5 Basics to Finding a Good Cheap Used Car

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As the Christian car guy I get a great deal of email from folks allowing me to help them with automotive concerns. More than half of that email is aimed at this question, how do I find a good cheap used car. For the most part this list has to do with buying from an individual because it is a rare find indeed to get a deal on a car $2,000 or under from a dealer because the “Buy Here Pay Here” guys wipe out that market in more ways than one. Read about that at I’m Declaring War on Buy Here Pay Here Car Lots . So here are my top five  basics on buying a good cheap,($2,000 or under), used car.


1. Prayer…  

As always prayer can’t be understated. A few years ago when I still at the Chrysler store in Mocksville a friend called me and said that he was looking to buy a used Jeep Cherokee for his son. I asked the specifics and was more than amazed at how specific his son was, not to mention the vehicle he described I could not imagine one had been sold in the Eastern United states better yet the Triad of North Carolina.


It had to be, (mind you), a two door, 5 speed manual transmission, four wheel drive, air conditioning and, oh by the way, it has to be red.


Now just think back in your own mind how many two door Cherokees you have ever seen out side of mail carriers, then a 5 speed manual??? Ok if you were to see one how about a red one??? As I was listening I was thinking there is no way this is going to happen.


So I told my friend, that’s a very tall order because everyone I knew who ordered two door Cherokees would order two wheel drives as a price leader, then a manual transmission would wipe out the next ninety percent. So I sugested he had better start praying hard and I’ll see how close I can come. My friend assured me that his son had already been praying at was confident that God had that Jeep for him.


If this had not happened to me I would have never believed it and as I am writing this it is still almost like a parting the Red Sea, miracle.

That afternoon here it came as if ordered that way. A customer came in to trade their, two door, five speed manual, Jeep Cherokee and naturally you know it was red. Simply put the power of prayer, specific faith filled prayer, need I say more.


 2. The Early Bird Catches The Deal…..


The first looker, the first phone call about the car has the advantage because the seller at that point is a bit unsure of what they are doing and may not know how rare it is to find a good car under $2000. My son was in this same situation about this time last year. We watched “Craig’s List” like a hawk checking every hour and the very moment a car that fit the bill was posted we called and were the first to go see it, before someone else had a chance to make an offer.

We looked at probably 5 cars , some of them were horrible, before, there it was a 2001 Pontiac Grand Am with 90,000 miles on it… I’m sure prayer played a big part. We were the first to call at 10am in the morning the quickest they would be able to show it was 3pm that afternoon. We were the first ones there at 2:45pm, and by 4pm my son was driving the car home.


The point is, that you and about a thousand other people are looking for that kind of car right now in your market. For the most part those cars don’t last a few hours, better yet a day. Considering that, don’t wait for it to be convenient to go see it. Go see it now.

3. Cash Helps Your Offer Register (Bring the Cash Money With You)


That said, be very careful. Don’t show the money till it’s time to get the title and if they don’t have the title do not give them the money. Again, if they don’t have the title do not give them the money.

The reason most people are selling a car like this is that they need the money and a check is not the same and worries them a little, maybe a lot. Either way who wouldn’t prefer to have cash money in hand before they turn over their title?

The negotiation process is always a lot smoother if the other party knows you mean business and at the right price, they can be done with this chore and head off with the cash in hand.

4. Pedigree over Producer, Maintained over Manufacturer 


In the price range of $2000 or less Honda or Hyundai, Mercedes or Mazda the Make is not nearly as important as the way the car was taken care of.

As I say every week, “you see tractors out in the field that have been running since the 1940’s, why do think? If you take care of a car it will last as long as you do.

All the R.L Polk surveys and consumer reports reviews in the world don’t take into account that people who buy Honda are more careful than the people who buy Hyundai as a general rule and take better care of their cars. The same could be said for BMW buyers verses Buick, again as a general rule. However, when it comes to $2,000 cars all you need is one, and that Mazda may be a much better buy than that Mercedes based merely on how it was cared for, driven etc…

So how careful is the seller, you get to make that judgment. Look around you are probably at their house. How does the yard look the garage etc. The car itself, this may sound funny but one way I used to tell about a well maintained car was to look at the amount of dust around the speedometer or instrument cluster. It always gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see clear instruments.

Prayer again, this is clearly another area where I feel you should walk with Jesus, asking Him to help you have eyes to see and ears to hear, and in this case a nose to smell. Quite often you can smell oil burning or anti freeze has that sicky sweet smell.


5. Use The Test Ride To Drive Home A Bargain


Someone knowledgeable about cars needs to help with this. Many, many times a hundred dollar service check can save you thousands in more ways than one. The best people to check a car are folks familiar with that model. Nissan expert for Nissans, Ford for Fords etc.. Sometimes you may have an independent like that in your area if not, the dealer for sure.

Simply ask the seller if it is OK to take the car for an extended test drive and possibly have the car checked by your mechanic. If they balk at that, I would think that may signal trouble ahead.

In my view the check out charge if you are serious about the car is money very well spent. Not only to warn you off a bad car, but to help you in the negotiation process.

Going back to the Grand Am my son bought. That car needed hub caps and tires and a front bumper cover. I estimated all that at about eight hundred dollars and used that number to help bring the price down from $2,000 to $1,500.

In closing I would like to say that in my view you are not buying a beater, but a friend. These are the cars of legend, Old Red. The Sloppy Jalopy, Paid For good transportation.  Hold your head high; you are a child of The King. When you drive up next to that new car with the 30 day tag on the back, then think of the freedom God has given you; freedom from the desire to keep up with the Jones’, the freedom from car payments and the freedom to use your resources to build the Kingdom instead of driving a 2016 model car. I, the Christian Car Guy, Salute you.