How to Shop for a Car on Craigslist

Simply at the mention of Craigslist, people automatically have a strong opinion. It’s probably because the Lifetime channel keeps playing a movie about some guy who apparently used Craigslist to lure in his victims. Every site has their weirdos.


When I think of Craigslist, I see opportunity. I’ve made a lot of money with the simple, yet handy, website. I’ve also spent a lot of money. I even bought my last car after seeing it on Craigslist.


What this post will do is show you how to buy a car on Craigslist. I’ll hold your hand with everything from searching for the car, finding a good deal and even closing everything. It’s simple but you can go very wrong. So it’s best to keep reading.


Most good car deals are found on Craigslist. It’s due to a lot of reasons. For starters, it’s easy for everyone to list there. It’s also free. Which means maybe the owner doesn’t have the money to buy an ad on a site like AutoTrader or Thus, they may need money quickly. These people are willing to give you and I good deals.


To start, go to Craigslist and click on your desired location. Search for the name of the car you want. Don’t narrow down the search too much. For instance, there’s no need to put “Eclipse with sunroof” or “1998 Eclipse” because the results can get too narrow. You may miss things. For instance, I knew I wanted a 1999 Eclipse GS. When I found it, it was listed as an Eclipse RS. I may never have found it, had I been searching by GS.


If you want to spread your search, forget Instead, go to It’s an aggregation site. It aggregates data from Craigslist and uses it on a more powerful interface. This way, you can search for your desired car + a range of miles. This is especially helpful if you live in a rural location and you’re willing to travel. Going from town to town on Craigslist takes forever.


Once you find the car, call. Calling yields faster results than texting. If you want to get a good deal on a car, you need to act fast. Most good deals close within 12 hours to be honest. It also shows your serious when you call. As someone who’s also sold on Craigslist a lot, I can tell you that the tire kickers preferred method of communication is text.


If you’re on the fence about the car, have the owner text you more pictures. Hopefully you understand the cars typical problem areas: where it gets rust first, etc. Have them photograph those areas.


As far as payment goes, I prefer cash. Cash talks. This being said, keep the amount of cash you may need on hand for when this day comes. This will keep you from having to stop by the bank first. It may not be closed. Or this could delay you so much that you could lose the deal.


You can also pay by check if that makes you more comfortable.


Bring a friend to both help you inspect the car and to help keep your money safe. Plus, people are more powerful in numbers. Going with someone else with increase your power on the not-so-official power scale we all know exists.


If the test drive goes well, seal the deal. You’ll need to complete a bill of sale and sign the title.


Then, what I like to do, is ask the seller to remove the ad quickly. That way your friends can go online and see what you may or may not have paid for the car. That’s weird but I know people do it. Also, you don’t want the guy getting tons of calls on the car and regret selling it for such a low price.


That’s really it. Buying – or even selling – on Craigslist is pretty simple. Things to remember include:


  • Don’t narrow down your search too much
  • Use instead of if you want to search by miles and not by city
  • Cash talks
  • Bring a friend
  • Get the posting removed once you seal the deal


As you can see, it’s pretty simple. Enjoy Craigslist!