Doing a Google search for ‘craigslist horror stories’ illustrates, over a quarter of a million times in fact, why people should be wary of buying or selling anything on craigslist. Of course, there are plenty of honest ads, and good people behind many of them… but, the scary flip side of the coin has fraud, abduction, rape, and murder. Are we being overly dramatic? Well, yes and no. So why would anyone use craigslist then, particularly to buy or sell a car, which takes a lot more know-how and effort then working out a deal for a used coffee table?

The answer is because cars found on craigslist can be very good deals. You just have to know going in that there certainly is some risk involved. Here are a few of our recommendations if you’re considering buying a car on the popular site:

Use Common Sense

If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a cherry Corvette for sale for a few thousand dollars, just scroll past it. It’s a scam, and you know it.

But even beyond that, if the listing gives few details about the car, doesn’t provide pictures, or has any strange requests included, it’s best to pass those up too. Bad people use the site to attempt to scam people, and while you can’t protect yourself completely from being scammed, identifying warning signs early can go a long way towards protecting yourself.

Don’t Make Exceptions to Your Normal Car Buying Experience

You don’t meet a legitimate car salesman in a back alley; don’t meet someone selling a car on craigslist in a back alley, either. If you arrive at the very public meeting place and anything seems suspicious, leave. You’re under no obligation to do business with the seller. Always, always, always be willing to walk away.

Remember, you’re not just inspecting the car, you’re inspecting the owner. Do they seem trustworthy? Will they withhold information about mechanical defects of the car? Are they the type to neglect maintenance? Of course, these are questions you should be asking anytime you’re purchasing a used vehicle, no matter if you’ve found it on craigslist or in a driveway around the corner from your house. Learning about the owner can tell you a lot about how they treated the car.

And as with any used car purchase, always insist that your mechanic, not theirs, takes a look at the car before any cash exchanges hands. If they try to give you a discount for not taking the car to a mechanic, walk away… that’s a major red flag.

Deciding to Buy

If you decide to buy the car, one of the first things you should do is get a vehicle history report. Carfax and AutoCheck are two services that can get you information using either the license plate number or the VIN. Penny pinching and don’t want to pay to have a check done? We get it. So at the very least, call a non-emergency police line and provide the VIN. Most police agencies will search the VIN for you to determine if the vehicle is stolen.

Of course, if you’re looking for a classic car, you can avoid potential craigslist nightmares altogether by coming to Pomona. Seven Sundays each year, you can come to the Pomona Swap Meet & Classic Car Show to find a huge variety of classics for sale from knowledgeable car enthusiasts like yourself.