Forum OpenACS Q&A: How to buy a used car

Posted by Jerry Asher on
Several folks have asked me how to buy a used car, so I'll post my
response here....

First thing, a friend loaned me a great book.  Wish I remembered the
title....  I just tried searching for "How to buy a used car" at
Amazon, and I didn't see the book there, but it's been ten years or
so, so I no longer remember the advice.  But in those ten years I've
bought two really wonderful used cars, relatively cheaply.  In 93 I
picked up an 89 Saab Turbo Convertible with 45K miles for $17K.  The
LOW Blue book was 21K.  In 97, I picked up a 94 Honda Accord Wagon
also with 45K miles for $14K, which was Low Blue book plus or minus a
few bucks.  So this strategy was last tested in '97.

So, definitely peruse your favorite book store looking for books and
tips.  The book I got was written by a former car salesman.

Here's the basic strategy: buy your used car from a new car dealer.


1.  It will be in pretty good shape.  New car dealers have the budget and
    to fix up the problems.  They have mechanics on salary, so the car
    be in good mechanical shape, and almost certainly safe.

2.  New car know that every day a used car sits on their lot, they
have to pay
    theft/damage insurance on that car.  Also, it takes up parking space
    that another car could be using, so they also pay rent for the parking
    space.  So they are very motivated to sell that car as soon as
    even if that means selling it cheaply.

3.  They are new car salesman.  They hate used cars.  In reality this can
    mean that:

4.  They royally screwed the last owner, and this means there is lots
of room
    for you to screw these guys over, AND they will still make a profit.
    They screwed over the original owner that traded the car in: they
    him his new car at an exorbitant markup, and then they took from him
    his used car at a very low price.  You know, they told him his
used car
    was in terrible shape, ugly, and was in low demand.  Their profit
    due just to screwing over the last owner of your new used car was
    $6K to $9K dollars, or more.  Your goal is to take that $6-$9K
from the
    salesman.  See how noble this endeavor is?  You get to be Robin Hood!

5.  Due to the above, no one knows how much that used car cost them.
New cars have an
    and the car salesman knows how much it cost.  Few people could
figure out
    what their used car costs them.  Maybe Dave in Finance.  But that's a

6.  Most new cars are the same.  They are easy to price.  Each used
car is unique.  No one knows what that used car can go for, or when it
will be sold, so by refusing your offer, they are taking on a great
deal of risk.

So these are the reasons that new car salesman can make an attractive
mark to target during your used car purchase.  It's up to you to find the
right used car.  The recommendation there was to get a bunch of
Consumer Reports and Kelley
Blue Books, and for each car you're interested in, check out the
safety, reliability, and maintenance costs with the Consumers Reports.
Then use the blue books to plot the car price
over time.  You should see a curve where the car price plummets in the
first several years, and then begins to flatten out.  That it was
claimed, is often around year 3 to 5.  You want to look for cars when
the curve starts to flatten.  You also want to note the price.

Start searching for your car.  When you find one... because you have a
how to buy a used car book, you can recognize and counter all the
standard tricks the wiley car salesman will use against you.

So approach the saleman, offer your price, which may be something like
a few K under the wholesale bluebook, and start negotiating.  When I
bought my Saab, the asking price was $24.5.  I paid $17K, it took me 6
hours to do so, so I made $6500 that day.  Similar story with the
Honda.  Both cars have been very reliable and lots of fun to drive.

Where I failed, was a failure to optimize the money on the resell.
The book I picked up suggested the following: drive your used car for
2-3 years.  Then sell it to a private party.  Since you bought the car
so low, and at the flat part of the curve, it's very likely you can
sell it for more than you asked for it, or pretty much the price you
paid for it, plus or minus a few hundred.  If you can do that, then
you just drove that car for 2-3 years for free.  I should have done
that, but the Saab was too much fun, and I was too lazy to want to go
through the process again.

Let me know if this works for you!

Posted by Jerry Asher on
Hmm. Need coffee. Also need a forum that lets me edit the posts after posting.
<teco mode>
0ttfs$I no longer remember the advice$I no longer remember the title$$
</teco mode>
Posted by David Cohen on
A good way to get a good used car without salesman hassles seems to be buying from a rent-a-car company that sells used cars from its fleet. I remember talking to a sales guy at Enterprise about it and he told me that they take the top 1% (or whatever) of the cars that they want to move out, inspect them and put them out there for a no-haggle price. I think he said the salesmen don't make commissions and so on.

I know one or two people who have bought cars that way. Seems to work pretty well. While one might think that rental cars get abused and all, the idea seems to be that by taking their top cars the ones sold to end-users are the ones that were not abused that way (I assume those go to auction or whatever).

Oh, and since these companies have large fleets, it might be possible to get the specific car (color, etc.) that you want and not have to settle for what you see at the sales lot you happened to drop in at.

P.S. If you are buying a used car, check out for info on what the car's value is (with different numbers based on whether you would be buying from a private party or a dealer, etc.)

Posted by Alex Sokoloff on
The 'Good as New' Used Car Buying Guide' also says to buy from dealers and haggle a lot. He has strategies for getting servicable non-thrashed vehicles for under $6000 (as low as $3000 I recall). He says stay away from the rental cars.

FWIW it's worth, I got my last used car from a private seller - a clean 96 Acura Integra with about 59K on it for about $8000. Worked out allright but I don't find buying used cars particularly fun.

Posted by Scott Mc Williams on
Hhmmm...let's see the last car I bought was $4800 and had no motor. Before that was a similar vehicle in slightly worse shape that I paid $200 for. I'm guessing that these strategies won't work too well when buying a collectible car, right?! ;)


(btw...if you want to see what kind of vehicles I'm buying at that variety of prices, AND if you want to see a fairly large OACS site check out I've also tweaked bboard so users CAN edit their own posts!
Posted by Jerry Asher on
Hey, I would be very interested in strategies for buying a collectible.

I've been having a reaction to all the $60K lexi, porsches, SUVs etc.  passing me and have a fantasy of differentiating myself with a 60s era convertible be it cad, rambler, t-bird, vette, fairlane, dart, olds, mustang, galaxy, valiant, or ...?  Not just a clean one, it could be fun to tool around in one that looked like a beater, okay, call it a work in progress.

Something makes we want to say "Yo Adrian".  I don't know why.

Posted by Tien Doan on
I would strongly suggest checking up on the car using, especially if the dealer has tagged the car "as-is".
Posted by David Cohen on
While I mentioned the rent-a-car option, I suppose I should mention that recently I bought a car from a mechanic I had used, who was looking to sell the car on behalf of a former client. He gave me a year-long warranty on the car--it covers everything except oil changes and the tires. It looked like a good deal and my regular mechanics told me it was a good deal and that I should take him up on it, so I did. So far, so good.

If you know a trustworthy mechanic or body shop, you might consider getting a car from them, esp. if they give you a decent warranty.

Posted by Jerry Asher on
And similarly, the mechanic that keeps our Honda in good condition is often telling us that when we want to sell the Accord Wagon, he knows of several people that would want to buy.  As a seller I would think that could fetch a higher price for the car than just selling to an unknown third party since buying a car recommended and maintained by your mechanic should reduce your risk considerably.
Posted by Rick Cottle on
In October I bought a '99 Jeep for about $16K.  I just checked and this is about what the current Blue Book is.  Others in the want ads are going for a little less, however mine only had 19k miles when I bought it.

The process I used was I found a 'dealer' who specializes in buying cars for private parties at dealer-only auctions.  Sounds fishy but they are former sales people of regular dealers so they know the business.  They helped me identify the vehicle I wanted and my spending limits.  The day before the auction we went down to the lot and found about 5 vehicles I would have been happy with.  The next day they bid on a couple but hung in there until I got the one that was really my favorite.  I paid the sales price plus $500 to the dealer.

In my case I think the final price was average.  I didn't get ripped off nor did I make a killing.  The vehicle I bought was one which just came off of lease, which explains the extremely clean condition and low miles.  There were also many bank repos and other vehicles their too.

The biggest advantages I see are a) ability to review many, many cars side by side, something not possible buying private party or at dealer lots; b) the chance to get a real bargain, and a cap on the final price.

Unfortunately I picked the Chili Pepper Red one with the factory suspension/tire upgrades and nice interior.  Therefore there was one other person who bid it up $2000.  If he hadn't been there I could say I made a killing.

Apparently there are many of these auctions going on all over the country and all the time.

11: Buying Collectibles (response to 1)
Posted by Peter MacLeod on
If you want to buy a collectible, pick up a copy of Hemmings Motor News. Pay attention to what used parts are available, and what they cost, for any car you're considering. Some cars with large followings have third party replica parts made for them, like Mustangs.