This post is featured on behalf of Adam Pepka.


Nothing beats the convenience of being able to shop from home.  You can find just about anything you need online from the comfort of your couch.   It’s one thing to stock up on toothbrushes or vitamins from Amazon; but is it wise to make a big purchase, like a car, from online sites like Craigslist? Let’s delve in. 

Refine Your Search

When searching for a car on Craigslist, you can refine your search to include both private sellers and dealerships, or just one or the other. 

Dealerships offer that added layer of trustworthiness, whether you’re shopping for previously owned cars or brand new manufactures. Dealerships are also convenient in terms of variety; if you’re looking for a used Jeep, they likely have it. Want a new Volkswagen car? They likely have that too.  You may pay a little more (although not necessarily), but you get the convenience and safety of buying from a car dealer.

The thing about Craigslist is that private owners aren’t bound to honesty.  They can advertise their car however they wish, and they don’t need to provide a vehicle history report to back their claims.  This is not to say that every seller on Craigslist is a dishonest one.  There are plenty of upstanding people on there who are just trying to legitimately sell their cars.  It just may be hard to tell who is who.  If only there were an “honest sellers” section in the search filter.

Meet in Public

If you do happen to find the car of your dreams listed by a private seller, it’s not a deal breaker.  Just be smart about it, as you should treat any situation where you’re meeting a stranger.  Meet in a public place, in the daytime, in a safe area.  Meet in the parking lot of an auto parts shop, a Starbucks, a bank, or even your local police department.  And take a friend with you.  This is smart advice for both buyer and seller. 

The Savings Factor

Probably the best reason to search Craigslist, other than convenience, is that buying from a private party is generally less expensive than buying from a dealership.  Also, if they are an honest seller, and the only owner of the car they are selling, you’ll get a more detailed history of the car than you would from a dealership, who can’t know the personal history of every single used car on their lot.  If you’re looking for a secondhand car, this may be the way to go to save some cash. 

Meet with the seller, take it for a test drive, and take it for an inspection if needed.   Ask for a clean title before any deal is made.  If you find that it is indeed the car for you, make the money-for-pink slip transaction at your bank.  Your money is there, as is a notary public, who can witness signatures and put their official seal on paperwork.

Scams Galore

The biggest fear about buying a car from Craigslist is being scammed.  We’ve all heard or maybe even experienced (yikes!) the horror stories.  So here are some red flags to look for while you’re browsing car listings from private sellers:

  • A price that’s way too good to be true
  • Grammar that makes the ad hard to read (even by Craigslist standards)
  • Seller is hesitant is disclosing location
  • A strange price ($2,347)
  • Personal email placed on top of the photos

Trust Your Instincts

Go with your gut.  If a listing seems off, it probably is.  Move on to one that seems more legit. People who respond right away, willingly give you detailed information and provide a location (just a city, not necessarily their home address…they have to be safe too after all), and are willing to meet in a public location to show you the car, are probably a safe bet. 

Opt for Used Cars from a Dealership

If you’ve done some reading on this topic, and just feel safest buying from a car dealership, that’s certainly understandable.  You can find a plethora of cars out there that are reasonably close to you.  Just narrow your Craigslist search criteria to show dealerships only, and you’ll be on your way to finding the right car for you, in a way that makes you feel comfortable and safe. 


By Adam Pepka

Adam enjoys a comfortable life in Tucson, Arizona but is proud of the humble beginnings from which he came. Growing up reading authors such as Timothy Ferris, and feeling inspired by their bootstrap beginnings, Adam was determined to find financial freedom himself. He soon became a successful real estate mogul after one deal led to another, and not long after Adam began his own fix-and-flip enterprise. Aspiring investors and HGTV fans alike enjoy reading his blog about the various challenges and accomplishments he finds in each property renovation, as well as the tips and tricks he suggests for those considering their own fixer-upper. In between remodels, Adam enjoys teaching his audience about various investment strategies and how any Average Joe like himself can build a profitable portfolio. Apart from real estate, he’s very much interested in Silicon Valley, venture startups and the technology industry. He watches that arena with a careful eye, and is the first to alert his readers to major news or events.