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Confessions of a Craigslist Car Shopper

Craigslist is like the wild-wild west of the classifieds section of the newspaper. For those unfamiliar with the concept of "Newspaper" allow me to explain. There was a time in our collective recent past when you didn't have instant access to every bit of information in human history, breaking news, instant weather and what the Kardashians are up to at this moment. If you wanted to sell a car during this "ancient time," you could put a for-sale sign on it, park it in front of your house and purchase, at great expense, a small ad in the aforementioned newspaper. You paid by the word and if you wanted a picture to help sell your pristine, pea-green 1996 Chevy Caprice Kool-Aid edition, you couldn't get one.

Oooh yeah! Credit: Dave Roberts

Here in the future, there are infinite ways to buy and sell things and one of the most popular is Craigslist. Make no mistake, Craigslist is popular because it's free and in life, most of the time, you get what you pay for. So maybe you're on and you're getting bored looking at the new and interesting ways people are lying to you so they can sell you their "grandmothers car that was only driven to Publix and church on Sundays." This is the perfect time to visit another section and find out where the big garage sales are this weekend. Or, if you're more adventurous, you could secretly peruse the "missed connections" in the personals section and see if that weirdo who was looking you up and down at the Dollar Store posted about you and regrets not saying "Hi" or "I'd love to take you for a ride in my windowless van." Not that I've ever done that.

But let's not talk about any potential pending litigation, let's talk about what you can expect to find when you search "cars+trucks." I look at cars for sale BY-OWNER ONLY-private party, no dealers. Now, you might be fooled in to thinking that this would insure that you will only deal with a reasonable person who wants to sell a great car for a great price. This could not be further from the truth. Here are some clues that you may not be chatting with Bob, the college student who only wants to sell his VW Golf with a sunroof because he needs the cash to cover books for next semester. First, look for the license plate. If it begins with the letter P, that is a dealer, trying to pull a fast one. If the tag is missing, that is a dealer. If the picture was taken and the car was behind a fence getting a detail, its dealer. If the price on the window is $4,999... do I have to even say it?

Buy here, pay here. Forever. Credit: Dave Roberts

Maybe you are trying to sell your car and you think "Hey, what have I got to lose. Craigslist is free." It does work out great for some people, I'm sure. I've never met anyone who doesn't have horror stories about trying to sell a car themselves in the dot-org world, but there has to be SOMEONE. You can be that someone. So, here's tip number 2: If you do decide to take this leap, prepare yourself for text messages and phone calls at 12:30am from someone who wants to meet you behind the closed gas station on the wrong side of the tracks. Prepare to meet people, who may or may not show up, in the parking lot at the Dollar Store, preferably in the daytime when there are plenty of witnesses and security cameras. Third, do not go alone. Always take backup. Backup can be one of your larger friends or, if you're really fortunate, a friend who is a police officer or retired military sniper.

"I got ya back, bro. Over." (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking of the police, there are some cities and counties that now offer "Craigslist Safe Zones" that are located in the parking lots of various police stations. Hillsborough County and Bradenton have several, so check with the municipality where you live so you don't end up in the back of a windowless van.

Erica Habedank | CW44 Tampa Bay

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