- Why buy used?
A used car (be it 1000 miles or 100,000 miles) is much cheaper than that same car when bought brand new off the lot (obviously). Craigslist, aka private party, lets us find these cars for the best price. Read on to learn how to become a master of the used car buying and selling process.
- Finding the right car
First, find a budget that you are willing to work with. If you do not have the cash, and if the car qualifies, a bank or credit union may offer a loan.
Always refer to KBB (Kelly Blue Book) for the current private party value of the car you are purchasing. This will give you a better idea on how much you should be paying for the car, as well as potential negotiating power to lower the price.
If not familiar with cars, we suggest finding a shop to do a Pre Purchase Inspection. That way you know the mechanical condition and can use it as negotiating power. The thing to remember with all used car buying tips, you must always negotiate the price.
Pro Tip Most people expect to get lowballed, so they set the price much higher than what they would really like to get.
A Note on Smog
If you live in a state that requires a SMOG check, make sure that the seller has a smog certificate included. Verify that the smog was completed within 90 days, otherwise it is not valid for transfer of ownership (CA).
Double check to make sure the registration is current. A lot of times, people sell their car for a cheap price only because they cannot smog it due to a Check Engine Light, or other issues.
- Setting up for finding the right deals
On the Craigslist page, navigate to your location’s web page, then click Cars and Trucks by Owner. In the search settings, set the range from $0 – (Your Max Limit). I like to add about 20% to my max limit to allow for cars that can be negotiated within the budget.
After you save your search settings, and refresh your page, you will see all the vehicles in your area that are for sale.
Pro Tip Save this Craigslist page to your home screen on your phone and your computer, that way its quick access and you do not have to mess with the settings again.
If you have this on your home screen you will see it more often, reminding you to check the listings and therefore increasing chances of finding the killer deal.
- Contacting the seller
Remember, these used car buying tips apply for all private party car buying platforms, not just Craigslist. When I sell a car, the biggest thing I hate is when people ask “is the car still available?”.
Be polite, but do not waste anyone’s time. Contact the buyer through phone call when possible. If it’s a smokin’ deal, it will NOT last on Craigslist. The phone is the quickest and most direct method. Do not dilly dally around and have the sweet deal scooped up by a car dealer!
When buying a car, I look at the person selling me the car just as much, if not more, than the car itself. Mainly, it shows me what kind of treatment and service history the car received. If the person was older, spoke intelligently, and looked wealthy, we found that most times the car was in great shape to match.
Most Important Questions to Ask
- “How long have you had the car?”
- “What kind of maintenance have you done with the car”
- “Why are you selling the car?”
- “Are there any leaks or major mechanical problems?”
Ask these questions over the phone, and try to get a general understanding of the car’s shape before going out to see it, especially if its a long distance.
Saving time is key, you would be surprised how often people say “The car is flawless” on the ad. Asking these questions lets you determine if they are honest.
Set up an appointment to see the car if you feel like the information you’ve gathered about the car matches what you’re looking for.
- Getting Ready to Meet and Test Drive
When meeting with a seller, I always bring:
- Scan Tool for Monitors / Codes
- Powerful Flashlight (I recommend Streamlight flashlights)
- Pivoting and extendable mirror to check for leaks
- My Drivers License / ID
- Cash (I bring cash with me, but leave it in the car. I only do this if the amount is under $3000. Anything past that I just go to the bank with the seller and get them the cashiers check or cash when the deal is done).
Anti-Lemon Used Car Inspection Checklist
Before the meeting
- Verify the sellers has the necessary paperwork, aka Pink Slip, proof of registration, and smog certificate (if required by state). Although not necessary, print out a copy of the bill of sale form.
- Use CarFax or Autocheck to run a VIN background on the vehicle. This is key!
- Set up personal guidelines to the maximum amount willing to spend on the car.
- Make sure you have the funds ready, or instant access to them in the payment form the seller prefers.
- Advise the seller you want the car to be COLD for your test drive. We want a cold engine to get a complete analysis. This is a key part to the used car inspection checklist!
At the car
- Engine Inspection – Use the combination of the pivoting mirror and flashlight mentioned above to peek behind components and around the valve cover, checking for leaks. Inspect everything carefully, pay special attention to the serpentine belt area and leaks around the valve covers.
- Check for Codes – Connect the scanner and make sure there are no engine codes. Make sure the monitors for smog are all completed – if not, be suspicious.
- Check the body panels and paint, does it all look even? Is the texture the same everywhere? Look for panels that are a slightly different color or hue, which may indicate a sign of collision that was already repaired.
- Check all the paperwork before starting the drive – make sure they own the car and that they have a pink slip with their name on it.
- Check tires. Are they a matching set? Good Tread? Any signs of uneven wear? Could mean bad alignment or an accident in the past that prevents proper alignment.
- Check brake pad thickness through the wheels if possible.
- Check maintenance records (see if big service items have been done, like timing belt and water pump if the engine is a timing belt engine)
- Check condition of oil. Open the oil filler cap and look under for any foamy, milky substances, which MAY indicate sludge or head gasket issues.