9 Craigslist car shopping hacks to keep you from tearing your hair out

Craigslist is a blessing and a curse to the automotive world. It’s one of the best ways to find affordable project cars and daily drivers and occasionally it can turn up amazing finds. Anyone can use it to shop, and anyone can use it to sell. That’s the curse. “Anyone” includes all sorts of annoying sellers trying their best to get their car into your search, making finding what you want more difficult. The result are some common pitfalls, but there are ways to avoid these problems. Here are my biggest gripes with the platform, along with some solutions to avoid them.

The peeve: Rotten, no-good *#*#&$ scammers!

Why it’s annoying: Because they’re rotten, no-good *#*#&$ scammers!

How to fix it: The most obvious examples of this flim-flam, and the ones I see most frequently, are lightly-used popular models offered for far too good a deal. You can do a search for other places the image is hosted and often find the scammer has stolen the image from legit dealerships. Other times they’ll be even lazier and screen-capture vehicles for sale on Craigslist in other cities. They’ll try to get you to send them money even though the car doesn’t exist and apparently enough people fall for it that it’s still worth trying. Craigslist has tips to spot and avoid scams. Their #1 bit of advice is that if you only do business in person you’ll automatically avoid the majority of scams.

craigslist keyword cloud

The peeve: Spammed keywords

Why it’s annoying: Nobody shopping for a Raptor wants to see an ad for a Honda Element. Who does the seller think they’re kidding with that brick of text at the bottom of the ad that includes every make and model currently on the market?

How to fix it: Thankfully this is easily avoidable. Just below the search text entry on Craigslist, there’s a checkbox for “search titles only” that will filter out this garbage.

The peeve: Miscategorized vehicles

Why it’s annoying: If you’re looking for a 4×4 and include that filter in your search, you won’t see the Bronco a seller categorized as FWD because in their haste they thought it stood for Four-Wheel-Drive. It happens. The manual/automatic categories are a crapshoot as well, especially when sellers think that an automatic with steering wheel paddles counts as a manual. We love you, Craigslist, you tried to help us out, but we’re human and we screwed it up.

How to fix it: If you’re looking for a specific vehicle, sometimes the granular searches can exclude what you’re actually trying to find. In this case it can pay to case a wider net and sift through more chaff.

craigslist Camero for sale

The peeve: Misspelling

Why it’s annoying: I make smelling airers all the thyme, I understand it can happen.

How to fix it: Include common misspellings in your search to get that Mustagn you’ve always wanted.

The peeve: Mistitled vehicles

Why it’s annoying: A Grand Cherokee is not a Cherokee. This one is sort of specific, I admit.

How to fix it: You can click the “Prohibited” box to flag miscategorized items, spam, or all sorts of banned items, including the aforementioned brick of spam. It might not do your future searches much good, but it will make you feel better.

The peeve: Posting photos of another, similar-but-better car

Why it’s annoying: Yes, I know how good the car could look if it were in better shape. That’s why I want one as a project to begin with. The fact that it could be a concours winner has no bearing on its current state, which could best be described as “yard art.”

How to fix it: It’s probably not the best way to sell a car, but it doesn’t do any harm, as long as it’s not a true bait and switch scenario. I just needed to vent on this one. I feel better now.

Bad craigslist photos

The peeve: Bad photos, or worse, no photos at all

Why it’s annoying; A Craigslist ad doesn’t have to look like Larry Chen, Wes Allison, and Evan Klein collaborated in a celebration of your Iron-Duke-powered 1984 Fiero, but it does need to document the general condition of the car inside and out. The average smartphone has a camera capable of taking perfectly viable photos for this purpose, and it only takes seconds to shoot all the details of a car.

How to fix it: I must admit, newer cell phone cameras have made a vast improvement in the average Craigslist posting over the past several years. Aside from personally shaming those sellers who are still holding out, which is both petty and ultimately not worth it, this is probably going to be an issue as long as we shop for cars online.

The peeve: Cars for $1

Why it’s annoying: Sellers do this just to circumvent the price sorting feature so that their vehicles come in on top of listings. Sometimes they’ll list a monthly price to get the same result. I don’t shop based on monthly price.

How to fix it: Use a realistic price range in your search. If you want a decent start for a project and you know that even a rusting hulk is worth $1000, set your price to reflect what you’d expect to pay for the vehicle condition you’re looking for. A minimum price of a few thousand dollars will eliminate a lot of this.


craigslist  alt=

The peeve: Text in titles can’t be excluded when it’s in parentheses

Why it’s annoying: This is actually the only issue I have with Craigslist and not its users. I normally use the minus symbol to exclude search teams. For example, “-scam” would reject listings with “scam” included anywhere in the title. Granted this is not a recommended way of avoiding scams. If you thought it was, you might want to take a look at that link again. Dealerships have found that by putting things in parenthesis they can’t be excluded from searches. There have been numerous times this has left search results littered with irrelevant listings.

How to fix it: Try searching private party sellers only, as dealerships are the biggest offenders. Alternatively, write a list article and hope Craigslist sees it and does something about it. Pray for me.

Those are some of the ways that I sift through Craigslist, but I admit I’m just a journeyman. If you’ve got more tricks for staying one step ahead and sorting through all the noise, please leave a comment in the Hagerty Forums.

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