When searching for a campervan for sale, Craigslist will be among the top results
This online classified ads juggernaut is a top campervans for sale resource.
Back in 2006, Craig Newmark used the power of the internet to completely change the world of classified ads.
Today, people all over the world visit their local Craigslist website when they want to sell or find deals on all manner of items and services.
Camper vans of all kinds are for sale on Craigslist: From fully built conversion campervan projects to bare bones cargo and passenger vans.
There are vans for sale from private parties and commercial auto and RV dealerships.
How is Craigslist unique?
Craigslist is not for online sales. What? Is that a typo?
With online sales, money changes hands via the web through services like PayPal.
On Craigslist, buyers meet with sellers and exchange cash for goods.
So, Craigslist is for connecting buyers with sellers, and that’s about all.
Beyond a few basic safety measures built in to their site, Craigslist is not involved in the transaction.
All they do is provide a digital space for sellers to post items for sale and a way for buyers to connect to those sellers.
Every transaction is like a tiny garage sale experience, but we get to see images of what the seller has and how much they’re charging, in advance.
Are Craigslist scams a problem?
Not for the well informed. But some people do get taken by online scammers.
Again, it works like this: Buyers meet sellers face to face and exchange cash for goods.
So when someone tries to convince you to wire or mail funds, assume it’s a scam.
How to avoid Craigslist scams
We’re not experts on this, but we have some expert resources for you.
Over at Money Crashers, they’ve done some serious research on the topic of how to avoid Craigslist scams. Please read their post 7 Types of Common Craigslist Scams to Watch Out for.
Another great resource for buying a campervan for sale on Craigslist is this page that teaches you how to avoid scams on Craigslist, including examples of scam emails.
Buying a campervan for sale, Craigslist personal safety
I’ve bought and sold hundreds of items via Craigslist, including campervans, and never had any issues with personal safety.
But it’s important to remember that Vanlife safety and security applies to the buying process, too.
By applying some simple common sense, and learning some basic precautions, it’s easy to avoid trouble of any kind with buying a campervan on Craigslist.
Once again Craig comes through with a great list of tips for personal safety.
How to safely buy a campervan for sale on Craigslist
Meet to view the camper van in a public place
I meet buyers and sellers at a busy Starbucks near my home.
The “Safe Lot” program suggests meeting in police department parking lots.
Even after getting to know a seller, if you need to meet them more than once, have them meet you in a public place with plenty of other people around.
Don’t go alone
Bring a friend, spouse, your mechanic. It’s still a good idea to meet in public.
This is especially important if the vehicle can’t be driven to meet you, as in buying a fixer-upper van.
Let them know that you won’t be alone: “My husband (buddy, brother…) and I will see you at the Starbucks at 3pm sharp”.
Exchange money for vehicle and title at your bank
No need to carry a lot of cash around.
Sit down at a desk with the a bank employee and the seller, have the seller sign the title over and then give the seller cash or a cashiers check.
Red flags to watch out for in Craigslist campervan ads
Whether you’re shopping for an eighteen thousand dollar Sprinter van or a seventeen hundred dollar Sienna, it’s important to know how to read ads on the site.
Some (many?) sellers are just not very good at posting ads. It’s not uncommon to see ads for high dollar vehicles with only one or two low quality images, a single line of text…
Others may be impossible to work with throughout the viewing and buying process. Still others may be unscrupulous.
Of course great deals do happen. The seller has enjoyed the vehicle and wants to pass it on to the next owner with good will, or simply isn’t concerned about turning a profit.
I’m not suggesting that you be paranoid about every van for sale, but stay alert and watch for these issues when considering a Craigslist campervan.
Carfax, the auto title reporting service, has some great tips for buying a vehicle on Craigslist.
Too good to be true
Priced below market: It’s so easy to find the fair market value of a van. Just pop over to the Edmunds car valuation page and enter the details.
When I see a crazy low price on a vehicle, my ears prick up and I start looking for other clues that it might be a problematic vehicle.
Very low miles for the age of the van: While odometer fraud is less common in newer vehicles, it does happen.
Sometimes low miles in older vehicles is due to chronic mechanical problems and the campervan has spent the majority of its life parked, in the shop, behind a tow truck…
When I see a to-good-to-be-true van for sale, I always have it inspected by a professional.
No images in ad
When I see a ad I’m interested in with not images, I’ll send the seller a message and ask for some pictures.
Because some people just don’t have the ability to post digital images, If the rest of the ad looks good, I might still go take a look. But I’ll ask a lot of questions in email or on the phone, first.
Lack of details in ad
Again, I’ll get the seller on the phone and hit them with all my questions. As long as they’re helpful and willing to answer questions, I’ll go take a look.
One van I bought didn’t mention the recently rebuilt transmission in the ad. Turned out that it had been recently replaced under warranty. If the seller had put that in the ad, the van would’ve sold much faster and I might not have seen it.
So don’t assume that a low-info ad is a bad deal. Try to get the details on the phone, in email, in person…
Seller won’t answer questions
I don’t have time for that. This person will either be impossible to work with or is running a scam.
Seller won’t allow test drive, provide VIN, or allow inspection
Next! No time for that. No exceptions.
Test driving a Craigslist campervan
Of course you’ll need to drive the van before you buy it.
While it’s tempting to go meet a seller, jump in the van and go for a drive, please apply the personal safety suggestions listed above such as bringing a friend, meeting in a public place…
Also, consider having the van inspected and driven by a reputable mechanic, as follows…
Inspecting a campervan for sale on Craigslist
Whenever possible, I find a reputable shop that will inspect the van and have the seller meet me at their shop.
I do the test drive after the inspection. If the inspection turns up some serious mechanical issues, there’s no need to drive it.
“Experts agree that used cars must be inspected by a qualified specialist before the final negotiation for purchase. The ordinary car buyer, even if mechanically savvy, really can’t do it justice. A thorough, professional inspection can tell you whether you’re about to buy a peach or a lemon.”
I try to negotiate with the seller to share the cost of the inspection up front, and to allow them to have a copy whether I buy the vehicle or not.
Of course many sellers have an inspection done and provide a copy to prospective buyers. That’s great, but you’ll want to talk with the mechanic who did the inspection to make sure they’re legit.
Choosing a campervan make and model
We’re currently working on a comprehensive post about how to choose the right van for your needs. That will be published soon.
In the meantime, here’s a brief outline of what that article will include:
Start with a list of your needs: High roof? Fully built out? Minimal? Room for the family? 4X4?
Start by listing all the features you need in a van. This will help you avoid one of the biggest mistakes of campervan purchases; the dreaded emotional decision.
Do careful research: Search forums, Facebook groups, blogs and YouTube to find info about the makes and models that best fit your needs.
Thanks for reading!
Have you had good luck with buying a campervan for sale on Craigslist? Please comment below.