Buying a used car - any advice?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MaggieMae, Nov 5, 2009.

  1. MaggieMae
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    MaggieMae Reality bits

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    So here's my situation: I'm at the point where I can't rely on my old '95 Mazda to suffer through another winter. It still runs great, believe it or not, even at 219,000 miles, but it's getting so rusty that the whole exhaust system is about to go. I'm going to use $5,000 I have stashed away and start searching for a newer used car. (I don't buy new cars.)

    What I thought would be a simple adventure has turned into a nightmare.

    Chapter One: Notified my brother-in-law who owns a "previously owned" truck center and usually has a fairly good selection of trade-ins, but of course not in this economy. But he has always come through in the past by finding used cars that had few if any "surprises" for the new owner (me and other family members) even if he had to go to auctions or work out something with a new car dealer he knows personally. In other words, they turned out to be reliable, because he knows what he's doing. But my B.I.L. said that this time he would probably have a difficult time finding anything made in this decade for only $5,000. Since my Mazda is still running just fine, I wasn't in any hurry, so he told me he would see what he could come up with, keeping in mind that I would like to do this before the snow flies.

    Chapter Two: That was over a month ago, and so a few days ago I called him to get a progress report, and he said he wasn't having any luck in that price range and that I should also "start looking around on my own." Happy to do so. And I did, and I'm discovering just how wrong he is about finding a newer used car for $5,000.

    Chapter Three: There are two independently owned used car lots in my little town, both of which always seemed to have a pretty good variety on their lots as I drive past almost daily. One of them is also a close friend of the mechanic in town that I have used for years, and who is extremely reliable, honest, and fair. So used car guy (Frankie) had two cars that interested me:

    2005 Ford Focus, 5-speed, with 86,000 miles
    $4,950 (book value $7,000)

    2000 Chevy Cavalier, 4-door, automatic, with 94,000 miles
    $3,450 (book value $4,050)

    The Ford is very clean, the only problem being it is bright YELLOW. Think little old lady driving around in what looks like a taxi on steroids. But I'm willing to humble myself.

    The Cavalier is starting to rust around the rocker panel, which of course means more rust building underneath, the very thing I want to avoid. But I like the price and would consider a $400 undercoating. And the price is great (I think).

    This fellow (Frank) also volunteered to take both cars over to Ron (the mechanic) to have him do a once-over for any mechanical problems, so I feel comfortable with that.

    Chapter 4: THE PROBLEM. My B.I.L. is now furious that I went to another dealer. He apparently thought I should just cruise the side roads and look for cars parked on lawns, then try to coerce the owner into letting me drive it 25 miles away for him to inspect.

    So now my B.I.L. is pissed off, my sister (his wife) thinks I should back off and wait for him to find something and after several days of this back and forth wrangling, they both are now suggesting that it's downright traitorous to trust any other used car dealer. The B.I.L. has gone as far as making disparaging comments about the honesty of both Frankie and Ron, neither of whom he knows at all.

    Keep in mind that my dilemma is do I want to keep the peace or venture out on my own? It's not like I haven't had good luck WITHOUT my family's involvement before, having in the past owned a used '65 Mustang, a '72 Mustang, a '75 Volvo wagon, and '86 Jetta, all bought from dealers and none of which wound up to be a lemon with a corresponding horrory story.

    While I realize this is a long rant, I needed to get it on paper anyway, because now I need to forward this "story" on to my brother in Texas and ask him for his advice too. Which I wouldn't have done had this not blown up into a full-fledged family fight.

    I know there are several car buffs here, so feel free to jump in with some advice if you like!! (Especially about the 2 cars above; "Frank" also said he would do a carfax.com check for me, so I really don't think the guy is planning to rip me off.)
     
  2. PLYMCO_PILGRIM
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    PLYMCO_PILGRIM Gold Member

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    Here is my simplified advice:

    1) Always look UNDER the car. If any fluids appear to be leaking don't buy it as that is a sure sign of neglect and/or abuse.

    2) Blue Book Values: Make sure you know them and NEVER pay more :)

    3) Dont believe ANYTHING you are told about a car. Make sure you either bring someone with a lot of knowledge or take it to a friendly mechanic to check over for you.

    4) You can always send me a PM for specifics about a certain vehicle you are interested in :)
     
  3. MaggieMae
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    Thanks for the offer. I think I covered all those basics in my OP, though. The Bluebook value on both cars listed is posted, and my own mechanic will be looking underneath those two cars.
     
  4. Mr. H.
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    Mr. H. Diamond Member

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    Do what's best for you regardless of relatives' attitudes.

    Good luck. Toyota's are good. So's Mazda as you know.
     
  5. Zoom-boing
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    Zoom-boing Gold Member

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    Instead of going to other dealers have you tried craigslist? My 19 year old just bought a car after spending 1/2 the summer looking for one. We found a guy who buys only reliable brands . . . Hondas, Toyotas, etc. from trade ins at the local auto auction. Any car we looked at from him we took to a separate mechanic. The car she bought had just been inspected, one owner, Corolla, '99 w/90K miles or so. My brother also just went through this process. He lost his job, his car ('03 Jetta POS that started falling apart at 30K) was on it's last legs. He spent months combing the ads and looking at cars (he only wanted a stick though so he had less to choose from) and he finally found exactly what he was looking for. You'll save money by buying from an individual vs. a dealer but you have to go over it very well. Usually you can negotiate a lower price w/an individual too. Try craigslist. You can sort by specific make/model/price too. Might be worth a look.
     
  6. JenyEliza
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    JenyEliza Princess of Rhetoric

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    I haven't read through this thread yet, and I'm sure you've likely already gotten excellent advice, but I'll toss in my bit here.

    My better half owns an automotive repair shop and has for 30+ years. Neither of us drive new vehicles and never will. Neither do his children (ages 27, 22 and 17), or my 15 year old twins when they're old enough to have a car. We don't believe in driving off leaving sacks of money (ie, loss of equity) in the dealership showroom! ;)

    So.....the best recommendation, of course, is to take ANY pre-owned/used vehicle you are contemplating purchasing to YOUR mechanic for a thorough check up. If the seller objects to taking the vehicle to YOUR mechanic, or insists you see THEIR mechanic, skip the car no matter how bad you want it.

    While at the shop:
    It is especially important to make sure the mechanic inspecting it puts it on the lift to look underneath for signs of rust and mud where it shouldn't be. Believe it or not, there are still *tons* of cars (literally) from Katrina being fixed up and schlepped around the country for dough. My better half is stil seeing on average 1 of these vehicles every week or two--and that's here in Atlanta. These cars are *all over* the USA.

    Don't touch a Katrina vehicle with a 10 foot pole.

    Once you've determined it's not salvage from Katrina:
    Make sure that the timing belt/chain is checked out for wear and tear, if it's not in good shape, skip the car (that's a very very expensive repair).

    After the mechanic inspects the vehicle, take it for a ride on a road that allows you to go 55 or better, and then look for smoke from the tailpipe in the rear view mirrors, vibrations, pulling to the left or right. These are all signs of future expensive mechanical work ahead. Also ask to see maintenance records...if they don't have 'em, skip the car.

    If you want to know more, PM me....and I'll ask him if there's anything else you need to know.

    Jeny (see I'm not a complete asshole... ;) )
     
  7. MaggieMae
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    My niece bought a car off Craigs list, just remembered. Thanks, I'll check it out. BUT, that might only add fuel to the family feud, since my brother-in-law doesn't trust the Internet either. If he ever thought I'd bought a used car there, he'd probably have heart failure. I think when I do make a decision if it isn't with something he comes up with, I simply won't tell him where I bought it.
     
  8. JenyEliza
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    JenyEliza Princess of Rhetoric

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    Just tell him you found it on the side of the road--keys in it, and that you fell in love with it on the spot and drove away. :lol:

    BTW....your family sounds a *lot* like mine. Buncha drama kings/queens. ;)
     
  9. MaggieMae
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    Thanks. That's all great advice, especially about Katrina vehicles. But a carfax check will solve that. It costs $39.95 to use, well worth it when buying any used car imo.

    And most people, when not discussing politics, aren't assholes. :cool: (Except maybe my brother-in-law.)
     
  10. Zoom-boing
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    Zoom-boing Gold Member

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    Craigslist is nothing more than a giant 'yard sale' or 'classified newspaper ad' on the internet. But if that were to cause your BIL to get upset just tell him you saw an ad in the paper or heard about it from someone at work.
     

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