Adventures in car buying

18 February 2015

One of the things I loved about living in Chicago is that I could easily get by without a car. Say what you want about the CTA, but really, it worked. And it was nice not having to think about insurance or gas or parking… But, while Muncie does have a bus system, it most definitely is not the CTA. Limited routes, doesn’t even run on Sunday — however, it is free to students and every intersection on the route is a bus stop. However, there is no bus to my mom’s or my brother’s… and really, you sort of need your own vehicle in this town.

I, as is probably obvious, am no car expert. I mean, my current ideal car is a Chevette or an AMC Pacer or a Gremlin. I choose personality over functionality and sustainability. Thankfully, though, my brother is well versed in cars and makes an excellent shopping partner. He understands my needs, my budget, and just knows a fair bit about cars themselves that I completely trust his opinion over my own. Thank the lord for big brothers, right?

Well, all of that would have been awesome had I actually taken my brother with my when I bought my car. Now, there will be some pretty obvious red flags in the rest of this story.  Try not to judge me too harshly…

My mom drove me out there, it was just a big garage/warehouse with about maybe 15 cars inside, some in better shape than others. It was freezing cold and poorly lit. (Red flag #1.) The car I came there to look at — a ’91 Toyota Camry — wasn’t in good shape at all. First thing I saw that caught my eye was a Chevy Classic, but it needed a new windshield and I didn’t want to deal with that. Then there was a Ford Taurus; I wasn’t really all that into it, but it was probably in the best shape cosmetically. None of these cars were perfect, and I knew that going into it. (Red flag #1.5.) My mom started eyeing a Mitsubishi, I didn’t really think about it much because it was probably out of my price range. But we had the guy start it up. He hooked it up to one of those portable battery jumper things, which I didn’t really think too much of — it was cold and these cars had probably been sitting for a month or two. It started up all right. Interior was clean, but one of the knobs was missing from the heater. The car sounded good.

I looked at the engine, which looked clean — even sent a picture of it to my brother. I asked about the title, which was rebuilt. You want a clean title, but a rebuilt one isn’t bad if you know the history. There had been no major damage to the car, so I was ok with that. It needed new tires in the front, but those were in the trunk and would be coming with the car. Now here’s where you’re like, “but you took it for a test drive, right” …. Um. No. (Red flag #2, 3, 4, and 5.) Yes, you should always test drive a car before you buy. I know this. I truly do. This wasn’t quite the type of place that would let you test drive it. The guy told me that it used to be his daily driver, even drove it out to Idaho — which again, I know not to just go on someone’s word.

Other people had started showing up in the garage, and a few were eyeing the Mitsubishi. I’ve been trying for a month to get a car. I’ve had sellers back out on me. I was getting really tired of this back and forth. I was also getting really anxious and getting sort of depressed about the whole feeling trapped thing from being carless in a city where I don’t really have friends. So maybe not in the best state of mind to be buying a car without the guidance of my brother. I asked about price, guy said to make him an offer… so I gave him one. My budget is small. But I had cash on me. He thought it over, went back and forth with himself, and he accepted it. I signed the paperwork, which all said “AS IS” in big letters a couple places on it. (Red flag #6.)

I drive it out, get maybe 10 yards from the garage door at a stop sign… and it dies. (Red flag #7-20.) My mom gets the guy back out, and he’s all “oh, just because it’s cold, the battery just needs to warm up and you just need to get some good gas in it…” (Red flag #20.5.) We get to a gas station, fill it up, go to start it… and it won’t start. (Red flag #21.) Thanks to a dude in a Comcast van, we’re able to get a jump. At this point I’m more concerned about frostbite on my toes than the car… It was stupidly cold. Without any major issue, I was able to get the car home. Where it decided it wasn’t going to start up again.

Throughout this whole thing, I’m on and off the phone with my brother. I’m just trying to figure out if this is a battery issue or what. He says it could be. Or it could be the alternator. I’ve heard that word before. I couldn’t tell you what one does, but I know it’s not something I want to deal with. Thankfully, my brother seems to think it’s something he can deal with.

2002 Mitsubishi Lancer

So. I have a car. I just can’t really drive it anywhere yet. This is going to be fun.

Stay tuned for part 2 when we see if my brother actually can fix whatever is wrong with this car.

  • B.

    I hope it’s something your brother can fix!

  • Kay

    Here’s hoping it’s something easily fixable!

  • Mike Stout

    Yes, buying a used car can be a real disaster. “As is” is always written on there because there are almost no places offering warranties on used cars. I got one that has been a real pain and is on its last legs. I’m trying to find a cheap 2014 model like a Nissan Versa that a dealer might be trying to clean out of excess inventory. At least you have access to someone who can help you fix things. Having a high maintenance car that needs to go to the mechanic all the time is an incredible financial burden.

    • At least a good thing right now is that dealerships are always doing deals during tax season. They want people to spend their entire refund on cars, so you can generally work out some good trade-in deals. (One in my area is doing $7k over blue book on trades.)

  • Pingback: Adventures in car buying, part 2()

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