5 Things You Need to Know When Buying a Car on Craigslist

BY: TAYLOR KEMPKES

Buying a car can be a stressful and time consuming proposition, especially when you need one on the cheap, ASAP. This is the case for most college students. Whether you are buying your first car or you just moved to Long Beach and left your parents’ car at home, odds are you will be turning to Craigslist to find the “perfect” car. Craigslist can be a great resource for students looking for an affordable deal on their next ride, but you better know what you’re doing! So, here is a list of five things you need to know before you try your hand at buying a car from a stranger on CL. 

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1. Check the CARFAX:

The last thing you want to happen is buy a car with a seedy history. The CARFAX will enlighten you to how many previous owners the car has had, point out any illegal tampering with the car’s odometer reading and tell you if the car was involved in any accidents. If the car changed owners more than five times in a few years, there’s a reason no one wants it. If the reported mileage drops from 100,000 miles two years ago to 80,000 a few months ago, steer clear because who knows how many miles are on it now. If there were any accidents reported, just beware that any substantial damage could have a lasting effect on the car’s reliability. Spend the 55 bucks and get unlimited CARFAX reports for two months!

2. Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection:

Just because the car you’re looking at sounds fine and drives fine doesn’t mean it is fine. There is a lot that goes into the mechanics of a car that an actual mechanic will be able to analyze better than your friend who learned how to change his oil last week and is now a self-proclaimed expert. A good pre-purchase inspection (PPI) can cost upwards of $100 which might seem like a lot. But, compare that to the $1,500 you might spend on a suspension rebuild when you find out the car wasn’t properly cared for and… you get my point.

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3. Bring a Friend:

Yes, I realize I just said that your friend doesn’t actually know anything about cars, but there is something to be said for having an honest second opinion. The key word here is honest. You need a friend that can counteract your infatuation with the candy-apple-red Honda in front of you. We’ve all done it—you see the car, you’ve got cash in your hand and you just want to pull the trigger. Hopefully your friend can get you to snap out of it and realize that the interior wreaks of smoke and only two of the wheels actually match.

4. Ask for Maintenance Records:

If you are looking to buy a car that “has been around the block” so to speak, it’s a good idea to know what maintenance has been done. Two of the most crucial parts to have replaced are the water pump and timing belt. If you are looking at a car that is creeping up on 100,000 miles and neither of those parts have been replaced, that car is a ticking time-bomb. If the water pump fails your car will overheat and blow a head gasket (that’s bad). If the timing belt fails, that could be the end of your engine. Another important maintenance item to look for is regular oil changes which will give you a good idea of how well the car was maintained in general.

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5. Get Ready to Bargain:

There are only a handful of people selling their car on Craigslist who actually expect to sell it for the amount listed in the advertisement. Gone are the days of actually saying OBO (or best offer) in the ad. Now people tend to price their car a few hundred, if not thousands, of dollars more than they think the car is worth. This means that bargaining is more crucial than ever. Don’t be afraid to offer lower than the asking price and be ready to stand firm on the price you believe the car is really worth.