Sep 292011

We all know the “car season” is rapidly coming to a close. It’s a time of year when the cruise nights end, the car shows disappear and the market becomes flooded by sellers who want to empty out the garage either for cash or a new project. It’s not just collector cars either. For some reason the fall is a time of year when people sell off almost as much as they do in spring. This is a time, just like spring when we need to think about what constitutes a good, honest deal. I myself like to by cars private sale. After spending over 10 years in the car business I am all too familiar with the status quo and I only buy new cars for my wife, I’m just not that into them. Below is a perfect example of what happens almost every time you buy a car private sale, and my goal here is to expose some of the most common tell tale signs of both good and bad deals.

Recently I was retained by a client, Al, who shares a similar sentiment on new cars. He has a 2008 Honda Accord and the lease ends in November but he is fed up with the sky high prices and really just wants a winter beater he could pay cash for. This client happened to know exactly what he wanted and hired me to accompany him on the inspection, test drive and negotiation process. Al wanted a higher mileage 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and he had a budget of $5,000. Al picked 3 cars to inspect from ads he found on Craigslist. We set the appointments and spent the day driving around eastern Mass checking these things out.

Seller #1 – Shady McGrady 

2000 base Laredo with a smidge over 100K for miles and very clean. I was impressed, there was a little more surface rust on the undercarriage than I was comfortable with but this is New England. When we arrived the seller was pulling a big blue tarp off of the car…really dude? A tarp for a 10 year old Jeep? Ok, fine I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. We fired it up and it sounded good and I started asking my usual questions. Why are you selling? How long have you owned it? Where is the maintenance history? Can we take it for a test drive?

Well Shady here says he’s had the car for 4-6 months and he just looooooooves to drive it and if he didn’t need the money he wouldn’t be selling it. Oh ya, Shady has been driving this car for months. So when I asked him where the license plates were he said he took it off the road because he couldn’t afford to keep it on the road. Yes, I find it a bit odd too as he has two pick ups in the driveway that are his and they are both on the road. He informed us that the KKB report says this car is worth almost $7,ooo but he is will to sell it fast for $5,ooo and only in cash, he would not except any form of a check *DING DING DING (that’s your warning bell going off the charts right now).  After some more inspection I get back to asking him the same exact questions. Shady answers were a bit different this time. Well, THAT’s kinda weird, huh?  Shady told me that he never registered the car, but boy did he love to drive it, especially on the highway. Really now, you don’t say there Shady…right, I bet you did. Ok then, you won’t have any problem with us driving it with you in the car on a another plate, you know just down this quiet street. If you put yourself, the car and everyone else on the road at risk driving an unregistered car for months, a  little 1/2 mile test drive should be fine, right? Wrong!

Shady wanted no part of us actually driving the car. He also told us about, oh I don’t know, 87 times that a guy was coming to buy it on Saturday but if we paid him now we could take it. Wow, Shady…what a good guy you are huh? So let me get this straight, you hide the car under a tarp, you won’t let us drive it, you won’t take a bank check and you are willing to pull the rug out from under a guy whom you already made a deal with? Where do I sign up?

Needless to say we didn’t get to asking questions about the title or a carfax. Something stinks like dog mess here and it ain’t on my shoes. I’m sure this guy was flipping this car and it had demons lurking within. We wanted no part of this guy so we moved on to the next one.

Seller #2 The Honest Old Timer

Old Honest Abe ran an ad for a 1999 Limted equipped with Jeep’s snappy 4.7L V8 and leather interior. This car had about 140k miles on it but it was about $1200 below Al’s budget. When we got there Al fell in love with the Limited package. So much so he didn’t even notice all the rust from a previous body repair gone bad in the dog leg section of the rear quarter, nor did he notice the crappy junkyard rear tailgate with the junkyards initial’s scribbled in grease pen on the jam. I knew right away this thing had been stuffed pretty hard in the rear, it was rotting in that one spot, the hood was painted, the AC was busted, the front axles or bearings were making the famous “Chrysler Groan” and there were some other issues. This old Jeep was the “gray mare”…ridden hard and put away wet. Abe was right up front, he flips cars for a living. Ok, fine, I have no problem with that. But Abe admitted that he hasn’t touched this car since he picked it up from the dealer it was traded at. Now let me ask you – Why would somone trade in a perfectly good running car with such low low miles? People trade those cars when they are about to crap out and die. Thanks but no thanks Abe, we’ve seen enough. My gut is Abe paid a bit too much for this rig and now wants to dump it before he’s upside down, sorry guy, no sale.

Seller #3 The Kid

It’s a tough one really. Adults just don’t like buying cars from kids. Why? Well it has everything to do with the way I acted and the way I treated my cars when I was a kid. I guess the only way I can say it is I wasn’t nice to my cars and I would have lied through my teeth to dump it off on someone else. Especially if I was heading off to boot camp like out last seller was. The kid was nice, but not really forthcoming in the details on the car. He has only had it for four months, but the sale is urgent as he is going off to serve our country. It turns out both Al and I are vets so we had a soft spot for the kid. After speaking to him on the phone and hinting around that he may need to drop $1,500 in order for us to be serious he agreed and we decided that we need to make the two hour drive to see this car. The kid told us the only thing wrong with the car was peeling clear coat on the driver’s fender. *Ding Ding Ding* That’s it huh? Wow, sounds too good to be true.

When we arrived in Western Ma at his house the car was a total rat. Actually it wasn’t but I don’t think this kid cleaned the car once since he has owned it. People, if you want top dollar for your car, you might want to put 2 hours worth of sweat equity into cleaning it…just sayin. I was really annoyed but that is just how it goes, it’s an advantage for the buyer money wise, unless of course that buyer is Al but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Well Al is an emotional buyer and had I not been there to cool his jets he may have just whipped out his wad right there and bought it from his fellow soon to be vet. We inspected the under carriage and it was unusually rust free and soil free, but I was good with that. Here’s where it gets a bit dodgy. I like to grab hold of things like bumpers, doors, tailgates, hoods and shake them, bounce them, open and close them to check for any signs that there has been either repairs or items that need to be repaired. Remember the kid told me it was just the peeling clear coat? Ya, not so much. I opened the hood to inspect the engine bay and I grabbed the headlight assemblies and shook them. Wouldn’t you know the entire grill, bumper and left headlight came right out of the car so easy I almost fell over backwards.  Here’s where the kid starts to back pedal and stutter…right in front of mom and dad. “What’s this?” “Oh, um, that? That’s just a broken tab on the headlight, it was like that when i bought it.” “Sorry kid, sounds good but someone decided to to have your Jeep make out with a tree or something similar”

The hood wouldn’t close properly, the bumper was creased above the front licens plate bracket, the front lip of the hood had a crease from impact and was bent back, the radiator support and front beam looked like a banana from the bottom and the latch is messed up. That all falls into the clear coat category right? Thanks for making us drive all the way out here for that. I like to give the benefit of the doubt, but come on man. I call it like I see it and what I see is a kid who most likely kissed a pole or tree with this car, gave it a rub and tug, some wire and topped it off with a healthy dose of “don’t ask, don’t tell”  This is another case of a car with a big book that the seller almost instantaneously dropped his pants for a much lower price.

Here’s where it gets tough for me – my client decided to circumvent me in the negotiation process and without consulting me and threw the kid an offer. He put me on the spot in front of everyone and I didn’t really feel comfortable exposing my hand. I told them I thought the damage was a problem but it wasn’t leaking and if Al really liked it then by all means go for it. The truck ran very good and rode very well on those bumpy country roads. After the deal was done and we were bringing Al’s new ride home I read him the riot act. The kid lied to us and I thought I could have saved Al at least another $500 for the front end damage. Al said he didn’t care, its a beater, he liked the kid and had respect for him joining the miltary in a global climate like the one we are in. Well? What the hell can I say to that? The only thing I could say was hell ya! Screw the $500, this kid needed it more than Al did and Al had budgeted the full $5,000 anyway. Now that is a kind of move I can repsect. We got the Jeep back and I was so moved by Al’s generosity and selflessness, I decided to help him suck out the condom wrappers, .22 caliber bullet casings  and 30 pounds of filth from inside the car. You know what? as nasty as the car was, I truly feel Al got a good deal. The damage is pretty light and this car cleaned up very well.

It comes down to your senses. You need to be in tune with the buyer and really watching for signs of a bad deal. People that lie, restrict the amount of information on the car and pressure you into doing a deal right then and there should be dealt with extreme caution. But as we have seen you need to know what you are getting into when buying a car. Below is a short list of some of the most important items that should be part of every car buying process.

Due Diligence – Research, research, research! Almost every car out there has some sort of “buyers guide” for it. It may be on a forum, a car site or in a book, but each car has its trouble spots and its your job as a buyer to find out what they are.

Investigate – Ask the seller questions. Ask the same questions more than once but allow time in between to see if  the story changes. Ask about the title, service, accidents, well you get the idea here. Even honest people can’t answer all of your questions so this is where all your research will help.

Protect Yourself – Rarely do you hear this, but when you are going private sale you need to take care. You can’t really tell some stranger that you are bringing a pocket full of greenbacks to meet him. You need to inform him that you do not bring cash to these initial meetings (even if you do). You just never know who may be waiting for you when you get there. I usually stash money somewhere inside my car and when I say inside I mean INSIDE. I don’t mean your lockable glove box or center console. I mean like under the trunk carpet, spare tire well, or even taped up under the dash.

Be Ready to Buy – To add to the last point, you can’t show up to a car deal without the money to throw down if the deal is right. Work something out with the seller on payment terms before hand, but you can’t show up and ask him to take a personal check without first discussing it. Many times what happens in the time it takes a check to clear buyers keep looking and find another car they want even more. So if you cancel the deal you just screwed the seller who took it off the market for you and lost valuable potential buyers.

Get the Car Inpsected by a Professional – I know not all cars need to be inspected but most do. Try to find someone like myself who can offer you a professional opinion on the mechanical condition, the value or both before you buy so there are no surprises and you know exactly where you stand in terms of value and price.

We have all been there, myself included. I bought what I thought was cherry car and it turns out it was a lot of fluff and lies. I had to shell out some major dough for things that the seller told me were already done and they weren’t. There was no way for me to know, I had the car inspected in NJ where the seller was and for some unknown reason (cough cough $$$ ahem) the PPI report came back clean as a whistle. That’s just proof that buying local is always better unless you have a TRUSTED source for Pre Purchase Inpsections. Lesson learned, never buy a car sight unseen or unless it has been inspected by an independent, unbiased third party.

And if you are not a fan of buying a car and would like some assistance doing so, give me a call. I am happy to offer free 10 minute phone consultations for both new and used car buyers.


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