Searching for a Car on Craigslist

Post image for Searching for a Car on Craigslist

by Elle Martinez · 18 comments

In addition to looking at what the dealerships have in our area and  spreading the word to our family and friends that we’re looking for a new family car, we’re also checking out Craigslist to see what private sellers are offering.

Looking at Cars on Craigslist

We’re looking at both ads from dealers and private sellers to make sure we’re not missing any deals. I expect ads to vary in quality when car hunting. Some sellers just put the basics on the car and take a picture, maybe two of the vehicle. Others do a wonderful job of giving a lot of information online with plenty of pictures, which helps both seller and buyer time.

It can seem to be an extremely tedious process for some, but I find it quite fun. However, while we aren’t in a rush to get another car (both of ours still run), we don’t have all day to scour the ads.

Tips on Buying a Car on Craigslist

If you’re like us and hunting for a deal on Craigslist, I have some tips that can help make the process easier and improve your chances on finding a gem. Before starting I highly suggest having a list of makes and models that you want to buy. Consumer Reports just listed some of the best used cars to look for – we used that information to whittle down our list.

  1. Details matters. When sifting through ads, the more information a seller shares, the better. We want to know the mileage upfront, the features of the car, and any repairs or replacements that have been made recently (i.e., new tires or brakes replaced). We want to get a sense of how well the seller has maintained their car.
  2. Plenty of pictures. I want to see plenty of pictures of the car; I need to know right away if there is any bodywork that neds to be done and to see what condition the car is currently in. Are the interiors clean and not torn or do I see cigarette burns on the upholstery?
  3. Compare to KBB. Once we have the make, model, mileage,and year, we look at Kelly Blue Book to see the car’s value. Some private sellers are way off and expect too much for their car. We’re also subscribers to Consumer Reports’ Cars Best Deals Plus service which we used to ballpark value.
  4. Contact seller. We then call the seller to see if the car is still available (some sellers don’t update their ads) and schedule a test drive.
  5. Check out the car and get a CarFax. Before giving someone a good chunk of our money we check our the car’s itself, seeing if the mechanical condition is solid and also look up the VIN# with CarFax. We want to make sure the vehicle’s history is clean. If you’re not a car mechanic, getting a shop to look over it is a smart move. It’s money upfront, but it’s definitely worth it to avoid big expenses down the road.
  6. Compare options and make an offer. After you decided on your top picks, go ahead and contact the seller to make a fair offer.
  7. Buy the car! If accepted, go ahead and arrange for the transfer of ownership. Check with your state’s DMV to see what you need to complete this process. We met at our bank to pay them by check and to use our bank’s notary service (free).

While I wouldn’t want to shop for cars all the time, it’s kind of nice to actually be able to buy one instead of just looking at the commercials and wishing for one!

Handy Car Hunting Tool for Craigslist

If you’re looking at cars on Craigslist, Carsabi can make it a lot easier. I read about the site on Mr. Money Mustache’s top list of cars to buy. Besides allowing your search quickly through craigslist ads, Carabi also has a some research on popular car models (in beta). For example when I was looking for more help on Hyundai Sonatas, here the data I got from them:

A Hyundai Sonata declines in value by 34.7% over the first 2 years, and is driven an average of 11,964mi per year. We recommend buying a Hyundai Sonata between model years 2009 and 2011, to get the best value. We generally do not recommend buying a car older than 5 years, as maintenance costs will be significant.

Very helpful, though, I want to point out that our experience has been fine for older cars and repairs. Now that the cars are past 10 years old, we’ve noticed an uptick in the frequency of repairs, but nothing significant.

carsabi hyundai sonata mileage and price depreciation

I used them to create saved searches for particular models that we’re looking for. I get an email with new listing along with a review of the sell price is reasonable.

Thoughts on Buying a Car from a Private Seller

My husband bought his current car from a private seller. She maintained the car well and had all the paperwork on the car, as in a box of receipts from all the scheduled maintenance and repairs done on the car. I believe that tipped the scale for my husband, as he felt that owner was more conscientious.

When we buy our family sedan, we’ll sell one our cars on Craigslist, so this a great way for me to see what appeals to buyers now.

I’d love to hear from you about car shopping. When you bought your car, did you go to a dealership, get a car from your network, or did you go with a private seller?

Photo Credit: jonathan.broderick

About Elle Martinez
Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

Follow me on Twitter · Visit my website →

Like this? Learn more about building your finances together by subscribing to Couple Money:




I take your privacy very seriously and will not share your email.

  • http://www.moneybeagle.com/ Money Beagle

    I’ve sold a car on Craigslist and we bought a camper off of Craigslist last fall. We’ve yet to use it for an actual camping trip so it’s honestly a bit too soon to decide whether it was a good purchase. I’ll let you know in about six months!

    • http://couplemoney.com Elle Martinez

      Please do!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dwight.crow Dwight Crow

    Hi Elle-

    great article! I’ve bought all my cars off craigslist as well. One single point I might emphasize is that the trip to the mechanic will often pay for itself – due to normal wear and tear my mechanic identified I had $800 dropped from the price of my last purchase. Thanks for the post!

    • http://couplemoney.com Elle Martinez

      That’s a good amount of savings Dwight! Having a professional looking at the car can be an incredible investment if they have an eye for detail. Plus it’s some added peace of mind.

  • Joe @ Retire By 40

    I got my Mazda 5 from a dealer. It was the last year of the model and I got a great deal. Buying a recently used one wouldn’t have saved that much. I sold cars on craigslist before and will keep them in mind when we need another vehicle.

    • http://couplemoney.com Elle Martinez

      Thanks Joe for sharing how you got the deal on your car. Once we buy our next car, we’ll have to spruce up the Jetta to make it a great buy on Craigslist.

  • Jerry

    We bought a car on craigslist and we were really happy with it. It was an older car so our insurance was lower and they had excellent service records which leads to peace of mind. It doesn’t work out for everyone but we lucked out.

    • http://couplemoney.com Elle Martinez

      Thanks Jerry for point out some additional car insurance savings with older cars. You can sometimes get a much lower rate for a used vehicle, depending on the model.

  • http://www.springcoin.com/blog Kevin Yu

    There’s an awesome site called Carsabi that aggregates all this data, definitely worth checking out!

  • Savvyfinanciallatina

    Thanks for this post! I am currently looking for a car, so this is super helpful!!!

    • http://couplemoney.com Elle Martinez

      Congrats on the car search; I hope you find what you’re looking for!

  • http://www.careonecredit.com Suzanne Cramer

    I recently bought an older car off of Craigslist and got an amazing deal! I did lots of homework before purchasing and was lucky to find a nice seller that allowed me to test drive twice etc.

  • Pingback: Car Loans: The Good, The Bad, The Better

  • Pingback: Best Cars for College Graduates to Drive | Green Panda Treehouse

  • Pingback: Buying a Car from a Private Seller in North Carolina

  • Pingback: What to Look For When Buying a Family Car

  • Pingback: The Best of Couple Money – 2012 Edition

  • Pingback: Looking to Make 2014 The Year of Simplicity

Previous post:

Next post: