I’ve spent the last week or so trying to find a second car to purchase for my family. In that time, I’ve considered several dozen and test driven about half a dozen. Trying to squeeze car shopping in between work and other social responsibilities (like doing the big nasty) sure has been a hassle, but I finally got it done.
Here’s how it went down. My budget was $5,000 max, so I tried to find cars for around $3,000.
The first car I attempted to test drive was a Volvo S70 that looked like it was in really great shape. It was up for auction on eBay and looked like it was going to go for around $3,000.
So I emailed the seller. Here was his response:
The car is over at my office on 39th south and 7th east in SLC (that’s Salt Lake City for you non-Utahns).
The car has a ton of watchers and I am anticipating it going over 3500.00, are you prepared to buy it today in that price range if the car runs and drives well?
I don’t want to have you drive from Orem thinking you will win it at 2200 or something silly like that.
Actually, I was hoping that the car had a special button that would turn the car into a mythical white unicorn that spewed Skittles candies from his magical horn according to my whim. For that, I’d pay $3,500. But to win the car for $2,200 even though bidding at that moment had already reached $2,550 and had seven hours to go? Nah, nothing silly like that.
Of course, he had no way of knowing that I was not only an eBay PowerSeller veteran that had sold over 10,000 items but also a former eBay employee who WROTE A FREAKIN’ BOOK on how to make money on eBay. So I’ll forgive him for thinking I’m silly, have no knowledge of how an auction works, and incredibly crappy at math.
2550 + 7 hours left in the auction = 2200 ending price… right?
So I emailed him a second time, asking him to call me so I could give it a test drive. I then got in my car to make the 40 minute drive to the car’s location. I get there, and the car is nowhere in sight. I spend about two hours in Salt Lake checking out cars at dealers and eating lunch. Interestingly, there were a lot of beggars hanging out at the Wendy’s where I ate. The seller never called me, so I go home.
The auction ends for about $3,250. Too bad. If the seller would have just met me for a test drive, he would have gotten a few hundred more for it.
The first car I ended up actually doing a test drive on was a 1997 Mitsubishi Galant with about 150,000 miles on it.
The seller was a high school kid who had done some good work on it in his auto shop class. Who knew that a teenaged kid selling his car would be more reliable than an adult?
Well, the car needed a new AC compressor and the speedometer cable had been cut, so the 150,000 miles was really just a guess since the odometer wasn’t working without a good speedo cable.
It ran great, and I almost bought it, but thought I’d better mull it over and work the needed repairs into the budget before making a decision. He was asking $2,800 and I planned to offer around $2,300. The interesting thing about this car was that I communicated with the seller entirely through text messaging until I met him. Furthermore, unlike a certain other seller, he actually responded. Crazy huh?
Next test drive was a 1997 BMW 528i with 170,000 miles on it. I was really excited about this one. He was asking $5,300 and had already turned down an offer for $4,800, so I withdrew $5,000 cash from my bank expecting to buy the car.
I drove it and it felt like I was driving a tank, the interior had some issues, and the headlights looked like they had cataracts, but otherwise it seemed okay. But I just didn’t get a good feeling about it. The seller texted me the next day to say he would accept $4,500. I told him I’d think about it. My main worry was repairs. They aren’t cheap on a BMW, and $4,500 wouldn’t leave much breathing room.
The coolest part, though, was that I detected a bit of an accent in the seller, so I asked him if he was a foreigner. He told me that he was from Albania.
“Cool,” I said. “So is the car from there?” wondering if he originally bought it in Albania and brought it over.
“No,” the seller responds, “it’s from Germany.”
“So you brought it over from Germany?”
“No, that’s where it was manufactured.”
“Right, but did you buy it there and ship it to the states?”
The answer was no, that it had been purchased and driven in the states only. The misunderstanding was interesting though. I told him, “Thanks. I’ll mull it over.”
Having never heard the term “mull it over,” and based on the look he gave me, I think he thought I was threatening to kill the rabito in his cabeza.
The next day, I took work off early so I could run back up to Salt Lake and check out a couple minivans and a supercharged Buick Regal. The vans, though they looked nice in their online ads, were in pretty bad shape. The first one was a blue 2000 Sienna with 148,000 miles. Two door handles were broken, the passenger window motor didn’t work, a cup holder was missing, a speaker was falling out, and the carpet was all crusty. This minivan had clearly been well used and abused by many children and maybe even a few overly frisky midgets.
The red 1999 Sienna with nearly 190,000 miles from the same dealer was in better shape, but had a couple issues. And again, I just wasn’t feeling good about it. The salesman was awesome though, and offered to fix everything up before selling it to us. The place was called Smith Family Motors, and I think I might go there again someday. Even though I didn’t buy from them, I recommend you check them out.
So I drove a little further north to another dealer to check out the car that I was really interested in, a 1998 Buick Regal. It had 190,000 miles on it, but for $2,800 I figured if I got even one year’s use out of it, I’d be happy.
The interior was awesome, nearly perfect for such an old car, and the engine ran about as well as one could expect to at nearly 200k miles. It drove like an old car, but it was the first time I had a really good feeling about any of the cars I drove. Maybe it was just the well-worn leather seats though.
The car sported a supercharged V6, leather interior, and every bell and whistle you could imagine — not the least of which was, and I swear to you that this is true, a button that turned the car into a magical Skittles spewing unicorn! I was ready to buy it on the spot.
But then my wife gave me the “I want a minivan,” look, so I told the salesman I’d think about it.
We drove back to Orem and hit Ken Garff Honda. We accidentally went next door to the Ken Garff Porsche dealer and went to turn around when a salesman grabbed us. We told him we were looking for a Sienna from the Honda dealer. So he walked to the Honda dealer, grabbed the van, and brought it over.
It was a 2000 Sienna, nearly identical to the one we test drove earlier except it had all its parts, had fewer miles on it, and everything worked. The engine seemed to be in good shape, it drove well, had a leather interior and was clean. You could tell it was taken care of. The van was listed at $4,877 and would cost nearly $6,000 out the door with taxes and registration.
That’s when I said, “Oops, I should have told you this when I first got here, but I’ve only got five grand on me, so that needs to be the out-the-door price.”
We haggled for a bit, but there really wasn’t any wiggle room on my part so the salesman, after pretending to talk to his manager about it a few times, finally caved and gave us the requested price.
That made my wife happy, which I guess is the important part. And here is my proud wife in front of her “new” 2000 Toyota Sienna:
If you’re ever in the market for a Porsche, I highly recommend talking to Edgar at Ken Garff Porsche in Orem. He was a great guy to work with and treated us well. And you know that Ken Garff “backs up every car they sell.” Our van came with a 3-month 3,000 mile warranty on the engine.
It needs new tires with winter coming up, and I’ll be replacing the transmission fluid and filter which will run us about $500 for both. But $5,000 is roughly what I pay each year on the monthly payments for my other car. So if I get two years out of this van, I think I’ll be pleased.
No, it doesn’t turn into a magical candy spewing unicorn, but if you stroke its horn for awhile you get a really good feeling deep down inside.