How I Avoided Wasting Money On A Bad Used Car

How I Avoided Wasting Money On A Bad Used Car

This is the $1.700 cash I almost spent.

This is the $1.700 cash I almost spent.

So, I may or may not have an opinion on buying new cars (see here, here and here). But what I haven’t really admitted to is that I am a car enthusiast. Like, I love working on cars, researching cars, figuring out the details and figuring out how to make them better, faster, stronger! I am semi-obsessed with a few types of cars, namely the Toyota Supra MKIII Turbo, ’06 – ’07 Subaru WRX, and the Fifth Generation Honda Civic. Weird, I know. The main problem I have is that I can’t afford any of these cars, while I’m getting out of debt and on a very tight budget. But yesterday I found something I COULD afford. UH OH!

The Perfect Used Car

I have been looking for a 4-door, 5-speed, ’92 – ’95 Honda Civic EX for about a year or so now. Or, as forum goers like to call it, the “EH9”. It’s a rare combo, because most 4-door econo-cars are automatics. So to find the 5-speed, 4-door combo with all the options rarely happens. I have found a few in the past, but there were like $3,800, which is far too high a price for that car. But I check every few weeks to see what’s new on Craigslist, just in case I find the perfect car. I want to turbo-charge the car (about $1,800 with a tune) to get about 225HP (about 260 crank HP) at the wheels for a fun, fast and gas-sipping daily driver.

And yesterday it happened. I found the exact car I wanted, listed for only $1,750! Which means I could negotiate is down to $1,500 and have the car of my dreams on the cheap! Add that to the fact that I could sell my current car for like $2,300, I’d be up $800, and have the car I’ve always wanted! I called, asked a million questions (like, “smoker? Shape of interior? Clean title? And body damage? Etc.”) and decided to go check it out. I called my brother-in-law (the family mechanical expert) to go with me, and we set off down south!

Not So Much

Traffic sucked on the way there, but I was not to be deterred in getting to my gem. I had dreams of driving around my little rocket, taking it to the track, enjoying passing those slow Mustangs and BMW’s, and laughing as I overtake people with ease (legally, of course)! But I abruptly crash landed back to reality when we arrived at the car.

We parked and got out to meet the potential salesman, and he showed us his “great condition” vehicle. First, we’ll start with the good news. It was the EH9. 4-door, 5-speed and all the options. Now the bad. The motor didn’t look like the d16z6 that comes stock with the EH9. That’s a problem, because that’s the main reason to buy this car. The car also had 196,000 miles. Which wouldn’t be a problem, but I was told on the phone it had 160,000 miles. Most of the door jams had rust on the bottom of them that were spray painted over, or covered with some plastic. And the entire car was horribly spray painted, which was hard to tell from the pics I got on the ad. Also, this “non-smoking” car smelled strangely like someone had smoked a carton of cigarettes in the passenger seat, blown all the smoke into the vents and then put the fans on re-circulate for 5 hours straight.

Then my brother took it for a quick drive up the block and back, turned it off, and it wouldn’t restart. Of course, this had “never happened” to the guy before, it was “totally weird”. Sure. He eventually got it restarted, but we had seen enough. I told him we’d like to chat for a second, we both faked a conversation for a minute, and then I told him it was “not quite what I was looking for”.

Lessons Learned

I have bought a bunch of used cars, and have mostly had great experiences. I am VERY thorough when researching what I am looking for, and am usually pretty good about telling whether the poster is lying or not. But sometimes you just need to go look in person to find out the true details of what you are looking at. I could have walked away with a piece of crap car, but using some of my car buying experience, I was able to avoid losing a ton of cash on this heap of junk. But I did learn a few things after checking this car out:

  1. Don’t take people at their word. People lie to make money. They have since the beginning of time, and they will ALWAYS lie to make things swing in their favor. Luckily, most people are not like this, and give you a fair shake, but just always assume that people are not 100% telling the truth. Keep your “skeptical spectacles” on (HAHA, I CRACK MY SELF UP! GET IT?! SKEPTICAL SPEC…ah, nevermind) and always be on the lookout for misinformation.
  2. Check for rust, EVERYWHERE! I haven’t run into this much, be this person tried to cover up some REALLY bad rust on the car. Rust is an indication that the car sat out in bad weather for a while, or just was neglected for a long time. A rusty car is absolutely not worth the purchase, unless you have a body shop in your backyard and get the car for the prices of Reese’s Pieces.
  3. Look at pictures of other cars similar to what you are about to look at. I didn’t look at enough engine shots of the d16z6, and was not able to call him out on having the wrong motor in the car. If I really know what things were SUPPOSED to look like, I would have been quicker to pull out of the deal.
  4. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. I have not seen this car for less than $2,800, and so seeing a lower mileage version for $1,000 less should have been a red flag. I got too excited for finding “the perfect car” and jumped on it too quickly instead of talking it over with some people first.

I Saved $1,700

I could have dropped $1,700 on a bad used car that would have cost AT LEAST that much more in repair down the road. Luckily, I had my brother with me and was able to see through the lies with my skeptical spectacles (SERIOUSLY, I AM DYING OVER HERE!!! AHAHAHAHA!). I wasted some gas, but got to hang with my brother, so it all worked out. In the future, I’ll probably ask a few more specific questions and get more detailed pictures before driving an hour away to check out a car. But even with some hassles of buying a used car, I still maintain it is worth the time so search and find a used car over a new car ANY DAY! I will never refute that point. Math doesn’t lie, and neither will I (IT RHYMES! AHAHAH!).

Comments: Have you had any Craigslist liars try to take your money? Can you believe the nerve of some people? Did it turn you off to making purchases on Craigslist? Also, if you don’t own a pair of skeptical spectacles, you should totally get some! $FREE-99

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  1. I have been there before. Both selling and buying. For some reason people lie to try to get you in the door and hope you will still get it even though its not what they told you they had. I had a 96 civic hatch(ek9) with a b18c spec R. Nice, great on gas, and fast. Not a four door so that wouldn’t have worked for you. So many people asked questions about the car when it was for sale but as usual they would lie and come with less money they agreed. So I would send them on there way and you are smart I would have left as well. I usually just send my mechanic to look at cars for me. Now I looking to get a 57 Chevy pick up.
    Your Daily Finance | Thomas recently posted..June Stats, Updates, Goals, and Future PlansMy Profile

    • You are my new best friend because you said b18c and know what that is! I thought about a b18 swap, but want a turbo’d d16z6 for a little more power, and MUCH cheaper 🙂

      People lying to get money out of me REALLY gets under my skin. Hopefully I find this car at a good price, but for now, I’m good with my 300k mile ’94 Accord EX 🙂

  2. That’s the problem with most people when they buy used items: they don’t evaluate the item as much as they evaluate whether they like or dislike the person. Once someone focuses on the item rather than the relationship with the seller, lots of confusion is avoided. That car was clearly not what you were looking for and the salesman definitely wasn’t your buddy.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Is It Time To Fire Your Advisor?My Profile

    • Yeah, and he was a typical salesman, which I hate (you know, lied about everything, kept lying). I hope he doesn’t sell that car, because someone’s gunna get a real piece of crap. Thought about flagging the post on craigslist, but he has my number so…

  3. I’m the process of car searching now, and I have to say that buying used makes me nervous simply because I don’t know much about cars. I definitely agree that the math makes sense if you can get a good one, I just don’t really trust myself to get a good one. I’m doing some research to try and improve my odds, so we’ll see. This is definitely helpful though. Good luck with the ongoing search!
    Matt Becker recently posted..How to Beat 80% of Investors With 1% of the EffortMy Profile

    • Do your research, and then bring a mechanically inclined buddy along. Or ask to bring the car to a local mechanic for inspection. Don’t drop a few thousand unless you have the car thoroughly inspected!

  4. I never buy used cars, but I keep my cars forever. My last one was 17 years old! I have a 97 Prelude I am still am holding on because of low (100K) miles.

    I never understand why people lie about things like mileage. You will see it immediately.
    krantcents recently posted..Top Secrets to Make Recruiters Find YouMy Profile

  5. The car could have been in a flood even. UGH what a mess. Glad you avoided that one!
    Kacie recently posted..Update from Courtney: Part 10 DEBT-FREE!My Profile

  6. Glad you were able to spot the warning signs before you signed on the dotted line. I think you’re going to have tremendous risk with pretty much any car in that class and age range. Good luck, though!
    Money Beagle recently posted..A Simple But Effective Way To Clean Pet Stains From CarpetMy Profile

    • Definitely more risk with these cars, but I’ve had a few of them, so I know what to look for. Plus, Google is my best friend when looking for common problems with a particular car to watch our for. 🙂

  7. Both times that I have bought a used car from a private seller I have made sure to take it to an auto mechanic to make sure they do a thorough inspection.
    Sean @ One Smart Dollar recently posted..How to Travel The World for FreeMy Profile

  8. I’ve always found it so odd that in this country, standard transmissions are associated with performance, whereas in every other part of the world, cars are just standard transmission to save money. Mostly, I just like them because they’re one less thing that can go wrong

    • Yup. I used to think auto was more reliable, more cost effective. Then I did some basic research, and learned the opposite was true. Will only drive a stick from now on if I can help it.

  9. Most reputable sellers will also allow you to take the car to get checked out by a mechanic. If you’re not mechanically inclined, I highly recommend going that route and paying a little to have the car checked out professionally by a third party.
    The College Investor recently posted..Can You Invest in Real Estate During College?My Profile

  10. Bought my first car – a disaster. It was super cheap and it was people I knew since well forever so I thought I could trust them. I was wrong. Paid $3000 then 1 month later the engine started overheating. Took it to get it looked at and let’s just say that it cost me about $1500 to fix. I thought hey, that’s fine. $4500 is about the cost I would have paid. Then a couple of months later, my A/C gave out, not the hey I need some free-on kind of fix. Another $600. Then literally 1 week later, my entire exhaust system gave out. Like literally dragging on the floor under my car. Another $400. At this point, anything else breaks and I’m going to go at it with a sledge hammer. The good news is that I didn’t have to go into debt. The bad news is that I could have used that money to put towards a better car. You live and learn I suppose.
    Francieidy recently posted..Juicing Diary – Day by Day BreakdownMy Profile

    • Bummer! Really sorry to hear about the horror story 🙁

      Also, I’d find maybe someone who can do basic fixes on your car without charging you an arm and a leg. I do my own maintenance and repairs for the most part, and it saves thousands.

      Sounds like you may want to sell that car and find a good, used Honda or Toyota. What kid of car is it, if you don’t mind?

  11. I bought a used vehicle but from a car lot BUT I still gave it the inspection of a life-time. I agree to never take someone’s word when buying a used car. People will lie to sell anything whether it’s a car or a house or whatever. I’m about 5 years in owning my vehicle and no problems so far… (and if I do it’s because I’ve just jinxed myself lol) Cheers mate
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..June 2013 net worth update: Everything is not lost (+0.09%)My Profile

  12. Except for buying one new car in my early 20’s, I’ve only bought used cars. I think I’ve gotten pretty lucky by not running into any problems so far!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Cash Money: $7,230 in June Income, Blog Updates, and GoalsMy Profile

    • Nice work. There’s definitely some risk, but the savings is MAJOR, and totally worth it. You just need to have someone with you who knows some junk.

  13. I am also obsessed with 06 STI but can’t afford it. I am also looking for a car currently for my wife and on Tuesday I test drove an Infiniti G20 that I did not like at all. Good you did not buy that car.
    Demaish recently posted..Buying a new car versus a used oneMy Profile

    • I want the ’06 WRX Wagon in World Rally Blue! Love the stock wheels even! Too much $$$. My carpool buddy has a G37xS. Now that’s a SWEET ride!

  14. With the 0% incentives, full factory warranties, and maintenance plans currently being offered– It actually might be the worst idea in the world to consider purchasing new (ducking)..
    jefferson @SeeDebtRun recently posted..Ten Reasons Why I Love Our New NeigborhoodMy Profile

    • BUT DEPRECIATION! Warranties are a sales pitch to get you to eat a HUGE chunk of depreciation in 5 years. Like…”lose 70% or you car’s value” chunk. 🙂

  15. Jacob, I love the turbocharged Civic idea, though it will be “hello torque-steer” 🙂 I drive an E30 BMW that is slow, but a lot of fun. These are fantastic tips. Forums are totally your friend when it comes to pre-inspection research. You can find exactly where on the car rust is a problem, and you are right-on about looking at pictures of similar models. I think all of this is even more important if you are buying older “enthusiast-oriented” cars like these, as it’s more likely that the previous owner(s) modified/fiddled with things.
    Taylor @ Keystone recently posted..What is a Deficiency Balance?My Profile


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