Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Help with buying first used car

Hello all,

New to the forum and also a new car buyer! I have never owned a car before, and have been shopping around but feel a little lost by the process. I am currently looking at a 2003 subaru outback with 250,000 miles. First, I met the boyfriend of the car’s owner. The girlfriend’s name is on the title, and when I asked to meet her, he responded, she’s very busy, but if you really need to meet her, we can arrange a time. Is this sketchy or odd? I mean, I will have to meet her in order for her to sign over the title. Also, the driver’s side door was dented and the inner part of the door felt loose from the outer metal shell when I closed the door from the inside. How much would this cost to fix? The car is 1500. Thanks!

I’d stay away from that one. The boyfriend is trying to unload the car for her. Mileage is high and my guess is that this vehicle may not have been cared for too well.


First time buyer does not need an all wheel drive vehicle with that many miles on it . You could easily pour another 2000.00 in this in a short time and still not be done. This sounds like a Craiglist possible mistake. Do you not have a family member or friend to help you. Just by your description I would look else where. You might not need all wheel drive but just front wheel drive where you are.

Frankly being a first time buyer I would suggest a used dealer lot where you can see the paper work and also have a mechanic look at what you are interested in.


Agree. I think you need to look for something in a little higher price range. Tires alone can cost $600 to $1200. Then brakes another $800 and an engine head gasket on a Subbie is what, $1-2000? Not to mention a transmission or drive train problem with it for another few thousand. You’d prolly end up with a $10,000 car anyway with a quarter million miles. Not good.

1 Like

Megan , just to waste time I used Auto Trader . com and I selected 4000.00 or less - sedan or hatchback and dealer only. I was surprised to find vehicles with less miles than the one you are looking at and the pictures showed them to look decent.

We don’t know your budget but under 2000.00 these days will not get you much of a vehicle.

1 Like

whatever you decide to seriously look at purchasing, have an independent mechanic look over and tell you any potential problems.
This will help you make a better informed decision.

Car buying tips:
-Don’t buy the first car you look at. Shop around.
-Have an idea of what you need. Do you need all wheel drive? the space of a SUV or minivan? The towing power of a truck?
-Have an idea of what you want. a car is a commitment- might as well have something you will enjoy driving.
-Have an idea of what you can afford- both in payments and repairs.
-Don’t buy into high pressure situations. There are TONS of used cars out there. You don’t have to buy one from someone pushing you to purchase right this second.
-As stated before- have an independent mechanic check it out. This will likely cost you a bit- around $100- but is totally worth it if it keeps you from buying a car that has tons of problems.


Thanks, I didn’t feel comfortable as soon as he said he wasn’t the owner. I’ll keep looking!

True, I think I would rather invest in something more expensive so I don’t have to do many repairs down the line. Thanks!

Thanks, I actually live in Colorado in the mountains, so shooting for awd. I think I’m going to start looking at some dealers so I will have more peace of mind!

Agree with the advice above.

One thing i’ll add from past mistakes…err, experience. If something just doesn’t quite feel right about the car (or the seller)…don’t buy it.

If you’re looking for cheap, you might consider buying a not so sexy car that isn’t too popular. I drive a grandma car myself! Not sure what models are AWD and reliable with no sex appeal, though.

As far as dealers for piece of mind, I’m afraid a dealer might be just as likely to sell you a $4k dollar problem as an individual would. Although a dealership would be less dangerous to deal with than individuals. Less physically dangerous. Not necessarily any less financially dangerous! Good luck.

1 Like

I would run fast and far from this “deal”. The mileage is way too high, and Subaru’s are not very reliable regardless. I would keep looking, and try to find something with less than 150,000 miles. A used Toyota Corolla or Toyota Camry is always a good choice.

I think you just met a “curbsider”. These guys buy cheap cars at auction, usually with some connection with a dealer that lets them buy at a dealers only auction. These guys do not have a dealers license to do business, don’t register or title the car in their name so as to avoid the sales tax and pretend to have some connection to the name on the title. They are pretending it is a private party sale to avoid any warranty laws and are probably not giving you their right name either. If you buy it, they will have someone forge the sellers name. Lots of luck finding them again.


When buying a used car, the advice above about paying your own mechanic a small fee to do a pre-purchase inspection first, before making any commitments w/the seller, that is probably the best path to a good car and a good deal. It will cost you about $100, but that’s $100 well spent. If you don’t have a regular mechanic you’ve used before, ask your friends, relatives, co-workers who they use. Then tell the mechanic you choose which of their customers recommended them to you.

As far as the title-changing process, that varies state to state. The best way to figure it out is to visit your local DMV office and ask. Do this beforehand, so you know what you need to do and look out for when it comes time to strike a bargain and cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s on the paperwork.

Buying a used car is a difficult task. If you cold find someone who’s done it before to help you, that would pay off in spades. What advice could I offer? …hmmm … well, I used to live in Colorado near Steamboat Springs and had no problem on snow covered roads, even going to ski resorts, with a front wheel drive VW Rabbit. Although it would be a convenience at times, you probably don’t actually need AWD. You’ll likely have fewer repair bills and less time with the car in the shop with FWD than AWD. There’s a reliability price tag for that function. For a first time used car buyer I’d recommend a FWD sedan, a widely sold econobox, such as a Corolla/Yaris, Civic/Fit, VW Golf, Mazda 3, something like that. I should add that as a teenager the first used car I was considering was a Fiat 124 Spyder 2 seater sports car … lol … so I can’t say I always practice what I preach. Whatever car you decide upon, get some help from somebody who’s done if before, and get a pre-purchase inspection. You should be good to go. Best of luck.

One other idea: Check over at Craigslist if they have somne advice on buying used cars there. There’s various scams folks use, and the people over at Craigslist have probably seen them all and know how to avoid most of them. Probably the most important: Never get into a car with somebody you don’t know.


I hope they’re not asking much for 17 year old Subaru with a quarter of a million miles on it. You can safely bet it needs some (or a bunch…) of things.

1 Like

As a vehicle owner who takes diligent care of my cars and keeps them until they turn into dust (and typically owns Hondas and Toyotas), I can tell you that the threshold of usefulness for cars in cold climates where you get snow is generally around 10 years and 200,000 miles. A car living in places with harsh winters that is over both of those thresholds is almost always going to need a stream of increasingly expensive repairs as components rust out and wear out.

I live in the snow belt of NY State and every car I have owned that is over 10 years old and 200,000 miles has bitten me within 20,000 miles of the 200,000 mile milestone. An almost 16 year old car with 250,000 miles is certainly going to ask a lot of you when it comes to repairs, even if it has been perfectly maintained. And, as mentioned before, Subaru is no longer a brand associated with very long life with few issues.

If you are looking at cars that have seen Colorado winters I would recommend sticking with cars under 10 years and 150,000 miles and you are more likely to have a car that gives you a few relatively trouble few years. Definitely have a mechanic look at any potential purchase and, before you take it to the mechanic, take a look underneath the car. A car that is super rusty underneath is probably not one that has been kept clean and will have lots of corroded rusty parts waiting to wear out and suck your wallet dry.


I remember those days when I was a kid. My advice would be to simply skip any old car that does not have a clean title being sold by the person whose name is on it. If at all possible get a mechanic to look at it before you buy and if your state has any type of inspection, make the deal contingent on it passing that inspection. Good luck.

1 Like

Thanks, I think I am going to go with a dealer since it seems a bit safer…also listening to my gut, which said no on the first 2 cars I saw!

Buying a car at a used car dealer makes a lot of sense, at least for a first time buyer. Take a look at the places that sell used rental cars too. They’ll tend to be newer and more expensive probably that what you have budgeted, but who knows. Folks who buy those used rental cars seem to like them.

What do people in your area drive? If there are a lot of FWD cars, them you don’t need AWD.

How about an awd Pontiac Vibe or Toyota Matrix . . . ?

But get the smaller 1.8 liter engine . . . trust me on this

1 Like