Adventures in Used Car Buying. (Hard earned lessons)

I had to buy two used cars in six weeks. Heres my story and a few tips.

Is there supposed to be a hyperlink?

Whoops, submitted too soon! HERE is the story.
FIRST, I live in Oakland California in a hillside home where I have to park my cars on the street. I’ve had 4 cars stolen. My insurance company hates me.
I Had a 93 Volvo 960 which had a leaking head gasket. I caught someone cutting out my catalytic converter (I chased them down the street in my bath robe with my German Shepherd). Having kept the car alive with judicious use of Bars Leak, I came to find it wouldn’t pass smog (go figure). I donated it to KQED. So off to Craigslist to find another Volvo. found a 2000 V70 white, absolutely beautiful. I must’ve looked at 15 cars. till I found this one. I love it.
THE NEXT day, I come home from work, anxiously awaiting the homecoming of my wife who drove the NEW car to work because hers was dirty. (been happily married for 9 years) I’m in the house and WHUMP-SCREECH!!! I run up to the street to find my wife’s Nissan 200sx wiped out (purchased last year from my church rummage sale for $2000 to replace our van which had been stolen) Some jack-ass had hit and run and while speeding off, ran over his OWN bumper and left behind the license plate. (which I happily gave to the police).
So, I’m back in the used car market.
10 viewed cars later, we came upon a 2000 Nissan Altima which we purchased for $4000. So far, two weeks later, we haven?t had any more mishaps. News at eleven.
Here is what I learned. My TOP TEN LIST, so to speak.

  1. IT IS MUCH EASIER TO BUY A CAR THAN IT IS TO SELL ONE. Use this to your advantage. This apples triple to boats.
  2. If you use Craigslist, ALWAYS TALK to the seller before arranging to physically LOOK at the car. DON’T EVER agree to buy a car sight unseen. This is a very common scam on CL and they usually try to use Craig?s or EBay’s “Buyers Guarantee” (which neither of whom offer) and want you to send a wire transfer.
  3. NEVER confirm that you’re showing up with cash when first meeting the seller. Don’t do alone. People get robbed and not just in Oakland either. Meet in a public place like the police parking lot.
  4. ASK A LOT of questions. How long has he had the car? Less than a month means he’s probably a shade tree dealer, even if he’s just selling it for his brother who moved back to China to see the Olympics. Why is he selling it? Was it garaged? Did the car live at the top of a brake and transmission killing hill? Why does it have a chalk outline in the trunk?
  5. Get the VIN and do a car fax. Best $30 bucks I spent. Also ask for records and look them over.
  6. Don’t buy a car that came from the South after Katrina. Period.
  7. A good way to confirm odometer mileage is to look at the brake and clutch pedals. It takes a LONG time to wear the manufacture?s logo off the brake. Chances are FAR More than the 75000 he says the car has been driven.
  8. Tell the seller you will want to have the car looked at by a mechanic. I would have saved on Bars leak had I done so with my 960. It also telegraphs that you won’t be some mook to be taken advantage of. It?ll almost certainly give you a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
  9. TEST DRIVE THE CAR Go ahead and listen to the premium sound system, then turn it off. 400 watts of sound can mask a lot of problems. Open the hood and listen and SMELL the engine after you’ve driven it for a while. Pays to learn what burned oil, water; brake and power steering fluid actually smell like too. Test EVERYTHING in the car. Windows, door locks, fold down seats, everything. I brought my seven year old for this. He caught a dozen sellers totally by surprise (DAD, look! this car comes with a dead cat! COOL!)
  10. Ask just WHY the seller put new tires on just before selling? New tires cover up alignment problems.
  11. Trick your neighbor into parking on the corner.