Craigslist Fool's Gold

Searching craigslist for cars is a big hobby amongst car enthusiasts. It gets very addicting; clicking page after page for the possibility of finding that gemstone amongst picture after picture of rust, bad paint, and “needs brakes” descriptions.

Once you partake in this fun past time, you’ll begin to see similar styles and types of sellers pop up. Dealers trying to pose as private sellers, missing pictures, pictures from a google search instead of the actual car, and poor English in descriptions or titles are usually the most common. However, for every “it runs good.” or “it has fresh breaks,” there is at least one more where someone has vastly overpriced their vehicle and expects to still off-load it quickly via someone like you searching through craigslist.

Most of the time these high priced rollers are at a dealer. The dealer is trying to gouge every drop from the trade in or auction buy they picked up, hoping to find the one person who is hugely into 1976 four-door Novas with a cylinder engine. On the independent seller side, I usually see a high price tied to a car that has high sentimental value to the person selling. This is usually a poetic write up on the owner’s first drive in the car, or how they met their wife driving it. Another dead give away is if the car has a name or the seller refers to the vehicle as “her.” Buyer beware.

One of the most infuriating cases of high priced craigslists cars is the belief that since the car is rare, it is, therefore, expensive. Just because a car is rare on the street today, does not mean it has automatically gained a “classic” or “collectible” appeal. Much like beanie babies, which are rare today, but not worth much of anything, cars do not have to appreciate in value with time. There is not a magical age that a car can survive to, that will automatically make its worth bounce back and appreciate.

Exhibit A: Two Lada’s priced around $10k found here in the United States. Now, it is easy to see how owning a Lada in the US is a great novelty, especially since both examples here are from when the Iron Curtain was still drawn across Eastern Europe. These cars also were never offered here, so it means someone had to import them from somewhere outside of the country. Despite these two factors, Ladas are still notorious for being wretched automobiles. The fact that they were simple and easy to fix when they broke down, does not replace the fact that they still broke down, quite often.

Yellow 1974 Lada with blue interiorSomeone must have been a high-ranking official in the Communist party to afford such a nice blue interior

Red 1980 LadaA 1980's car stuck in 1963...

Exhibit B: A G-Body Oldsmobile Cutlass, clean as it is, is still not one you would peg with a $14k price tag. I would love to own this car for, at max, four or five thousand dollars, but for a non-special edition of a plain g-body GM car that just so happens to have been taken care of, does not automatically warrant such a steep price. Now, there may be a huge fan of Oldsmobiles that want this car, but I suspect it will be hard to find a buyer at that price.

Oldsmobile Cutlass"Owned by a little old lady, only driven to the grocery store and back since new"

Exhibit C: The European sports sedan market. Here is a late 80’s E30 (supposedly a true M3) with true to form wheel arches and the look of an 80’s sports sedan. E30s have gained notoriety for track prowess and have gained traction for resale. And in this case, with it being an M3, it may be warranted for a high price, but to ask the same cost as a modern, entry-level European car is still farfetched. Even with the E30 fandom, this may have some hard luck finding a buyer at that price.

1988 BMW M3Track day?

There are plenty of other car scenes that attract this price gouging in hope for a fanboy with a fat wallet or a blank check. The Japanese (JDM) import cars are definitely not immune. If you import a car from Japan that is still RHD and can be licensed in the US, you can easily double the value of the car. Even if you take a USDM spec car and add everything the JDM version has to it, regardless of the car, would easily add worth to the car solely based on the market of people wanting JDM cars. The “drift tax” is real; any Japanese car with power going to the rear set of tires will incur this tax whether you have the intent to drift or not. It doesn’t matter that it's’ a Datsun B210 with 48 bhp, drift tax applied increases the selling value by a few hundred dollars easily.

I do hope that these cars find homes to owners who truly love them. I just hope that the future owner was able to talk down the price a little more before committing to the purchase. Especially for the Ladas...

Sam Bowman

About Sam Bowman

Cars, Photography, and the Outdoors. [email protected]

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