Our Experience Buying and Selling USED Cars By Owner

posted by Andrea | 06/24/2015

used cars by owner

I don’t want to say “never”, but at this point in our lives, I highly doubt Dave and I will be buying a brand new, off-the-lot vehicle any time soon.

Yes, we could technically afford to pay cash for a more basic new vehicle… and of course, we could always take out a loan to buy a fancier one, but neither one of us is a “car person”, so paying for new just seems like a waste of money to us.

Side Note: If you’re wondering if you should buy a new or used vehicle, here’s handy online calculator that will help you decide

We really don’t care about the make or model of the car — as long as it’s practical for our stage of life. We don’t care too much about color (although we are partial to black!) and we don’t have a long list of “must have features” that would make shopping for a used car more difficult.

Basically, as long as it’s a decent car that has been properly maintained, isn’t full of rust, and has lower mileage, we’re OK with many different used car options.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, over the course of our 9-year marriage, Dave and I have have had very good experiences buying and selling used cars by owner.

I don’t want to “jinx” anything, but we’ve honestly never had any issues with our used car purchases or sales. We’ve purchased 3 cars and sold 2 — all on Craigslist. The 3rd car that we WOULD have sold was totaled in a freak accident.

Anyway, after mentioning our different used car sales and purchases here on the blog, I’ve gotten SEVERAL questions asking more about what we do to sell our cars so quickly, what we look for when buying a used car (specifically a used car from owner), how to know if we’re getting a good deal, what scams to potentially watch out for, etc. etc.

They are all great questions — but since neither Dave nor I are super knowledgeable when it comes to cars, I thought that instead of giving you specific tips or “how-to advice”, I’d simply share MY answers to some of the questions I’ve been getting… and then offer some additional advice from more knowledgeable online resources.

Sound good?

Please make sure you do your own used car research as well!

Why did you sell your cars? And why by owner?

The main reasons were because we either wanted to upgrade (good bye high school + college junker!) or we needed more space for our growing family (try fitting 3 carseats in the back of a tiny Ford Focus!)

And we chose to sell our cars by owner simply because we could make a lot more money than if we just traded them in or sold them through a dealer. Plus, you all know how much I love selling things online!!

How did you go about selling your cars by owner?

As with pretty much everything I sell, I turn to Craigslist!

However, before we list anything, we clean up the inside and outside of the car REALLY well. Then we take a bunch of high-quality pictures (I edit them as well for size, sharpness, lighting using PicMonkey.com), and list a fair amount of details about the car (but not so much that it’s totally overwhelming).

I also link to the Kelly Blue Book listing and provide full information about ANYTHING that is potentially wrong with the vehicle (just so no one thinks we’re trying to scam them).

We ALWAYS require cash or a cashier’s check for ALL Craigslist purchases.

I get ALL the paperwork for the car together in one folder (insurance information, title, registration, maintenance records, etc.) just in case the buyer wants to look over anything.

When people contact us, I’ll set up a time for them to come look at the car and test drive it (usually that same day) and then basically wait to see what they decide.

I’ve found that usually with used cars (at least our used cars) the potential buyer will make their decision on the spot and either drive away with the car or give us a deposit and then come back later that day to pick it up.

We always keep insurance on the car for at least 24 hours after the car sells — but then we call our insurance company and cancel so we don’t pay any extras!

What do you look for when buying a used car?

For us, it’s a combination of a few things

1. Price — obviously, we have a budget to stick to!

2. Mileage — we really prefer cars with lower mileage.

3. Style — it has to be something that will accommodate at least 3 carseats and offer some storage for our gear.

4. Features — we don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles, but we do have some options we always look for in a used car — like power locks and windows, rear temperature control, and a DVD player.

5. Year — while mileage is more important to us than the year of the car, this is still obviously something we consider, especially how it factors into the price of the car.

6. Condition — we don’t need new or beautiful, but we also don’t want rust or chipping paint on the outside or rips and stains on the inside. We want things to be working properly and for the vehicle to be from a NON SMOKING (and preferably non-pet-owning) seller.

We do a fair amount of online research when buying a used car (it’s amazing all the information out there today!)

If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, I would HIGHLY recommend reading through this article from the Allstate blog. It shares some of the ins and outs of what to look for when buying a used vehicle — including this helpful VIN decoding resource (it’s really cool!)

Do you get an inspection or print a CARFAX report?

We personally have not gotten any of our used cars professionally inspected before buying them. We also have never used CARFAX — however, many of the people who have purchased cars from use have used CARFAX and said it was helpful for their decision-making process.

I do think an inspection is a really good idea — however, if you know even a little about cars, you can probably do a decent inspection on your own.

This article from the Allstate Blog offers 10 things to look for (inside and outside the car) when doing a used car inspection.

even the kid’s toy car was purchased used on Craigslist 🙂

Have you ever felt like you were being scammed?

Honestly, no.

As I mentioned above, we have had really great car buying and selling experiences (which is probably why I’m such an advocate for used cars).

In general, I would say to trust your gut and if you feel like something is off, just wait another day or two before making your decision. If the seller is trying to pressure you into acting quickly, then it’s probably not the right deal for you.

Also, if you sense the seller is trying to hide something, maybe take an extra day to check out the CARFAX report to verify the details are correct.

Some of the more common used car buying scams are Odometer Fraud, VIN Cloning, Title Washing, Curbstoning, and AirBag Fraud. You can check out this article for advice to avoid these potential scams.

In my opinion, buying quality used cars is one of the ways Dave and I are able to save HUGE amounts of money — especially since vehicles depreciate so quickly. We’d rather spend the money on our house and yard — but like I said earlier, neither one of us are “car people”!

Do you have any other tips, advice, or comments about buying or selling used vehicles by owner?

This post was written as part of the Allstate Influencer Program and sponsored by Allstate. All opinions are mine. As the nation’s largest publicly held insurance company, Allstate is dedicated not only to protecting what matters most–but to guiding people to live the Good Life, every day.


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  1. Jasan Deen


    The important part of selling a car is presentation. Selling a car can be tricky. You need to pay attention to the small details involved in finding a potential buyer. Staging is important. Appearance is everything when it comes to selling a used car. The other important tip is to be honest about the condition of the car. Do not keep the buyer waiting and be open to negotiation. You could use online tools like sellyourcar24 to get a free evaluation of your car.


  2. Kim


    We’ve sold 3 vehicles on Craigslist and it was easy and we disclosed everything. I’d also say if you’re going to sell your vehicle or anything on Craigslist set your price a bit higher so you have room to negotiate. My husband and I only buy new vehicles because we keep them for forever!! We recently bought a 3rd vehicle for our daughter from a local dealership that was used but had low miles for the year model. It’s been nothing but a money pit!!!


    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Kim — we actually set our price higher and there was so much demand that we had people making us offers even higher than our asking price. It was CRAZY how many people wanted a Ford Focus with low miles!


  3. Debbie


    How does the potential buyer test drive your car? Do you go drive with them so they don’t just run off with your car?


    Amy Reply:

    We’ve bought used before and the guy rode with us. It was nice so he could show us where everything was on the car. He ride on the passenger side.


    Amy Reply:



    Andrea Reply:

    We just hand over the keys and trust they will bring it back. We also obviously keep the title at our house, so if they did drive off with the car, it would be pretty easy to prove it was stolen.

    I guess I figure if a crazy person is going to drive off with my car, I’d rather not be in it 🙂


    lina Reply:

    I agree not to be in it! Years ago we scanned a copy of their driver’s permit when someone test drove.


  4. Cheryl


    I would add to look into how expensive future repairs would be. We bought a used car that works well for our family, but didn’t realize that it is hard and expensive to get parts for. Next time we are looking for a car, we will check to make sure that parts are common, and normal labor fees.


    Andrea Reply:

    Good tip! We usually just by American made cars so that’s not an issue, but this is definitely something to think about!


    Cheryl Reply:

    This is an American made (high end model) . It has air suspension, which we should have researched. One air suspension shock runs between $1000 – $1200 to replace and they have to be replaced in pairs. Thankfully, my hubby is handy, and can replace them for about $450 each, but still pricey! We love this car, and plan on having it for many years to come, but , lesson learned!


  5. Brenda


    Good advice! My hubby is a big car guy who buys and sells vehicles on the side. We’ve probably been through over 100 car transactions over the last 20 years. No, that’s not enough to be a dealer. 🙂 We don’t buy new cars and have saved (and made!) a lot of money over the years by buying and selling used ones.

    Every state is different, but a very important thing to do in WA state after you sell a vehicle is to fill out the “vehicle report of sale” as soon as they leave your driveway. You can fill it out online. I’m guessing many other states have similar paperwork. This is extremely important to do because it releases you from liability for the car. You would be surprised how many people never go and transfer a car into their name after they buy it. Then if the car gets towed or wrecked, you can find yourself liable for towing expenses because according to the law, it’s still your car. Filing the report of sale with the state saves you from that mess.


    Andrea Reply:

    WOW — that’s a lot of car sales 🙂

    And good tip — although I don’t think MI has an option like that. We just sign over the title of the car when it’s purchased and that puts it in the other person’s name and control. We also cancel our insurance on the date of the sale… and make sure the new buyer knows it’s their responsibility to get new insurance ASAP.