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San Francisco -- buying simple used car for 1 year


We (my wife, our 15m daughter and me) will live in San Francisco for a year. I will work and my wife will be at home with our daughter. All we need is a car (with 4+1 wheels) that does not need repair, can be used for shopping, moving around a little during the weekends, and can be sold again (for maybe 50-60% of the original price) towards the end of next June.

I found two low priced reasonable cars at craigslist yesterday, both gone (postings deleted) by today. I cannot tell whether they were sold. Shall I contact used car agencies? Or have a look at I was told several times that I should carefully “do my homework” (= check the condition of the car) when buying through individual ads.

Thanks in advance for any comments !!

Having lived in San Francisco for several years I can tell you that, generally speaking, you’re better off without a car. Unless you get a kick out of driving around in circles for half an hour looking for a parking spot after a long day at work, or are willing to pay ridiculous rates for monthly parking in one of the few parking garages. Public transportation is everywhere, all the time in SF. Though you probably won’t want to take your 15m old daughter onto the bus. :wink:

If you’re just going to be there for a year, I can only imagine that it’s some sort of business exchange work, or an exchange student.

Whether or not public transportation is available or not is not really the point. Only having a year there, you’ll want to do some touring…see some of the country. I know I would.

Check with local mechanics, and see if you can find one that has a good reputation. If you happen to be a good mechanic, then you know what to check for, but if not, that mechanic will be like a best friend, and can save you lots of aggravation on a used car buy. Approach, and ask about having him check cars for you. Likely it’ll be about $100 for each one, as a good look over may take up to an hour.

Look for a car with lots of maintenance receipts. And keep any new receipts for work you have done, as that will help you sell it.

You could also check into leasing one. Most have 3 year terms, but you may be able to work something out.

You could also consider the public transportation option, and rent a car when you want to tour on the weekends.


Thanks penguinmafia and Chase,

I am a researcher working at the Mission Bay campus of UCSF. We live at Aldea - San Miguel. This is on Mt Sutro, above the Parnassus campus of UCSF. The pass between Mt. Sutro and Twin Peaks where Clarendon Ave crosses from the east to the west of the city is 600 feet from us. Parking is free for us up here (with a UCSF pass), we have a designated UCSF parking lot.

There’s a free UCSF shuttle during the week until 6.20pm from the Parnasuss campus up here to Aldea San Miguel. Also UCSF has a shuttle from the Parnassus campus to Mission Bay. So during the week transportation is free for me. In the evenings I may walk if I’m late, but that’s fine.

However, we need to do shopping, we’d be happy to have a look around during the weekends, and also during the week my wife and our daughter could go to several places: museums, friends, etc. I realized gas is so much cheaper (~50%) here in the US than in Hungary (where we come from).

Chase, where should ask to lease a car? (-- many thanks ! ) I just contacted a used car agency in Fairfield via and within an hour they replied that the car has been sold already. I assume the same happened to the two cars at craigslist (have been sold). I have zero chance in such short time to contact the seller, alert a mechanic, go to where the car is and then decide if I need it.


Have you checked into Zipcar?

Most dealers do lease contracts, but like I said, most also want a 3 year commitment. But it never hurts to ask.

As Texases said, there’s ZipCar and a couple more rental type places, although the names of more escape me at the moment.

Check with other people who are leaving, and watch any “For Sale” boards around the facility. Things like cars, toasters, microwaves and you name it tend to go from person to person, staying within the campus community. I know that for many types of “communities” (like overseas Military and the like), that holds true.


Thanks, I’ve checked zipcar, I found one for $7.75/hour nearby, the rest are $11/hour and up.

I lived in San Francisco for 2 years about mid-way up Mt Sutro and worked at the Parnassus campus. I would not get a car - the UC wants to minimize permits, and parking isn’t that easy to get even if it is free. There is a bus that runs right down Warren Drive which will connect you to the muni lines - if you are too late for the shuttle, there are plenty of bus lines and the muni. We had a car, but never needed it - it sat in the garage for almost the entire 2 years we lived there. I would endorse ZipCar if you need it, but there is a Whole Foods near the Mission Bay campus - you can stop there on your way home occasionally to pick up something. There are also lots of neighborhood markets near the Parnassus campus - your wife won’t need to drive to those unless she needs to pick up a lot of stuff. I’m not sure I see any problem with taking your child on the bus - many others do that without issues.

Look for a 4 cylinder P/U truck, stick shift if you can deal with that…A year from now, you can sell it for what you paid for it…Make sure it will pass emissions…have the seller provide you with a fresh test…