gen-x chronicles

yes, there is a way to find good used cars cheap

4/10/22

I've used this method before and will most likely have to use it again.

I drive a car that's over 10 years old and almost has 150,000 miles on it. It's a compact, still works, still runs, but it probably has maybe 1 or 2 years left in her before I have to get something else.

There are 4 goals I have with my next car. Must be small, must have very good fuel efficiency, must be comfortable, must not be made in North America because USA and Mexico made cars are absolute garbage regardless of brand. If the VIN starts with 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, I won't buy it. I will however buy a car with a VIN that starts with J (Japan) or K (South Korea).

Will I buy new or used?

I want to buy new, and it's not because of the warranty. It's because I know the car hasn't been screwed up by a previous owner. People do really dumb things to cars and rarely take care of them properly...

...but I hate the price of cars now. And it's not just because I'm an aging Gen-X'er bitching about the price of things compared to how they used to be. Cars really are overpriced right now. The absolute cheapest new car right now will cost you $20K.

"No, not true! I've seen cars selling for $17K new!"

Wrong.

Take $17K, add dealer fees and taxes, and that shoots right up to $20K. No way to escape it. The cars you have to choose from are Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Spark, Ford EcoSport and Mitsubishi Mirage. That's it.

And used? Total waste of time because they're selling for the same price for anything decent. I wish I was joking. To see new and used cars selling side-by-side for the same price is absolute insanity, but that's the world as it is right now in 2022.

There is however still a way to find good used cars cheap.

My method for finding good used cars cheap

Rules:

Car must be at least 10 to 15 years old

For whatever reason, when a car gets to double-digit age, prices start falling rapidly for regular cars.

Hardtop only. No sunroofs and no convertibles. Every single one of them is already leaking regardless of what the seller says (or doesn't say). Doesn't matter what kind of car or truck it is. The sunroof in particular is the worst, because there's guaranteed to be damage to the inside of the roof along with mold under the headliner. "I'll just seal the roof" isn't the answer there. The damage is done, you can't fix it and neither can a glass shop because they won't touch it. DO NOT go anywhere near a car with a sunroof.

Non-sports car manual transmission is always cheaper. Dealerships in particular have a really hard time selling manual transmission cars because nobody knows how to drive them anymore. If you know how to drive stick, seek one out. They're usually thousands less compared to the automatic.

And now the tools:

Car Complaints. This is my #1 go-to site to look up info on any car, any year. For example, it's from here you find out the 2007 Toyota Camry is the worst of the line, followed by 2009 being the second worst. You also find out the 2004 and 2006 are gems if you can find one in decent shape. That is the kind of info you need to know.

From each year, you can look up the top complaints about what went wrong with the car. From there, you can use a site like RepairPal to price out what the cost will be and factor that in to the price of the car, should it exhibit those problems. HOWEVER - never use the recommended shops from RepairPal. Use a mechanic you're most comfortable with. Also bear in mind that the dealership mechanic is really not a bad option because they will negotiate price whereas local mechanics usually won't.

To find the cheapest used cars for sale, I will bounce around any site I can find that has the older stuff like AutoTrader, and I will also look up any local dealership's used inventory just to see what's there. For whatever I find, I make sure it has no sunroof, then jump straight over to Car Complaints to see if the car is a lemon year or not. If it isn't, then I price out the repairs for the worst problems that happen with the car at RepairPal. If after all that the price is agreeable, then I'll head on down to see the car myself.

Use Carmax, Carvana, DriveTime?

I've had good luck with Carmax. Yes, they charge more for used cars, but sometimes they have the used stuff nobody else has - which includes the manual transmission options. I've not tried the others.

When you do the research using Car Complaints and RepairPal, you quickly find out whether a particular year/make/model is worth looking into or not.

Carmax in particular is nice because they tell you UP FRONT if the car was a fleet (as in a rental) vehicle, and you see the VIN which instantly tells you where the car was made. I can also quickly get a report to see where the car has lived out its life. If the car lived in the north where it snows, I won't buy it. If it's from somewhere there isn't snow, the chances of rust or rot decrease significantly.

The best cars

Sedans, wagons, compacts, hatchbacks and small crossovers.

To start this off, the crossover is nothing more than a hatchback that's been fattened up and lifted.

With any one of these, you stand the chance of getting the most for the least, and with decent reliability more often than not.

The worst cars

Trucks, SUVs, sports cars and luxury cars.

Trucks were never originally designed to be daily drivers and will break faster than any other car even if you baby it. Most have the first semi-major mechanical failure before 75K miles, a major failure after 100K, and will fall completely apart before 150K.

Whenever you need a truck to do truck stuff, rent one from Home Depot. Don't buy one.

The SUV is nothing more than an obese highway princess that gets shamefully low fuel economy and breaks just as fast as the truck will, if not faster. It has all the same problems the truck has.

Sports cars aren't reliable, never have been, and aren't good at doing anything. Awful highway cruisers, not comfortable, ridiculously bad visibility, horrible fuel economy, no room to store anything, and you get socked with high insurance rates. In addition, nobody looks cool in a sports car. You may think you do. You don't.

Luxury cars have one thing going for them. You do look cool driving one of those compared to the idiot driving a sports car. Unfortunately, everything else about the luxury car completely sucks because there are 10,000 things to break. You never, repeat, NEVER buy a luxury car. If you want one, you LEASE it. By the time the lease term is over, that's when things will start breaking and you will be very happy to be rid of the car.

Compromise cars

These are specific makes/models of cars that aren't the best nor the worst. You'll understand what I mean better as you read though the choice.

Toyota Avalon - Full-size luxury sedan. It's a "Japanese Buick" a.k.a. Lexus without the Lexus badge. This is for all intents and purposes a stretch luxury Camry. It is a great car with many luxury goodies. Available as gas or hybrid. Shockingly, it sells for cheaper than a Camry does on the used market in many instances even though it has more luxury to it. This is the closest you will ever get to a reliable luxury car.

Ford Maverick - A car with a bed that's pretending to be a pickup truck. Yes, this is a front-wheel-drive car and drives like one, which is a good thing. The only model worth getting is the hybrid because you get actual utility along with great fuel efficiency (around 40 MPG). The mini truck-like configuration makes a lot of sense for most people, and even though ordinarily I would never recommend a Ford, I can recommend this one and only this one.

Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback - The first thing you notice about the 3 is that the price is higher compared to other cars the same size, until you realize a few things. Mazda's are more luxurious compared to Toyotas, they are made in Japan, and Mazda is very anti-CVT. You get a real automatic transmission that will stand the test of time. With Mazda, you pay more, but you get more.

Which car would I go with personally? Toyota Prius, if I can find one for a decent price. Not a cool car by any means, but it has 50 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats folded down, it's made in Japan, and fuel economy is ridiculously good.

gen-x chronicles