Five Dead Give-Aways a Dealer is Posing as a Private Seller on Craigslist

If you’re careful, you can find some great privately-owned cars on Craigslist for a fair price offered by people just as nice as you. Since starting Guys With Rides, Craigslist has become our biggest source of vehicles to share on the site as we feature vehicles in which the current private seller wants to find the next caretaker for their collectible or special-interest automobile. Our biggest learning to date is just how pervasive the practice of dealers posing as private sellers is online. Without moderators properly vetting ads on Craigslist and other self-serve car selling sites, the practice only continues to increase.

So what’s the big deal? We don’t have a problem with dealers selling cars, especially those specializing in Antique, Vintage, Muscle, and other collectible cars. Dealers are entitled to make a profit and there are many legitimate ones who go out of their way to make their customers’ experiences very positive and for that, receive a lot of “word of mouth” business. The problem with the practice is three-fold.

First, dealers need inventory for their business and auctions are one of their key sources. The vast majority of these cars do not come much of with a history and with an “as is, where is” lack of warranty, potential buyers are left in the dark on what may be wrong with a special interest vehicle and sellers are not motivated to guarantee their sale. Second, legally registered dealers are allowed to charge document fees in most states to get the vehicle registered in the buyer’s name. This fee can often be several hundred dollars that’s avoided when dealing with a private seller. Third, the practice begs the question: if a dealer feels the need to pose as a private seller, then what else are they willing to hide to make a sale?

So, before you fall in love with the car of your dreams on Craigslist, keep an eye out for these five clues that indicate a dealer is trying to pose as a private seller. (Note: for all of these examples, our Craigslist search was set to “owner” filter located in the upper left corner of the site.)

One. Vehicle Photographed on a Turn-table or Other Specialize Room. How many people do you know that have a car turntable or circular garage in their home? Yeah, neither do we. While its possible the private seller hired a professional to photograph their car, that’s almost always not the case.


This button in a Craigslist ad is a red flag the “private seller” is really a dealer.

Two. The poster has a “more ads by this user” Button. At the upper right corner of every Craigslist post is a section that contains the key facts of each vehicle such as “condition:”, “odometer”, “VIN”, etc. If you see the link, click on it, and the poster has more car ads, congratulations. You just discovered a dealer posting as a private seller. Do the right thing and report them!


See the water mark in the lower left corner of the picture? Yeah, neither did we at first!

Three. The pictures have the dealer’s watermark. This ad really disappointed us. Here was a cool vehicle with great “hero shots”, and even a description that nearly fooled us at first. As we started putting together a post to feature this “Landy”, we saw the dealer’s watermark on the lower left corner of each photograph. In fairness, the dealer does call themselves out in the ad’s description. However, why do they feel the need to do this when such a cool vehicle as this will draw attention on its own merit?


Private Seller with a garage that rivals Jay Leno’s? No, just a dealer posing as a private seller.

Four. Pictures Taken Inside a Professional Garage While most private sellers take their pictures in front of their home (not a smart practice – read our “NOEL article!) or take the time to photograph at a park or other neutral setting, less motivated or busy dealers simply shoot and post pictures of a vehicle inside their garage, especially when the weather is bad. While the 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300D W123 Mercedes Sedan posing in a very nice garage might might fool someone into thinking a high-end private seller placed the ad, the description quickly ruled that out.

Five. Same background, different vehicles. Scour Craigslist enough and you start to notice patterns. We had a great laugh one evening when we realized a number of vehicles posted very close to one another had the same background! While the different weather conditions in the background likely fool the casual user, our closer look of the building backdrop revealed the large “3” on the corner confirmed our suspicions!

Full disclosure: while a questionable practice whenever a dealer poses as a private seller and most times its prudent to walk away from the sale, we have to admit that we bought a vehicle this way. It was a beautiful 2006 Black Porsche Cayenne S Platinum Edition equipped the air suspension rarely found on non-turbo models. The Craigslist ad did not contain any red flags indicating a dealer in drag. When we arrived to inspect the car, we immediately noticed the license plates blacked out in the ad turned out to be NJ dealer style. Consequently we proceeded to give the seller an earful after driving one hour on a weeknight to see the car. He immediately explained that he owned a “pay as you go” dealership but the Cayenne was his business car. We took a thorough test drive, reviewed the extensive receipts of the things he replaced on the Cayenne, and read the CarFax he willingly provided. With those boxes checked, we decided it was a solid example at a fair price, so we bought it, the only down-side being a $299 document fee we nearly walked from the sale over it. We’ve enjoyed the Cayenne for two years and 20K reliable miles, so the moral of the story is do your homework, know who you are dealing with, and if it is a well-documented, well-cared for special interest vehicle, go for it!


  1. Paul Gollner

    Have a 1995 Porsche 968 Cabriolet for sale.
    48k miles. It’s is a stunner. Would you be interested in trying to sell for me?

  2. Dan T

    HOW / where do I report DEALER posing as an OWNER ( other than flag ) ?

    • Guys with Rides

      Unfortunately, other than the flag you mention, we’re not aware of any other way to alert Craigslist.


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