safe to buy a car?

Based on the user’s opinions, Craigslist is relatively safe to buy and sell cars, as numerous people interact on the platform and close their deals happily. However, it would be wise to be careful regarding security, handling money, and examining the car from a genuine seller.

Being a buyer, you must verify every car detail from sellers before buying. Always cross the internal damages, and question the seller in case of doubt.

Overall, you can safely buy a car from Craigslist while following a few precautions. Below you will find the things to know when buying a car on Craigslist and how not to get scammed on Craigslist as a buyer.

Do you know? What to Check When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller?

Types of Car Selling Scams on Craigslist:

Before you proceed to look for cars to buy, it would be essential to know what are the different types of car buying scams on Craigslist, right? Only then can you notice and carefully buy cars without getting scammed.

Undoubtedly, there are numerous car selling scams on Craigslist, yet, some are the most common that scammers often use, and you should be aware of them. A few of the most popular Craigslist car selling scams are:

Fake Ad

Perhaps the most common Craigslist car scam is using fake ads on Craigslist. Typically, scammers use images and similar texts from original ads and create fake ads. Eventually, there is no car, only just a scam. It’s simply an attempt to manipulate people and get cash.

In the majority of the cases, to target numerous audiences, a similar fake ad is spread to various cities. These fake ads consist of very low rates to grab buyers’ attention and will push buyers with every psychology tactic for advance payments.

If you are buying a car on Craigslist, try to identify fake ads, missing phone numbers, or email, or do a reverse image search to look at similar photos of cars on other ads.


It isn’t illegal to sell your car directly to the buyer or person rather than approaching a car dealer; for individuals who sell a specific number of cars in a year, the number could be different from one state to another, those individuals must be licensed by the government.

Perhaps, the term Curbstoning comes from the situation where individuals sell a particular number of cars without even licensed approval from the government.

If you are wondering, how does Craigslist car scam work?

Usually, these types of sellers bypass the law that car dealers should follow. It also ensures money back if anything is wrong with this car. But in the case of curbstone sellers, they are hard to find after the deal, which raises the scam alert.

Unrealistic Price

Craigslist car seller scams involve unrealistic prices, by which scammers use a psychological way to grab buyers’ attention. They probably understand the buyer’s behavior of going with the cheap deals.

To be more precise, scammers use the lower prices of cars than the usual market to manipulate the people. So, whenever you notice any unrealistic amount than you expected, this could be a scam you are looking at.

Most of the time, the prices are mentioned as 25% or 30% less from the market, even though a certain price amount such as $2,349 or something like this is also a scam.

A Too-Short Test Ride

Test drive is an ideal way to test the used car before buying it, and sellers also offer it for customer satisfaction. In Craigslist car selling scams, scammers allow a too-short test drive to buyers. Or, only allow test drives just throughout the specific block, with the very low-speed limit.

In fact, without the more practical driving situation, you will not have any idea to examine the driving condition of the car and whether the engine is well-maintained or not.

Therefore, always asking for a long and proper test drive is the best way of buying a car on Craigslist. Yet, if any seller rejects, it could be a scam.

Fake Escrow Services

Escrow services are reliable platforms to protect your money and allow you to receive or send it once your deal is completely closed. However, the Craigslist car scams also involved another way of fake escrow service.

Scammers usually snatch money from you without delivering the car. They usually use fake escrow services or platforms and manipulate the buyers to transfer the entire amount of the escrow service before delivering the car.

In fact, after getting payment from buyers, they probably break the contract.

The Little-By-Little Payment

Even for buying a car on Craigslist, it is slightly a big thing to pay full payment at the shipment time. However, most buyers pay it with full assurance and take the car’s delivery.

On the contrary, scammers post ads without the requirement of full payments, as it will trigger an alarm for buyers. This way, scammers will not be likely to get more buyers in their scams.

Instead, they’ll confuse the buyers by saying the car is heavy in demand, so they cannot offer less than ideal cost except if the buyer makes some down payment in a few installments.

In Craigslist car seller scams, fraudsters demand money in smaller amounts, so first, it’s a deposit, payment after that, and delivery.

The Sob Story

Using sob stories and emotionally forcing a buyer to buy is another type of trick that Craigslist car seller scams involve. There are several cases when sellers make deals by constraining buyers.

These sob stories often get personal and involve stories such as they wouldn’t be able to pay rent if a car doesn’t sell, or they are jobless and only an earning person in the family.

All these stories probably urge the buyers to settle the deal rapidly. So, whenever you hear some hard luck stories from sellers trying to play on sympathy, there are high chances that you are dealing with scammers.

Do you know? How to Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed

How to Buy a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed

Buying cars from Craigslist would not always turn into a bad experience, yet, numerous genuine sellers are offering the best deals to buyers worth spending on used cars. You must have got some common scam types that people often face from the information mentioned above.

Just for your safer side, there are certain things to know when buying a car on Craigslist that would help you close the best deal with genuine sellers. Below are some points that you must consider, and probably these would be your answer to the question, how to buy a used car on Craigslist safely.

Here we go:

Examine the Listing Carefully

Buying a car on Craigslist will bring you numerous options to choose from. Filter the search results to find what you want. Narrow down the search by searching for specific features and the budget you can afford.

Moreover, it is essential to go through the images of the car, and images are the best way to examine the car’s condition and exterior condition. After that, it would be ideal for cross-checking the complete details of the car mentioned by the dealer, including its condition and history.

Sometimes, images don’t always tell the whole story of a car. The listing usually contains information such as model number, year, and car manufacturer.

All these points would assist you in deciding which car to invest in. If possible, get a vehicle history report before paying for it while buying a used car on Craigslist.

Contact the Seller and Ask Important Questions

Always try to contact the seller and ask questions to buy a used car on Craigslist safely. Car ads always have phone numbers and emails of sellers. So, please get to know why they are selling the car.

As usual, people sell their old car to buy a new car or in case of urgency or shortage of money. Even though, for some, it might be even a business.

In any case, it is important to confirm whether their reasons are genuine. Also, make sure to get the history report of the maintenance record, insurance papers, and legal history. Ask for the price details and purchase agreement.

Questions to ask when buying a car on Craigslist can also include, “Which features do not work?” “Any accident records of the car?” ask about a test drive and vehicle inspection.

Run a VIN Check Through CARFAX

Checking a VIN is probably the essential process of buying a car off Craigslist. The car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) serves as the car’s fingerprint, which helps identify the code for a specific automobile.

VIN is composed of 17 characters. The first three characters are the world manufacturer identifier or WMI code, and it identifies the country of origin. You can get a complete free vehicle history report by VIN from the official website of free CARFAX report VIN check.

VIN provides you with all information about the car, including reported accidents, structural damage, ownership history, service history, and vehicle usage. These are important things to know when buying a car on Craigslist.

Know What the Car is Worth

Buyers always aim to get the best possible deal on a used car. Tips for buying a car on Craigslist is to check similar car ads on different online platforms.

Approach local dealers to know the exact value would be ideal. By doing so, you can also determine whether it’s worth buying by comparing the price on Craigslist with the prices from other dealers.

Do not forget to counter-offer. A private seller can be more flexible on the price as they would be selling their old vehicle to buy a new one, making negotiation more open and more effortless.

In simple terms, you can get the best value of your car by doing some homework and comparing different selling platforms locally and online as well. After all, in the end, it is your hard-earned money that you would be investing in buying a car on Craigslist.

Meet the Seller In-Person (But not alone)

It’s always best to meet the Seller in person to learn more about the car and the person selling it. Always choose daytime, a busy place and never go alone, take your friends or any family member to yourself.

Avoid meeting the seller at their home or deserted areas. It is recommended to check the car carefully, walk around the car, check engine and brake oil, and look at the car’s interiors.

One of the key tips for buying a car on Craigslist is to ask the seller to turn on the engine to check any weird sound while the ignition and any lags in acceleration.

Sometimes people post ads on Craigslist of the cars they do not own, and that’s why meeting in person is the safest way to buy something from someone online.

Test Drive the Car

Test driving is a crucial part of buying a car on Craigslist. An essential part of buying a car on Craigslist is testing it. Before you take a test drive, it would be wise to finalize the specifications and features you should have in the car.

Inspect things such as Hoses, tire tread, fluid levels, belts, and lights, including headlights, indicator lights, brake lights.

Check the comfortability of getting in and out of the car and the space between the front and back seats. Also, explore the dashboard, including radio, USB ports, and other functions.

For the test drive, take the car on a highway to examine the engine’s maximum capacity. Check the brakes and clutch pedal, whether they are working smoothly. You can also notice any sound coming from the engine or any other part.

Overall, a test drive would be ideal for buying a used car on Craigslist.

Bring a Mechanic with You to Inspect the Car

Buying a used car off Craigslist must involve a mechanic with you for a proper and detailed inspection. This helps you get the issues fixed by the owner before purchase or helps you negotiate the price.

A mechanic can easily and carefully inspect the car and even detect any issues in the engine or other internal parts of the car. This is the safest way of buying cars from Craigslist. Mechanics can also examine the elements of a car, such as mileage, tire condition, engine, battery, all the lights, and replaced or duplicate parts.

If you need to spend some dollars on hiring a mechanic for a few hours for a car inspection, it is the safest way of buying car on Craigslist with cash.

Request All the Appropriate Paperwork

Once you are done with the hard part of inspecting a car, it is time to verify and check the required Documents are an important aspect of any vehicle, so get all the paperwork done before buying a car from Craigslist.

Anyone can quickly understand if the seller is genuine by looking into the documents. The documents required include ID document, proof of residence, Original RC book, PUC certificate, Insurance certificate, Service book, Road tax receipt, No objection certificate, Clearance certificate, RTO forms 28,29,30,32 and 35.

Doing the required paperwork is the most important part of buying a car on Craigslist as it will be clear whether the Seller has ownership of the car or not.

Make Cash Payment Only

Buying a car on Craigslist with cash is the thumb rule, as some sellers prefer wire transactions. Perhaps paying in cash is considered the safest way to buy a car from Craigslist. Paying cash on one hand and taking delivery second hand is more simple, though.

But in the case of expensive cars, paying in cash doesn’t sound practical. Thus, sellers often ask for cheque payments. In such a case, scammers eventually make forged checks which could be risky for you.

In the best-case scenario, sellers usually meet the buyers at a bank to withdraw the money and hand it over to the Seller. Eventually, the bank is the safest spot to do these transactions and own the car. Once the payment is made, don’t forget to get the receipt. After the payment, the car would officially be yours.

Complete the Paperwork in a Safe Zone

Buying a car on Craigslist wouldn’t be complete until you get access safely and complete the paperwork. All you have to do is double-check the paperwork. Look for the original documents for the car’s history.

Check the service book and confirm that the original owner has paid all the taxes. Getting all the paperwork from the original owner is a vital process of buying a car off Craigslist.

The most important part, you may have to visit the DMV office to complete the process to own the car legally. You can register and transfer the car’s title to your name at the DMV office, thus showing the complete paperwork to the DMV and paying registration fees or application fees.

The car’s owner has to be transferred legally to you to prevent further issues while selling the car again.

Trust Your Instincts (Don’t Rush into a Deal)

While going on with final registration and ownership of the car, buyers are usually afraid whether they have made a good decision or not. So, the answer to the question of how to buy a car on Craigslist without getting scammed is to listen to your instincts.

In simple terms, listen to your feelings after examining all the factors of car and seller. If required, you can request the seller to cross-check and verify everything again for a final call. It is the wise and safest way to buy something from someone online.

You can invite your friend or family to back you up in such a situation. Indeed, never rush to close the deal and listen to your gut feelings.

You might also like: How to Check If My Car Has Extended Warranty (4 Methods)

10 Important Questions to Ask When Buying a Car on Craigslist

Buying a used car on Craigslist is quite a hectic task, but as you invest your hard-earned money, it is wise to invest some time inspecting the car. The seller has owned the car and eventually knows every detail about it. So, it would be wise to ask essential questions to verify everything.

And if you wonder what to ask when buying a car on Craigslist, below are some important questions to ask when buying a car off Craigslist that would clear your doubts. Let’s check them out:

Why are They Selling the Car?

How not to get scammed on Craigslist as a buyer would be simple from this question. You can get sufficient information from the seller by asking the exact reason for selling the car.

The reason could be that they want to upgrade their car, they could be looking for a big SUV for the family, or sometimes sellers are interested in buying new cars. However, if the seller gets tense with this question or hesitates to answer, be alert, as there might be some issues with the car.

From Where Did They Buy the Car?

It is one of the important questions to ask when buying a car off Craigslist. It is wise to know the source from where they buy the car. Whether they purchased it as brand new, traded in, or a demo from another dealer, the buying source would help you to proceed further.

Do They Properly Service the Car?

A car with an extended service limit could show certain issues within time. So ask the seller, the last time they went to the mechanic for service, request all the services records or receipt. It would be the best way to address your concern of how not to get scammed on Craigslist as a buyer.

What is the Mileage of the Car?

What to ask when buying a car on Craigslist also includes the question about Mileage. It is a vital factor if you are a daily driver. It is important to ask the seller about the Mileage.

They would give you a figure of Mileage in city areas, long highways, or on off-roading too. From this, you can decide if the mileage figure suits you and your needs.

Has the Car Been in Any Accidents?

Usually, car accidents are reported on its history report. However, it doesn’t always happen. So ask the seller about accident records. If there were any accidents, check which part was damaged or replaced. It will give you a clear picture.

What Features Work, and How are They Supposed To?

What feature works and how it could be is one of the vital questions to ask when buying a car on Craigslist. Used cars always have some issues with features, and the buyer usually expects all working features.

So, make sure to inquire sellers about which feature is not working and how it will be repaired. Malfunction of USB ports or music system could be acceptable, but issues with AC, windows controller, speakers would be a thing of concern.

Can You Take the Car to a Mechanic for Inspection?

How to not get scammed on Craigslist as a buyer is inspecting the car from a mechanic. A mechanic better understands if anything is wrong with a car’s engine or other parts.

It will give you the upper hand in finalizing the price based on the car’s actual condition. If the seller refuses to do so, it is a warning sign.

Do They Have a Title in Hand?

Usually, the owner or seller doesn’t know the title is hidden for a long time. Even sometimes, the pending car loan from the bank doesn’t leave the owner with the title until the loan is cleared.

Checking the title status will help with how to not get scammed on Craigslist as a buyer.

Can You Take It for a Test Drive?

One of the vital questions to ask when buying a used car online is about a test drive. It is essential to examine if a car is comfortable for you while driving.

Request seller for an extended test drive; if the seller allows you to do so, you will get the chance to test every driving possibility of the car. However, if the seller denies it, it is a warning sign.

What Financing Options Do Sellers Accept?

When you are done with everything, it must be the right time to ask; one of the vital questions when buying a car off Craigslist is financing options.

Either they have in-house financing, or you have to approach a bank for financing. But, if you want to pay upfront, do ask for the payment methods for safety.

How to Safely Buy a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed

To conclude, buying a car on Craigslist is a process that every buyer must consider cautiously. Every day, scammers are trying to find new ways to manipulate buyers to snatch money or sell cars that are not worth investing in.

We hope, the above-mentioned detailed guide on how to buy a car on Craigslist without getting scammed would help you to inspect, examine, and invest your hard-earned money in a car.

In simple words, some of the essential tips for buying a car on Craigslist consist of; meeting the seller in person, examining the paperwork, and car’s condition, taking a test drive, and finalizing the safest spot to transfer the money would give you an upper hand in buying a car on Craigslist safely.

You may also be interested in checking out:

About Jace Cuban

I am an automotive enthusiast who loves to be around cars and pickup trucks. Applying innovative car care products and installing different latest car accessories are my hobbies. Also, I love sharing my adventurous experience with car lovers.

Leave a Comment