Mary shares experiences from 20 years in the auto industry selling classic cars internationally with her husband.
How to Find and Buy Cheap Cars
If you're in the market for a car but don't want to spend a king's ransom, I'll share with you some places to find inexpensive cars. Buying a cheap car doesn't have to mean a car with problems if you know what to look out for. I will give you some hints and tips that will turn you from a naïve amateur into a savvy bargain-hunting aficionado.
There are many reasons why people sell cars below market value. Some will benefit you and others will lead to misery. To ensure you get a car that is a bargain, you will need to do a bit of homework regarding makes and models. Finding a low-priced car that will give you years of driving pleasure is not an impossibility.
Some of the ideas may be new to you and some you may already know—though perhaps you don't know the finer methods to achieve your goal in finding your perfect, low-priced car.
Budget for a Cheap Car
The first thing you have to ask yourself is what type of car you want. If you are too specific, you have just limited your choices. If you are flexible and all you want is transportation, then you are in a position to find a bargain.
The second consideration is how much you are willing to spend. The answer "as little as possible" isn't the right answer. $100, $1,000, $5,000 maybe. Decide on your budget and stick to it. When budgeting, remember with a used car, you may need to sort problems when you buy it. I'll discuss this further down the page.
Also, think about the insurance for the car. If you are looking for an inexpensive car for a young driver, you may want to consider the insurance costs.
There are cheap cars, and there are bargain cars. The cars that are bargains may be well below their actual value but may not be inexpensive.
Where to Look for Cars
The classified ads. The people who have placed ads in a newspaper have usually spent money on the ad and are eager to sell. Select a few to go and look at. Keep in mind your budget.*
Internet ads. Normally you can use filters on the searches. For example, you may not want to travel more than 50 miles. You can also select the limit you are willing to spend. Make this slightly higher than you are willing to spend as you will be haggling for a better price.*
eBay: There are always cars for sale on eBay. Yet again, using the filters, select a region and price amount. With eBay, there is a pressing time limit. Do not get caught up in the auction fever. Keep to that budget. Remember you will want to ask to look at the car before placing a bid.*
Networking: Do you use Facebook or another social networking site? Place a message there saying you are looking for a car. Do not put the amount you are willing to pay, as most people think their car is worth more than you will want to pay them. Even if people in your network don't have a car for sale, your friend's friend might.
Drive around the town. Presuming you already have access to a car, or a good friend, driving around can be a gold mine of opportunities for you. Once you become accustomed to looking for cars, it will become second nature. There are loads of cars with For Sale signs on them. Stop and ask about them. If a car in your neighborhood has been parked in the same spot and not used, inquire why. Ask if they are willing to sell. Often if you catch people off guard, they will begin to think about it. Leave your phone number and let them telephone you. Often, people become accustomed to a car in the same spot and almost forget it's there. Give them a reason to get rid of it.
The car auction. Here you will need to do your homework beforehand. There will be dealers at that auction snapping up the best bargains. That isn't to say that there won't be good cars there. We have personally bought a car for £50 from an auction and it was a wonderful and reliable car.
Official receiver. Knowing an official receiver is very useful for finding cheap cars. If someone has gone bankrupt, it will be down to the official receiver to liquidate the bankrupt's assets. They will want to do this in the most efficient way possible. If you have the money available and don't waste his time, you may just bag yourself a bargain.
*If you are a woman, it is advisable if you are responding to an ad either in the paper or on the internet, to take a man with you. This is just a precautionary measure.
Why People Sell Cars Below Market Value
People sell cars for many reasons. Knowing these reasons will put you in the driver's seat, so to speak when you approach the vendor. Remember, cash is king. If you have money ready and waiting, you can get yourself a bargain.
- Death. It isn't a pleasant topic to talk about, but often people will have had a death in the family and need to sell the car of the deceased. If this is tied into an estate, they will be eager to sell and get the money into the pot for the inheritance to be divided. Their loss could be your gain.
- Debt. Perhaps you know someone who is in debt and desperate to sell their car. If they have to make a mortgage payment that month and they don't have the money, they will accept a low offer.
- Divorce. When two people divorce, it is a good time to find a bargain. Sometimes, the car will be sold and the money divided. If it is a cheap car, and neither party wants it, it will be one less headache for them to deal with.
- Downsizing. When the children leave home, often the parents will sell their larger car for something sporty and small. They will be eager to buy their new car and get rid of the larger family car. The opposite works as well. If they are expecting a baby, they will need a larger car and will be selling the sporty model.
There you have it, the 4 D's of why people need to sell. I am sure you can think of other reasons why people will sell their car cheap.
Cheap High-Mileage Cars
If you are looking for an inexpensive car, you may find that high mileage cars are considerably cheaper than the same car with average mileage. This isn't always a problem. If the car was a rep's car, most of the mileage will have been on freeways. This type of driving isn't as hard on the car as town driving where the car is stopping and starting all the time. If the car is high mileage because it was used as a local taxi, you may find excessive wear on the upholstery, seat belts, and even the door locks and handles from constant use.
Remember that if the car is diesel, high mileage is less of a problem because a diesel engine (if it has been maintained), will last much longer than an engine powered by gasoline (petrol).
Hints and Tips for Purchasing a Cheap Car
When you go to look at a car, be prepared to buy it. There are a couple of things that may happen. You will make an offer and they will accept it or you will make an offer and the seller needs to think about it. If the latter is the case, leave your phone number.
When you arrive, inspect the general condition of the car. Ask to go for a drive. Note if the car is already warm. Have they started it before you got there? If so there could be a problem that they didn't want you to know about. If they allow you to drive it, drive with the radio off. You want to listen to the engine. If it is a manual car, go through a series of gear changes and pay attention to the gears and also the clutch. Is this a positive firm action or is it a bit spongy or too much play?
How are the brakes? Are they as you would expect? Return to the house and continue your inspection.
Look in the engine bay for any signs of leaks and the general condition of the hoses. This will only take a moment. If you don't feel confident doing this, you can take a mechanic with you.
Check the tires, and the upholstery as well, this will give you a general idea if the car has been looked after correctly and maintained.
Ask to look at the documents of the car; are they in the seller's name? If they aren't, ask why this is the case. Asking the correct questions now can save you headaches in the future. How many owners has the car had? The fewer the owners, generally the better the condition will be. People who keep their cars for a long time tend to maintain them better.
Do they have any receipts for work done on the car? When was the last time the oil was changed, tires replaced, and timing belt replaced? If they don't know about the timing belt (cam belt), it is important to change that when you buy the car. Failure to do that could lead to engine failure. If the car has more than 50,000 miles on it, change that belt as soon as possible.
Doing Minor Repair
Sometimes buying a cheap car will necessitate some minor repairs. Find a manual specific to your car. Many jobs can be done with a minimum of tools and know-how. Use videos on YouTube or purchase a repair manual to do the necessary maintenance on your car to save on the cost of repairs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 Mary Wickison
Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on July 28, 2016:
Hi Mary. You achieved you aim. Well done.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on July 28, 2016:
Glad you liked it. Some people are still novices at buying cars and unfortunately can make some costly mistakes. My aim is to guide them in things to look for when buying used vehicles.
Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on July 28, 2016:
Hi Blond Logic. Congratulations on a nice clear and Logical hub. Easy to follow and understand.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on January 26, 2014:
When we were buying and selling classic cars in the States we used a company such as yourselves. Once we bought a 1929 Rolls Royce in Kansas and had it transported to CA.
This was eventually shipped back to the UK to be sold.
Thanks for reading and your comment.
Julie Sharpe from Phoenix, Arizona on January 18, 2014:
We are contacted by ebay buyers every day needing to ship a car they purchased. Thousands of vehicles are sold every day on eBay and 90% of those cars are purchased by out-of-town buyers. I would avoid craigslist. There are so many scammers on that site that people are leery about buying from individuals there. I prefer autotrader.com
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 08, 2012:
Thank you. You never know when it will come in useful.
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on October 08, 2012:
Great suggestions for someone looking for a car deal.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 07, 2012:
Glad you liked it.
Regarding the Rolls Royce, perhaps they couldn't afford the price of gas.
The internet has indeed expanded the choice of cars on the market.
As always, a pleasure to her from you.
Dianna Mendez on October 07, 2012:
It's amazing what you can find on the internet these days. I know people who have recently bought cars in this manner. I saw a rolls posted on the Goodwill site once. Great hub post and very informative.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 07, 2012:
I am pleased you found the information useful. Buying cars can be a minefield if you are unsure what to look for.
Thank you for your comment.
flashmakeit from usa on October 06, 2012:
Useful article for someone who searching for an inexpensive price.