from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

Last week it was diapers this week it’s a car for college. Ouch, tough job. What to buy, what to check, how to check it and more. Because student cars are mostly inexpensive and pre-owned there are lots of hazards. Inexpensive often means high miles combined with lots of neglect and abuse.

Making matters worse are confused but real-world priorities. Although most folks don’t think about it their top priority is appearance. Yep appearance usually dominates car buying decisions. Regrettably, our social position is often based on cars, clothes, and other utterly superficial “stupid-stuff.” Agree or disagree, it’s a cruel reality. So looks and social acceptability should be serious considerations because anything not peer-respected is an embarrassment. Even if you feel the “to die for” vehicle is gross and ugly hide the feelings, this time it’s not about you. Therefore, buying some decrepit old tank because “you” think it’s safer is unacceptable. Besides, those lumbering, prehistoric behemoths usually aren’t safer.

Price is generally governed not by how much you can afford but more candidly how much you’re willing to spend. However, an unrealistic price cap may ultimately bite. Cheap transportation is great, but too cheap will suck gobs of money from your bank account. Buying too cheap usually buys expensive problems.

Price also creates bizarre situations. The ad looks wonderful, right color, right equipment, good miles, it’s socially on the mark and the price is way less than similar cars. When you meet the seller you’re impressed, the car looks great, the car has even been rinsed off and warmed up. Nice! But with cars warm and wet are not plusses, as both hide problems. Many major engine and transmission problems only show up when the car is cold and water temporarily reduces squeaks and rattles, plus it makes faded paint shine.

During the road test, the car drives okay with just a couple of “minor” problems but the price is so good you convince yourself they’re easily correctable. Slow down Speed Racer, you aren’t qualified to make those decisions but I guarantee you’re qualified to fall for the teary-eyed story too-cheap car sellers tell. “It belonged to a dear relative that passed and I have to find it a good home. Sniff! You seem like a person who would, sniff, appreciate the car so if you want it I’ll drop the price a little to help you out.” Yeah right, like you just found a wealthy philanthropist selling some cheap-ass car on the street.

This is where you should bail because it’s probably a setup, but your greed and great knowledge take command and you’re reeled in and relieved of your unwanted money. But later, you find the paper work is bogus, the odometer has been rolled back, the car has been salvaged, was rescued from a flood, has major problems or ??? Yep too cheap just bit yah!

So control your greed, be realistic and have a skilled technician check the car from bumper to bumper. Purchase a CARFAX Vehicle History Report, check warranty eligibility with CARCHEX and get an insurance quote to verify insurability and affordability. Also if you don’t understand the intricacies of title transfers have a title service do the paperwork.

If this sounds intimidating buy from a licensed dealer. New car dealers in particular have strict rules governing how they conduct business making it much safer than buying on the street. Remember after you own the car, it’s too late.