Buying Private Party

Buying Cars Off Craigslist: The Ultimate Guide

November 17, 2023
Buying Cars off Craigslist

Vehicle acquisition has gotten so competitive dealers are turning to the street for their pre-owned inventory. Craigslist has been and will continue to be one of the go-to sources for dealers leveraging private-party vehicle acquisition. However, if you’re just starting out buying cars off Craigslist it’s really difficult to scale your purchase count without a solid process. This guide aims to save you time trying to figure out the best strategies so you can start filling your pipeline with interested sellers.

We’re going to break down the 4 main phases of a private party purchase (the VETTX buying funnel is much more robust than this, but we’re simplifying for the sake of clarity and brevity).

  1. Fresh Opportunities: "The Catch-All" is where all the vehicles that fit your parameters of Model year back to and up to, max mileage and max vehicle cost. 
  2. In The Works : The "Selected" vehicles of interest from the fresh catch-all bucket that we are going to reach out to and pursue for potential acquisition. i.e., the opportunities that we are going to "work" on. 
  3. Ready to Sell : The opportunities that you have been working on that you now have engagement with. People that you have first and foremost gotten ahold of in the first place, are willing to have a short conversation with you about the condition of their car, and "ideally" give you a bottom line "ready to sell it today" price. This becomes the bucket of people that we have engaged with and ultimately that we are going to make an offer to.
  4. Appointment Set: Potential purchases (Self-explanatory phase) 
Listings turn into opportunities that turn into appointments that turn into vehicles on your lot. This is the best way we have found to organize the chaos that is the private party:

Sourcing and filtering leads (The Fresh)

Always start with the cars that are posted with a VIN and phone number, as these listings are more likely to be genuine and provide you with direct access to the seller, increasing your chances of a successful purchase.

When you jump into the actual listing one of the first things you’re going to want to do is do a quick search to see if there are any keywords in the description or details that state that car is a dealer listing, salvage title, rebuilt motor, etc. You don't want to spend time doing a soft book on it than find this out down the road. You can use Control or Command F on your desktop keyboard to open a keyword search. Phrases like “Financing Available” are always a good one to try to weed out the dealer listings. 

Don't get discouraged by the listing price. Remember this is the first pencil to the open internet. It doesn't matter until they get a real offer from a real buyer. If it meets all your criteria, save it and reach out to them. 

*ProTip: Reach out to everybody no matter the listing price! (Of course, the cars that are close to your wheelhouse)

It's a numbers game, just like anything else in our industry and most businesses in life. The more outreach and follow-up you do, the more people you’ll get a hold of, the more vet sheets you’ll get, the more offers you make, and the more cars that you’ll acquire.

Engaging with Sellers (In the Works)

After you’ve got a LONG list of cars that you are somewhat interested in whether that was your booking agent or the actual BDR doing the work (Or VETTX’s Artificial Intelligence ;) it's time to start contacting these sellers. 

Science of communication

The key to the game is live phone calls and conversations. The main goal of third-party messages, emails, or texts, is to drive the conversation closer to that live phone call.

  • 80% of communication is visual perception and body language
  • 13% is tone and infliction 
  • only 7% is the words you use…

This means that in 3rd party messages, emails, and text messages, you are only using a 7% effective communication medium .. so the goal is to get that additional 13% by driving the conversation closer and closer to that live phone call with the person.

Brick by Brick. Rome wasn't built in a day. In most of these deals, there is usually some back and forth. That's why it's so critical to have a tool to help organize everything as best as possible. You should only have one goal at a time for each deal. Once you accomplish one you move on to the next. 

  • Goal #1: Your only goal, in the beginning, should strictly be to get a response from them, especially if they don't have a phone number:
  • Goal #2: Get them on the phone or text, get them off the marketplace. 
  • Goal #3: Get their ACTUAL price also known as the “Ready to Sell” figure 
  • Goal #4: Get them into your showroom 

Where most dealers miss the boat in acquisitions is in the intermediate and semi-long term follow-up leads because the sweet spot for acquisition for these for sale by owner cars is 10 to 15 in some cases 20 to 25 days from when it's originally posted.

Follow-Up (Ready to Sell)

After sifting through potential leads, focus on those in the "ready to sell bucket." These are individuals you've contacted, gathered basic vehicle information from, and obtained their bottom-line selling price.

Effective follow-up is crucial in private-party purchases. Use various contact methods, email templates, and be persistent. Follow up three times over 6-9 days, adjusting as needed. Don't hesitate to cut unresponsive leads to streamline efficiency.

Setting Expectations and Benefits of Selling to a Dealer

Set clear expectations with sellers, creating a sense of urgency while maintaining politeness. Educated sellers tend to cooperate better.

Selling to a dealership offers advantages like quick transactions, handling paperwork, and avoiding DMV hassles. Emphasize these benefits.

Overcoming Objections

In the age of information, sellers are well-informed. Treat them with respect, affirm their research, and build trust. Address common objections such as title issues or low offers diplomatically.


Don't fear reaching out, making offers, and diligent follow-up. Success in private-party purchases hinges on persistence and professionalism.

Setting Appointments and Closing Deals

If you're diligent in the previous steps, setting appointments will become a natural progression. However, it's crucial to prepare for these meetings:

  • Confirm appointments with your team to ensure availability for vehicle evaluation.
  • Prepare paperwork in advance, including Bill of Sale, Odometer Disclosure Statement, and Authorization For Payoff Form, if applicable.
  • Be flexible and accommodating during the appointment.

Overcoming Objections

Today's sellers are well-informed, making it essential to approach negotiations with respect and transparency. Acknowledge their research and work towards a win-win situation.

Tips and Tricks for Acquisition Success

  • Keep track of your outreach efforts, including calls, texts, and emails.
  • Analyze your lead sources: Understand where your best opportunities are coming from.
  • Advertise your buying interest: Utilize marketing materials and digital platforms to announce that you're looking to buy cars.
  • Build relationships: Avoid hard-selling tactics. Instead, focus on building long-term relationships with sellers.

For more tips check out this blog post!


Buying cars off Craigslist requires a structured approach, effective communication, and persistence. By following this guide, dealers can tap into a valuable source of inventory, building relationships that extend beyond a single transaction. Remember, every successful deal starts with that first message or phone call. So, don't hesitate to reach out - your next great buy could be just a click away on Craigslist.

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