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Top Five Tips for Buying a Car From Craigslist and Shipping it Back to You

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Top Five Tips for Buying a Car From Craigslist and Shipping it Back to You
Top Five Tips for Buying a Car From Craigslist and Shipping it Back to You

Buying a car can become the best day or the worst day of your life, depending on the situation. A lot of people put ads on social media or use platforms like Craigslist to sell vehicles. Because of the lack of mediation available on these sites, there are still fraudulent sellers looking to swindle a quick buck. Take precautions when you are cruising these online sites looking for a potential new ride.

Tip #1: Communication About the Vehicle

When you start talking to someone who has a vehicle for sale on Craigslist, you will probably begin by exchanging a few emails. It is during these initial emails that you will gain most of your initial information. One thing to keep in mind when talking to an individual you don't know is to keep certain personal information from them. You don't want to give a stranger all of your personal identifying information after a short conversation.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when communicating about a car:

  • If you notice that the person emailing you has poor language skills, that is the first clue you could be conversing with a fraudulent person. Be wary of these types of interactions, especially the ones who want you to wire money to them before you ever see the car.
  • Exchange physical phone numbers so that you can get ahold of the seller with any questions you may have. This will help you verify their identification and speak to an actual person without having to wait for an email to be answered.
  • Request clear pictures of the vehicle. Ask for photographs of the exterior and the interior. Make sure that the photos don't use filters and that they aren't just copied from the internet.
  • Ask for the VIN of the vehicle. The VIN is the "Vehicle Identification Number," and they are unique for every car manufactured. You will be able to glean a lot of information off the internet using the VIN. Get an accurate history of the vehicle and know the value of it before you ever arrange a meeting.

Once you are confident with the conversations and are comfortable to meet the seller for a test drive of the vehicle, now would be the time that you would set one up. You must always meet someone off of Craigslist in public and bring a friend with you.

Tip #2: Meeting to Inspect the Vehicle

Sometimes it is necessary to travel to see a vehicle that you find on Craigslist. Most people will search all across the country for "the car" of their dreams. When they do, they are often faced with the possibility of having to have the vehicle shipped back to their residency. 

Unless you are an ASE certified mechanic and understand all the ins and outs of vehicle composition, you aren't going to be able to identify every little detail that could be wrong with the car. Before you get behind the wheel of the vehicle, there are some general things you should check out for safety.

  • Walk around the car. Take note of any significant dents and scrapes. By this time, you have already completed a vehicle history report and know of any major wrecks that the vehicle may have been in, ask the seller about this. While you can't expect a used car to be in mint condition, you should not expect a mint condition price tag on a pile of junk.
  • Next, check the general components of the vehicle.
    • Do the headlights, taillights, brakes, and turn signals all light up?
    • Is there sufficient tread remaining on the car, or will these have to be replaced shortly after purchase?
    • How does the car look overall?
  • Check out the brakes. Brakes are essential, especially when taking the first test drive of the vehicle. When looking through the wheel spokes, the brake pads should be thick, not worn. 
    • Is this something the seller is willing to fix, or will you be required to foot this cost as well?
  • Test out the shocks and struts. Push down on all four corners of the car. If there is little to no bounce present in the vehicle, those components are good. If there is a lot of bounce, this is an indicator that the shocks or struts may need replacing.
  • Open and shut all the doors, windows, and anything else that is supposed to be power operated. Make sure that these components of the car do what they are supposed to do. The last thing you want to do is purchase a vehicle with non-working windows.
  • Look under the car for any leaks that may make themselves present. In warmer weather, you can expect the condensation of the air conditioner to pool, but other than that, there should be no liquids coming from the underside. 
  • Move on to the inside of the car, once you are satisfied with the outside.
    • Check the instrument panel and all the lights on the front dash. Make sure that any mirrors work and check the heat and air conditioning unit. If there are electronics in the vehicle, make sure you check the working capacity of those too.
    • Test the seats and make sure they adjust the way that they are supposed to. If they have heating or cooling built-in, do they work? Are they in good quality, or are they stained and ripped up? How about the cup holders?
  • Is there a strong air freshener smell coming from the vehicle?
    • This is the first key sign that the seller is hiding something. This something could be anything from a mold smell from water damage to cigarette smoke. Check under the carpets for extensive rusting. Rust is a sign of flood damage inside of a vehicle.


Test Drive

If the vehicle you are looking at is fully operational (some collectors are willing to purchase cars that do not run), the time has come to take it for a test drive. Never settle for a short drive around a parking lot or block. You need to get the vehicle up to speed to test the true nature of the mechanics. Listen to the sound of the transmission, make sure the shifting is smooth. If the vehicle has a clutch, make sure that the clutch is not worn.


Tip #3: Paying for the Vehicle

Never, ever, pay for a vehicle via wire transfer before seeing and receiving the title. When you buy a used vehicle from a person on Craigslist, you should pay cash. An essential part of the buying process is getting all of the necessary paperwork for the vehicle.

The Title

Inspect the title closely for any discrepancies. Check for the following information: 

  • Match the VIN on the title to the VIN on the vehicle
  • Make sure there is no lien holder listed 
    • If the vehicle has a lien, the seller will need to have that lien released before they can legally sell you that vehicle.
  • Before leaving the seller, ensure that they have filled all of their information on the title out. This saves you time and hassle later on.

After you purchase the vehicle and have the signed title in hand, you are going to need to put insurance on the new vehicle and get it registered in your name. Most vehicle transport services will not transport a vehicle, especially over state lines, if you do not have an updated registration and title. You have to be able to show legal proof of ownership for the vehicle.

Tip #4: Finding a Transport Company to Ship the Vehicle

When you were hunting for a vehicle on Craigslist, you may have been trying to decide if you wanted to drive the vehicle back with you, if you wanted to haul it, or if you wanted to get a professional car transport service to ship it for you. All of these are reasonable options, but with a used vehicle, you can't always trust a long-distance drive the very first day you have it. So better to be safe than sorry, you chose to have a professional shipping company transport the car for you.

Once you begin discussing the possibility of purchasing a vehicle from someone, you need to start getting quotes for the transport of that vehicle. The best way to get the best price is to quote more than one company for your transport needs.

Research Companies

You should start your search by looking into highly reputable and reliable companies, and a great place to start is our auto transport company directory. Most of these companies are going to be accredited, and their reputation is going to speak for itself. Start getting quotes from these companies and see who can offer you the most for the best price.

Once you have your quotes and you want to see the complaints and licensing for a company, you can contact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to check the shipping company's statistics. You can also use this resource to check their insurance record as well.

Make sure you ask the company their shipping policies and procedures. Find out what their shipping plans consist of and how long a typical car shipment can take. 

Do they offer an option that can reduce the price if you wait a little longer for the vehicle to arrive?

Would it make more sense to do terminal-to-terminal delivery instead of door-to-door auto transport? These are all things you have to think about when talking to an agent. 

Agents with A-1 Auto Transport are trained to identify all the questions you may have about the automotive transport industry and have answers ready before you ask. Decades of experience are what set the A-1 Auto Transport advantage above the competition.

Tip #5: Properly Preparing Your Car For Transport

Cars have to be prepped before they are transported, no matter where they are going. Your transport agent will help you pick the option that is the best fit for your vehicle. You can choose open-air options or enclosed transport for the vehicle you purchased. If the car is expensive or a classic, you may push for enclosed transport to keep it out of the elements. After picking the method of transport, you can begin working with an agent on the time frame of vehicle transport.

Steps to Prepare Your Car

  1. Remove all of your personal items from the car. Even though you just bought the vehicle, you may have items that you placed in it after purchase. Take those out and pack them on your person instead of in the vehicle.
  2. Wash the car. By washing the vehicle, you are removing all dirt and debris, as well as foreign soil, which is prohibited during transport across international borders. A clean vehicle also makes it easier for you and the transport company to inspect the vehicle before transport and complete the Bill of Landing. A Bill of Landing outlines all dents, scratches, or prior damage sustained by the vehicle and is signed off on by both owner and transport professional.
  3. Complete a maintenance check before you have the car transported. Check the fluids, check for leaks, make sure that there is no more than a quarter of a tank of gas in the vehicle, check tire pressure, and anything else that is routine for the vehicle.
  4. Turn the alarm off if there is one installed on the vehicle. Sometimes the slightest movement can set one off, and nobody wants to listen to a car alarm going off as they are driving a long-distance.
  5. Make sure all documents are in the vehicle and are signed before the date of departure. If the transport specialists are going to require special paperwork during the transport process, make sure that the shipping company has those in order as well. 

Read the full article on preparing your car for shipping here

Shipping Your Car, Made Easy

After decades in the vehicle transport industry, A-1 Auto Transport has learned a thing or two about customer satisfaction and the transport process. When you obtain a quote with A-1 Auto Transport, you will receive a specialist that will see you through from quote until the day the vehicle is delivered to the requested destination. 

If you buy a car on Craigslist and need an expert to bring that car back to you, trust the experts at A-1 Auto Transport for all your vehicle shipping needs.

Joe Webster
Written By:Joe Webster
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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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