Ask Chuck: Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist Cars?

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

Should I buy a car listed on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist? There seem to be a lot of great deals from private sellers. And I would like to pay in cash rather than having a car payment. But the process seems so daunting. Lots of posts look like scams, and most sellers say “cash only”, but I don’t want to carry that much cash. Is it worth it ?


Looking for a bargain

used car
Unsplash/Harez Hussaini

Dear looking for a bargain,

Thanks for the great question. A few years ago, we used Craigslist to buy my son a used car, and we paid cash to do it. Although it is important to take security precautions when purchasing through this type of network, I have found it to be a useful tool for quick and cash transactions, which I recommend when it comes to a used car. Especially in the beginning, keep personal information to a minimum and communicate via email or text. You can even set up a separate email for conversations like this. When considering buying a used car, I always arrange a meeting in the parking lot of a local fast food chain in the middle of the day, rather than at someone’s house, for example. With your security in place, one person’s trash can be another’s treasure.

As with all sales experiences, it doesn’t matter who you’re dealing with, and I’ve found it best to buy from an individual or reputable dealer. Be on the lookout for less-than-honest dealers claiming to be an “owner,” when they are actually dumping a lemon on their land.

First, look for sale by owner (rather than dealership) with a clean Carfax report. Several people we spoke to were trying to scam us, and it can take time to get the facts about a car. The preference is to buy a used car which has not suffered a major incident and which belongs to the first or second owner. A clean Carfax report means:

  • No “rebuilt titles” (showing the car was once totaled and has since been repaired)
  • No cars from known flood areas (we actually looked at a car that had been flooded, and when we asked the Carfax, it pointed it out. Water and motors don’t get along.)
  • No cars purchased at auction (it is very difficult to tell how a car arrived at an auction. It could have been seized by the police or been part of an emotionally charged legal situation.)

Second, ask the owner for maintenance records. This includes usage history (how often the owner drove it and the distance), where the car was serviced, when the tires were last replaced, etc. Save time by requesting this information by email.

Third, do your homework on the car you are considering. Before taking a test drive and inspecting the car, we did our research on value using National Automobile Dealers Associationwhere we received free online services that helped us assess whether the owner’s asking price was fair.

For me, I was able to use this experience as a teaching opportunity for my sons by taking them through this process with me. When we finally narrowed our search and were ready to see some cars in person, I took my two teenage sons along, asking them to rate the condition of the car on a scale of 1-10, looking at the tires, engine, interior, rust, windows, seats, electrical systems, spare tire, paint, etc. and asked for their assessment of the car’s value in relation to the price demand.

Eventually, we found a car that the three of us rated 8 out of 10 for condition quality, but the owner wanted a 10 out of 10 price – the best price, $7,500 at the time. It was worth considering, so we asked to have the car inspected by a mechanic (which cost us $100); we found that the car needed $2,500 in engine work. That would mean the price had to drop 30% for us to be interested.

We made an offer via text, which the sellers initially refused, but three days later they contacted us again and took our reduced price. The repairs were done after the sale, and my sons couldn’t have been happier. We paid cash for the car and repairs and walked away with a bill of sale, transfer of title and mileage affidavit.

To be honest, it was a process that took time, and maybe not everyone wants to work that hard for a used car. An alternative is to buy “Certified Used” from a reputable car dealership. You’ll pay a premium, but the car will come with certain warranties, and you won’t have to worry about finding out later that the transmission is ready to fall through the floor of the car. However, I have found it difficult to find anything under $15,000 from a dealership.

Hope you enjoy the process. People have enjoyed the art of buying and selling since the dawn of time. Proverbs 20:14 observes, “’It is not good, it is not good!’ says the buyer – then walks off and brags about the purchase.

While seeking the Lord’s guidance and patiently waiting for a good deal on a used car, one way to improve your finances is to reduce or eliminate credit card debt. Christian Credit Counselors is a reliable source of help towards financial freedom.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Ministries of Finance, a worldwide Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio show, my money lifefeatured on over 1,000 Christian music and talk stations in the United States, and author of his most recent book, Economic proof for God?. Make sure you follow Crown on Facebook.

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