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Attn savy car buyers, help me out
Old 06-03-2007, 10:25 AM   #1
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Attn savy car buyers, help me out

My inner cheap bastard is starting to come out again. I would make UncleMick proud. I have a VW and it has been fine so far. I own it and it is probably worth around $7000-7500 book value.

I really don't care to hold onto the car anymore and I would rather just have a little 4 cylinder car to get around + bike more often (my new bike just arrived ). The proceeds from the sale of the car will go into some mutual funds. I plan on paying cash for the beater and in the future I will hold enough $$ in an ING account if the car dies in the next few years I will be able to replace it.

So I have been looking around on the net for a Honda/Toyota $3000-3500 - Volvos seem to last a long time but I worry about the repair costs. Funny story, Volvo has a high mileage club I checked out and some guy on Long Island has 2 mil on his Volvo from the 1960s - ha!

I, as expected, have seen a lot of those shady small car lots on my net searches and some private sellers. I am not a car savy person and don't really know a good mechanic who would be willing to ride along with me to inspect some cars.

What I have gathered thus far: I think Carfax and Autocheck are so-so but a lot slips through the cracks with them. I have found and searched the Hurricane Flood damaged car database. I thought about using Carchex --- they send a mechanic over to your selected car to do a 150+ point inspection and take for a test drive.

Anyone have some good advice? Should I definitely stay away from the small car lots and stick with private sellers? Any other resources that would help me avoid a lemon?
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Old 06-03-2007, 11:52 AM   #2
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My strategy when buying a used car is to buy from people that can afford to have it maintained and repaired properly, if necessary, and that won't try to wring the last dime out of it when selling. If they are the original owner and are just trying to get more than the dealer will offer as trade, your risk is greatly diminished.

That means for me, shop Craigslist for used Toyotas / Hondas from upper middle class areas. You can take the car to a mechanic (find good ones on on cartalk.com, Mechanix Files) and have a check done for a hundred bucks or less.

Good luck.
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Old 06-03-2007, 12:45 PM   #3
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I wrote most everything below before I completely read travelover. He (she?) is correct- take it to a mechanic. Peace of mind in buying a used car is quite a great relief.

I ride my bike everywhere but for the DW I recently had to purchase a new car. I dont know much about cars but I do have a mechanic I trust very very much. He told me that for $75 he would do a once over of any car I brought into him. I ended up bringing in two different cars to him before I bought the second one. (a 2001 toyota camry) Find a mechanic you trust and ask them about brining in potential cars.
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Old 06-03-2007, 02:49 PM   #4
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Most of those little car lots are selling stuff the larger dealers dont want. Bulk wholesale high mileage cars. Some fairly reputable ones that do a high volume might have a couple of half decent options, but unless you know what to look for I'd avoid them.

Second the cars.com and craigslist private seller options from neighborhoods where people have the dough to keep the car well maintained, but dont presume they took the trouble.

Your yellow pages should list a boatload of shops that will do a checkup or send a guy out to look at it. I like the idea of getting it into a shop and up on a regular lift for a good looking over.
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Old 06-03-2007, 04:33 PM   #5
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Thanks. Good advice.
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Old 06-03-2007, 05:00 PM   #6
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We've had excellent luck buying used cars from the original owners. The more anal the owners, the better. A couple of times it felt like we were being interviewed to determine if we were worthy of owning their "baby." The cars were in excellent condition and we've had no problems other than normal wear and tear. Be sure to use Carfax to confirm you are dealing with the original owner.
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Old 06-03-2007, 06:39 PM   #7
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Your yellow pages should list a boatload of shops that will do a checkup or send a guy out to look at it. I like the idea of getting it into a shop and up on a regular lift for a good looking over.
I can crawl under a car and around an engine with the best of them. Drips, wet spots, dings, misalignments, worn brakes, rusted rotors, muffler leaks, and other problems are pretty darn obvious. I wonder what a trained mechanic sees that I don't, and there's probably a website checklist somewhere.

What I'm concerned about are the things that I can't always see-- failing engine components.

Here's a dumb question: has anyone ever brought along an engine analyzer when they've shopped for a car? I have a laptop. I could probably obtain an ODB-II (sp?) connector and the appropriate software. I'd know what car I was looking at before I went to it, so I hypothetically would be able to obtain the appropriate gear. I hope the program would pop up fault codes like a demon, whether or not they're comprehensible.

It also seems to be a great negotiating tool. Even if it didn't tell me everything that's wrong with the car, I'd bet your average seller would see the laptop come out and think "Ruh-roh..."
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Old 06-03-2007, 07:04 PM   #8
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That's a pretty interesting idea Nords --- could be a lot leverage when it's time to negotiate.
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Old 06-03-2007, 07:40 PM   #9
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LOL. That would be pretty intimidating Nords! If I were trying to sell a car and a guy breaks out a computer and starts running diagnostics on it. What a great tactic and pretty dang informative if you knew what the tests were saying.
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Old 06-03-2007, 07:43 PM   #10
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Here's a dumb question: has anyone ever brought along an engine analyzer when they've shopped for a car? I have a laptop. I could probably obtain an ODB-II (sp?) connector and the appropriate software. I'd know what car I was looking at before I went to it, so I hypothetically would be able to obtain the appropriate gear. I hope the program would pop up fault codes like a demon, whether or not they're comprehensible.
Anything that will increase emissions will turn on the OBD-II dashboard Check Engine light. That covers about all of the engine running, ignition, fuel and evaporative systems. An important thing to do is to turn the key to ON, not Start, and verify that the Check Engine light turns on. Then it should turn OFF after the engine starts. Bogus people will pull the Check Engine bulb to mask major problems. Most people would never notice till they buy it.
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Old 06-04-2007, 11:05 AM   #11
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Like Telly said (& before I could get to the keyboard!) The basic unit of info is the CEL (Check Engine Light) It has all the info and you just need to be sure that it works (has not been disconnected). This is important from anyone you are buying a car from including dealers, private sales and even from friends/family.
The key to a good deal is..... (IMHO)..........don't be in a hury. Learn about what vehicle you want. I like to know the history of the car I am buying, it may be a good or a bad history, but I want to know it is accurate. I bought a car from a coworker that was originally from a salvage sale and fixed up by his son.And it was a good deal as the market for cars with salvage titles is pretty low. Darn thing has run well for me for a couple years now and looks like it may run forever. But I knew all about it, drove it and knew that the coworker had driven it for a year without a problem. If I were buying used on the market I would want to see the maintenance records or I just wouldn't buy.
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Old 06-04-2007, 11:32 AM   #12
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What do you all think about an '88 - old by # of years - Toyota Camry 140k miles, one owner with records (I verified it), decent exterior for $1900?
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Old 06-04-2007, 11:44 AM   #13
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Really old car without a lot of miles on it...that may not be as good as it sounds. Might have just been lightly driven by a retiree or short commuter, which would be okay, or might have been sitting smashed up for 3 years until the owner got around to repairing it. Or worse, driven 2 miles a day to the store and back and never really got warmed up.

Other than that, older camry's are nice cars and pretty reliable. And the price is reasonable, although looking at cars.com I see plenty that are 6-9 years newer with similar mileage at the same price. Might not be in great shape though.
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Old 06-04-2007, 11:47 AM   #14
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Here's a dumb question: has anyone ever brought along an engine analyzer when they've shopped for a car? I have a laptop. I could probably obtain an ODB-II (sp?) connector and the appropriate software. I'd know what car I was looking at before I went to it, so I hypothetically would be able to obtain the appropriate gear. I hope the program would pop up fault codes like a demon, whether or not they're comprehensible.
If the engine check light is not on, the only code you will get is "no error code" (55 for my Maxima).

If the check light is on, then yes, you will get the appropriate error codes, mostly emission related. None of the code will tell you the state of your alternator, a/c compressor, transmission, etc. OBD (on board diagnostic) was created for emission conformance. However, it also benefits car owners who are interested in optimal combustion efficiency.

Edit to add: A sneaky seller would clear all error codes before letting you test drive it. He/she will also limit your test-drive time and distance to minimize the risk of the light would come back. It takes a while before the computer register an error, to minimize false alarms.
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Old 06-04-2007, 01:20 PM   #15
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What do you all think about an '88 - old by # of years - Toyota Camry 140k miles, one owner with records (I verified it), decent exterior for $1900?
Decent is very relative. Got any picture?
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Old 06-04-2007, 01:40 PM   #16
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wildcat, if all you want is a beater, think domestic. Buicks, ford escorts, crown vics, etc. will do the job, have decent reliability records, and the price is right.
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Old 06-04-2007, 01:49 PM   #17
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Decent is very relative. Got any picture?
Better yet, have any indecent pictures?

Been a long time since I've worked on cars much, but, used to be that checking the cylinder compression was a must do, to detect bad rings, valves not sealing, etc. Also, checking oil pump and fuel pump pressure; alternator output; condition of antifreeze, tranny fluid, brake fluid, and oil for burnt odor, water/other contaminent, metal shavings; checking axle lube for same. A good mechanic should know all this, and hopefully more...
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Old 06-04-2007, 02:09 PM   #18
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Better yet, have any indecent pictures?

Been a long time since I've worked on cars much, but, used to be that checking the cylinder compression was a must do, to detect bad rings, valves not sealing, etc. Also, checking oil pump and fuel pump pressure; alternator output; condition of antifreeze, tranny fluid, brake fluid, and oil for burnt odor, water/other contaminent, metal shavings; checking axle lube for same. A good mechanic should know all this, and hopefully more...
Compression check: Much harder to do today, because spark plug are very hard to reach. And doing compression check will most likely result in the check engine light (very unhappy sellers)

Oil pump and fuel pump pressure: How did you do it? What tools do you use?

Alternator ouput: All it tells you is the alternator is working right now. Could fail the next minute.

One test that I find very important is to watch for bubble in the radiator after the engine has reached operating temperature.
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Old 06-04-2007, 02:22 PM   #19
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wildcat, if all you want is a beater, think domestic. Buicks, ford escorts, crown vics, etc. will do the job, have decent reliability records, and the price is right.
I would have a hard time doing it. I just don't have much faith in the domestics. My 1st vehicle was a Toyota truck, 4 cylinder, bought it w/65k and it was golden. It hasn't been the same since then. I suppose my definition of "beater" is a well taken care of high mileage import -- Toyota or Honda -- that could last another 70-80k with moderate maintenance. But you are right, the price comes up substantially if I go that route. I have thought about going halfway with a Nissan. We had one in the family years ago and it was a pretty good vehicle but wasn't quite as expensive as the Toyotas/Hondas.
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Old 06-04-2007, 02:33 PM   #20
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I have thought about going halfway with a Nissan.
Trust me, you're not going 1/2 way with Nissan. Definitely not with the 4th generation Maxima, 1995-1998. The Maxima is the most reliable car I know of, bar none.
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