When Craigslist hit the Internet, it was predominately an on-line garage sale. People could sell just about anything to others relatively easy, from new and used electronics to old Antiques. Now, it seems a lot of the traffic on Craigslist surrounds the used car market, offering consumers a no-hassle way to buy or sell a used vehicle directly from owners. Before you take the steps to find your next ride through the online community, beware.
Sure buying a car on Craigslist is easy--there is little information required to post a used vehicle, and it is a free service. But as the popular saying proclaims, roughly;--anything that is this easy must have some hidden negatives.
Used Car As Is
One major negative to buying a vehicle directly from an owner you find on Craigslist is that they do not have to follow the same rules licensed car dealers are obliged to, primarily those outlined by the FTC. Claims in court for bad deals are a chase when it comes to buy-from-owner market. When you buy a vehicle through an owner directly, you are taking full responsibility for any issues or problems the car may have, and waiving the responsibility of the owner to give you a legit deal.
Purchasing a car on Craigslist should be characterized as a Buy At Your Own Risk endeavor--although you will NOT find that tidbit anywhere on Craigslist's Autos section, nor in the actual classified itself.
What Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
One scam this writer witnessed personally was involving an instance where a 2009 Toyota Tacoma was listed for a price too good to be true. In this instance, the Tacoma was listed nearly $5,000 under Kelly Blue Book value. The Craigslist add explained the vehicle had low miles, and was in great shape. Moreover, the author of the post claimed that there was a family medical emergency that was forcing them to sell the car far under its real market value. Although the listing has an email contact address, no number was listed.
Upon emailing the seller to inquire about the sale, I received a long email about how they did not want to sell the car but had to. The email concluded with an appeal to send money through the Internet to reserve the vehicle sale. What a scam.
Spotty Vehicle History Reports
Lots of used vehicles may have spotty vehicle history reports--a few services in the beginning when the car was still new, but then a sudden drop off of history listings. This is definitely a sign that something may be wrong with the vehicle, and the owner may not be an honest broker.
Another true story this writer encountered is on a recent purchase of a Ford Ranger through Craigslist. In this instance a 98 Ford Ranger with 70,000 miles was listed for $4500--far below the suggested KBB value. Upon researching the vehicle history report, there were large gaps between service visits, with a few reported early in the vehicle's life, followed by a sudden drop off of listings.
Although I was skeptic, I was not skeptic enough. I talked to the owner of the vehicle in person about the lack of vehicle history, and the owner explained that they took care of the service themselves, and barely drove the vehicle anyways. I even took the vehicle on a 30 minute test drive with no problems, testing all the functions, and everything appeared to be working great. I was in for a surprise.
Upon purchasing the vehicle from the owner for $4500, I thought I found a great deal on Craigslist. Then while driving home from the owner's house, the check engine light came on. No big deal I thought, it is just a check engine light. Suddenly, the vehicle experienced throttle and acceleration problems, and pushing the pedal down actually decreased the acceleration.
I pulled the vehicle over, called the owner to ask what was up, and was told, "The sale is final, good luck." Since then, I have put an additional $3000 into repairing the acceleration problem, and have found out that the vehicle probably experienced flood damage because most of the suspension parts were rusted. I learned the hard way.
The Bottom Line
(1)Don't be fooled by a deal on Craigslist--it is probably a trap and could be a money pit. It is better to save your coins up and purchase a car from a reputable car dealer or online listing where you are affirmed some kind of buy guarantee.
(2)If you do plan to purchase a vehicle from Craigslist, do not make any payments online or by phone--paying should only be done in person and after you are positive you want to buy.
(3)Get full names, and ask to see identification like driver's license to verify the owner's identity matches that on the vehicle's title--it would be a hassle to buy a used car that was stolen.
(4)Run multiple history reports through multiple agencies. Do not buy a used car with spotty history reports unless you know the owner personally, and know they are an honest broker that may have completed the required maintenance themselves.
(5)Finally, always bring a peer and a cell-phone when meeting with vehicle owners about prospective buys, and always meet in daylight in a highly populated area. It is one thing to be scammed--that is preventable, and it is another thing to be robbed or even physically injured.