I’ve been driving around a 2000 Ford Focus that I bought for $1,500 about 3 1/2 years ago now. I took it from 165k miles to 210k miles in that time. I did have to put some work into it. When I first bought it I spent a weekend grinding rust off the body panels and touching up the paint. I also put a hitch on it (it had a 2k lb towing capacity). And I probably spent about $600 on repairs over that time. Including a new alternator and replacing parts of the under carriage that rusted out. The car was 100% reliable in the 3 1/2 years I owned it, never leaving me stranded.
In the past few months some issues have started to pile up with it though. The engine started leaking exhaust, and some engine sensors have gone haywire, setting off the check engine light. And a few other minor annoyances here and there lead me to decide that it’s time for a new ride.
My first thought was to get a 5-10 year old Civic, or other similar reliable Japanese sedan. But those cars hold their value well and I wasn’t impressed with what I was able to find in the <$5k range (the tentative budget I set for myself). After researching, taking some test drives, and keeping an eye on ebay auctions and craigslist listings, I started to consider other options.
I wound up finding a car on a small used lot that caught my eye. It was a model I’d been thinking might be good for my needs and after taking it for a spin and finding a few things wrong with it to strengthen my side of the negotiation, I made an offer. The seller was asking $6k for this car. I knew I could get the same make/model in similar condition for about $4k.
Now, I hate negotiating. Hate it. I find it awkward, and uncomfortable. But for some reason, this day, it all came fairly easy to me. Maybe it was because I was so well informed about exactly what this thing was worth. Or maybe it was from watching too many reality shows about pawn shops. But I opened the talks with an offer of $2,500. The salesman “checked with his boss” and came back at $3,200. WOW! Almost a 50% drop right from the get go. So I said, “How about $2,650?”
Again, checking with the boss, and he came back at $2,850 and thought he had me.
Not satisfied I offered to “split the difference” and ended up driving away with it for $2,750. So now I am the slightly nervous owner of a ten year old Jaguar X-Type with over 100k miles on it. Slightly nervous, because I know of the brand’s reputation for high repair bills. But I took that into consideration in my purchase. I would have to dole out about $3k to $4k in repairs before I even got to the purchase price of a Honda Civic of the same year and mileage. So, as with any used car, it’s a bit of a roll of the dice. We’ll see how things play out over the next couple of years.
It’s been a few months and I haven’t had any issue yet. The car is fine, it’s a decent ride. It’s all-wheel drive, which I wanted for the winters, and it’s a manual shift, which makes it a little more fun to drive. What’s been particularly interesting though has been people’s reactions to the car. Most people seem to think it’s a lot newer than it is. Jags have a kind of classic styling, so long as it’s in good condition, it’s hard to tell a 10 year old model from a 2 year old one. Friends want to ride in it. Co-workers have said they must be paying me too much. And I feel like the evil slum lord when I drive it over to collect the rent from my struggling tenants.
My attempt to get a decent car at a bargain price has ironically made people see me as some kind of… well, I don’t know what. But they think I’ve got money. It’s ironic how spending money (or in my case, being perceived as having spent money) makes people think you’re wealthy, while being frugal makes people think you’re poor. Yet logically, and in reality, the exact opposite is the case.
I hear people often argue that only spending a couple of thousand bucks on a car is a bad idea because the repair bills will end up being more than if you just bought a more reliable car. But that just hasn’t been my experience. I ended up selling the old car for $600. Leaving my cost for the vehicle at $900 (Purchase price minus selling price), plus $600 in repairs, leaving me at $1,500, or about $428/year for me to use that car over the past 3 1/2 years. It’s just so hard to beat the low cost of a fixed-up clunker that you can work on yourself. I don’t know how people justify spending over $30k or $40k on something when, with a little skill, you can get the same function for about 1/20th of the cost.
As an aside, those of you taking notes may have noticed that the purchase price of the car amounts to about 2 weeks of my income. How about that?