Buying Cars Safely on Craigslist

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Bud and Jane Runion — a couple in their 60s from Marietta, Georgia — thought they found the car of their dreams on Craigslist. But when they went to meet the seller, the couple went missing, and their bodies were discovered days later. It’s got a lot of people questioning whether buying things on Craigslist is safe, but there are some general safety rules to think about with any online purchase.

The Runions posted an ad on Craigslist looking for their dream car, a 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible. They thought they’d found it when they got a response, from a man 180 miles away in McRae, Georgia. They went to look at the car and instead, allegedly ran into Jay Towns, who is now accused of murdering the couple.


Officials with Craigslist referred to the alarmingly brief safety page on the company’s website, which notes, “Be especially careful when buying/selling high value items.”

We’ve bought and sold dozens of cars on Craigslist and follow pretty much the same procedure every time. By and large, the people we’ve met and transacted with have been well-intentioned and friendly. But there are bad people out there, and that’s true whether they’ve posted an ad on Craiglist, an auction on Ebay or taken out a line ad in the local newspaper. There are some rules to live by when looking at any of these transactions:

Don’t Post Wanted Ads

The Runions really wanted a 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible, a car they’d considered their dream car since they got married. So they posted the following “Wanted” ad on Craigslist.


There are literally THOUSANDS of Ford Mustang Convertible ads posted online. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds in Georgia alone, and if you get creative, you can find the color, engine and interior color you’re after.

Posting a Wanted ad on Craigslist reveals a lot more about your wants and desires than you should be comfortable with. Anybody with rudimentary Google image search skills can come up with a photo of the exact car you’re looking for, further enticing you to hop in the car and head out to meet up.

Meet in a Public Place

Meeting at peoples’ houses is pretty weird. Again, most people are just fine, but it’s not a good idea for a retired couple to go traveling 180 miles to somebody else’s house to look at a  car. You’ll be unfamiliar with the territory, and it’s not your home turf.

Always meet up with people at as public a place as possible. It’s never a bad idea to meet up with people at the local police station.

Split Up On  a Test Drive

Typically, when I’m out hunting for cars, I’ll go with someone as a second set of eyes, not just for my own safety, but to temper my enthusiasm for a particular car. It’s always good to have someone along to act as the voice of reason.

But it’s also good to have that person hang back if you go out for a test drive with the owner, instead of all piling in the car together.

Check With a Dealer


A lot of times, owners of vintage cars aren’t interested in driving those cars to a mutual location, or meeting up with you anyplace other than their house. It’s understandable, considering they’re old cars and the weather might not cooperate. At that point, though, you need to consider your own safety, and whether or not a good deal on Craigslist is worth the potential consequences.

A quick search using reveals dozens of 1966 Ford Mustang Convertibles, in the right color and engine combinations, offered by dealers all over the country. It’s a significantly safer way to purchase a car.


Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at