Why Do Sellers Say ‘Very Clean’ When Posting Used Cars For Sale?

If you have ever shopped for a car on Craigslist or any other classifieds with private party sales, then you know that it’s customary to list the specs and condition of the car. Some sellers will typically include information like the car’s mileage, age, and any issues, while others will simply say one sentence about their car somehow hope to drum up business. Either way, you may notice that plenty of sellers will at least list their cars as “very clean,” but what does that mean to prospective buyers?

“Very clean” usually refers to the car’s cleanliness

A sale sign is seen on the windshield of a used car at Novato Ford on March 20, 2009, in Novato, California.
A sale sign is seen on the windshield of a used car at Novato Ford on March 20, 2009, in Novato, California. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Simply put, many private party sellers list their cars as “very clean” because they are in fact, very clean. These sellers will accompany their high praise with a few well-shot photos of said car to accurately inform any prospective buyers and perhaps even get top dollar for it. On the other hand, there are many other private party sellers that haven’t taken very good care of their cars.

Those listings usually include words like “rough,” “worn,” or even “dirty” and you’ll be able to tell just by looking at the photos of the car. Fortunately, some of these messier cars are priced accordingly, so you (as a buyer) may be able to capitalize on it by obtaining a lower price.

Watch out! Not every private party posting is as it seems

A screenshot of a private party Craigslist ad.
A screenshot of a private party Craigslist ad. | Craigslist

Unfortunately, there are many private party listings that can be a little misleading. For example, when perusing my local Craigslist ads, I noticed that one seller put “very clean” on an ad for a 2005 Toyota 4Runner. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the ad was posted by a dealer and that the car in the photos did indeed look very clean. Either the dealer did a great job when cleaning the car up or the previous owner(s) took really good care of it.  

However, when I clicked on the ad and checked out its specs on the right side of the page, I saw that this “very clean” car has a rebuilt title. That’s good that the dealer disclosed it. However, there’s a chance that many buyers may not pay close attention to that information and feel that the dealer was misleading upon further inquiry.

Some sellers can be misleading

In this photo illustration, the Craigslist logo is displayed on a smartphone.
In this photo illustration, the Craigslist logo is displayed on a smartphone. | Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

While many sellers are transparent when posting their cars for sale, some are not. One news outlet in Indianapolis, Call 6 Investigates, did some extra digging into private party Craigslist ads and called the sellers to ask them about their listings. In many cases, Call 6 Investigates found sellers listing their cars with terms like “car is in amazing shape” and “no problems at all.” But upon further probing, the news outlet found that the sellers had no idea what type of condition their car was in aside from the way it looked.

For example, the news outlet called a seller that was selling a Toyota minivan that reportedly needed nothing. However, when asked about any recalls or accidents on the car’s history, the seller knew nothing about them. They didn’t even have the title to the car. Call 6 Investigates pulled history reports for the car and both of them showed that the car had been in two previous accidents and had one open recall.

Cars are clean, but buyers should always be aware

The letter M dangles from the tailgate of a 1980s GMC pickup truck in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The letter M dangles from the tailgate of a 1980s GMC pickup truck in Santa Fe, New Mexico. | Robert Alexander/Getty Images

While there are plenty of “very clean” cars in the private-party market, there are also plenty of “dirty” ones that are misrepresented in their ads. As such, here are a few tips if you’re looking to purchase a car from a private party seller:

  • Ask the seller how long they have owned the car, if they have the title for it, and about any known repairs and accidents
  • Be sure to obtain a history report from Carfax or Autocheck
  • Get a pre-purchase inspection done

By following these three tips, you’ll at least be able to ensure that you’re getting as much information as possible about the car that you’re interested in. Buying private party cars can require more legwork sometimes, but it can all be worth it in the end, whether or not the car is listed as “very clean.”

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