When I split with my husband, I left him the Volvo, the apartment, the wall-to-wall carpeting, and the TV. That’s how badly I wanted out. Then I bought myself a used car, a junker with a gaping hole where the radio should have been. The glove box wouldn’t stay closed. The car sometimes stopped for no reason. Belts snapped, tires blew, engine heads were blown.
So I speak from experience when I tell you there are right ways and wrong ways for divorced women to buy a used car. Obviously if you and your husband have divided the six vintage cars in the garage, this doesn’t apply to you. But if you and he had one car, and he keeps it, and you need one... and if your credit is pretty much like everyone else’s, and if banks and car dealers are not making car loans... you may find yourself as a free agent, trying to pay cash for a car that will run, won’t break down, and especially won’t kill you.
For argument sake, I’ve chosen a budget of $5,000 to $6,000. At that price you are not likely to find a lot of cars at dealers showrooms (if you can find a dealer’s showroom, since they are all closing.)
Did I say “kill you” back there? Here’s a little known fact: some used cars have been in accidents where airbags have been deployed. And because airbags cost $1,000 or $2,000 or more to replace, sometimes the garage, sometimes the owner, just don’t replace them.
Then the car is put up for sale, “as is.”
So you may buy a car that is equipped with airbags — but instead of functioning airbags there are plastic packing peanuts, or Styrofoam cups, or a used airbag. Based on information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,www.carbuyingtips.com, a friend who has worked at a dealership (he calls it a “stealership”) and a source who has bought and sold many cars, here is the FWW guide to buying a used car.
Never buy a car from a used car dealer with an “as is” sticker. If a dealer won’t back a used car with a 30-day warranty, you don’t want it. With a private sale, you have to buy the car “as is,” but more on that later.
What should you buy? Obviously gas price is a serious consideration. But if you drive just short distances, and need an SUV for carpooling, now is the time to buy a good one. They are being deeply discounted, because no one wants them.
You’ve always wanted a Toyota? Too bad. Those Japanese cars go forever and keep their value. That includes Nissans, Subarus, and Hondas.
Domestic cars will give you the best value, which is to say they will be the newest and have the lowest mileage for the money. That’s because of their high depreciation; the minute they are driven off the lot as new cars their value craters.
For $5,000 or $6,000 you can get a four-to-six-year-old Ford Taurus or a Chevy Malibu with 60,000 to 80,000 miles. I recently bought a 1991 Toyota half-ton pickup truck, with only 50,000 miles on it. That thing not only looks cool, and is useful, it is going to run for another 200,000 miles. I got lucky. (My son the gearhead helped me find it.)
Don’t be afraid about buying a used car, even if you don’t have a gearhead son. If well maintained (if you’re buying privately, ask to see the service records and receipts) any domestic car will run for another 50,000 miles without any major repairs. An average driver goes 15,000 miles a year, so that’s three years of use.
Don’t necessarily buy from a dealer. A dealer won’t have those maintenance records, and can’t look you in the eye and tell you anything honest about where this car has been. You should look up technical service bulletins on the Internet, to see if there have been serious problems with the particular model you’re looking at. And check the car’s warranty in the owner’s manual. It’s possible, there are some parts of the car that might still be under warranty, like the engine/transmission/power train. If so, aren’t you the lucky one?
You can expect to get a used car that should still provide reliable daily transportation, but may show some expected use, a dent or two, some scratches, and minor interior wear.
In the next installment, we’ll tell you enough so you’ll feel like an expert, or at least not feel helpless. Buying a car is a big decision, and you should know as much about it as possible.