Sunday, September 27, 2009

Check Maintenance Records [Car Buying Tip]

If you're shopping for a used car, look for one that has had extensive and regular maintenance.

Years ago, I sold a slightly modified Audi 200 Quattro for $4,500. During the preceding 18 months, I had fixed nearly every major problem with the vehicle. During my ownership, I religously changing the oil every 3,000 miles (or less). I put in a new timing belt, water pump, power steering pump, suspension, wheels, european headlights, and performance chip (+ waste gate spring). Another (older, wiser) enthusiast bought it, getting over $4,000 in recent (documented) maintenance.

Yeah, I got more than the average price but not by much. Certainly not enough to make up for $4,000 in work I put in. The buyer basically paid $500 for the car.

Why did I sell that Audi? Part of it was boredom. The other was a misguided belief that the car had become an endless money pit. The truth was that during my ownership tenure, I fixed nearly every major maintenance item on the car. I also learned all the major systemic failures and how to repair/replace them.

That Audi is long gone. The take home lesson for you, dear reader, is that if you're out there shopping, look for a car that has had extensive and regular maintenance. You can find real gems.

Here's a Volvo 240 Wagon, for example. Not only are 240 wagons becoming harder to find, ones with documented maintenance records for under $1,000 are super rare. In case the CL listing disappears, here's the description:
1991 Volvo 240 Station Wagon
Navy Blue
Automatic Transmission
230,000 Miles
Good Working Condition........Interior is in decent shape as well
Many new parts and recent work have been put into this car....
New Alternator
New Battery
New Spark Plugs and distributor cap
New Belts and Timing Belt
New Pulleys
New Mass Air Flow Sensor
Brand New Winter Tires and Brand New Three Season Tires

This car has treated me very well and i have invested a lot of work into it... these volvos really last forever..... I am only selling it because I was recently given a Toyota with very few miles...
I just cant afford two cars.... Asking $950 because the tires and recent work are worth at least that....

Please call if interested..........
Yeah, like the boys at Jalopnik, I seem to have a curious obsession with Volvo 240s.

Here's a closing thought. A car with about 80,000 miles on it is usually due for a huge variety of services, in particular the timing belt and water pump. On a european car, that can be a $1,000 service call or more. A car with 100,000 to 120,000 miles on it has likely already had that service. If the car was otherwise been well maintained, you're probably better off with the higher mileage option. You'll pay substantially less for it and you can spend the money on suspension or other tuning upgrades, rather on upcoming scheduled maintenance.

image: Dave_7

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