How to Make Money on Craigslist Buying and Selling Cars

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beaterI’ve been dabbling in this for a while now, and I have it down to science at this time. This is really working for me. In fact, For the past three months, I have averaged over $1000 in extra income by doing exactly this. I’m not going to try to sell you anything here. I’m just going to lay it all out, exactly what works for me, step by step, right here on this page.

One confession first. The town I live in (North Judson, Indiana), is located midway between Chicago and Indianapolis. So, although it is a rural area with very few jobs, it is an excellent location for making money on Craigslist. It’s important to be close to two or more craigslist cities, unless you don’t mind a lot of traveling. But you can do this no matter where you live.

Another important point. You must be mechanically inclined for this job. You have to be knowledgeable enough to spot a value in a used car or truck. Knowing how to negotiate is another thing that helps.

OK, that said, here are the steps I use to make an extra $1000 or so each month. And it usually only takes me a few hours a week.

1. Study your nearby Craigslist cities, and determine which one has the most people with money. In my case, there are some rural areas near me, where people have very little money (like Kokomo, Indiana), and areas where people have more money (like Chicago).

2. Determine your budget. You don’t want to use the rent money to go out and buy another car you don’t need. Only use money that you can afford. In my case, that’s only about $500 per car.

3. Study the rural (or cheaper) area for a good deal on a used car or truck. I have found that most people who have owned a car for a long time will tell you all about it- what it needs, how dependable it is, etc. These lengthy descriptions show honesty in most cases.

4. Email them and ask more questions. Will the car make it to California? How much oil does it use? How are the tires?

5. Negotiate. Look at cars that are a little more expensive than your budget. In my case ($500), I’ll look at cars up to $800. If I find one that catches my eye, I’ll email them and explain that I am on a tight budget and only have $500.

6. Go check out the car. Make sure you look under the car for rusty floors, leaks, bent frames, etc. Check under the hood for rust, leaks, etc. Look and listen to the engine while it’s running. Take it for a drive and listen for clunks when braking and turning. Make sure the transmission shifts through all gears. Run it until it’s hot, and make sure it doesn’t overheat. Then, when you are satisfied, turn it off, and see if it starts again.

7. Offer less than the original price. Do it humbly. Explain your needy situation, and your dire need for transportation. Don’t try to get the price lower because it needs work, or simply offer less for no reason. Try to gain some sympathy.

8. Bring it home and clean it up. Sometimes just a little touch-up paint in a few strategic spots can make a huge difference. Or power wash the engine and remove all oil stains.

9. Take some good pictures and post your ad on the larger, more lucrative city area Craigslist. Be warned though- people will have your ad removed if it is out of the area. So, if you are out of the area, don’t put that in your title. Put it at the end of your description.

10. Be very descriptive about your vehicle, and tell the truth. Don’t try to hide something that’s wrong with the car. People can sense a liar. Be honest, and wish people success with their new (to them) car.

Notes:

Put your phone number in the ad. A lot of people shop Craigslist from their mobile phones, and many of them can simply click on a phone number to dial it.

Answer email promptly. Check it often, and again, be honest.

Shrug off low-ballers. Every time I sell a car on Craigslist, I’ll get these emails- What’s the lowest you’ll take? I’ll give you $X. Etc. I always respond with my firm price.

Watch out for scammers. Never accept a check in the mail, even if it’s a certified check or a money order. These are scammers. Even if the check clears, it will be stopped at a later date.

Cash only!

Don’t drive the car. You never know if something else is wrong with the car, or if something is about to pop. Just don’t drive it until you sell it (or until someone comes to test drive it).

Good luck!



Google+Ken Skaggs is a 30-year veteran trucker and safety professional, who has always been a writer, and an entrepreneur at heart. Since 2000, he’s had 150+ articles published by Ten-Four Magazine, Careers in Gear, Driver Story Magazine, and dozens of websites.

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I was a career trucker for 30-years. I also wrote a regular column in Ten-Four Magazine for 10-years. These days, I write for my websites. I have several feeds on KenSkaggs.com.

40 Comments

  1. Dear Sir/Madam:

    Looked at the article above and its very inspiring. I live in Houston, Texas and am trying to do the same business, but I do have a question. Before I sell the bought used car, do I need to transfer the title on to my name? If yes, that means I will have to cover the cost of sales tax on the car by jacking the price of the car. Please correct me if i am wrong..How do you cover yr money for sales tax in this whole equation?

    Appreciate yr response..

    Purva

    • I’m not sure how this works in Texas, but here in Indiana (and in Illinois) you can just hand the title to the new buyer without ever putting it in your name.

      Most of the time, whenever I buy a car, I get the owner to sign the title, but I leave the “new owner” information blank. Then, when I sell it, I just hand the title to them.

      The other option is, go ahead and transfer the title into your name and pay the fees and taxes, then add it to your price.

      • When one buys a car and then resells it but does not register the car before selling it has committed tax fraud. A buyer of a car is required in ALL states to register and get a new title in their name. I know one may not like it BUT it’s the law in all states. They want their piece of the pie, like it or not. Be informed and be safe.

  2. Pretty good info.-I was just checking around being nosey?—-I do something similar to what UR doing—-No body gets hurt. An I make a few bucks– Butt what th HAY I guess thats what its all about.Most of th time after I get a vehicle -Haul it -clean it- fix all small problems-That previous owner would not fix-It trueley is a pretty reliable vehicle !!!!!!! Sold one bout a yr. ago-I run up on th fellow every now or so –He is still thanking me–I made approx. 1200.00 bucks—He is happy. an he got it cheaper than having to go to a dealer!

  3. Upload the pictures of your cars to Craig Upload @ http://craigupload.com and then copy & paste the HTML image codes into your craigslist ads. The large, clear images attract more buyers. You can also make HTML templates @ Craig Upload.

  4. If you hand over the title to the new owner just like that, how can the new buyer be sure that you are the owner of this car since your name is nowhere on that title. You will have to transfer the car first to your name and then sell it. Otherwise it’s like this car is not yours on the paper.

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    • Well, of course you’ll have to drive it home, or get it towed. But after you get it home, and get it cleaned up and ready to sell, don’t drive it any more if you can help it. This way if something is about to pop, it won’t happen to you, it will happen to the next guy.

      • That’s just plain wrong. Pass it off before it breaks on you is what he is saying. My sister bought a car from a Jack a.. like this guy, went to smog it and it wouldn’t pass. She had already paid for new plates because there were none on the car and paid registration and the dmv wouldn’t issue them because the smog issue…then she had to threaten a law suit to get the seller to do anything to help make it right… Months later…Be sure what u sell is trust worthy and dependable. U don’t like getting ripped off do you? Don’t do it to other people!

        • Used cars break down. It’s nobody’s fault. They just wear out and need maintenance. You can’t blame the person who sold you a car for a problem you had later (unless you knew they were dishonest for a fact- in that case I support you.) But any time anyone buys a used car you are taking a risk. That’s just the nature of the beast.

      • It is not ethical if you don’t even know the car can drive. What if you sell to somebody’s teenage kid and the car breaks down somewhere. I would make sure the car is in good condition and safe as much as possible. Surely this will cut into your profit but I will sleep better.

        • Who said “you don’t know if the car can drive”? I said I check everything, and fix what I can. When I sell a car, it is better than it was when I got it.

  6. Dear Ken, thank you for a great article. I always wanted to do something like this, but was always scared that I wouldn’t make any profit.Maybe I should just try. Please tell me one thing, how would you transport it? Towing is too much, and without plates you can’t drive.

    • Most states allow you to drive a car home, or to the DMV (where you purchase your license plates). Getting a signed bill of sale is really important because it proves that you just now bought the car. I know it is illegal, but I simply put any old license plate on it and hope I make it home! I do get insurance right away though. This way, if I do get pulled over, I can show the cop that I just bought it, and I have insurance. I’ll tell him I am on my way right now to get plates, and usually they will give you a break.

      Good luck.

  7. we’ve been doing this for years.. but you should all know some things..

    not filling out the owners section is illegal. it’s called “Jumping titles” and you can go to prison for it if you do it with more than 6 cars a year. you can buy and sell things without titles as much as you want, but not with DD cars.

  8. EVERY state has a law against title skipping, which is exactly what you are doing. All states also have a law against how many cars you can sell in a year without a license, usually about 5. Why? to prevent scoundrels like you from flipping lemons who would much rather pass problems off on unsuspecting buyers than them deal with them.
    Jerk.

    • Why all the name-calling? I’m doing a legitimate side-business here. I buy a car, fix it up, and sell it for more. What’s wrong with that? Does that make me a scoundrel? If so, every business in the world is a scoundrel.

        • Dishonesty? How?

          I never lie. In fact, I am very mechanically inclined, I learn everything I can about any car I sell, and I relate ALL that to my customers- I am TOTALLY honest- more honest than the average person selling a car.

    • Wrong!

      Every state does not have a law against title skipping. I called my state DMV office and they told me it was completely legal to sell a car without putting it in my name first. I bought a car for my daughter but she didn’t like it (not cool enough). I just sold it and I didn’t have to get it registered to do it. Made a few bucks on the sale too!

  9. Hey Ken

    Keep doing your thing buddy! I dont see anything wrong with what you are doing. You could be scamming the hell out of people but instead you are honestly flipping cars. If you were to write an article on how to move drugs or run scams online, the same people will comment on how you need to do something legitimately like finding cars to flip! I can hear them now” Hey Ken, you ever thought about doing something legit, such as buying and selling cars”!

  10. What kind of cars are u finding for $500? All the ones I see seem like cars where the owner should pay that much to have someone tow it out of their driveway.

    • Yeah, a lot of them deserve to be in a scrapyard. However, there are some gems to be found- you have to do some due diligence. Last year I bought a 91 Ford Tempo that ran like a top for $400. I let my daughter use it for the winter and it was a great car. The only thing wrong with it was it was rusty. She sold it this spring for $600, and I can confidently say whoever bought it will be happy with it as well.

  11. I work at a very busy shop I come across at lest 3 cars a month that I buy fix and sell. Most I make 1500-2000 each. But in my case I pay 4-500 for the car most with bad engines or transmissions. I then put used engines in the car and resell. I only put about 3 cars a year in my name. Its easy money. I mean an extra 3grand a month is great I see nothing wrong with this. Although I do drive the cars a good 100 miles before I sell just a piece of mind thing I guess

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    • My goal is to double my money, but that usually doesn’t work out.
      During the Summer months, I bought and sold about ten cars all together. I paid about $450 to $900 each for them. I made about $200 to $600 on each one, only doubled my money on one, but lost money on one of them because it broke a spring.
      I did the math- minus the gas money I spent driving around to find them, and the money I spent fixing a few minor things- I made about an extra $1000 a month, and invested about 10 or 20 hours a month. I know it’s not a lot of money, but I’m on a tight budget and every little bit helps. If I could, I’d double up on that, and start buying more expensive cars, or even trucks.
      The main reason I stay in the low-price area, is because there is less risk. Yeah, they are more likely to break down. But, with today’s scrap prices, they are worth $300 to $600 in scrap. So, in the case of the van that broke a spring- I paid $600 for it and scrapped it for $450.

  13. Hi Ken,
    Very good article and good follow up questions, I think it is really cool that you are sharing this to help those who want to make a change and you have insisted on honesty many times which is the key in any business! I was just wondering how can the buyer be sure that the title is not lost or stolen when it is not in your name?

    • As long as you have a title to offer, even if it’s not in your name, there usually isn’t a problem in most states, especially with older cars where the tax is low. However, I know that some states do require the DMV to be involved in all auto sales, where both buyer and seller have to go to the DMV together. (Someone from Minnesota told me that.) So make sure you know your local laws. In any case, if you have the time, and the investment is worth it, you should transfer the title to your name before you resell it.

      Always check the VIN number whenever you buy a car, to make sure the title is the right title for that specific car. As long as the VIN on the dashboard and/or door match the title, you shouldn’t have any trouble with lost or stolen title.

  14. JimnyShwaggert on

    The guy is buying cars for 500 and usually doubling his money. A used car for 1000 any smart individual would know they aren’t getting a car that isn’t going to give them at least one problem. There are dealers that sell new and used that really rip people off. I think the fact he has little investment shows that the cars may have future problems. It’s obvious. It’s not like he is buying some pos for a grand. Putting a band aid on it, shine it up and sell for far more than he should. He said he only makes about 1k a month doing this. How many super straight cars are any of you buying for 500 bucks? He uses his mechanic abilities to fix issues.

  15. “You must be mechanically inclined for this job. You have to be knowledgeable enough to spot a value in a used car or truck.”

    Hi Ken,
    Can you give some real examples on this? I am not mechanical but know a few things about cars, and own a few and fixed a few.

    • Hi James,

      My most recent one was a huge old 1984 Ford Econoline van that was rusty, needed a battery, had a leaking sunroof that ruined the carpet with mold, the two back doors worked but the hinges were broken, and the side door wouldn’t open. It ran pretty good though once we put a battery in it. I paid $600 for it.

      Before I went to see it, the guy told me it needed a battery and would start if I brought one. So I brought a battery with me and sure enough it started and ran fairly decent. I shampooed the carpet about ten times to finally get it looking and smelling good. Took the inside door panel off the side door and fixed a broken linkage to the handle- now it opened but just from the inside. I took out the sunroof and re-glued it with some permatex.

      Total spent: $600 + $20 in gas, $20 for a junkyard battery, $5 for a clip on the door linkage, $5 permatex, and about two days time working on it.

      I sold it for $950, (I was asking $1200 and took the first reasonable offer.)

      I explained to the new owner how to open the back doors by really getting a hold of them with two hands because the top hinge was rusted out on both. He just needed a big cargo van for work. I cleared about $300. If I was to sand down some rust and put some bondo in the holes and paint it I probably could have sold it for $1500 – $1800, but I’m not a very good painter, and paint has dangerous fumes and a speck could get in your eye, so I try to stay away from that.

      Ken

  16. Hi Ken great article! I finally have some extra money to play with and I have always thought about this kind of business, and thanks to being mechanically inclined as well, this made up my mind that this is the path for my source of part time income.

    Although I have a few questions before I go out and purchase my first car.
    -Have you tried towing a non running vehicle? If so how do police react to this? (thinking about renting a pick-up truck and tow dolly from u haul)

    -If buyers ask why are you selling the car? What is your normal response to this? Do you say that this is your part time business or do you make up a some story?

    Thanks! Looking forward to your response.

    • Hi Rod,

      I have never towed a non-running vehicle, except in cases where I got it cheap enough to take it straight to a scrap yard. I am afraid of non-runners because you can’t really check everything, and people will not always tell you everything.

      When asked why I am selling, I tell them the truth, but maybe not the whole truth. I say I got a really good deal on this car, and I couldn’t pass it up when I saw it for that price. I fixed whatever it was. But now that I got it going, I really don’t need it.

      Good luck,
      Ken

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