Craigslist: A Hellish Paradise


From candy corn to Lincoln Continentals, Craigslist is the ultimate Turkish bazaar. It’s an almost universally accessible free market for millions of folks who once paid (and paid) for the privilege of selling their own stuff.

From a pistonhead perspective, Craigslist seems to be a great place to buy and sell automobiles. Even a brief scan shows that the site offers a vehicle for every type of appliance seeker, enthusiast and hobbyist.

I have been using Craigslist as my site du jour for nearly nine years. During that time, I have sold more than two thousand vehicles through the service.

But I’m a pro, and I’m here to warn you that as the years have gone by, there’s now a lot more risk to pursuing that good deal.

While Craigslist offers free, instant access to an enormous quantity of listings and potential buyers, car buyers and sellers get very little honest information about the vehicle involved.

Vehicle Identification (VIN) numbers, ownership histories and other critical details regarding the car’s true condition (i.e. collisions, insurance claims, outstanding debt) are few and far between.

You can imagine what happens next…

I’ve seen cars from commercial auctions with salvage and rebuilt titles advertised on Craigslist with nary a mention of these issues. And that’s not the half of it.

You may remember that in the recent past, I mentioned the chronic issues with curbstoners in my neck of the woods. These are folks who often times buy vehicles from individuals, and try to sell them as their own… with the individual’s name usually still on the title and the bill of sale.

When the buyer winds up with a misrepresented vehicle, they are SOL. A bad title? Same deal. That ad which mentioned a new engine or transmission? Don’t bet on it.

Obviously, printed classifieds also offer (offered?) criminals a chance to find their marks. But just as the web makes commercial transactions vastly more efficient, Craigslist has made it easier for dangerous and devious douchebags to identify, lure and victimize their targets.

Crime thrives in the dark. Since Craigslist offers no feedback for buyers and sellers, the scrupulous seller who provides full disclosure on Craigslist is no more likely to find favor than the unscrupulous scammer whose car title is as genuine as a thirty-three dollar bill. Once a Craigslist user buys a vehicle, it’s done and that’s that. A dishonest seller can easily continue with their deceptive and dishonest practices under a different name and phone number if necessary.

I would roughly estimate that about 3% to 5% of the automotive deals on Craigslist wind up this way. At my lot I have met a Dr. Zubowitz who was an identity thief and later arrested for theft by deception. A bishop who decided to avail himself to one of my rental cars and wound up in jail on a felony theft by conversion charge. It took three years for that Holy Roller to restitute me in full. Plus a long list of unsavory characters from drunks who wanted to drive my vehicle in the middle of the day. To scammers who wanted to siphon gas from my car to their own.

Then you have the hard core drug addicts who wind up asking the same questions three or four times. The lowball idiots who use their cell phones to text you at all hours of the day. The clueless who don’t bother to read your ad and then ask the most inane of questions, “Does it come with a title?” (Title? Hmmm… are you sure you need one?)

After nine years of dealing with customers via Craigslist, I would roughly guesstimate that 3 in 10 phone calls, 6 in 10 texts, and 8 of 10 emails are from people who either have a screw loose or are eyeing you with bad intent.

The phone calls and texts are from all over God’s green Earth. But I am reasonably sure that most of the emails come from two guys who run a shipping company in Lagos, Nigeria that specializes in the sale of dead parrots.

Since I first used Craigslist back in 2004, the site has gone from being a quality-focused website to the electronic equivalent of the Wild West. The days when this electronic bazaar was a well kept secret used by overwhelmingly decent and (how can I say this nicely) intelligent users are long gone.

The truth is that Craigslist remains a great site, with a lot more horrifically bad people within it. Feel free to share your Craigslist experiences, good and bad, in the comments below.

 Any questions about cars? Whether it’s a new car or an old car, you can always send me a direct message at my Facebook address.