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How to Sell?

How To Safely Sell A Car On Craigslist? [Ultimate Guide 2024]

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Written by: Michael Becker
Last Updated:

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Quick Answer:

Selling a car safely on Craigslist involves several key steps: preparing the required paperwork, creating a detailed advertisement, and cautiously screening potential buyers.

Once you identify a prospective buyer, prioritize safety during the test drive, agree on a secure payment method, and ensure a bill of sale is signed for your protection.

Given the frequent reports of scams on Craigslist, it’s important to exercise caution and avoid rushing into a sale.

Key Takeaways:

  • Screen interested buyers by asking for personal details, financial situation, and reason for the purchase.
  • Agree on safe payment, such as cashier’s check, bank transfer or cash.
  • Make sure to sign the Bill of Sale and inform DMV about the Title transfer.

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How to Safely Sell a Car on Craigslist?

1. Find the Estimate of Car’s Value

Knowing the value of your car is key to making well-informed decisions when selling it privately and aids in effective negotiation.

Setting your price too high can deter potential buyers, whereas pricing it too low means you will miss out on a fair return.

Best ways to find out the estimated value of the car:

  • Online tools: check Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, which calculate the value based on factors like make, model, year, mileage, and condition of your vehicle, offering an overall market value estimate.
  • Private listings: compare similar used cars on platforms such as CarGurus and Autotrader. Compare vehicles based on make, model, year, mileage, condition, and any special features to gauge a fair price.
  • Cash offers: Consider getting quick estimates from Peddle, Wheelzy or CarBrain, which provide immediate cash offer estimates for online sales.

Be mindful that buyers on platforms like Craigslist often seek bargains, so you might need to lower your asking price to facilitate a sale.

how to price a car to sell

2. Gather the Required Paperwork

To legally and efficiently sell a car to a private buyer, it’s important to gather all the required paperwork for the transaction.

The specific documents needed can vary depending on your state, so it’s crucial to be aware of your local requirements:

  • Certificate of Title: required in all states, proves and transfers ownership of the car.
  • Bill of Sale: required in some states, offers protection to both the seller and the buyer.
  • VIN Inspection: required in some states.
  • Emissions Test Certificate: required in some states, checks if the car meets environmental standards.

To enhance the perceived value of your car and reassure buyers about its maintenance history, it’s beneficial to have a VIN check done, gather all service records, and include the owner’s manual with the car.

In case you’ve lost the car title, you can apply for a duplicate at your local DMV by filling out a “Duplicate Title Application.” The cost for a replacement title differs across states, generally ranging from $5 to $60. It usually takes about 7-10 business days to receive the new title.

3. Prepare the Car

Ensure your car is thoroughly washed, detailed, and polished, highlighting the condition of its exterior bodywork and paint. The interior should be spotless and odor-free, consider replacing worn floor mats to enhance its appeal.

Remove all personal belongings, storage containers, and accessories that aren’t part of the sale from the car. Keeping the interior uncluttered helps to create a sense of spaciousness for potential buyers.

For any accessories included in the sale, make sure they are neatly stored in their designated places within the vehicle.

4. Take Great Photos 

Taking clear, quality photos is extremely important when selling online. It helps buyers evaluate the condition before traveling to see the vehicle.

  • Take photos outdoors during the day, so lighting is optimal.
  • Pick a clean, attractive location.
  • Shoot the entire car from different angles.
  • Capture wheels, seats, and cargo areas.
  • Showcase the car’s condition and damage, if any.
  • Remove clutter from the inside that could distract.
  • Take close-up shots of special features.
  • Show odometer readings.

The goal is to show the buyer the accurate condition of the car and build some excitement for a potential sale.

5. Post Detailed Craigslist Ad 

The safest way to sell a car without encountering problems later is to create an honest and accurate Craigslist ad which contains the title and description.

Write a clear, concise, and informative title:

  1. Be Specific: Include key details about the car, such as make, model, year, and possibly the trim level. For example, “2015 Toyota Camry LE”.
  2. Highlight Unique Features: If your car has any unique selling points, like low mileage, recent upgrades, or a rare color, mention them. For example, “Low Mileage” or “Fully Loaded”.
  3. Mention the Condition: Briefly indicate the car’s condition. Terms like “Excellent Condition”, “Well-Maintained”, or “New Tires” can be effective.
  4. Be Honest: If the car is in need of repairs or is a salvage title, it’s better to be upfront about it. For instance, “Runs Great, Minor Repairs Needed”.
  5. Price Indication: If you’re offering a competitive price, consider including this in the title, like “Priced to Sell” or “Below Market Value”.

An example of a well-rounded Craigslist ad title might be:

“2015 Toyota Camry LE – Low Mileage, Excellent Condition, $10,000”.

Write a detailed car description, including:

  • Asking price
  • Make, model and level of the trim
  • Cars age
  • Exact mileage
  • VIN
  • Engine size
  • Exterior and interior details
  • Maintenance history
  • Describe the condition in detail
  • List of features – stereo, leather seats, etc
  • Reason of sale
  • Contact information

Be honest about your car’s condition and disclose any accidents, major repairs, or damage upfront to avoid issues later.

6. Screen Potential Buyers

Once the ad is live, you’ll start receiving inquiries. Avoid revealing personal details prematurely for safety. Ask buyers:

  • Why are they interested and intend to use the car?
  • Do they have financing ready?
  • Have they checked the car’s value?
  • Can they provide proof of funds through pre-approval letters?

Also, ask for the name, phone, email, general location etc. This helps determine seriousness before moving forward.

7. Arrange Test Drives

Test drives are a crucial part of selling a car. To conduct them safely and effectively, consider these steps:

  1. Pre-Plan the Test Drive Route: Choose a safe, public location for the test drive, preferably in an area with security measures, like a bank parking lot or near a police station.
  2. Prioritize Safety: Have a friend accompany you for added security. Arrange the test drive during daylight hours in a well-populated area.
  3. Verify the Buyer’s License: Before the test drive, ensure the potential buyer has a valid driver’s license, and consider taking a photo of it for records.
  4. Set Expectations: Agree on the test drive’s duration, route, and any restrictions. Communicate these details to the buyer in advance to prevent any confusion.
  5. Join the Test Drive: Accompany the buyer during the test drive to monitor their driving and discuss the car’s features and performance.

Make sure your car’s registration is current. Driving with an expired registration is illegal and could lead to fines if stopped by law enforcement.

8. Agree on a Safe Payment Method

When selling your car on Craigslist it’s crucial to safeguard yourself against fraud and scams.

Here are the most secure payment methods:

  1. Cashier’s Check: Issued by a bank, a cashier’s check ensures guaranteed funds, eliminating the worry of a bounced check.
  2. Bank Transfer: Funds are directly transferred from the buyer’s bank account to yours, making the funds immediately accessible.
  3. Cash: If choosing cash, meet in a public location and count the money thoroughly before transferring the car.

Additional safety tips for accepting payments:

  1. Avoid Personal Checks: Personal checks can bounce, and recovering the funds can be challenging.
  2. Safe Meeting Places: Opt for public meeting places instead of your home or secluded areas.
  3. Verify Buyer’s Identity: Request the buyer’s driver’s license and registration for identity verification.
  4. Title Transfer: Only sign over the title after receiving the full payment.

9. Sign the Bill of Sale

Even if it’s not a legal requirement in your state, it’s advisable to sign a bill of sale when selling your car.

Benefits of signing the Bill of Sale:

  1. Liability Protection: Without a bill of sale, you could potentially be held responsible for any incidents or issues the buyer encounters with the vehicle.
  2. Sale Validation: A bill of sale is a legally binding document that confirms you have sold the vehicle to the buyer.
  3. Sale Documentation: It records important details of the sale, such as the date, purchase price, and the buyer’s and seller’s names and addresses, which is useful for tax purposes and as proof of the vehicle’s sale.
  4. Facilitates Vehicle Registration: In most states, the buyer will need the bill of sale to register the vehicle in their name.

Clarify that the car is sold “as is” and that there is no warranty. Make copies for both buyer and seller records.

10. Transfer Title

Once payment clears fully in your account, it’s time to transfer the title. Complete the steps with your local Department of Motor Vehicles, including:

  • Sign Title in dedicated “Owner” areas
  • Add exact odometer readings
  • Provide Title to the seller for signing
  • Notarize if required by your state laws
  • Submit paperwork to the DMV

Keep in mind that the title transfer fee is paid by the buyer.

11. Inform DMV about the Sale

It’s important to inform the DMV as soon as possible after you’ve transferred the title of your car, typically within 5 to 15 days.

The process varies by state; some allow online notification, while others require a mailed paper form.

Alerting the DMV about the sale shields you from any liability related to parking tickets, accidents, or other violations that happen post-sale.

It also cancels your registration, ensuring you won’t be charged for registration fees and taxes on a vehicle you no longer possess.

12. Cancel Insurance

After selling your car, it’s crucial to complete the final administrative step of canceling your car insurance.

Contact your insurance provider immediately to terminate the policy, as there’s no need to continue paying for insurance on a car you no longer own, which could lead to unnecessary financial loss.

Moreover, you might qualify for a refund of any advance premiums paid.

Alternatives to Selling a Car on Craigslist

Beyond Craigslist, several other options exist for safely selling used cars. Compare to choose what works best:

Best platforms to sell your car privately

Best platforms to sell your car online

Selling your car to a dealership

Selling your used car to a dealership is hassle-free. While they resell for higher profits, you skip handling advertising, buyers and paperwork. The convenience can be worth accepting lesser value if on a tight schedule.

How To Protect Yourself When Selling A Car On Craigslist?

While Craigslist offers a convenient online platform to connect with buyers, it also carries risks if proper precautions are not taken by sellers.

Here are top tips to remain safe and protect yourself when listing cars for sale on Craigslist:

Personal Safety Tips:

  • Meet only during daytime hours, avoiding night
  • Conduct business only in very public spaces
  • Inform someone where and when you are meeting the buyer
  • Do not invite buyers to your home address
  • Work with a friend or family member also present

Financial Safety Tips:

  • Avoid payments via wire transfer or pre-loaded card
  • Verify cashier’s checks with banks before accepting
  • Require meetups for cash payments
  • Wait for personal checks to fully clear before releasing the car
  • Get copies of the buyer’s driver’s license and other IDs
  • Write up the bill of sale to protect yourself from future liability

Avoiding Scams Tips:

  • Ask detailed questions to uncover scammers
  • Research common Craigslist scams beforehand
  • Never provide personal details upfront before verifying buyers
  • Do not communicate outside the Craigslist platform initially
  • Be wary of those trying to negotiate sight-unseen
  • Refuse requests to pay more than the listed amount as a scam tactic
the safest way to sell a car

Pros of Selling a Car on Craigslist

  • Higher Profit Potential: Selling on Craigslist often results in a higher sale price compared to trading in at a dealership.
  • Low Cost to List: At $5 for a 30-day listing, Craigslist is an inexpensive way to reach a large audience.
  • Ease for Local, Private Sales: Craigslist is optimal for local, private sales, eliminating the need for shipping or delivery as the buyer can drive the car away.

Cons of Selling a Car on Craigslist

Potential drawbacks to keep in mind include:

  1. High Risk of Scams: There’s a notable risk of encountering scams, so vigilance is necessary to protect yourself.
  2. Effort in Screening Buyers: It requires time and effort to screen potential buyers to ensure they are serious and trustworthy.
  3. Arranging Test Drives: Coordinating test drives involves time and effort, including setting routes and meeting with buyers.
  4. Paperwork Hassles: Managing the necessary paperwork for a private car sale can be complex and time-consuming.
  5. Longer Selling Process: Selling a car on Craigslist generally takes longer than using online car-selling platforms.
  6. Negotiation Skills Required: Successfully selling a car on Craigslist often requires good negotiation skills to reach a favorable sale price and handle potential haggling from buyers.
  7. Ad Writing Required: Creating an appealing, detailed advertisement is necessary to attract buyers.

How Much it Costs to Sell a Car on Craigslist?

The cost to sell a car on Craigslist is $5 for a by-owner car advertisement.

This fee is consistent across the United States and applies to cars, trucks, RVs, and motorcycles listed by their owners.

How Long Does it Take to Sell a Car on Craigslist?

On average, selling a car privately can take about 52 days.

This duration may be extended due to many buyers seeking underpriced vehicles and the prevalence of scams, which can significantly prolong the selling process.

Factors influencing selling time:

  • Car’s condition
  • Car’s specifications
  • Car’s price
  • Quality of Ad
  • Local Demand

What to be Careful of When Selling a Car on Craigslist?

While a convenient platform, even cautious sellers encounter risks selling vehicles on Craigslist. Be extremely careful to recognize common scams, threats and unsafe situations:

  • Spam replies advertising unrelated offers rather than car inquiries
  • Calls, emails or texts making unusual requests outside normal parameters
  • High-pressure tactics urging you to act urgently
  • Offers significantly above your listed price aimed to exploit emotionally
  • Requests for personal details like home address and financial information
  • Refusal to meet at safe public locations or only after banking hours
  • Anything seeming “too good to be true”, like overpaying on purpose

Trust instincts if an interested party converses strangely or makes unusual demands compared to typical buyer questions. Politely withdraw engagement with them to steer clear of risks. Only proceed initially with those expressing genuine interest in your vehicle sensibly.

What to Do if the Buyer of Your Car is Out of State?

Selling to an out-of-state buyer on Craigslist requires a few extra steps for the transaction but opens up possibilities to a larger pool of customers.

Steps for selling the car to an out-of-state buyer:

  1. Ask for photo verification of a valid driver’s license during initial contact
  2. Clarify logistics on how they plan to pick up the vehicle if the distance is drivable
  3. Favor electronic payments over checks to eliminate delays in waiting for clearance
  4. Use detailed bill of sale forms to protect yourself without the ability to accompany them to the DMV
  5. Overnight sign original title using trackable mail with delivery confirmation

Can You Sell a Car Without a Title?

A certificate of title is required to sell your car in every state, whether it’s a private sale, trade-in, or through a dealership.

However, in certain states, for vehicles older than 15 years, a bill of sale may substitute for a title, allowing buyers to register the vehicle at the DMV without the original title.

can you sell a car without a title

Can You Sell a Financed Car on Craigslist?

Yes, private parties can sell cars still actively financed through outstanding auto loan debt. But additional intermediate steps must occur to do so legally and safely:

  1. Find out your payoff amount
  2. Find Out Your Car’s Value
  3. Consider Your Car’s Equity
  4. Disclose Loan Status to the BuyerTake Care of the Paperwork
how to sell a car privately with a loan
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Michael Becker


About the author:

Michael Becker is a car enthusiast and expert who has been working in the automotive industry for over 15 years. He started his career as a salesperson at a local dealership, where he learned the ins and outs of the car market. Then he moved on to flipping cars for a profit.

Michael has also helped many of his relatives and friends to sell their cars, using his knowledge and skills to get them the best deals. He will guide you through the process and help you avoid the common pitfalls.

The content on is for informational and educational purposes only and cannot replace any professional financial advice.
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