4/9/08

Key to buying a used car: CarFax!

I hate car shopping . . . I mean H-A-T-E it. I'm kinda like George on Seinfeld, when he and Jerry go car shopping. I just assume that any car salesman is out to rip me off. I go in with this huge chip on my shoulder, and my eyes narrowed. I just know they're lying to me!

Last year, our 2002 Saturn L200 started having problems, so we debated about whether or not to buy a new/used car. Our Saturn was a great car. We bought it when it was two years old. It had 48K, and all the bells and whistles, but the price was right. It was in fabulous condition, and we felt like we had found a great deal. Plus, we enjoyed the buying experience with Saturn. It was much more pleasant than I thought it would be—less pressure. The car was great, and we enjoyed many a pleasant road trip in it. The heated leather seats and sunroof were wonderful! And the 6-disc CD changer added a nice ambiance. But, the honeymoon with our L200 only lasted a couple of years.

Somewhere along the way, it started developing front end problems and eventually both the air compressor and condenser went out (a.k.a. our air conditioner was broken . . . really broken). So, in the summer heat with our black leather interior, going to work became more like enduring 15-20 minutes of hell every day. Fixing the air conditioner would have cost us $1100–1400, and the front end work would have cost around $300. After weighing our options, we decided to sell it and try something different. The repairs just weren't going to be worth it.

So, we listed it on good ol' Craigslist for a very reasonable price—much less than the car was worth, and we even factored in the cost of repairs. Nothing. No bites. Nothing. I had even included LOADS of pictures of every angle this car possessed, and included all the details about the car and its history. Nothing, still.

It got to the point that we decided to maybe save up for the repairs and stick with the car. But, I wanted to try Craigslist one more time, just to see if we could find a buyer. I dropped the price by $200 thinking, That's not a lot, but we'll see if it makes it more attractive. Within two days, the car sold.

Then panic set in. Holy cow! We need to buy a car! And fast! We both worked full-time, and couldn't do without two cars, because we kept such different hours. But, this time, we decided not to go through a dealership, and decided to search for private sellers and do a bit more homework on the cars we were looking at. The problem was that, again, we both work and had to do most of our shopping online in the evenings. That makes things difficult. We were calling people, leaving messages, and trying to find something that would save us on gas and that wouldn't need any work. Back to Craigslist, the local paper, and online classifieds we went.

We found a car within 2 days! But, the key that made all the difference in the world was CarFax.com. This is the site that will run reports on vehicles and give you their entire history, so that you go into your car shopping experience with all the cards. It pretty much makes it impossible for someone to lie to you about the car's history. While we were looking for this car, we discovered something about CarFax.com that may help you the next time you're shopping for a used vehicle. To run a single report costs $24.99. However, you can purchase unlimited reporting for 30 days to the tune of $5 more . . . $29.99. Since we were looking to purchase a car quickly, and needed to know what we were getting into if we looked at a car, we opted for the $29.99 option. We knew we would need to run a lot of reports, and would definitely fall under the 30-day mark. It worked wonderfully! Any car we were interested in, we just plugged into the CarFax system and instantly had it's entire history. This tool saved us from looking at several cars that had previously been salvaged, had flood damage, or had been in a lot of accidents. If we hadn't run the reports, we would never have known about these issues!

On another note, as we were doing research to find a new car, we discovered something. The '02 Saturn L200 is known to start having problems with the front end and air conditioner at a certain mileage level. Needless to say, we were wishing we had done our homework before buying that car. We found this out using Edmonds.com, which also helped us figure out what kind of car we wanted to buy based on overall customer satisfaction, average cost of repairs, and typical problems with the model in question.

The car we ended up purchasing had a perfect history, so we knew the previous owner wasn't lying when he said he'd taken care of it. We were able to buy with peace of mind, and I didn't have to walk into a dealership with a chip on my shoulder. Have we had any problems with our new/used car? Nope! It's been great, and we've almost had it a year. Using CarFax saved us a lot of time and potentially money in the long run. I would highly recommend using their system the next time you're shopping for a vehicle.

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