The Complex Meaning of Craigslist Ads

A look at the intersection of commerce, hopelessness and car fandom.

Craigslist is about the most interesting website on the Internet. Like the local classifieds that preceded it, the site is a (sometimes gross) soup of human emotion: Missed connections, sentimental goodbyes to used chiffarobes, notices about lost pets, raunchy-but-heartfelt requests in the “personals” section. For every uncaptioned photo of a Vitamix among the Craiglist’s 80 million classified ads are two posts that allow a little insight into the soul of the writer.

Of course, some of the best posts come under the “Cars and Trucks” section, and why wouldn’t they? Cars are beloved family members, or projects, or relationship ruiners. Cars are sold to make rent, or given away at firesale prices just to clean out a garage. Many a project is abandoned once the owner uncovers the full scope the troubles. It’s right there, at the intersection of commerce, hopelessness and car fandom, that the best stuff emerges. Here are some of the best entries from the annals of Craiglist, our classifieds section and national personal diary.

Marital Strife - 1961 Chevy Biscayne

What first appears as an ad for a beat-to-heck 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne is actually the portrait of a marriage—a contentious one. Often, a seller will lead with the reason he’s forced to sell a beloved auto. This partner in marriage leads with: My wife is a Bitch making me get rid of my car!!!!! And then, in the classic sit-com one-two of Exasperated, Smart Wife dealing with Idiot Husband, comes the stunning line: my husband is stupid I post his ads.

Man of Few Words - “1988/$1000”

Anyone searching for a used car near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, will find this ad, for “1988/$1000.” A 1988 Elect Dukakis pin? A 1988 Yamaha Snowblower? The body copy reveals that the item for sale is a “truck.” Informationally, out of the frying pan and into the saucepan. Brevity is the soul of wit, but the death of a helpful Craigslist ad. This fellow is too reticent for the medium.

Helpful Man of Few Words - 1967 Mack Tri-Axle

In a similar vein is this ad for a Mack Dumptruck. The copy reads: Mack tri-axle, 6 cylinder diesel, standard, runs good, has some rust. Several quality pictures follow. While almost as laconic as the man selling the “1988,” this seller puts his few words to good use. Everything a prospective buyer needs to know is outlined in eleven words. Presumably, a man whose rhetoric is so sturdy and unornamented is exactly the kind from which to buy dumptrucks.

Immaculate! - 1983 Rolls-Royce

Vintage Rolls-Royces are famously well-built—solid, quiet, heavy—and infamously prone to electronic and hydraulic failures. Many cars that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Eighties and Nineties now trade hands for Corolla money because of the high costs of maintenance and repair. This 1983 Rolls Silver Spur certainly looks “Immaculate!,” but any wise buyer would require much more information, and a tome of maintenance records, before taking the ghostly plunge. “Immaculate!” is all the verbiage we get. The concision, diction and location (Danbury, Connecticut) speak to a young scion selling dad’s beloved saloon. Listen here, Chadwick: Craigslist is a proletarian space, so give us the details we need. Money is an object.

Shout It Out - 1965 Barracuda

The pictures point to this ‘65 ‘Cuda being in pristine condition and the color, a limey yellow, is good fun. However, seventeen lines of ALL CAPS DESCRIPTION OF RUST BUBBLES AND CAR SHOWS AND PAINT JOBS makes a self-described “old vet” seem more like a crazy old man. You know what really draws attention and underscores details? Punctuation and white space.

Draggin’ Wagon - Hemi Flyer

The copy here has a regular voice and even-handed, helpful tone, but any person selling a V-8-powered children’s red wagon has to be insane in a deep, incurable way

As with any hobby, the automotive world has tribes. Mustang-, Camaro- and Miata-lovers are some of the bigger groups, but fandom goes all the way down the ladder. Pick what you might deem the world’s worst or least interesting car, and then marvel at its owner’s forum and fan club. Adore your ‘91 Chevy Cavalier? The J-Body owner’s club welcomes you. The seller of this ‘83 Malibu Station wagon is obviously head over heels. The rear window vents, he says, came only on ‘83 wagons. This is the last year, he notes, the Malibu came with rear-drive architecture. Then, he names this jalopy a “classic.” Who are we to yuck a yum? Here’s the obsessive love of every car.

Wagon With a Trunk Full of Heartbreak - 1993 Mercedes 300TE

Sometimes, an otherwise bone-dry Craigslist ad will reveal its author’s heart in the last line. After listing the problems with his 1992 Mercedes 300TE wagon—many due to a negligent former owner—the he ends with a simple request: Will consider trades for Vermont-inspected vehicle with no major mechanical issues. Somebody thought he could rescue an aging German car, fix ‘er up quick and love ‘er indefinitely. Looks like it was harder than that. No cars with major mechanical issues please, and no more heartache.