5 Tips For Finding Cars On Craigslist

Craigslist is a massive online marketplace. The platform sees over 250 million monthly visits (according to a study from March 2022), and has more than 80 million new classified ads posted each month. Car listings are a popular staple of the site, and purchasing a car here follows much of the same process as a used buying opportunity elsewhere. 

Of course, buyers will need to do their due diligence on vehicle options, narrow down the field to a few models, and then approach one or more sellers to attempt a negotiation over price. There's also the process of inspecting the vehicle, asking any pertinent questions (like those surrounding the car's title), and more.

However, Craigslist has a unique advantage for buyers that arrives in two parts. For one thing, the low cost to list an item for sale means that sellers won't have to inflate their pricing expectations to cover their own costs. Unlike a collector's item or unused tools sitting in the shed, a car sale often funds the purchase of an owner's next vehicle. This means that any savings the seller sees, buyers also get to take advantage of. 

Similarly, with the slate of search tools and online resources that a buyer has at their disposal (through Craigslist and beyond), the buying process from start to finish is immensely simple. Those who take the time to identify can hammer out a good deal on a great new car from Craigslist.

Start with listing search filters

Every listing found on Craigslist will have some level of detail provided for buyers to gain a sense of the product. Cars are a unique commodity in a way, because a nearly infinite number of specific details can be levied to describe the ins and outs of any particular vehicle. One Chevy truck might come with a V6, another might be powered by a V8, while one Tesla might incorporate a 55kWh battery, and another (like the Model S Long Range) sports a 100kWh power source.

Narrowing down the search with the filters on local Craigslist search page is the best place to begin. Buyers can specify a car that's less than five years old, uses hybrid propulsion power, and has less than 40,000 miles on the odometer, for instance. 

If buyers aren't sure of the make and model they want to drive next, this is an excellent way to explore what's on the market, while retaining the specifics they're looking for. Adding in any detail at the outset will shave off unnecessary listings from the results page, giving buyers a more enjoyable search and buying experience.

Expand horizons with enhanced search tools

Combing through Craigslist ads is the first stage of the process, but skimming through pages on the site itself is only one part of any comprehensive search. Using searchcraigslist.org, a search enhancement tool, will significantly expand the parameters of a buyer's quest to find a new vehicle.

The primary feature here is the ability to search for cars listed across the country with Craigslist. Instead of only returning results that are geographically relevant to physical location, buyers can see cars listed everywhere. This is great for a buyer on the hunt for a particular model (perhaps a vintage Bronco or classic Buick Roadmaster). 

Buyers in the market for something ultra-specific likely won't be satisfied with just the listings found in their local area. There may only be a few examples of the niche automobile someone is seeking across the whole of the United States, and depending on the level of investment in that particular vehicle, travel might not be an issue.

Similarly, many buyers might consider a road trip to purchase the right car anyway. A buyer may be on the hunt for a Ford F-Series pickup truck (As of April, 2023's best-selling vehicle). No two vehicles are ever going to be the same once they've been purchased and driven, so looking beyond local area with this search tool might provide the perfect new car to bring home.

Screen listings by dealership or private owner

One important distinction that Craigslist buyers should consider making is that of listing type. Craigslist searchers are able to remove listings made by dealerships or by private sellers with a simple toggle of the search parameters. Both avenues provide a benefit to the buyer, and so weighing options here is crucial.

Buying from a dealership offers a better buffer of protection than purchasing directly from a private owner. Dealerships have vastly more incentive to sell quality cars than private owners, and therefore the reputational factor may sway your thinking firmly toward buying only from a dealership. However, in a person's home state, buyers may not have to pay taxes on the purchase if it comes from a private sale. For most buyers, the best bargains can come from those outside the dealer lot. 

Lastly, buyers may not be able to finance the purchase of a new car unless it comes from a dealership. If this is a part of the calculation, it may act as the deciding factor for prospective vehicle owners. Regardless, removing listings that come from one type of seller or the other can give buyers more accurate results that speed along the search.

Investigate fair value for any listings being considered

After homing in on cars that fit personal requirements, buyers should always consult with third-party resources to investigate the value of a car. At a dealership, buyers are more likely to receive a relatively fair offer before the negotiation ever begins. Selling cars is the outlet's business, and so customer relationships are a crucial cog in the success of the brand.

Regardless of the avenue you choose to pursue, using a reputable research site like Kelley Blue Book brings essential knowledge into the buying process. For instance, a 2018 Ford F150 Regular Cab in Wichita, Kansas will average a price of $22,612. For buyers in the market for this vehicle, gauging the quality of the deal based on this fair market value can de-mystify the cost calculation and haggling that comes with buying. 

The same can be said for any model; take the time to gain this additional piece of information for a more confident approach to the seller.

Don't skimp on the phone call

The last phase of buying a car on Craigslist (or anywhere, for that matter) is the personal connection that seals the deal. This often starts with a phone call: reaching out directly to the seller, whether a private individual or dealership, to talk specifics on the car is what begins to turn the gears of the sale. 

During the call, it's important to ask about the vehicle itself, such as confirmation of the mileage, queries over previous owners, and questions about the service record and accident history. Buyers will also naturally pick up on the personality of the seller. Speaking with someone directly offers subtle clues about motivations, needs, and other personal details. 

Someone who's abrupt on the phone and shies away from offering complete information about the car may be signaling a problem through evasiveness. Similarly, a seller who is a little too eager to part with the car, but provides evidence and answers that inspire confidence, may need to sell in a hurry — and might take a little less than asking price without a fuss.