Five Most Common Car Scams of Craigslist

I love Craigslist...

There are so many different possibilities. With one look you could end up with a free coach or you could buy a limited edition item! Sometimes I catch myself window shopping for hours, it’s great! However, there are a few pitfalls. One being, you have to rely on the stranger to hold up their end of the bargain. So I’ve decided to list some of the most common scammers I see on Craiglists. Also, here is a guide for the most basic scams here.

1) The Old Picture Routine...

So, just about every time I look for a mid-range car I see this. You see a deal on a SUV that looks great only to see it in person with the car being completely sun-damaged, new dents, etc.

Tip: If you want to make sure they aren’t selling you short or to see very obvious scams, look at the background of the photo. Does the landscape look unfamiliar? Not the right type of foliage? Probably a scam or an extremely old pic.

Side Story

I was looking into trading our ’63 Thunderbird and saw a post about a beautiful Ferrari kit car. It was reasonably priced so I thought to myself ‘probably not a scam’. So I call the guy and he agreed to look at it and actually listed some details. Being so excited, I drove across the city to see it and when I first looked at it… 

I was the biggest disappointment of my life. I was so stunned that the guy was acting like everything was just fine but the top was perforated, the body was warped, and the guy couldn’t even get the thing started! Never let your guard down and never assume people are telling you the truth.

2) The 'I can only give you half down right now'..

This comes to mind, especially when selling a nicer vehicle. Some will wait until the very last minute of ‘point of sale’ to say “Oh by the way, can I give half right now? I don’t have it all on me and..” Don’t ever get fooled by this one.

Side Story

Before leaving the states and moving on an island, we were trying to sell an immaculate Corvette. We were waiting for the right offer and a man kept messaging me and said he wanted it. Great, so we meet up and as he pulls for cash he says “Look, I have a family. My tax returns should come in by next month. This is my dream car.” So we sat on the offer and waiting for other offers to come in. A week later, we call him up and tell him sure, let’s just write up a notarized contract (especially since he worked in public utilities). Okay, so we meet up and he tries to hand us money but refuses to notaries the contract. So we said ‘look, this isn’t going to work out. Thanks’.

A week later we get a text from the ‘potential buyer’s wife’ saying they are threatening to get the cops involved because we owe them. Ridiculous, so I do my due diligence and address them with a wordy ‘no’ and throw some legal terms in there. She immediately backed off. I cannot believe this man tried to give us a max of a thousand dollars and hope we leave before he would ‘pay us’ the rest of it (it was worth every penny of 12k).

The lesson in short: It doesn’t matter how credible someone’s promise sounds, you’re not a bank and if they can’t get money/a loan from the bank then something else is wrong there.

Rose Choneka c5 Corvette vett

3) The 'Everything works excellent' or the 'Carfax are clean'

Some people love to pawn off an already diagnosed vehicle. Or don’t really like a certain sound it’s making so better get cash for it now types. This can be pretty tricky to catch if you don’t have a lot of experience. Before you seriously consider a vehicle, it’s worth buying the Carfax. 

Tip: If you are military, you can pick up a free copy at your posts ACS facility.

Some things to look out for are:

-The body lines don’t match up. Sometimes this can be a factory issue but if the owner can’t tangibly account for why the panels aren’t aligned don’t touch it. 

-Paint looks a slightly different color on other panels. So sometimes the panels might line up after someone did a good job fixing it but nothing can change how different fresh and old paint looks. 

-Odd noises while it’s on. 

-Bolts around the fenders unmatched

-Look at the radiator supports to see if they’ve been damaged/changed

-If you see any scribbling of diagrams on the engine bay. This is usually done by a mechanic when he/she is explaining the damage done.

Another thing to consider is that even if the car has a clean history, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been wrecked or damaged. Some people don’t report their accidents or they have a buddy rig it up.

how to buy a car near me, check, brakes, tires, professional

4) The No-it-all 'mechanic'

This guy is an ass, pure and simple. He knows everything about your car. He knows your car is completely and utterly going to die soon, but worry, he’ll do the honors of taking it off your hands for less than half your asking price!

This one may not be as common for most people. I think it frequents me more often because stereotypically women know nothing about cars; point taken. But there are some true con-artists out there! If meeting with them becomes an emotional roller-coaster or if they are trying to scare you, what you’re experiencing is a manipulation tactic. Don’t be fooled!


Side Story

So we put this car on the ‘lemon lot’ on base and we kept getting messages from this guy who was interested and wanted to know all the specs of it. Cool. I go to show the car and this guy texts me ‘I had to take an Uber all the way here, I just PCS’d here and I’m up in the army hotel. Can you pick me up from the gas station on Post? I don’t know where the lemon lot is at here.’ So I felt bad since I just endured the emotional toll of PCSing and decided to pick him up.

I chitchatted about the move here and he had nothing to say so we start talking about his cars and what kits he has on them. Then we get to the lot and his friend immediately shows up in ACUs and the guy I picked up instantly pulls out an OBD(car diagnostic tool) and turns on the car. He starts to say ‘Oh no. Your car is misfiring from the 2nd and 6th cylinders’ then proceeds to check out the rest of the car.

He takes it on a test drive and after an hour we started talking and I asked ‘What code did your OBD pull?’ He says ‘I don’t know PD… something.’ Then I said ‘Okay, can you pull up the history on your device?’ Him ‘Oh, well, I don’t know how to get that up.’ Then I asked to see it, no response. A few minutes later the guy hits me with this ‘Well with it misfiring, that’s a lot of work and replacement parts. I do $2,000 for it.’ Mind you, my asking price was $5,400. I said ‘Oh, right. What cylinders and again?’ the buddy chimes in ‘2nd and 6th’. So I said no to the offer and this guy has the audacity to say ‘Well, I’ll come back in a week when you’re ready to sell it to me’ rudely… Completely unbelievable!

5) The 'I have the title but...' person

For this one, just run!
It’s clear they don’t have the title (and probably why they are selling it for cheap) but some have a great backstory. Some will say ‘oh, it’s at my dad’s house.’ Then want you to buy it immediately. This situation isn’t your problem and it’s none of your business. So, if you hear a complication with the title just thank them and be on your way.


So these are the most common situations I run into on CL. I hope you enjoyed some the pain/stories I’ve endured to figuring this all out and that your learned something.

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