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Craigslist HQ in San Francisco (No Kidding)

Buying a car from Craigslist can be safe, but you need to be very careful. It requires that you be able to look over the vehicle carefully, just as you need to carefully look over any used vehicle, but given that you’re buying from a private party as opposed to a dealership, you will have less legal recourse if the car turns out to be a lemon. Here are a few things that you should look for:

  • Walk around the vehicle. Look for any leaks, tires that are not evenly worn, and mismatched paint. The paint may be the same color, but not as faded as the rest of the car. This is an indication that the vehicle has been wrecked.
  • Open the hood. Look for puddles or signs of leaks. Check the belts and hoses for cracking and dry-rot. Check the age of the battery. Pull the oil dipstick. Look for an odd, peanut butter colored oil. This can be a sign that there is water/coolant in the oil. If so, go home without this car. Also, check all fluid levels. Low levels can be an indication that there is a leak somewhere or the car is poorly maintained.
  • Start the engine with the hood open. Listen for tapping noises at the top of the engine. Does the engine surge, then slow down while idling? This can be a sign of trouble with the throttle position sensor or another part of the fuel injection system.
  • Now it is time to go for a ride. Again, keep your ears open. Listen for strange creaks, pops, or groans. Does the vehicle pull to one side or another? Does it feel like there is a ”hop” when the wheels turn? This ”hopping” can be a sign that one or more tires are bad. After driving at least five miles, park. With the engine in idle, check the transmission fluid level.

If you are not sure about the vehicle, you have two choices. One, do not buy it. Two, take it to an experienced mechanic that you trust. Also, never buy a used vehicle unless you have obtained a vehicle history report.

These are all general rules of thumb when you are buying a used vehicle. As for Craigslist, you need to take extra care for your safety. There have been multiple murders, robberies, and assaults associated with answering ads on Craigslist. You will need to set the meeting for a location where you feel safe. Do not go to the meeting alone and ask for identification from the seller. Never send a money order to ”hold” the vehicle. Never go to their home or give them your home address. Trust your gut. If you get an uneasy feeling about the deal, move on.


About the author: Jerry Coffey


Jerry Coffey is the financial expert here at A recovered "debtaholic," he now preaches frugal-living and sound money management here and at, where he is the chief contributor. He works for a major automaker.


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