Author Topic: Buying a car off Craigslist  (Read 4243 times)

Philociraptor

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Buying a car off Craigslist
« on: August 04, 2014, 11:49:17 AM »
I've been searching CL for a few weeks now for a used car.  My requirements are sedan or 4-door hatchback, 30+ mpg combined, younger than 2006, sub $5k.  Maybe 1 or 2 postings a day meet this criteria, making it simple to find matches.  My questions are:

When I find a good deal from a private party, what all do I need to do to make sure I'm not getting screwed?

Same question, but for a used car dealership (sometimes they post to CL as well).

Went today to check out a 2007 Ford Focus and the address took me into the sketchy part of town with a bunch of run-down used car dealerships... I didn't stop, was pretty scary-looking.  Should I avoid these used car lots altogether?

-Phil

frugaliknowit

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2014, 11:59:32 AM »
1.  Know the value of the vehicle.
2.  Always test ride the vehicle.  Include in this very hard to the floor acceleration going through all gears (enter a freeway?).  This is among other things to see if the tranny slips (if it does, run!).  Include hard braking as well.
3.  Have the vehicle looked over by a mechanic.
4.  Do the actual transaction at your bank.

Greg

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2014, 12:14:46 PM »
Follow cl guidelines as well.  No "selling for by brother" or similar proxy sales, the seller should be on the title. If the title is not visible, move on to the next seller.  Always have a Bill of Sale and Report of Sale form on hand, and if the seller doesn't want to fill it out, or doesn't let you verify the info with their I.D., move on to the next seller.

Trust your instincts.

SondraRose

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2014, 12:34:13 PM »
Agree with above.

Also, we have had the best experiences buying single owner, low mileage vehicles that have been maintained regularly with receipts available, etc.

Weedy Acres

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2014, 01:36:19 PM »
You can run a free carfax if you have the VIN.  Ebay includes a free carfax report with all listings.  So create a listing on ebay with the car info and VIN.  Before you publish it, click the carfax link and get the info you need.  Then delete the listing. 

And do test drive it, inspect it closely, and have a mechanic check it out. 

I usually pay with a cashier's check, and if the seller is nervous about that, you can do it at your bank and have your bank confirm the funds to the seller.  I bought one once that had a lien on it, and we transacted at the bank that held the loan.  That way I walked away with the title.

Chranstronaut

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2014, 03:31:20 PM »
Wow, I didn't do a lot of things when I bought my car (no mechanic check or carfax).  I guess I'm lucky or just had good instincts to trust.

I brought someone more knowledgeable than me to check the car out with me.  We made sure nothing was leaking, brakes and tires were in good enough condition to test drive, there was no sign of past accidents, no badly matched or "orange peel" textured paint from replacing body panels.  I was looking at Focus station wagons, so we'd lift up the carpet in the back and make sure the metal structure under the bed didn't look like it had been altered or re-welded (a sign of being rear ended).  For a standard transmission car, I made sure the clutch felt good (meaning it doesn't engage the second you hit the pedal -- this might mean it needs to be replaced soon).  I also checked all the fluids,  no leaks, and the quality of the oil to verify their claims of keeping the maintenance up.

What I wish I did: Check their photo ID against the title, double check the VIN on the car against the paperwork, made the owner get a new title before paying them (they had lost the paper, so it wasn't under lien but I had to pay $40 to get a new one mailed to myself and wait forever at the DMV).  Take the car on the highway (I only got up to 40 mph but it felt great).

I paid 4k cash because I didn't want to go to a bank with anyone and wasn't going to buy any cars with loans.  Anytime I buy off craigslist, I always ask why they are selling it.  How they answer that question tells just as much as what they actually say.  I ended up buying my car from a family who had just bought something newer ("safer") for their kids and priced it to move quickly.  I saw the new car in the driveway so it seemed reasonable.

FWIW, check out some forums about maintenance on the Ford Focus (focusfanatics, etc).  I think second generation Focuses are  a lot better, but make sure the cars are not leaking oil around valve cover or leaking coolant from the thermostat housing.  I fixed both of these on my used 2003 Focus wagon at 90 and 100k miles.  It's very common on first gen Foci.

pagoconcheques

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2014, 09:04:30 AM »
See my post on this thread: http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/guide-for-buying-used-cars-please-share-your-thoughts!/

Remember that you are buying the previous owner's habits and usage in addition to buying a car.  Have a strong preference for one-owner cars being sold by the actual owner, ideally one who lives in a better neighborhood.  Get the VIN at first contact then call a dealer for the brand (Ford), ask for the service department, give them the VIN and have them check for outstanding recalls--have them give you the service history as well.  The best used car will have a complete dealership service history, though this is much more likely with a car young enough to be in warranty or barely out of warranty.

Also remember that at any price point over about $3,500 (depending on market), cash is king.  If you can close a deal immediately with no issue, you have an edge over all the other craigslist buyers who will have to scrape up the money.  I believe being able to close a cash transaction quickly opens the door to a 10-20% discount off the realistic (not necessarily asking) price of the vehicle.  This is even more true for buyers in the range above $10,000 as very few people can bring that kind of cash to the table. 

Insist on transacting at a safe place--I recommend the lobby of your favorite bank.  Often you can get a bank official to witness the transaction as a courtesy.  Draw up a bill of sale. 


imbros

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2014, 12:57:13 PM »
Great advice here, but please note, 2006+ car for under $5k very likely will need some maintenance/repair. Also, good deals in that price range will be gone in a few days, so you will need to act fast.

I would suggest researching the brand, model, year of the car(s) you are interested in in advance. All cars have some weak spots and once you know those items, you will be in much better position for figuring out the real worth of the car you are looking at.

Also, consider other relatively unpopular but well-built cars and don't worry about cosmetic imperfections. I purchased a SAAB that fits your criteria a few weeks ago. Bought the car for $4k and spent $1k to bring it to up to speed. I knew the car needed $1k in repairs/maintenance when I was buying it. Now I have a car that I can take for a cross country trip because I know it doesn't need anything.

Edit: Dealers are no good in that price range. You want to go Private Party.
« Last Edit: August 05, 2014, 01:07:45 PM by imbros »

ThirdTimer

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Re: Buying a car off Craigslist
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2014, 03:30:16 PM »
1.  Know the value of the vehicle.
2.  Always test ride the vehicle.  Include in this very hard to the floor acceleration going through all gears (enter a freeway?).  This is among other things to see if the tranny slips (if it does, run!).  Include hard braking as well.
3.  Have the vehicle looked over by a mechanic.
4.  Do the actual transaction at your bank.

+1 to this, and +1 to the comments about ideally finding a 1-owner vehicle with a trustworthy history and good maintenance records. I bought my car on CL 8 years ago following exactly this recipe, from a young teacher whose step-father was a mechanic. If the person balks at you test-driving the car or taking it to a mechanic, you're in trouble. If I recall correctly, we went to the DMV together, where she used the cashier's check I had written her to pay off her lien on the car and have the title transferred over to me. If the owner seems shady to you in any way, steer clear.