How to Sell a Car on Craigslist — Part II

So you’ve done the (seemingly) tough part of listing your car to sell on Craigslist. But that’s only half the battle. Here’s your guide on how to find your car a new home, quickly and easily.

Step 1: Get your affairs in Order

Make sure you have all your paperwork lined up:

  • Title (If you have a loan on the vehicle, contact your bank to notify them of the sale. You won’t be able to get the title from them if you don’t, and without the title you can’t complete a sale.)
  • Registration
  • Dealer and repair paperwork (if you have it)
  • Contract of sale (also known as Bill of Sale)

If either the title or the registration are missing, you’ll have to apply for a replacement with the DMV. Luckily, this is a common process that is inexpensive and straightforward.

Image via Alexa Mazzarello

You’ll want to have two copies of a contract of sale, which can be downloaded from the internet and printed out. Some sellers will have a printout of their car’s Carfax history report and KBB price as well to pre-empt lowballers or aggressive negotiators.

Step 2: Schedule a test drive

Privacy and safety is important for both you and the buyer. You may want pick a public and convenient place to meet buyers, like a shopping center, and arrange a time that is relatively safe (for example, a weekend morning). Some buyers and sellers also choose to ask a friend or family member to come along with them for added safety (and moral support!), so be ready for it to be a party.

PRO TIP: Make sure to remind your buyer the time, date, location, and preferred form of payment to avoid any confusion.

The Lease Buyout: Getting Out of a Car Lease

Step 3: Prep your car to sell 

A couple hours before your scheduled test drive, give your car a once-over to get rid of any bits of trash and other unsightly elements, take it for a final wash and vacuum, and then go meet your buyer.

Some sellers insist on being in the car during the test drive, but it’s probably easier and more comfortable for both you and the buyer to just take a picture of their driver’s license and let them take it for a spin themselves.

Step 4: Sell Your Car (FINALLY!) 

If you’ve done all your work, pretty soon you’ll find yourself in the closing negotiations. It’s normal for buyers to negotiate for a better price. Decide beforehand a price that you won’t go below. If a buyer does try to go lower than that number, don’t be afraid to say no. It’ll only be a matter of time before you find someone else.

Closing the sale
Once you’ve agreed on a price, it’s time for the paperwork:

  • Collect your cashier’s check (politely decline personal checks)
  • Fill out the contract of sale
  • Transfer the title to the buyer

Since every state has slightly different laws, it’s best to do a Google search for car sales in your state to check if there’s additional documentation required. And that’s it! Cash your check at the bank and pat yourself on the back.

One thing to be aware of: Getting your car listed is generally fairly quick, but the process of actually selling your car on Craigslist often takes much longer — several weekends on average. If you’re on the West Coast and want to save some time, Shift can cut it down to about an hour or less.

Whatever way you choose to go, happy selling!

Tips for Buying a Used Car on Craigslist

When it works like it should, buying a used car on Craigslist can be great. But since there’s no way to ensure what you’re getting, quality on Craigslist can be hit or miss and it can feel a bit like the Barbary Coast, with mischief and gold in equal measure. Here are 9 essential tips to get you through it.

Tip # 1: Use Craigslist filters

This is our top tip for buying a used car: narrow your search. We suggest taking advantage of Craigslist’s built-in filters, which include options such as price, year, color, transmission type, type of seller (owner or dealer), and more. This will help you narrow your search to what you’re looking for and avoid wading through listings of salvaged title, three-wheeled PT Cruisers.

  • Search by dealer. For those who would prefer the peace of mind of a dealer warranty, this filter’s for you.
  • Search by price or year. If you have a budget but don’t want anything too old, easily define your price and model year limits.
  • Search by feature. Buying a car for someone with very specific tastes but only drives automatic? You can specify for color and transmission, too.
  • Search by car. If you know exactly the car you want, say a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am with the screaming chicken on the hood and Burt Reynold’s scent on the seats, Craigslist is perfect. You can plug in the exact model specification, right down to the color, transmission, and condition.

Tip #2. Research a fair price range

Before you start test driving, it’s important to how have an idea how much a car in your area should cost. There are many pricing guides out there, and while one-sized-fits-all pricing guides like KBB won’t perfectly capture the fair price for your market, it’s a good starting point.

If it’s listed way over your fair price range, you may want to skip that car. Sometimes if you wait, the seller will come to their senses and lower the price to something more reasonable.

Tip #3: Heed warning signs

This is one of the most basic tips for buying a used car on Craigslist: The listing itself can tell you a lot about the seller, as well as the car. So pay attention to these red flags:

  • Low-quality listings. Suspiciously short listings with numerous misspellings, all caps, and a general lack of details about the car smack of “keep looking.”
  • Minimal photos. A listing with one blurry, sideways photo isn’t worth your time. A huge red flag is people who post pictures that are not even of their car. Not exactly trust-building stuff is it?
  • Sloppy presentation. When we wrote our guide to selling a car on Craigslist, there’s a reason we focused so much on presentation and cleanliness. Instilling buyer confidence is step #1, and junk strewn about the interior doesn’t do that. If the seller hasn’t bothered to present the car nicely for sale, they probably haven’t been any more thoughtful owning it, either.
  • Multiple listings of the same car. If you see a car posted multiple times over a few days, it’s not a good sign.

Some good signs are clear writing, lots of pictures of a relatively clean car (including the engine), a list of recent maintenance, and just a general sense that the seller knows their stuff. We vet every car listed on Shift to make sure you have all of these things, including detailed photos, a comprehensive inspection, and a seamless interaction (not to mention an amazing car).

How to Sell a Car on Craigslist

Tip #4: Make contact

It’s a good idea to call the seller before seeing the car. Communicating via email just isn’t going to tell you as much. Don’t be afraid to ask a few questions like: why are you selling the car, how long have you owned it, what maintenance is needed and what’s been done lately? Pay attention to how the seller responds. Do they seem trustworthy, or do they give you the creeps? Are they over-eager, or do they sound like they’ve been asleep for six days?

It’s important to consider the overall vibe that they are giving you. Your time is valuable, and nothing is worse than carving out a few hours of your Saturday to go see a car, then getting a text saying the seller flaked when you’re two blocks from where you planned to meet. You can learn a lot from a quick chat on the phone. It’s worth it.

Tip #5: Be Safe

This is, we think, one of the most important tips for buying a used car on Craigslist: do it safely. That means meeting in a safe, mutually agreed upon location in an area where you can really drive the car, ideally in a well-traveled area and during a safe hour of the day. (If you meet the seller downtown, it’ll be tough to get a full sense for how the car drives, so try for something like a mall parking lot.)

As a buyer, you may be asked to go to the seller’s house. Be sure that you feel comfortable doing so, and if you do, it’s not a bad idea to bring a friend. Continue to assess the seller and make sure they are someone you trust. Ask a lot of questions and insist that you drive the car. If the seller balks, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Carfax's Carfox
Easily our favorite mascot in the car space

Tip #6: Do an inspection

We’ve covered this in another article, but a post-purchase inspection (often called the PPI) is worth paying for. Buying a car without inspecting it is like buying a house without an appraisal. A seller with nothing to hide should agree to it, so negotiate an appropriate deposit to leave with the seller while you take it to the mechanic. Bonus: What you learn can be used to help negotiate the price, which brings us to our next tip.

Tip #7: Run a Carfax report

A Carfax vehicle history report is a must-have for buying any used car. It’s easy, it can tell you a lot about the car’s history, and it can help you make sure you’re not driving off in a car with a bent frame, flood damage, and 17 owners in three years.

It’s a known Craigslist scam for a seller to kindly provide a Carfax report—from three years ago, prior to extensive post-accident bodywork. If the seller is providing their own Carfax, check the date.

If you care at all about full transparency (and with a purchase as big as a car, you should), buying with Shift not only gets you a full Carfax report for free, but also high-res wear-and-tear photos and a complete 200-point inspection report for every car we sell.

Tip #8: Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Craigslist is one of the few places where Americans can still (sometimes) haggle. Sellers often list their cars at a slightly inflated price expecting to negotiate down. That said, this isn’t a rug shop in Marrakesh, so be realistic. When negotiating, try not to be too emotional (or rude) and be able to explain your reasoning with facts.

For example, you can use information gleaned from the inspection to help support your case for a lower price. If the car needs a $300 brake job, you can see if the seller will accommodate for that in the price. Or, if the seller has the car priced well above book value (which you should research beforehand), you can see if they are willing to reflect that discrepancy with a lower price.

That said, don’t let it ruffle your feathers if they don’t want to come down on their price. It’s their car and they are not obliged to do so.

Tip #9: Take your time and trust your gut

Rushing to buy a car is the easiest way to get a healthy dose of buyer’s remorse. Throughout it all, listen to your gut. Don’t force a deal if something feels off. Buying a used car should be a methodical process, not a quick fix. When you find the right car, you’ll probably know it, and it will probably not be the first car you see.

Buying a used car on the private market can be intimidating, which is part of the reason we founded Shift in the first place. If you’re looking for a safer, more straight-forward alternative (that’s a heck of a lot of more convenient), check us out.

Car Buying Tips & Mistakes To Avoid

Buying a car is tricky business. After your house, a car purchase is likely to be the most expensive decision you make. To help you have the best possible experience, here are some car buying tips and common mistakes to avoid.

Car Buying Tip #1: Don’t buy a car with a salvaged title

This is the mother of all car buying mistakes. Why? First, the reason the car was salvaged—totaled in an accident, stolen, or flooded—are sufficient reasons to walk away. Second, resale value is going to be awful, and most buyers won’t even be interested. Third, these cars can be hard to register and insure.

Yes, $2,000 for a 2005 BMW 3-series seems like a screaming deal, but you’ll be very sad when the car breaks and you can’t sell it to anyone as it sits in front of your house for two years like a tribute to foolishness. The solution here is easy, don’t do it. How do you know if a car has a salvaged title? You need to get a vehicle history report. Which brings us to our next common mistake.

Car Buying Tip #2: Always get a vehicle history report

Running a vehicle history report such as Carfax is crucial when car shopping. You want to look for things like accidents, evidence of maintenance, and number of previous owners. You can also see if a celebrity once owned the car (bonus points if it was John Voight). If the car has had five owners in three years, you might want to be suspicious. Why would so many people want to part ways with this car?

If the report shows that the car has been in an accident, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if the repairs were done correctly. That being said, you’ll want to be extra careful to look for issues during the test drive. On Shift, you’ll find the Carfax report available from every car’s listing page.

Car Buying Tip #3: Don’t go in with rose-colored glasses

This sounds strange, but falling in love with a car before you buy it can be a mistake. It can cause you to gloss over some things that you’ll regret not noticing later. A friend recently wanted a Toyota 4Runner so badly that he lost sight of the fact that it wasn’t a good choice for him. The 4Runner got poor mileage and was too large and too expensive for his needs.

Try not to get too excited before you agree on a purchase price. Even if the car is right for you, if the seller sees how badly you want it, you might have less bargaining power. (Especially at dealerships.)

Car Buying Tip #4: Stay within your budget

Making a budget for your purchase is important. Ask yourself what you can realistically afford. Consider not just monthly payments, but how long you’d be making those payments. Then be sure to add on costs for maintenance, gas, registration, and insurance. If you haven’t considered these extra costs, you could be in for a sad surprise.

Cars that were more expensive new tend to have higher maintenance costs. Just because a ten year old BMW is the same price as a five-year old Honda doesn’t mean the cost of ownership will be the same.

Car Buying Tip #5: Do a pre-purchase inspection

Before finalizing the purchase, ask if you can have your mechanic take a look at the car. Often referred to as a PPI, it’s an expense that more than pays for itself. Unless you’re great with cars, it’s really hard to spot everything a professional will. If you can, take it to your usual mechanic, since a new mechanic who performs a PPI may suggest unnecessary repairs or fixes that aren’t needed yet.

At Shift we think this is such an important step that we perform a 200-point inspection on every car we list. We include our findings in an inspection report we give every buyer on their test drive, at no extra cost. The inspection is that important.

Car Buying Tip #6: Do your research

You wouldn’t go to a restaurant that you’d heard nothing about for a first date (especially if that meal cost thousands of dollars). You’d ask for a friends advice, you’d check a ratings website, or you’d read a review in the local newspaper. It’s the same deal with buying a car. The internet is full of information about cars, so spend some time learning about your potential new whip before you test drive it.

Car Buying Tip #7: Don’t be a stickler for brand

Just because a car manufacturer built your favorite car—the little yellow hatchback you’ve had since you were a freshman in college—doesn’t mean you should blindly buy from them again. Car manufacturers change over the years. Standards change, manufacturing facilities move, engineers retire, and new CEOs come in. Blind Faith is a great name for a classic rock band, but not a great strategy for buying a car.

Car Buying Tip #8: Make sure it’s passed its emissions and smog tests

In states that require smog tests, this is a bugaboo that really should be avoided. If you buy a car that hasn’t been tested recently, you could get stuck paying for a lot of repairs to make the car passable. It’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure that a car has been smogged recently, so ask for a proof of a current smog certification on the test drive.

Car Buying Tip #9. Be wary of overdue DMV fees 

Unbeknownst to you, a car may have accrued registration fees, parking tickets, or toll violations. You don’t want to be saddled with the previous owner’s baggage, but how do you know if you are? First, you can ask the owner. If you don’t trust them, put on your PI hat and contact the DMV with the license plate number.

Car Buying Tip #10: Ask for maintenance history

If the owner has no idea when the oil was last changed, or has no record of it ever being changed, you should walk away. It’s a sign that the car has been neglected. A good sign is a folder full of receipts for work done at a reputable shop.

Car Buying Tip #11:. Buying a really dirty or rusty car

rusty carWhat mold is to bread, rust is to cars. You don’t eat moldy bread, right? So you don’t want buy a rusty car. If you look under a car and everything looks rusty, walk away. Rust destroys body panels, engine components, suspension pieces, and even hardware. It can mean changing a routine bolt becomes a day-long job for a mechanic. If that sounds expensive, that’s because it is. Do yourself a favor and check the car for rust, especially if you live in an area where the roads are salted during the winter.

Similarly, a dirty car can be a red flag; it mean that the owner doesn’t take good care of it. If they can’t be bothered to clean it up for a prospective buyer, can you expect them to have bothered to change the oil? Also, dirt can conceal dents, body repairs, or paint work. So be wary!

The truth is, car shopping isn’t easy. In fact, it’s enough to make your head spin like a set of radials. But with this list of car buying mistakes and a steady hand, you’ll be behind the wheel of a great car for years to come.

How to Sell Your Car on Craigslist — Part I

Looking to sell your car on Craigslist? There’s a reason it’s so popular — it attracts a large number of car shoppers and you can generally get more for your car than what a dealership will offer you. It isn’t always seamless, and can be downright dread-inducing if you don’t know what you’re doing. But is IS possible to avoid the stereotypical hassle and cash your check in fast. Here’s how.

Step 1: Decide How Much To Sell Your Car For
The price is a primary search criteria for any buyer, so you’ll want to pick a number that reflects your car’s worth but will attract reasonable buyer inquiries relatively quickly. This is one of the most critical factors to selling your car. There are many ways to go about determining it, but the quickest is to visit the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) website.

(Bear in mind: KBB doesn’t factor in your locale or compare live listings, so a second opinion might be a good idea.)

Once you have some figures in hand, consider your urgency, willingness to negotiate, and the car’s condition to arrive at your listing price.

Step 2: Wash Your Car
Every buyer is going to want to see pictures of the car, so before you do that, let’s get your ride looking as presentable as possible. This is important to do to sell your car quickly.

Basic car wash or a full exterior detailing? Generally speaking, how good your car looks will have an impact on how much you can sell it for, and you’ll often make up the cost of the detailing in the sale price. Ultimately, how you clean your car is up to you, but get it spic-n-span before moving onto step 3.

Step 3: Photograph your vehicle
This is one of the most important but overlooked steps when you go to sell your vehicle. Done well, good photos show off your car in its best possible light. They help set proper buyer expectations, and they make it easier to establish trust.

  • Exterior – Start by shooting the exterior in good daylight. Get multiple angles of the exterior and try not to get too high or too low. Hold the camera at a medium height and frame the car well.
  • Dents and flaws – It may be counterintuitive to take highly detailed photos of damage, but they’ll make sure the buyer knows exactly what they’re buying. If you avoid them, it’s only ammo for the buyer to negotiate during the test drive, so save yourself some time and hassle and capture the dents, tire wear, and paint chips.
  • Interior – Get good shots of the driver’s view and don’t forget the odometer and dash. Don’t forget the trunk area, which is often an important buyer consideration. Get some detail shots of the fabric or leather, as well as interesting interior highlights.

What’s My Car (Really) Worth? The Mushy, Inexact Science of Car Pricing

Step 4: Write an Awesome Description
Paired with your awesome photos, a good description and title is going to help your car stand out from the pack and ultimately sell your car faster. In the title, Craigslist will add the price and location automatically, so you should start your title with your car’s year, make, and model.

For the description, keep it skimmable. Use bullets and break out the basics (mileage, interior/exterior colors, engine details and horsepower) from the detailed features and options. Include a paragraph on its general condition, why you’re selling the car, how you used it, and accepted method of payment (cashier’s check is recommended). Feel free to apply your creativity here, but avoid writing too much.

Step 6: Create the Listing
Now you’re all set to introduce the world to your car. Head over to Craigslist.org, select your geography, and click post to classifieds > for sale by owner > cars & trucks > your neighborhood to get the process started.

Insert the title and description you’ve already written, and fill in the rest of your car’s details. Select CL mail relay (which won’t make your email public) and click publish (it costs $5 dollars).

Congratulations, you did it! Let the test drives commence.

Read PART 11: Test drives & sale