By: Revanche

Adventures in Car Buying

March 11, 2010

 Image courtesy: Ondřej Žváček

The spending has begun. Or will have begun .. when I find the right car to spend it on.  Well, as far as my bank is concerned, the money’s out the door.  It’s time to replace my parents’ car. Or my dad’s, rather, since he’s the only one capable of driving now.

I withdrew a great stack of cash in hopes that the first used car I looked at would be
A) in great shape,
B) a bargain,
C) failing a bargain, at least a good price within Kelly Blue Book and Edmund’s TMV ranges.
D) Failing that, I was heading to the nearest or best comic shop to make it rain!  Just … kidding ….

It wasn’t highly likely, but I wanted the cash ready to go if I really truly hit the jackpot first time out. It didn’t happen, so we’re back to the drawing board. As a novice used car buyer, I’ve enlisted the aid of two friends experienced both in buying used cars and buying successfully from Craigslist.

It’s amazing how awfully skimpy the majority of listings on Craigslist are, I often wonder if those people still manage to unload their cars or if they’re just skipped over in favor of a meatier entry? 

I’m looking for a used sedan or similar vehicle with good gas mileage, reliable engineering, solid specs (nothing flashy), up to ten years old, sale by private owner (preferably first or second owners), low mileage (as low as you can reasonably get), as close to $5000 as possible.  From the looks of things, most cars in that price range are salvage titles which aren’t necessarily dealbreakers, but I am hoping for a clean title.  It’d be great if the car was dog friendly (easy to clean/control dog furrage, comfortable for a medium-large dog). 

So far, we’ve met with a guy who absolutely refused to budge more than $100 on his listed sale price of $7900 on the basis of his recent $2000 investment in the car maintenance. Never mind that the “upgrades” were necessary to bring it up to the “Excellent” condition category of KBB in the first place, which was only $5500.  He was determined to recoup his out of pocket costs and wouldn’t even let us test drive unless we agreed to the price. 

Another guy sounded like he was barely out of his teens, knew nothing about the maintenance records, and was pretty sure it might have had some fender damage but couldn’t swear to it. Apparently his dad held all that information.  In any case, I think that one’s a salvage so I’d have to check that more closely and verify that any damage was cosmetic or not structural.

The last two options on the list had cars with decent mileage for the age of the cars, but weren’t available for inspection until the end of the week.  We’ll see if any of those pan out or if we find better listings as we go along. 

My goal is to get this done before the end of the month so I can move on with my life!

Edit: Right now, I can’t decide if it’s a good or bad thing to have connections with folks at car manufacturers. They can give you incredible rundowns on the cars they’d recommend or warn you from, but then that causes decision paralysis.  Evidently, this isn’t an official recall yet, but 04-07 Accords have an issue with unpredictable and expensive (when it happens) transmission failures. Just because it’s not officially recalled doesn’t mean that it’s not a potential problem, nor does it mean that it’s widespread enough that I could calculate the risk we’re taking looking at them. But it’s frustrating as all get out.

7 Responses to “Adventures in Car Buying”

  1. eemusings says:

    I feel for you! Hope you find the perfect ride SOON.

    Crap listings always annoy me. Personally, I tend to write them off, unless they really seem worth looking into.

  2. mapgirl says:

    Have you also looked at Consumer Reports for used car ratings? That might also help to find something older and still really reliable.

  3. When I was looking for a used car, there were a lot of private listings in my area on and Yahoo! Autos. They were much more useful than Craigslist for me because they were sortable.

    Of course, I never did find a car through them (I bought a friend’s lease turn-in), so the best advice I can give you is to continue to tell everyone you meet what you are looking for in a used car, in the hopes that they have a friend who is looking to sell one.

    Good luck – car buying is no fun, in my opinion.

  4. I am pretty sure I am going to keep my car until it dies because I’m just terrified of buying a car. I hate chosing a model, I hate haggling, I hate worrying about financing.

  5. Be sooo careful buying a car from Craigslist. I’ve never done it before, but you could wind up with a real clunker and a seller who disappears into the sunset. I’d feel so much better going through a dealer.

  6. I’m with me in millions. I was browsing the listings, at least for NY, and they all looked like shams. But don’t you think $5K is a bit low for a car today. Maybe it’s just me, but I think you are going to need to shell out a bit more if you want a car with the specs you require.

    If you do find this car, please let me know if they have any more like them! I’ve always wanted a car, but am too scared to actually shell out the dough for it.

  7. Revanche says:

    @eemusings: I think it annoys me more that there may be many more potential decent cars on the market, if only we could tell!

    @mapgirl: We have, a bit, but also have been picking the brains of friends in the car maint biz. (ew.)

    @The Lost Goat: I ought to return to those sites, these Craiglist postings drive me a little batty.

    @me in millions: Definitely being careful. We only deal with people who are original or second owners with all the paperwork to back it up. And do a prepurchase inspection by a mechanic. Personally, I kind of hate dealers in the area, I know most of them as my good friend worked for a couple and I know they get pretty scuzzy as well.

    @Investing Newbie: If you have time on your side, it’s not. My other CL expert just purchased a Honda Civic for just that much with good mileage and in good condition. They do go fast, so you have to be knowledgeable and act quickly, which is why I’ve enlisted the two friends’ aid.

    On the other hand, haggling over the kind of car I’m looking for with one friend with some input has caused my proposed budget to expand much against my will. We’ll see what happens!

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