Friday, April 27, 2012

How NOT to buy a car.

Our 17 year Chevrolet Tahoe proved too costly to fix, so it was sold.  Now it's time to buy a new car.  In this post I explain the process of what we did to buy a car.  I spent a lot of time looking and test driving, and had some truly great revolutions and made some mistakes.  But there was one huge mistake that I don't want you to make.  Read on so that you can learn from my big blunder.

What We're looking for:
We were looking for a car we could purchase for $3,400 or less.  The car needed to be a car that would be decent on gas mileage and not be too much of an eyesore.  Types of cars we were looking for: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Ford Focus.

What We Discovered
In this economy there are a lot of cars available but very little in our price range.  We saw many beaters out there selling for $1,000 or less, and many of these vehicles were SUV's or gas guzzlers.  We also saw quite a few vehicles selling for $10,000 or more.  There wasn't much in between.  Throw in a fuel efficient vehicle and there was even less to choose from.

The Search
By far the best selection of vehicles in the $2000-$4000 range were found on craigslist.  CarSoup and AutoTrader had a decent selection, but Craigslist had everyone beat.  Most of the vehicles in this price range were coming from the small car dealership on the side of the highway and private sellers closer to the Twin Cities. 

What we did not find was any vehicle from your large name brand dealerships in our price range.  Cheapest car we found on the lot was $5000.  

We looked at least 15 vehicles from these smaller dealerships and about five from private sellers.  I will tell you that I highly prefer looking at a car from a private seller than from one of these used car salesmen.  I just didn't know when these car dealers were telling the truth.

Negotiating From a Private Seller
After looking at many cars we went to a private seller and saw a 1998 Honda Civic for sale.  The owner told us everything he knew about the car and that it would need some minor repairs.  The car had a little rust, but nothing serious.  We offered cash on the spot, but offered $300 less than what he was asking for and he declined.  So we walked away.  That night he called us back and told us he would accept our offer.  However, we wanted to look at a few more cars.  This is one of the mistakes I made.  I wish I would have purchased this car.  He was willing to take $2000 for car whose blue book value was $2500.  But I wanted something better.  So we searched some more.   Lesson learned - buy with cash and chances are they will accept your low ball offer, but be willing to walk away if they decline.

The Big Mistake
Not having a lot to choose from we went to BEST BUY MOTORS located in Shakopee by Burger King.  They seemed to have large number of cars for under $5000.  In particular they had a 2002 Ford Focus for under $3000.  That car really caught my eye.  I took my dad along to get his opinion and support.  We test drove a few cars, and the Focus still was my favorite.  I asked the Dealer what he could tell me about the car.  He said that it had gone through a 33 point inspection and it was good to go.

I asked my dad what he thought and he was not impressed.  He pointed out a few flaws and told me to think about it before buying it.  I was anxious thinking that this was the best car that we had seen so far.  Plus the car salesman had told me that several people were "On their way to test drive the Focus".  So I didn't want to lose my chance.

I bought the car for the asking price on the spot.  I bought it "As Is" with no warranty.

I take the car home and already there seem to be a few things wrong with it.  The battery light went on and the brakes all of a sudden started to make a grinding noise (one of my least favorite noises).  So I take in the car to my favorite mechanic - Moske's in Le Sueur.  And they found the following: Car needs a new serpentine belt, front rotors, rear suspension, and CV joint.  Not horrible, but still around $500 worth of repairs.  So I go ahead and fix them.

Two days after that the check engine light goes on.  And my blood pressure shoots up.  I take it back to Moske's and he tells me that the alternator is bad and the Catalytic Converter is bad too.  Totally nearly $1400 in repairs.  Both will need to be replaced in the next month.

I'm Livid.  I realize I had been duped by Best Buy Motors.  So I contacted them as it had not even been a week since I bought the car and now it has almost $2,000 worth of repairs.  They did nothing, offered nothing and played dumb.

Lessons Learned
  1. Do Not But a vehicle from the small dealer on the side of the highway - especially do not ever buy a vehicle from Best Buy Motors in Shakopee.  I've never been lied to and taken advantage like I have from them.  I gave them a chance to win back my business even after the obvious lies and still they did nothing.  Don't even step on their parking lot.  They are devious.
    1. Another red flag - Through this experience I learned that most of these small dealerships purchase their vehicles at auction.  They do not do a carfax report on them so they themselves know nothing about the history of the vehicle or if the vehicle has been in an accident or not.   
  2. Listen to your old man.  He has experience and has been in this situation more than you.
  3. Buy from a private seller - offer cash on hand to help bring the cost down.  People do weird things when you have thousands of dollars in cash in your hand.
  4. Always - Always - Always have your vehicle thoroughly inspected by a mechanic before buying.  Might cost you $70 to have a used car inspection.  But believe me, it's money well spent.  
  5. Most importantly - stay away from Best Buy Motors in Shakopee.  Did I mention that? 
I will make the repairs on this Focus, and hopefully it will become reliable.  Talk about an expensive mistake.  Any of you have any car buying stories (good or bad) to share?  I'd love to hear them. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tips on How Not to Sell a Car

Recently, a costly repair to our 17 year old Chevy Tahoe gave us a decision to either make a repair that is more than is worth the value of the beastly vehicle or to sell the gas guzzler for a fuel efficient car.

Here's the challenge:  Buy a good running vehicle for $2400 (as much cash as I have on hand) plus whatever money I make from selling the Tahoe.  We want to sell the Tahoe for as much as possible as there are very few, if any, reliable vehicles out there for $2400 - and we are refusing to take out a loan to buy a car.

The Tahoe - our blue beast.
Problem - SUV's don't really get good gas mileage and are not selling for their Kelly Blue Book value.  2nd problem - This 167,000 mile vehicle has many repairs that need to be made for safe, comfortable riding.  Repairs such as brakes, transfer case, air-conditioning, muffler, tires, and a new radio add up to about $2,800+.  The engine runs like a top, and there is very little rust on it.  Our hope is to get $1000 from the sale.

Here's what NOT to do when selling your car or truck.
We called around to area dealerships to see what they would give us for a Tahoe with plenty of fix-ups.  All the dealerships were willing to trade it in for a new car.  Most would give us $500-$600 only if we bought a car with them.  However, one dealership's website (located in Faribault) advertised that they will buy your vehicle for you and write you a check.  We decided to drive down to see what they would give us.  Upon arriving at the dealership we are greeted right away.  To make a long story short, they really pushed us into trading our vehicle and were not interested in buying the Tahoe outright.  This was disappointing as I took the morning off, drove 50 minutes to this dealership, and they did NOT want the vehicle.  So lesson learned, do NOT bring your vehicle to a dealership unless you plan on trading it in.

What you SHOULD do when selling a vehicle.
After spending drive time to and back from Faribault, we parked the car in front of the house, decided to post the Tahoe on Craigslist and put a large "For Sale" sign along with the price in the windshield.  In about 10 minutes we received at least 20 email messages from the Craigslist posting and 2 people pulled their car over when they noticed the price in the window.

Obviously, this proved to be a winning strategy.

Negotiating the sale
We still had the dealer's voice in our heads saying that he wouldn't buy our vehicle from us because of low demand for SUVs.  When the first offer was thrown our way, we were so excited to get any money that we accepted it.  We posted the Tahoe for $1000, and this first offer was for $400.

Minutes after we accepted the offer we received a call from a guy offering us $1200.   He told us he wasn't available for a few days to pick up the Tahoe, but he would pay us with cash.  Realizing that we shouldn't have taken the low $400 offer, we informed the guy who offered us $400 of this much larger offer and said we could no longer sell for $400.  Fortunately for us, he was very understanding and walked away.

Two days later they guy who offered us $1200 isn't returning our phone calls and isn't showing up.  This isn't a good sign, so we post the Tahoe again on Craigslist.  Again within minutes we get many emails asking about the Tahoe.  This time we post the Tahoe for $1200 realizing that people will low ball us on their offer.  I sort through all the Craigslist emails and call the person whose email seems most likely to buy the Tahoe right away.  We end up selling the SUV within two hours of posting on Craigslist to a mechanic who gave us $1000 in cash. 

Here's a short Recap
  • To get the most for your money for an SUV, do not sell or trade in your vehicle to a dealer.
  • Don't be so anxious to sell your vehicle if the first offer is below what you want.
  • Craigslist is a free and effective way to advertise your car.
  • Post your vehicle for $200 more that you hope to receive.
  • Accept only cash or a cashier's check made out to you for payment.
  • Upon selling the vehicle, both the seller and the buyer should go to the nearest government center and transfer the title to the buyer, that way, if anything happens to the vehicle the buyer is liable and not you.
Stay tuned, in the next blog post, I will share the mistakes I made when purchasing a car.   Have any other good tips?  Leave them in the comments section - I have a feeling I may be selling a car in the not too distant future.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Your Heart

Christina is 40 years old.  She's been happily married for 15 years, has three beautiful children and a husband that cherishes her.  In high school she dated a handsome shy boy named Tom, which before long turned into a serious relationship.  This was Christina's first love, and first loves are often intense, and this one was no different.  Christina dated Tom into their college years where talks of marriage weren't just dreams, but an inevitability - and not just for Christina and Tom, but for their friends and parents.  In fact their parents were so sure that these two would marry, that they had no problems with the college sophomores driving to Colorado from Wisconsin to spend a week of vacation alone in the mountains.  A few years into this courtship Christina took the opportunity to study abroad in Spain while Tom stayed back home.  During Christina's time out of the country, Tom found another girl and broke up with Christina.  Christina was so devastated that it took two years before she would date again. 

Over 20 years later, Christina's heart, still holds feelings for Tom.  20 years past the heartache - the feelings still remains.  She wakes up in the middle of the night dreaming of Tom.  Her heart will not extinguish the flame.   The heart has found new love, a deeper love with her husband and children... but Tom is still there.

Two years ago Tammy lost her brother in a hunting accident.  He drove a grey Jeep Cherokee.  Every time a grey Jeep drives past, her heart races thinking it might be him.   A month ago she walked passed a grey jeep in the parking lot.  It sounds odd, but she couldn't refrain herself to look in the vehicle to see if maybe if it was her brother's.

Michael Jordan was made to play basketball.  He was the best player during his era, and is arguably the best player of all time.  He has failed in every other endeavor.  He tried baseball, failed.  His marriage - ended in divorce, His NBA Washington Wizards team - worst team in the league.  Gambling = major fail.  All this failure and I can see why M.J. kept coming back to play after all those retirements.   

Tammy will never get her brother back, Christina will never get Tom back, and Michael Jordan will never play in the NBA again.  But this is where their hearts ache and remain.     

The pain hurts and may never go away.  We ask ourselves why?  Why did I lose the job I loved?  Why hasn't the girl called me back?  Why hasn't my prayer been answered?  I don't know.  Sometimes we get clarity, but often we don't. 

In the book Desire, author John Eldredge writes, "God has something in mind.  He is deeply and personally committed in restoring humanity.  Restoring you.  There was a man or woman in mind when He made you... And now what He is up to is restoring you.  The way that happens is to shape your life along the same lines as the life of His Son.  To shape you in the image of His Son.  Whatever else might be going on in your life, God always has an eye on your transformation."

Through the struggles and broken heart God is shaping you so that you can grow and have a stronger relationship with others and Him.  You can't trust unless you learn forgiveness.  You can't be a good friend if you are selfish.  You can't find peace if you are ruled by worry.  You can't be truly elevated unless you are humble (insert Denny Hecker example).  It's the ultimate paradox.  And yet, for me and for most of us, it is a difficult pill to swallow.

If God is in control and if you are still walking on this spinning rock, then your life has a purpose.  God has plans for you.  You have unfinished work to do.    God is shaping you to do remarkable things in this world and in the next.