The best cars to flip on craigslist

Flipping cars on Craigslist can be a great way to make some extra cash. But selecting the right cars to flip can make all the difference to whether you succeed or not, how quickly your car sells and how much money you make when it does. Our experience flipping cars on Craigslist has taught us that you should focus on inexpensive cars that would appeal to a first time driver, senior driver or someone just looking for good reliable transport. These cars are also generally fast sellers​, simple to appraise and make good margins on. Below we will guide you though exactly what you should look for when looking to flip a car on Craigslist.

What size car should I buy to flip on Craigslist?

We would recommend looking for a small 5 door hatchback models from the likes of ​Toyota, Ford, Fiat, Renault, Suzuki, Hyundai, Kia and Smart. Three door cars are to be avoided unless they are cheap. Our experience has taught us that three door cars can be significantly harder to sell as the majority of buyers are looking for five doors.

How much should you spend on a Craigslist car flip?

Most part time car flippers are operating at the $2,000 – $3,000 price point, working on a $1000 margin. So you need to be looking for cars that can retail at $1995 and owe you no more than $800 – $1000, or $2995 with a stand in price of $1500 – $1750. Leaving a little movement to get a deal done and still maintain margin.

​You will make a little more on some deals and a little less on others, but most seem to average $1000 per deal over the course of a year. You might start buying cars at $500 and trying to get $1000 retail. But most successful long term flippers operate in the two to three thousand price point. This being the fastest moving part of the market, allowing for great profits and a fast turn over if you get it right.

Which car colours sell best?

You really do need to think about colour. With the internet being such a visual experience everyone searching for a new car will be looking at colour first. It’s a big deciding factor in any car purchasing decision. So you need to be focusing on it too.

The most popular new car colours in 2018:

  • Grey          20%
  • Black        20%
  • White       18%
  • Blue          16%
  • Red           10%
  • Silver        9%

Most car traders will still avoid red, white, green, brown and beige. The used market doesn’t always reflect the new, for example a white Mercedes A-Class will look great when new in the showroom. But add years of use and tens of thousands of miles and even with a great valet the paint work will look tired. Darker colours and especially metallics seem to hold their shine for longer.

However we have done well with orange and especially pink cars on occasion. Pink is always rare and has a certain appeal to a certain customer type, who will happily pay a premium. But if you are just starting out and only have a car or two in stock you may be best sticking to the more conventional colours.

What spec you should look for and what to avoid?

You need to approach a cars spec level in a similar way as you would a car colour. For example a low spec car is always at a disadvantage against a more common middle specification, and a funky coloured interior won’t always appeal to everyone.

Seat colour in general should be black or dark grey. Lighter interiors show wear and tear more easily. Brighter leather colours such as red can look cool, but can reduce the number of potential buyer. While on the subject of leather if the car comes with leather it always needs to be heated. None heated leather can be a hard sell in the winter months.

Air conditioning, remote central locking and alloys are all essentials these days. As is some form of phone connection for calls and music.

If a car smells funny you should walk away. I have tried every kind of wonder cures for this, but you will never be able to fully remove bad odours. If a car smells of dog or smoke it’s always going to. So just don’t put yourself at a disadvantage.

Manual vs Automatic

When you are starting out I would stick to manual gearboxes as a rule. Some cars are very popular in automatic and in the last few years gearboxes have improved massively. But if we are talking hatchbacks, then manual gearboxes are by for the most popular. You are also much more likely to have an issue with and automatic box and repairs are normally always expensive.

But similarly to the trim level some cars should always be bought in Auto. Mercedes A-Class for example should always be bought in Automatic, as the majority of buyers will be looking for a two peddle gearbox. The same goes for the later Smart cars.

Should the car I buy to flip be Diesel or Petrol?

If you are sticking to the hatchback or small car principle. Petrol cars are normally best, you need to stick to low capacity engines. Probably no bigger than say a 1.4 turbo.

We don’t have a problem with Diesel cars. But they have had a lot of bad press lately, which in turn has made them much harder to sell on. They also seem to suffer more age related problems. Which is why we try to avoid them at lower price points.

Does mileage matter when flipping cars on Craigslist?

Needless to say that the lower the milage the better. But with small cars ideally something in the range of 40-80,000 miles is an easy car to flip. But some cars wear mileage better than others. I would rather be in an 100,000 mile Honda that a 40,000 mile Chevrolet.

Service history essentials when flipping secondhand cars

Service history is important at all price points. But maybe even more so at the lower end. People looking at this end of the market need a good car on a budget and are worried about getting stung. So always make sure the car has at leased some history. If its missing some years or hasn’t had a recent service, allows me money to get it done. A recent service is more important that what happened 5 years ago.

One question you will always be asked and always need to ask yourself is… has the cam belt been done and does it need doing soon? Cam belt changes are often the reason people part exchange a car in the first place. They range in cost from a little as £300 to thousands. So it’s vitally important that you know if the engine is belt or change driven and make allowances in the budget if it requires changing.

If the car has no history, even if its super cheap it’s probably best to just walk away.

The condition of the bodywork is important when flipping a cheap car

It’s amazing what will polish out. I have bought cars with what appears to be five or six panels of paint work. Only to find it all polishes out after 15 minutes with some compound and a cloth. But these cars are the exception and not the rule.

I don’t advice buying cars that need anything more than a smart repair. Little jobs like bumper corners, painless dent removal and alloy wheel repairs. Larger jobs can again be time consuming and expensive. I have lost count of the times I have waited weeks for a bit of trim or a panel to arrive only then to find the bodyshop is fully booked for a few weeks. Resulting in long delays and money tied up.

So even if you are experienced in the dark arts of car body repairs, I would still advice buying a clean car needing as little body repair as possible. Allowing you to turn the car around as quickly as possible.  

Mechanical repairs

It’s great if you have a little mechanical knowledge. But it’s not essential at all. I know very successful dealers with almost no understanding of how and what an engine does.

But you can always find a course to educate yourself, or simply watch hours of Youtube content. Most dealers learn on the job, myself included. But obviously with a smartphone in our pocket the internet is a great place to find information on almost any car or problem. This resource can be invaluable. A quick search while inspecting a potential purchase can be very insightful.

I would also advice nurturing a good relationship with a small local garage. This can be invaluable especially when you get something wrong. These garages are normally a gold mine of information. Plus if you bring them regular business you can normally arrange a trade rate. This relationship can be very important and can sometimes be a good source of stock. The first car forecourt I rented came from one of these relationships.

You should always carryout a HPI or VIN check

The final thing your flip need is to have a clear finance and crash history. These checks mean the car has no outstanding finance owing on it, this check will also tell you if the car has ever been in a crash. If you are buying from a Franchise Dealer, they will normally have checked the car on the registry already and can supply a copy to the certificate. If not it is essential you do this yourself.

Basically if you buy a car with outstanding finance on it. You will be unable to sell it on and may face the loss of any funds you have invested, as the car technically is the property of the a finance company who registered the interest. So it is essential any car you buy regardless of cost or age is checked.

We don’t advocate selling anything recorded as being in a crash. Leave the car for someone else. They are always hard to sell on and never worth the hassle.


So to summarise the ideal Craigslist car flip should be a…

  • ​​Small cars with low running and insurance costs
  • Retailing between two & three thousand pounds, with a £1000 margin
  • In either Grey, Black, Blue or Silver
  • In the appropriate trim level and interior colour
  • It should have a manual gearbox
  • It should be Petrol powered
  • Having covered under 80,000 miles
  • Have full service history
  • ​With no major bodywork or mechanical issues​​
  • and be HPI clear

There is a lot of money to be made in flipping cars on Craigslist, and once you have found you ideal flip you simply repeat the process again and again it really can be just that simple. If you follow these simple guidelines you should be well on your way to car flipping success.

If you want to read more about flipping cars on Craigslist we have written more about it here – Craigslist car flipping.