Used Car Prices On Bicycle Budgets – Part 1


How much does a car cost? According to the internet the average new car in 2010 will cost you $28,500. The cheapest new cars, Hyundai Accent and the Nissan Versa, sell for more than $10,000. According to the government the average used car is 3 years old and sold for $19,000 this year. That’s a lotta dough!

Three times now under extenuating circumstances, I have found and bought decent cars for about $1,000 with less than a week of looking. The Cars for a Grand guys are experts, having bought a car and driven it coast to coast–twice–to promote their website. And the 24 Hours of Lemons races and B.A.B.E. rallies are only opened to cars worth $500 or less. 

So I’m here to tell you: If you’re short on cash, but have a job to get to, you can get transportation for about $1,000. Recently it has come to my attention that people are afraid to shop for used cars by themselves. A woman I know told me she had been warned to avoid shopping on Craigslist! She was actually planning on buying a car as-is at auction, knowing nothing about the car, after a mere visual inspection. I guess it can be somewhat frightening to go to an unfamiliar part of town and meet a stranger, so here are few tips to put your mind at ease.

  1. Bring along a friend, male or female (Either way, there is safety in numbers).
  2. Meet the buyer at the nearest big box store or supermarket (A neutral public place near the freeway has a certain feeling of safety in the modern world, but it does have a draw-back I will get to later).
  3. Have an actual phone conversation with the seller and get some impression of who you are dealing with.

Honestly, if you go through life assuming everybody with an ad on Craigslist is a serial killer luring victims to his lair, you might as well not leave the house. I love shopping on Craigslist because it’s a lot like dating but without the fear of rejection–you get to meet new interesting people and go places you normally wouldn’t.

First things first, where to look and what to look for. As I’ve already said, Craigslist has more ads than anyone and it’s free to list, so people list inexpensive things with little to lose. I find a Craigslist search engine like Craiglook work better because you can expand your search geographically to include all the nearby Craigslists. 

I also like Jaxed Mash , which will search CL as well as eBay and other sources.  You should also check out the older classified ad sources. Some of the best deals to be had are from people who are not web savvy. In Southern California it’s the Recycler , back east near NYC it was the Bargain News , and in New England the Want Advertiser . Sometimes you will find something in the local paper, or on the bulletin board of the supermarket. The important thing is, you want to find a car for sale that the person isn’t trying too hard to sell and doesn’t want a whole lot of money for.

Now, what to buy? Best to keep an opened mind. To misquote Daryl ZeroWhen you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them .” Best thing to look for is a car and not concern yourself about who made it or what it is or what it looks like. Don’t get yourself into a trap of looking for something cute or fun or sexy (as I said, just like dating).

The best cars to look for are ones owned by an older person who has given up driving, or a car owned by someone who is motivated by an upcoming move or a new car they just bought. And if you can drive a stick, you can usually save another $100-250 vs. an automatic transmission.

A quick scan of the net reveals everything from a 1984 Ford LTD to a 1990 Camry Wagon to a 1993 Ford Taurus for sale for less than $1,500 in this area. Sure, none of these is going to get stellar mileage, but they shouldn’t do too badly–especially if you follow the advice of my previous posts on adjusting driving habits and increasing fuel efficiency . You may spend more on gas, but you are going to save so much on buying the car, you’ll still come out ahead.

About ten years ago, two friends got into major accidents around the same time and I found the best car ever in two days.  One of my friends drove it while his car was being fixed and then the other one kept it for three years.  For $800 they bought a 1978 Pontiac from a retired man who had just gotten a new car.

Three years, two tires, one battery and zero oil changes later, the transmission went bad–but until then that car was trouble-free. It had a wrecked fender from the get-go, two velour bench seats and an AM radio, but it had a willing V8 and would still get 20 mpg on the freeway.

And you don’t have to end up with a big car:  My wife’s first car was a 1990 Cavalier bought from the daughter of an old woman who had moved to assisted living. She paid $900 for that one, but it needed four tires, so $1,100 total after the tires. The fuel pump started going bad on that one after nearly three years, but she still got $750 for it when she sold it.

In part two next week, I’ll tell you why you want to go to the seller’s house and how to properly test drive.  Also I’ll give you my interpretation of what O.B.O and firm mean when it comes to price.

Do you know of any good local papers with online classifieds?  List them in the comments section, I’d love to know more places to shop.

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  1. iandrake1977

    4 years ago

    Craiglook is a good way to search older ads, but you can also use NotifyWire get alerts when new ads are posted matching your search in near real time.

    That way you’re the first person to respond to the best deals on Craigslsit.

  2. PunchYourself

    4 years ago

    It also helps if you can name your new used car. You can either look at it as a 1993 Ford Fiesta or you can look at it as Herve the Notorious. It sounds silly, but it does help you get over yourself.

  3. brwood

    4 years ago

    How about Nervous Herv?

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