Diary of a Used Car Salesman: On The Cheap

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Editor’s note: After an absence, our friend and colleague Steve Lang has returned to the pixels of The Truth About Cars with some valuable lessons he’s learned about how car auctioneers use shill bidders as part of the process. In honor of the prodigal buy-here-pay-here dealer’s return to TTAC, here’s a post of his on automotive frugality.

A 1994 Impreza for $25? Bought one back in 2003 with an auto tranny and all the paint stripped off. It needed a new battery and . . . that was it. I sold it on eBay for $1576 to a fellow who flew in from California and drove it all the way back to IOU-land. He was a rally coordinator for Subaru and although the car was going to be modified, it ended up slogging through So Cal traffic instead for another 50,000 miles. I’ve always wondered whether it would have been more profitable to keep it? Perhaps.

The Impreza as a 4-speed auto averaged 27 mpg. Let’s say it consumed 3700 gallons over 100k miles. That’s about $9250 in gas costs (assuming $2.50 a gallon). The 1st gen Insight I drive will spank it but a Cavalier? An Escort of the same vintage? The 15% lesser mileage in my mind is partly compensated by better engineering from Subaru. Which brings me to the key point about a cheap car.

It has to last. Most cars have some type of nasty weak point, and in the case of the Roo it’s the heater core and knock sensors. Not much at all compared to most other cars of that vintage. Finally you have to figure out the type of driver who actually owned the vehicle. There’s an old saying in the horse country of Saratoga Springs where, “It’s not the horse, it’s the rider.” When it comes to cars, it’s not the car—it’s the driver that determines the long-term worth and condition.

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