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. 


  1. I am NOTORIOUS for putting off repairs. I end up telling myself it's too expensive right now, and that I'll get to it on the next paycheck. (Rinse, repeat)

    I once had a $600.00 transmission repair job go unrepaired for a year. $3000.00 dollars later, I had a new (rebuilt) transmission.


  2. Ouch! Apparently a catalytic converter doesn't need to be repaired right away either. Hopefully it can wait until the fall.