Turning the key in the ignition, the motor sputtered and quickly turned over to hear the roar of the beast. Grinning like a kid on Christmas, I turned to my father who came with me and he knew I was sold. I was 15 and test driving a rusted out 1992 Jeep Cherokee. Its faded maroon paint and wood paneling just added more and more character to the vehicle, and for $550, what a deal!
I quickly handed the money over to the man with a bull-nose piercing selling it and drove it home, the disappointed look of my father in the rearview as I drove my new found love home.
But, as quickly as I had fallen in love with the car, the quicker I hated it. After getting it home, I set off the alarm, and didn’t know how to shut it off. It quickly filled my parent’s quiet neighborhood with its repeated boat horn until the battery died….Strike 1
The next day it rained, and as I quickly hopped in the Jeep to avoid getting soaked, I found the roof leaked more than the Titanic…..Strike 2.
The day after, I drove it across town, to the lake, for a one day lifeguard training. I got about halfway there, and then smoke began to billow from under the hood of the mighty beast…..Strike 3.
Although she did not last long, as I rode around in my rusty dream for a summer before selling her, I did love that car. And since, I have bought and sold a handful of cars on Craigslist.
Here are a few tips, so hopefully you fare better than I on your next hoopty car purchase!
1. Make sure it has a Title! If you’re buying something used, make sure it has a title and you get the seller to fill out a Bill of Sale (depending on your state). Not having the proper documentation with your vehicle turns a beater car into a $500 lawn ornament in a matter of seconds. Also, ensure that the person selling you the vehicle is the one on the title. It seems simple, but there are a lot of scams out there.
2. Know what to look for, and if you don’t, bring someone who does! When I went to look at my first car I knew it had to have a title and 4 wheels, and my father knew about the same. Do your research on the vehicle you are going to look at, and bring a trusted second set of eyes, and preferably a knowledgeable set too.
Look especially at things like:
-Tires: check to see if they are rotted or dry-cracking. Also check the tread level, although this may seem like a small thing, this can quickly turn your $500 car into a money pit.
-Brakes: although cars are designed to get you from A to B, make sure they can stop you when you get to B! Make sure that the brakes aren’t soft or spongey, and that they work properly.
– Rust: In New England, rust is a huge problem with the amount of salt that is poured on the roads every winter. Bring a flashlight, and make sure you get under the vehicle and look for rust patches, rot and holes. Just because a car has a great motor and low miles, doesn’t meant that your foot won’t go through the floor one day when its rusted through.
3. The last thing, is negotiate! There are hundreds of cars everyday that’s sold, from one beater to the next. Don’t ever feel pressured, or obligated to buy something, and most people never list their vehicle at their bottom dollar price. Cash is king, and use this experience to hone your bartering skills.
In the end, beater cars are some of the best love/hate relationships you will ever have. The memories and experiences from cracking them up, to making stupid modifications (I swear ripping the muffler off my 98 Cadillac was one of my greatest life choices to date) and will leave you with some fond memories for when your kid pulls up in a jalopy in 20 years.