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Finding Used Car Seller

The good news is: our auto repair shop has saved us from buying overpriced vehicles that are in fair condition–at best.

The bad news is: sellers (private and dealer) are being less than honest with us and we’re out $240 so far in our search for an older but reliable Toyota, Honda, or Subaru that is in decent shape for a graduating college student with limited $$$.

My question is this. . .How do we find THE car? Are there ways to find vehicles other than waiting for them to be advertised for sale? Is there a way, online or locally (Traverse City, MI) to find potential sellers and let them know we’re looking. We currently have a posting on Craigs List. We’ve also driven around on weekends looking at cars for sale along the side of the road.

My personal experiences have been hit or miss also. There are times when looking at a car dealer’s inventory makes sense. Purchasing a trusted relative’s or friend’s car make sense, too.

Being patient and being willing to spend some money on a mechanics inspection will pay off. I would also widen my search to include cars like Buick Century and othere mid sized US type cars. They generally have more depreciation and initial used cost is less than a similar Toyota or Honda. Because of Subaru’s peculiarities concerning AWD and the drive train (four matching, equally wearing tires for the lifespan of the vehicle, verifiable), I would not recommend Subaru for this purchase.

I think that few people will sell a good car that’s in mint condition. Unless there are unusual circumstances why would they? In most cases there’s something about the car that triggers the desire to sell. So consider minor flaws as a bargaining chip. I bought an '88 Accord LXi in '94. I got the seller to knock $500 off the price because the brakes felt mushy. Otherwise the car was in great shape. I replaced the master cylinder myself and it’s been a great car for these last 14 years. I bought an '85 Accord SEi in '88 and I talked the buyer down $600 because the idle was bouncing up and down. Maybe it needed a new computer? Turns out the thermostat was stuck open. That car lasted until it was stolen in '94. I’m just saying you might have a long wait for perfection. Minor flaws are OK if they’re priced in.

I don’t know your budget but there is a dealer near us, ends in max that has a 1 year warrenty on all the used cars they sell. Good due diligance on the checkups with the mechanic, people don’t usually sell cars if everything is fine so when I buy a used car I figure it will need something done to it, brakes, tires, fluids etc. and budget the purchase price accordingly. I find the minimum trade in value a pretty good starting place. You could easily pay $240 less for a car and if you are not confident in your ability to asess condition I think you should continue. Maybe you can even try to figure the problems based on your expereince and save a few charges.

Don’t be afraid to traverse out of state.
I’ll second the newer American brands such as the Ford Focus, Fusion, Taurus, or Crown Victoria, Chevy Impala, or Prizm(actually a Toyota Corolla, but with a Chevy badge), Buick something-or-other. You’ll get a much newer vehicle for the same price as the Toyota or Honda in your budget.

All cars need repairs. Sellers often won’t fix things if they are going to sell it. This seems silly to me, since they control the price that way. But you can use this to your advantage. The next time you take a car in for inspection by your mechanic, ask him to tell you if the car has been well taken car of. If so, ask for an estimate on the stuff that needs to be fixed. Drop the price by that amount plus a little extra for your trouble. If it costs $1000 to fix, add $200 for your trouble.

And if the car needs to pass an inspection before you register it, make sure that the seller has the inspection certificate before you buy. If you inspect it, make sure you get the inspection before you buy it and then drop the price by the cost to fix the problems, plus 20%. Don’t assume that passing this inspection fixes all problems. There are problems that can exist even if the car passes inspection.