Q: Our old set of wheels gave out and my husband and I want to buy a good, used car. What about buying on Craigslist? We’ve heard some good deals are there, but I’m not sure I’d trust it. What do you hear?
— S. Rickett, St. Louis
A: Craigslist has an old-fashioned flea market vibe to it, and that’s both a good and bad thing.
You really never know what you’re going to get when you visit the site, but there are some jewels to be had, as far as used cars go, if you take some precautions.
We’d recommend you start with some homework. Craigslist is, for sure, a viable option for car buyers. The company is expected to earn $99 million in 2010, according to Wall Street estimates, and that’s not chump change. So it’s not like you’re dealing with some fly-by-night operator. Craigslist may have the .org behind its name, but don’t let that fool you — it’s out to make a profit and companies that provide bad customer service experiences usually see those profits threatened.
So it’s in its best interest for Craigslist to give you a good used-car experience.
Start by learning how to best use the site. To save you some time, we checked out the various “how-to” websites on Craigslist and highly recommend About.com’s suite of Craiglist tutorials.
Once you're familiar with the site, apply these used-card buying tips to minimize any potential trouble buying an auto on the site.
Keep it local. You’ll want to drive the car before you buy it, and you should also have it examined by a mechanic for any signs of trouble. That’s not tough to do inside of your own area code. But outside of it is a different story. It’s much easier to check out a local deal than it is a deal three states over.
Don’t agree to have your car shipped to you. Craigslist is upfront with the fact that you should be cautious of having a car shipped to you. Way too often, an offer to ship a car is tied to a scam. You always want to pick the car up yourself. If a seller says that’s not possible, take a pass on the deal.