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Used car buying advice

In buying a Honda Civic 1-3 years old, who can be most trusted - Dealer, private, Auction, Enterprise Car Rental, other?

Which St. Louis County Dealer would have the highest quality used Civics?

How do I find Auction car sales in St. Louis County area?

I’ve put $4,000 into my current Chevrolet Lumina, so I have no room for a mistake.

An auction???
Finding a good-quality used car at an auction is sort of like expecting to find a pure, chaste woman at a house of ill repute. While I suppose that it is possible to find what you want at either venue, the odds are definitely against you.

By way of explanation, dealers keep the best used cars for their own lots. The ones with “issues” go to auctions where buyers have little or no time to inspect the cars prior to purchase.

If you want a decent used car, whether you are looking on a dealer’s lot or at classified ads, you want a car that comes with full maintenance records, an Owner’s Manual, and a copy of the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule (frequently contained in the manual). The reason for this is that a fairly large percentage of car owners do not maintain their cars properly. The first owner will probably not suffer from lax maintenance, but the 2nd or 3rd owner surely will. If you have an Owner’s Manual/Maintenance Schedule and full maintenance records, you can verify if the car has been properly maintained. That being said, you have a better chance of getting all of this from a private sale.

But, even with full maintenance records, you still need to have a potential purchase vetted by your own mechanic, in order to detect collision damage and components that are in need of replacement.

As to rental cars, many folks will tell you that these cars have been “well-maintained”. In reality, the word “well” is probably not valid. They have received minimal maintenance, in accordance with the profit-maximizing business model of a car rental company. And then, you have the unknown issues such as how many people have driven the car into curbs and potholes, how many have done things like racing the engine and then dropping the transmission into gear, and all other sorts of abuse that rental cars are subject to.

Overall, I would recommend a private sale–as long as you can get the documentation that I referred to previously. When I sell or trade in a car, the new owner gets all of my maintenance records plus a very clear graphic/chart outlining the maintenance. If you can find a truly conscientious car owner who is selling his car, you may be able to find something similar.

Good luck!

I wouldn’t recommend an auction simply because you need to be fairly car savvy to come out ahead. On the other hand, Enterprise has two 2009 Civics below 25K miles fairly priced (Clayton & south County). I wouldn’t hesitate to look at them. I would also ask to see their maintenance records, to see how they worked oil change intervals.

I don’t think any one dealer has a lock on quality used cars. You need to take your time and look around. Consider prepurchase inspections, although I am not sure if you go low mileage that a prepurchase inspection will reveal much more than you can actually see for yourself. You may get some slightly better pricing from private sellers, but you are also assuming more risk since it will be an as-is sale with no warranty.

Use or some other site to see what the selection is in St Louis. It didn’t take me long to get hits on the Enterprise site.

Thanks much. I also thought about the varied brands of gasoline put into rental car returns.

Isn’t it kind of tricky - there are so few legitimate reasons a private owner would sell a 2009 Civic less than a year old, e.g death or loss of job. Even with good maintenance records how do you know the person is telling the truth.

Is it possible to buy a re-possessed car? Does a dealer have them?

If I go the Dealer route, what Honda Dealer would you recommend?

The type of gasoline used in rental cars is absolutely not a concern.

The abuse that the cars may have been exposed to, coupled with minimal maintenance, should be much more of a concern. That being said, it is possible to get a very decent used car from a rental company if you keep your eyes open.

As to a repossessed car, ask yourself:
If this person could not afford to make the payments on their car and he/she knew that it was going to be repossessed eventually, do you really think that they spent any money on maintenance or that they were concerned with how they treated the car???

Great ideas. Keeping my eyes open as you say, what Do I look for in getting a very decent used car from a rental company?

I’m taking your advice and will look at the private market. Thanks so much for your information, it’s a big help.

With 2011 Civic’s coming out soon, a 2009 is essentially a 2 to 3 year old car. Most likely what you are looking for in a 2009 is a car that was leased and returned to the dealer at the end of the lease. This means about 12K miles per year of the lease, so 24 to 36K miles. Since this would be a dealer transaction they like to sell the “good” lease returns as certified used cars. They get top dollar for these cars but also give a decent warranty as well. Leased cars that show signs of abuse or greater than normal wear and tear go to auction. It might still be a decent car, but realize a dealer passed on it so there could be problems.

A private sale is your best chance of getting a good car at a good price. The owner of a 2 or 3 year old car should be able to show all the service records to confirm it was maintained properly. If the owner can’t show these documents, move on to another car. It is still a good practice to get an independant mechanical inspection before you purchase the car. Even relatively new cars could have been in accidents and repaired, run over curbs, or just not repaired properly. A good inspection can reveal damage not visible to the normal car shopper.

Thanks. My main concern is not repair/maintenance records, but a fault in the car that is being hidden and can be hidden.

It’s six of one, half dozen of the other but you have something a bit wrong here. You plan on buying a used car and are apparently under the assumption that any problem that a used car develops is a problem that has been covered up by the seller; be it private seller or dealer. At least that’s the way I read your post.

A used car is a collection of worn parts and any of them are subject to failure at any time. New cars break all of the time so why would a used one be exempt?

Also consider this. A private seller has been behind the wheel of the car they’re trying to sell for a long time and they often know full well if a serious problem exists. Once known they either sell/trade the car as is with full disclosure or they try to doctor the problem up.
A dealer often knows no more about a car than what a quick drive down the street will reveal and that’s often very little. Most dealers/salesmen are not mechanics and may not even be aware of an existing problem. They sell the car and when a problem develops the buyer points the finger at the dealer with the assumption the dealer knew all about it.

Of the options you mention an auction format would be my last choice. Granted, you could possibly find a deal at a private auction that did not require a dealer license but auctions can also be a dumping ground for a headache.

Everyone knows private sales don’t disclose some things. And I know a new car can have a problem too. My question is, how to tell when a private seller is neing honest and fully disclosing? Sometimes you can tell the situation is honest, often you cannot.

Potentially hidden faults is why “It is still a good practice to get an independant mechanical inspection before you purchase the car. Even relatively new cars could have been in accidents and repaired, run over curbs, or just not repaired properly. A good inspection can reveal damage not visible to the normal car shopper.”

“My question is, how to tell when a private seller is neing honest and fully disclosing?”

Well, I guess that you could administer a dose of Sodium Pentathol, or perhaps have the seller submit to a Polygraph examination!
(Please remember that Waterboarding is frowned upon, even when used on car salesmen.)

Seriously, however, the reality is that people will frequently conceal problems when selling cars, or may be…less than forthcoming…with information when asked specific questions. Outside of doing your due diligence by examining maintenance records and by having your mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection, there is really nothing that you can do to guarantee total honesty from the seller. I suppose that you could also invest the money for a Carfax report, but those are notoriously inaccurate/incomplete.

Personally, I have a different train of thought from many of those above, because:

  • I know many people say rental cars have been abused. But how many people renting a normal car (not high-performance) ACTUALLY treat them any different than their normal daily driver? I don’t know any. So you get an “average american driver” history… that’s scary enough, IMO, but it seems like that’s a better hedge than getting the worst possible driver 100% of the time.

  • Some of the rental agencies actually maintain their cars reasonably well… Hertz, for instance, I’ve always had good luck with.

  • Why would someone sell a 1-3 year old Civic they owned? Except for rare instances, I can’t think of any reason to be dumping a perfectly good new car. THOSE are the ones I worry about being reliability nightmares. Rentals and Leases are simply up for sale because the time for them in the fleet is up (a time that was decided BEFORE the vehicle was bought).

That’s a question I cannot answer at all. Your best option is to have a thorough inspection done of the vehicle before purchasing it and you should keep in mind that even the most thorough of inspections by the most competent mechanic in the world does not guarantee you a problem-free vehicle. It only swings the odds a bit more in your favor.

The cost of an inspection can vary by a country mile depending on how comprehensive the inspection and even the locale. Peforming a leakdown and oil pressure test on the engine, transmission fluid pressure checks on the transmission, etc, etc can be labor intensive and this means $$$.

I’ve worked for car dealers who on occasion have found out after the fact that a trade-in had been doctored up a bit to cover up a serious flaw. Sawdust in the differential to cover up a ring gear whine, engines stuffed full of STP oil treatment, shoddily welded frames covered up with undercoating, oil pressure senders disconnected to prevent the no/low oil pressure light from coming on, and even one very mint condition, low miles (under 5k) car that the dealer discovered, after the fact, was actually 2 cars that had been welded into one.


This is Marianne from Enterprise Car Sales. We saw your post and wanted to respond with some information that specifically addresses your question about the quality of our vehicles. All of our vehicles must pass a 109-point inspection before they are available for sale. Each vehicle also comes with a free CARFAX Vehicle History Report, and we back each one with a 12 month/12,000 mile Limited Powertrain Warranty. After the sale, if you are not satisfied with your purchase for any reason, you have seven days or 1,000 miles to return it. It’s that simple! We understand buying a car is a big decision and are happy to answer any additional questions you have. Please visit for more details or contact us at