I am a pretty sensible girl, but every now and then I do something that even I question. Like buying a car on Craigslist. We actually did this a few years ago. I have to say I do recommend it when the circumstances are right. Overall, we had an amazing experience. Of course, there is a longer story leading up to the purchase that involves my car dying in the middle of the road on the way to vacation 8 hours from home with a baby in the back seat (yes, really) and having to make the terrible decision between pushing the car with the baby in it, or putting the baby in the car seat on the side of the road. I actually can’t remember what we did. I have stricken it from memory.
Anyway, after we were searching high and low for a car that was in our budget that would last us several years and meet our needs now and in the future, we found one on Craigslist. I will give all interested parties a few tips a bit later. We have had two occasions since buying the car that you just might not believe how wonderful they are! A few months after purchasing the car we received an email from the seller saying that he had found the manual and if we wanted it he would mail it to us. Wow, now that is plain old human kindness. Just recently, mind you this is a few years after buying the car, I scheduled to have remote start installed in my car. This was part of the deal of buying a base model car my husband and I made – that I could install a roof rack and remote start. I lost my heated seats, and more surprisingly missed by me, heated mirrors. I have since then learned to deal. We had built this into our budget for the car and found a deal on one of those daily deals sites similar to Groupon. When speaking with the woman at the installation place she mentioned that it is cheaper and easier to install if you have the valet key. I explained my situation and said I didn’t have that key. She told me to see what I could do. Something told me to take a chance and email the seller and see if by any miracle he still had it. Several days passed after I emailed him and no response came. I wasn’t surprised by this. Then it came, a response! The seller said he was sorry it took so long for him to respond to me. He was about to email and say he had no idea where it would be when he happened upon the valet key in his other car. He was looking for a CD in the center console and there it was in the bottom staring right at him! He kindly mailed me the key carefully packaged and everything. There are still decent people in the world and sometimes you find them on Craigslist selling a car!
Pointers for buying a car on Craigslist (or anything of value for that matter):
1) If the deal is way too good to be true it probably is. Do a little research and ask the seller some questions that will reveal if the purchase is legit or not. One major question you want to ask is if they have the title to the car. If they don’t answer you, you avoided a catastrophe. If they chime right back then you are on the right track.
2) Car purchases transactions are often handled by the state. So, that makes it much safer. After we decided we wanted to purchase the car,we met at a title and tag establishment where I had to show proof of insurance, pay the state tax to the staff on-site, have the car registered on the spot, and show the cashier’s check we were using to purchase the car. All details of the transaction including the mileage of the car were recorded and sent to the state. This probably varies by state so I cannot speak for others. It feels safe this way.
3) Ask if the car has been in any accidents and pay for a CarFax report of the car’s history. This is reasonably priced and can save you a great deal in the long run.
4) If possible have your mechanic check out the vehicle. If that isn’t able to be arranged ask your mechanic what you should look for. I always look at the oil to see if it looks clean and at a good level. If they kept up with the maintenance of the car this is a good indicator.
5) Realize that buying a used car is a crapshoot and no one will be able to determine the outcome. However, if you are careful and wise you can end up with a great car at an even greater price. Buying used from a dealer means you have to cover the cost of the staff who cleaned it up and slapped the price tag on, as well as the commission of the dealer you buy it from. We saved about $4,000 to $6,000 by buying on Craigslist. Honestly, it was also cleaner than what we saw at the dealers which was surprising. The dealer wanted to push us into a new car.
6) This should go without saying but, I recommend that people meet in public places to see the car. You don’t know these people and they don’t know you. If they are willing to meet you in a public place you both should feel better. If they aren’t, then what does that say about them?
7) Do not pay cash even if you have access to it. I repeat, do not pay cash in exchange for the keys in some parking lot. You must follow your state rules and they are rules to protect you. If someone asks you to pay cash, explain that a cashier’s check is just as legitimate and safer for all involved. Offer to let them call your bank and confirm that you purchased a cashier’s check if they seem worried. By the way, you can still get a loan when buying from Craigslist. The loaner will ask who to write the check to and you can get the seller’s information prior to the trade off.
A little research and a lot of patience and you can get a lot of car for your money on Craigslist! Good luck.