Finding good, used cars more difficult these days

Posted Sept. 10, 2010, at 6:44 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

One of my sons had a car accident recently. The car was totaled but fortunately no one was injured. There was only basic insurance coverage, so we started the new (used) car search.

Being male and somewhat into cars, this was a challenge that I savored. The eternal hunt for a good car deal is something that is fun in some ways. It is an opportunity to cast lots against the system, trying to find proper transportation by being a hunter-gatherer of the 21st century.

Now, I am first to admit to being a bottom feeder when it comes to cars. I am always looking for a deal. I get really nervous if I spend more than $5,000 on a car. I have done this on a few occasions and eventually wind up selling the car since having that much money on wheels that can crash makes me nervous.

I did peruse all the local used car lots and new car dealers online. The Internet can save a lot of time, if you don’t mind using a computer. It certainly saves gas.

I usually look for wholesale deals. Wholesale cars are those that cannot be driven off the lot because the dealer will not sell them with a warranty. This can be tricky, but if you know something about cars and have a mechanic for backup, you can find decent transportation.

The car world that I have existed in has been shaken up in the past year by cash for clunkers. I suppose it was good for the economy to persuade consumers to go out and buy new cars, but there was a downside to it. Any “clunker” that was traded in had to be demolished. The destruction included running abrasives in the engine to render it useless.

Now, there are certainly cars out there that should be rendered useless, but it sure seems like a waste to just destroy thousands of engines that might be reusable.

So much for recycling. There was some recycling of body parts, but destroying useful cars seems like such a ridiculous waste. And it diminished my pool of prospects significantly.

I thought that when the program was in effect, and now I was getting to live it.

I spent a lot of time searching Craigslist, Uncle Henry’s and eBay for a proper candidate.

There are a lot of cars out there with well over 100,000 — no, check that — 200,000 miles. And even with highway miles, and being a Toyota, Mercedes or whatever auto mythology you believe, these cars will be wearing out parts. Mythology does not bow to the laws of physics, not even for the popemobile.

We were looking in the below-$2,500 range, which was preparing us for something with well over 100,000 miles.

Fortunately, I have a friend who rebuilds salvage cars that were in accidents. I have done a number of these vehicles over the years myself and it can be a way to save if you know when to call in help and where to search for parts.

We landed a car that had less than 90,000 miles and is real easy on gas. It had missed the clunker purge and actually is fairly nice. It took about $400 of repairs to get it in good, safe, operational shape but we are both happy with the results. So all has ended pretty well.

There used to be a couple of insurance auction businesses in our area that sold these types of salvage and rebuildable vehicles. The last one closed just a couple of months ago. That was a fun place to shop for cars. Now that it is gone, I feel the need to be on the search for a spare car just in case. The deals can be few and far between in 2010. I think this is part of what makes living in Maine fun — spare cars in the yard. Maybe someday I will be comfortable with the $5,000-plus car, but where’s the fun in that?

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business