Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Losing Sleep

February 22, 2012

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the trouble to sell a car on Craigslist, last month we sold our car on Craigslist for $3000 more than the dealer offered us on a trade-in. 

I’d never put up a car for sale by owner and didn’t really know much about the detail of how to sell a car on our own. I was pretty apprehensive about the whole process and wouldn’t have gone through with it if the dealer’s offer hadn’t been so ridiculously low.

The whole thing went pretty smoothly so I thought I’d share my experience selling a used car and what worked for us. 

The first question was actually, where to sell the car?  I knew sites like eBay Motors, AutoTrader, and CarSoup would help us sell a car online for a fee or a cut of the sale price.  However, I’d spent enough money buying a new car that I wanted to get the most out of our used car as possible.

I had a co-worker who sold his car on Craigslist and was pretty optimistic that we’d be able to sell ours for a reasonable price so I decided to give it a try.

Listing on Craigslist

The whole process started with listing our car on Craigslist – this is the step that that took up the majority of the time.  I started out with research – filling out the car appraisal on Kelley Blue Book and to see what our car was really worth.  I used both to see how much the appraisal varied and it came out pretty close so using just one of them would probably be fine.

Then I looked up what similar cars in our area were selling for and also found examples of ads that caught my attention and seemed to present the car well.  Finally I created our Craiglist posting, the whole process of research and ad creation probably took about 2.5 hours.

Craigslist Help

My buddy at work who sells a lot of things on Craiglist told me to put a lot of information in your listing so you’re not bombarded with questions about your car.  Unfortunately I took this to the extreme and put all the specs for our CR-V from the Honda site into our Craigslist listing.

About fifteen minutes after I listed the car for sale I got a notification that my listing was flagged as spam. 

I didn’t know where to turn for help until I discovered that you can register for the Craigslist forum and ask other users for help. After asking around the forum I discovered it was probably flagged as spam because I’d basically dumped all the car specs into the listing. 

Based on the feedback from the forum I consolidated it to the most important fifteen bullets points about the car and re-listed it.

Some of the other listing best practices to follow are:

  • Include pictures
  • Include the reason you’re selling the car
  • List a contact phone number

Filtering Craigslist Spam

One of the things I was apprehensive about was putting my phone number on Craigslist and getting bombarded by the crazies but I found a way around it.  Rather than listing my cell phone or my home phone I ended up using a Google voice number.

Google Voice has the option of screening calls from unknown numbers, the caller says their name and you can choose to accept the call or not.  What I found is that you get a lot of calls from people that aren’t actually individuals looking to buy your car for themselves.  Some are car brokers and some are just people looking to buy your car cheap and then turn around and resell it for a profit.

The screening through Google Voice got rid of the majority of these callers, when asked for their name they would just hang up.  I was worried that it would turn away actual buyers so at first I called the numbers back but almost every time I got the corporate voicemail of some car broker so eventually I just stopped returning the calls.

This screening process might have turned away some real buyers but what it did for me was to limit the people I talked to to actual interested prospects. The people that did say their name and connect with me were all very interested and legitimate buyers.  I wasn’t in any rush to sell so I was willing to risk turning some people away to filter out the opportunity seekers.

Craigslist Meetings

Another big concern was having strangers come to our house, an objection I hear from many people who are wary of selling on Craigslist.  So I decided that I would meet interested buyers in some public place so they could check out the car and test drive it.

It sounded like a hassle but ended up not being that big a deal because the first person to look at the car ended up buying it from us.  I drove the car to his house and he test drove it with me along for the ride.  Our buyer knew a lot about cars and thoroughly examined it himself.

We did get lucky because my co-worker who sold his truck on Craigslist spent some time meeting people to let them test drive and had several people who took his truck off to their own mechanic for an hour or two.  He only did that with people he had vetted and had them leave their car behind as collateral.

Pricing on Craigslist

We started off intentionally overpricing the car by two hundred more than the $9000 we thought it was worth based on Kelley Blue Book. This was both to leave some haggle room and to price out people who were just looking to buy cheap and flip it.

This meant that we weren’t flooded with calls about the car but that was fine with us.  We weren’t in any hurry to sell and didn’t want to weed through dozens of emails and phone calls from people bargain hunting.

You can always come down on price, so I think it’s best to start off a little bit higher and see what kind of response you get.  If you list your car on Craigslist and your phone starts ringing off the hook then you’ve probably under-priced your car.

If you dont get any interest after a week or two you can post it again with a lower price.  If someone’s really interested in the car but think it’s over priced they may contact you and ask if you’re willing to accept less – which is what happened to us.

Consider Repairs

When I researched our car I overlooked the fact we hadn’t done our 100K maintenance (timing belt, water pump, spark plugs).  Most people that called were asking about the 100K mile service so I called the dealer to get a cost estimate of what the work would cost.  The work, plus the price of new rear brakes it needed, came to just under $1000.  So when a buyer offered us $8000 in cash I knew that based on the needed maintenance it was a fair offer.

Maintenance Records

One other maintenance consideration was that our model and year of car had known air conditioner issues that we’d had corrected.

I noted on the Craigslist post that I had the service records available and assured the buyer that the AC compressor had been replaced.  The day we were supposed to meet for the sale, he called to confirm I had the receipts for the work and the sale almost fell threw.

I had the paperwork for the compressor replacement but not the receipts and he insisted that he would only accept receipts.  Luckily I was able to dig through old files and find the receipts.  So just be sure that you’re clear about what kind of maintenance records you have available, otherwise you could waste time going all the way through the process and have the deal fail at the end.

Getting Paid

I would only accept a cashier’s check or cash when selling your car on Craigslist.  Taking a personal check is risky, you’re likely to find yourself without a car and without the cash. 

Our buyer offered cash but who has $8K in bills just sitting around their house? I made the mistake of not accepting his offer until Saturday afternoon when the bank was already closed.  Which left him the rest of the weekend to shop around for other deals.  Luckily it didn’t come back to bite me because by Monday night he had the money and was ready to make the deal.

Used Car Paperwork

For the closing I drove to his house and brought along the needed documentation:

  • Car title
  • Maintenance records
  • Release of lien letter for old car loan

He had the money all counted out and in stacks of hundred dollar bills on the counter. 

We filled out the back of the title to transfer to a new owner and we both signed a bill of sale with our driver’s license information, address, and sale price. 

Then I gave him the keys, he gave me the money, and I went through the car one last time to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything behind. Be sure to check the glove compartment and all the little nooks and crannies – and don’t forget to take off your license plates!

Craisglist Safety

After the sale I chatted with the buyer about buying and selling on Craiglist and it turned out he’d been doing it for years. He emphasized being cautious, in general, and suggested all your meetings be in a public place with lots of people around. He said one thing to be wary of is the scenario where you’re meeting a person to buy something and they know you’re bringing a lot of cash to pay for it. Obviously you have to bring the money but make sure the transfer happens in a location you feel safe.

He told me a story about a guy who met a buyer at an out of the way spot to sell a motorcycle. It turned out to be a setup, no one else was around and the buyer stole his bike at gunpoint.

So as far as safety goes, don’t put yourself in dangerous situations, if it doesn’t feel right then definitely don’t go. One good initial screen is just to ask a lot of questions up front. You can often get a feel for how serious and legitimate a prospective buyer is by asking lots of probing questions on the phone.

Would I Sell a Car On Craigslist Again?

Yes. I had my concerns in the beginning but for $3000 more than the dealer offered it was definitely worth my time. My approach was just to try it out and see what happened, you could do the same. If things didn’t work out I would have explored other options but I’m glad I gave it a chance. Of course, I was lucky and sold it to the first person to look it over but there were definitely other legitimate buyers out there.

What’s been your experience selling big ticket items on Craigslist? What are some other tips for people thinking about selling their car on Craigslist?


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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13 Responses to Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Losing Sleep

  • Matt

    While I understand the logic behind pricing at a higher price point, you’ll scare off potential buyers which might cause more harm over the long run. Here’s what could happen: you list your used car at a higher price than similar cars, then serious buyers gravitate (then buy) the less expensive cars. Over the course of a few days, you could have a “stale” listing. This means the serious buyers have already passed you over in their search and are not as likely to give you another chance, even if you drop your price, vs. your first “fresh” listing. I’m of the mind that you should price to sell, and unload your used car quickly. The idea is to sell (especially during a slow economy). An unsold car is money on the table. If you lose a little by selling for a little less than you think your ride is worth, you still do better vs. CarMax or a trade-in. I sold two used cars via Craigslist in the last year, and both were priced aggresively (but we still made thousands more vs. trading in).

  • Ryan

    I sold a car on Craigslist a couple years ago when we needed a larger car for our family (2-door Accords are not good for families!). The sale went very smoothly, and we didn’t have to deal with too much spam. Good tip on the Google Voice to screen potential buyers!

    I also recently bought a car on Craigslist. I brought a friend along with me, which I recommend if you are uncomfortable carrying around cash or meeting strangers (or, in my case, need someone who knows a little something about classic Corvettes and could drive my car home after I bought the Vette!). 🙂

    • Ben

      A growing family is why we sold our CR-V. We had another kid and couldn’t fit them all so we bought an Odyssey. The CR-V was in good condition, which made it easier to sell. I suppose if a person was selling an older car that has some issues you’ll just have to be ready to accept less for it.

      Congrats on the new car, sounds exciting! Which process was more difficult for you, buying or selling on Craigslist?

  • Fred Wallace

    I’ve sold three cars via Craigslist (most recently a 1999 Audi A6) and have always done vastly better than autotrader or going to CarMax. In the case of my Audi which I sold two years ago, CarMax offered me $1500, with autotrader offering me $2250. In 24 hours I had three prospective buyers and ended up getting $3900 for my Audi. I found the whole process relatively easy.

    • Ben

      I didn’t even think to include CarMax in my list of alternatives, I’ve never actually been to one, sounds like they’ll make you even less than AutoTrader.

      It is more work to sell on Craigslist than using something like AutoTrader. However as your example shows, you can make a lot more selling it on your own through Craigslist, which can definitely make it worth your time.

  • David

    I found that getting the CarFax report ahead of time to show potential buyers goes a long way towards having people trust you – and in turn, buy your car.

  • Kevin Yu @ SpringCoin

    I never had luck selling my car on craigslist, I ended up using Autotrader.

    • Ben

      yeah, we were lucky to have our first test drive make us a reasonable offer. I figured we’d try it out and see what we could get, if it had hung around for months with lots of lookers and no buyers we probably would have looked at the next option.

  • Emily Hunter

    Wow, these are really great tips! 🙂 I’ve bought a car off of Craigslist in the past, got my mother’s $600 beater off of there, and it went without a hitch. Filtering through the spam was the hardest part, but you’re right — more information means less spamminess.


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