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With the values of used cars and trucks sky-high, many buyers are turning to private party sales to save a couple of bucks. But it’s not uncommon to find sellers who request you show up, at their house, with cash in hand. And this can put you in a pretty vulnerable situation if the deal is a scam. As a vintage truck enthusiast, I have developed a few techniques for buying a truck off Craigslist, not getting ripped off, and coming home in one piece. Here are four tips that could keep you out of a bad situation. But as always, trust your gut and use your own best judgement—no deal is worth your safety and obviously I am not a security expert.

Confirm the vehicle exists with a FaceTime call or verification photo

Red Ford F-150 pickup truck parked in front of a white one-story home on a suburban street.
Ford F-150 | Keagan Henman via Unsplash

One of the most common scams you’ll find online is a seller copying and pasting someone else’s ad and pretending to sell a truck that they don’t even have. Why? Perhaps they are just collecting the email addresses of folks who respond–according to Yahoo Finance. But sometimes, they have even more dangerous intentions.

You can always say, “Hey, I just want to confirm this isn’t a scam. Would you mind FaceTiming me and showing me the truck before we go any further?” If they can’t do a facetime, they can always write a quick note, hold it in front of the truck, and take a picture. If the seller refuses to verify that they own the vehicle in question, this is a major red flag.

Tell someone where you are going, inspect it first, then return with cash

Yellow Ford Ranger compact pickup truck parked in front of a shingled house.
Ford Ranger | Cam Fattahi via Unsplash

If a seller gives me an address in the middle of nowhere and tells me I can come inspect the truck, I often make it clear that I’m showing up without cash. I tell them I will take a look at the vehicle, then drive to a bank to get cash. If they make a big fuss about this, it’s also a red flag.

If you go out to inspect a vehicle, bringing a friend or two is a good idea. It’s also wise to send the ad and address to a friend. Tell them when you are going and when you expect to be done. Make a plan to text them an “all clear” so they don’t come rolling in with the reinforcements if they don’t need to. But even better is meeting the seller somewhere public.

Meet at a bank

New Gray Ford F-150 Raptor supertruck parked in an indoor parking garage at night.
Ford F-150 Raptor | Eric Mclean via Unsplash

I’ve often found sellers amenable to driving the vehicle to a public location to meet me. One of my favorite places to meet them is at a nearby branch of my bank.

A bank parking lot is usually well-lit with plenty of security cameras. There’s plenty of space for them to park the vehicle and for you to inspect it, and even test drive it. If the seller or any friends that. come with them get bored, they can just go into the lobby and probably enjoy a cup of complimentary coffee. And best of all, if you decide to go ahead and buy the vehicle, you can go inside and grab cash or a bank check.

Hire a mechanic to inspect or hire a cop to escort you

A golden colored Chevrolet 1500 square body generation pickup truck parked in front of a red barn.
Chevrolet 1500 square body | Weston M via Unsplash

As you research how to inspect and buy a used truck from a private seller, and stay safe while doing so, it is easy to think that you have to figure it out alone. But there are actually multiple ways you can enlist help. One perennial favorite is to hire a mechanic to come out and inspect the vehicle for you–according to Consumer Reports. Perhaps you already have a favorite mechanic, or perhaps you call around and hire someone near the vehicle you’re considering buying. Paying them for an hour of shop time is a small investment. They may arm you with knowledge to help you haggle the price down or avoid a bum deal altogether.

You don’t have to stop with hiring a mechanic. Many police departments allow their officers to take private security jobs when they’re off the clock. If you are concerned about the deal you’re walking into, call a police department near the seller, explain the situation, and ask if they would recommend hiring someone.

There are some excellent deals to be had when buying vehicles from a private seller. But again, no deal is worth putting yourself at risk. Luckily you have many tools to stay safe. The best tool you have is always using your own sound judgement.

Next find out which used cars are currently selling above sticker price or find out which are the most reliable decade-old used pickup trucks.


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