Buying used cars is an experience that can be tricky to navigate for someone who hasn’t done it before.
I’ve bought a handful of used cars in the past and have made a lot of mistakes doing so. Some of these mistakes may seem obvious, but when you’re young and dumb like me, you make a lot of bad decisions when buying cars.
Here are five mistakes I’ve made when buying used cars, so hopefully, you can learn from my stupidity and not do the same things.
1. I bought a vehicle in the dark, or sight unseen
When you’re looking at a used car for sale, it’s not going to be gleaming and pretty on a showroom floor with perfect fluorescent lighting. There’s a good chance that it’s going to be in somebody’s dimly lit garage, street parked at night time, or maybe even across the country on an auction site. I’ve done all three. All the cars I’ve bought required work, but the darkness hindered me from inspecting them thoroughly enough to see how much work they needed, and thus, required more time and effort to get them on the road.
Lesson: Check out any used cars you’re considering during the day.
2. I ignored the warning signs of rust
Bubbling paint and wet floorboards are not a good sign, but sometimes you find a deal that you just can’t pass up, or the car is so rare that even if it does require a ton of work, there’s a good chance you won’t find another one on the market. That was the case with my 1968 Datsun Roadster. When I started grinding back that bubbling paint and pulling up the wet floorboards, I discovered that my dream car wasn’t as pristine as it seemed, and those small rust areas were actually large rust areas.
Lesson: The rust that is visible only accounts for about 10 percent of the rust that is there, so when you see rust, make sure you check all surrounding areas because there is definitely more.
3. I bought a cheap Jaguar V12 convertible from the ’80s
This car has a ridiculously complicated engine, a convertible top made in the U.K. (it leaks, go figure), and a slew of parts that you would never see on a regular car. Despite the fact that my 1989 Jaguar XJS was a great car in great condition, that didn’t stop it from going British on me eventually. The steering rack bushings were the first to go, which enabled an amazing feature not seen on cars since: variable toe-in. The other big problem with the XJS was the drivetrain, which was an amazing 5.3L V12 hooked up to an absolutely garbage 3-speed automatic, and a rear end ratio so low that would struggle to do a burnout on ice. All things said, I loved that car from up until I watched its taillights disappear from my view.
Lesson: Don’t buy complicated old British cars unless you have a lot of spare time and want to go broke.
4. I bought an improperly lowered vehicle
I needed to move 2,200 miles, and renting a uHaul wasn’t in the budget, so I decided to buy an old used truck to help me, which ended up being a lowered 1977 GMC Suburban. The previous owner of the truck had cut the springs in the front and taken a load leaf out of the rear springs to give it a cool look, but that made it useless for hauling any sort of weight. My plan was to buy some used springs from the junkyard to bring it back up to normal ride height, but of course, it was never going to be that easy. The junkyard trucks didn’t want to release their springy goodness to me, so I had to purchase brand new springs to the tune of $800, and it took two full days to install them. If a vehicle is lowered properly with drop spindles, a flip kit, coilovers, or lowering springs, then I may consider another lowered vehicle, but not one lowered like this.
Lesson: Never buy a lowered car.
5. I paid too much
You won’t know you paid too much for an automobile until you sell it. Being caught up in the excitement of buying a new-to-you car can sometimes cause you to overpay without even knowing it, so make sure you do your research, especially if you know you’re not keeping the car forever. The best deal you and the seller make is one of mutual compromises, but that price can still be a little more than what you intended to pay. Eventually, it will be time to move on, then your car sits on Craigslist for two months, or you watch countless eBay ads end with no bids, that sucks. I like to think that if you’re going to lose money on a car you’re selling, make sure you got your money’s worth out of it in smiles, so buy wisely.
Lesson: Do your research beforehand so you get fair pricing.