Friday, September 14, 2012

The Ultimate Cheapskate Guide to Buying a Car

So suppose your car is jetting out plumes of blue exhaust every time you start it up, and the transmission is developing a tell-tale lurch, and you have. . .

$2000 cash and little or no capacity for making monthly payments?

That was my plight last summer. And yet, I was determined to find a decent car.

Guess what? I did it. I bought a car that was nearly as old as I am, and the only unexpected maintenance I’ve had to do over this entire year was just one measly alternator replacement.

It’s hard – but not impossible – to find a decent car even on as tight a budget as mine. Here are the top tips that led to my success in finding a good used car.

  • Be prepared to invest time – both in research and looking at car after car after car.
  • Prepare– Figure out what you can afford and what sort of year/mileage expectations are reasonable for that budget. Narrow your search to the most reliable makes and models that would suit your budget and needs. Compare blue book values to the going rates on Craigslist for your area. (Craigslist is where I did almost all of my car shopping.)
  • Another great resource is Plug in the makes, models, and years you’re targeting to find out what kind of problems are common – and whether you can afford to fix them! I originally wanted to buy a Subaru, but after seeing so many complaints about head gasket failures I was a little wary—and knew what to have my mechanic look for when I brought them in for pre-buy inspections!
  • If you’re looking at dealers, they will almost certainly have a free carfax report available for you. Don’t just check it for any reported accidents – often there will be a bit of a maintenance record, and you will be able to see where the car came from, and how many hands it passed through.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. A stuck door latch? No big. A ticking in the engine, rusted-through frame, or beginning signs of transmission failure? Yikes!
  • Get a mechanic involved. If you happen to be friends with one, bring him along! If not, most shops will do pre-buy inspections for a reasonable fee.
  • Don’t be a push-over—give a playful shove back. The dealer I bought from wanted $3000 for the car I ended up buying. The clear-coat of paint was peeling, though, so I said, “It sure is ugly. Will you take $2000?” And guess what – he did.
  • For every car I looked at, I went over a laundry list of things to check: Is the transmission shifting smoothly between all gears? Does the engine have any warning sounds? Are there any rust issues, particularly in the frame? When was the timing belt done? If the alignment is off, was it in an accident? Any unusual or excessive exhaust? Are there any fluid leaks, or does it burn a lot of oil? How long till I need to do the brakes and tires? This may sound pretty picky, but in the end it helped me find a winner!
  • Pay cash if possible. If you need to get a loan, think about this: Can you afford to pay the loan off AND any necessary or unexpected maintenance as it comes up?

If you have enough patience, you can find a good car to suit any budget. But it can be Oh Such A Pain.

Hopefully this will help you. :) Hey . . .

What's your best car-buying horror story?