Buying a car in 2021

Continuing the discussion from May 7, 2021 - #4 by tim - Logs - talkgroup.

@susanmagnolia and I need a vehicle. We do not plan to use it very much aside from bouts of intense use:

  • road trips to visit family (Bay Area to SoCal)
  • scouting new places to live (driving anywhere in California)

We need to accommodate three people. Least environmental impact is most important, however frivolous the effort may seem.

Our child is just about 10, and has never known our family to own a car; Susan and I get on fine as pedestrians, but we realize we don’t want to remain in a large city, and transportation is a huge component of finding a home. We’re trying to do this the best way can, as anti-capitalist nature-preservers.

It’s gonna be difficult. :grimacing:

So… we see all kinds of cars on Craigslist that seem acceptable. Our budget is $4,000. We like Toyota Prius for the way they drive and the window clearance; being able to see out the windows is a large point for us, for some reason a lot of newer models have obstructed views we dislike.

Afterward we’ll also need financial coverage, so advice there is also helpful (and we are very low-income, so any deals we can get for that is also great ^_^).

Yep, I think that’s it for now. So… is it safe to buy a car on Craigslist? I imagine I would buy a car that had a local dealership that could inspect it for me before buying it, is that a thing? Like, Toyota or Subaru, pay for a check-up to ensure there are no obvious problems?

Oh yeah, and if I know anyone who wants to give our family a car for free or extremely cheap, I’m open! :slight_smile:

If you know of mechanic you trust, then yes, I think so. I would do something like arrange to meet car seller at the mechanic shop to let them look it over (for like $50 or something) and give you an idea of if it’s in decent condition.

I would use to “vet” the prices the cars are offered for. You can put a cars details in and it will tell you, pretty accurately, the fair price. Like, if the make, model and mileage in KBB say car is worth $7k to private seller, and they are selling it for $4k, something is up.

I always use it when selling or trading in a car, and it’s always near dead on.

Are you talking car insurance?

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Yes. That is what it says in legislation, so I like to refer to it that way. :slight_smile:

I do not know a mechanic. Is a dealership trusted?

Also, how does the sale go? Do we pay with a check? Our credit union’s branch is often closed, and we are currently pedestrians, so getting a cashier’s check is a not great process for us. How do we involve the DMV?

Please run us through how it has gone for you (and of course things have changed, but still, I’m working from nothing here). :slight_smile:

I’ve heard it called liability coverage, but never financial coverage. (my 2 cents). You will want to talk to a car insurance place and get your account set up there at least, before you get the car. You get something like 10 days to get some insurance for your car. Insurance prices vary, for decent coverage it is something like $100 a month.

In general, a dealership mechanic shop is going to be super, super overpriced. It’s worth it if you bought new car from them, and they “owe” you some maintenance for the first x years, but other than that, it seems pretty pricey. I do not know if they do the “check a used car out” thing.

Are you needing a loan for part of it? If so you’ll need to talk to your credit union to see what you could get “pre approved” for. Then when you are talking to private seller, when you determine their car is good… then you’d all go to your credit union to sign some things.

If you are paying cash… maybe? Most sellers would want paper money cash though, or a cashiers check.

All cars are “registered” at the DMV. When you buy a used car, the seller submits a thing to DMV saying “I no longer own this car”. And you (at the DMV) register the car in your name. That is when you get to pay the registration and car tag fees. (generally a couple hundred bucks). Then the DMV will give you new yearly sticker for the license plates.

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Wow, really? That’s like rent for owning a car! I don’t get why everyone is okay with this…

Thanks for all the answers, Tim.

Is it common for private sellers to do receipts? There are so few things we pay with cash these days, I don’t know what folks expect.


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I hate it.

There are some forms on the DMV… I think they’re called Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability - California DMV

I couldn’t find the PDF form of that, but I had seller fill it out, we did one for each of us. It’s what you need for the DMV, but also kind of a receipt.

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@tim, which used car would you buy today? What’s the oldest, and why?

i have one friend who used “carvana” and loved the experience.

  • they deliver the used car to your door
  • they do the dmv paperwork and legwork for you, so you don’t go to the dmv at all. you sign papers when they drop off the car and the person takes the papers away.
  • they have the dmv mail you your new license plates
  • this friend discovered an issue with the car, and carvana initially denied paying for repair, but after several phone calls finally paid for it.

our guess is they are venture-backed and trying really hard to gain market share, which is the only reason they have great customer service. but they do. i don’t know if you’d use a service like this, but my one data point had a great time and would recommend them.

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That’s the premise of a curated service right there: we track venture-backed start-ups and fund rounds to predict how great customer service will be for any given company! :slight_smile:

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I realize this is late, but I would buy a honda hatchback (Fit or other more entry honda model). No more than 10 years old, and ideally with less than 70k miles on it.

Honda’s just run forever. Toyota is also really good, but I feel like they have like 6% problems, while honda has like 2% overall. (Ford is like 55%). I made up all these percentages but I can assure you they are accurate. :smiley:

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I’ll have @susanmagnolia log how the transaction went, for historical reasons. :slight_smile:

Once I saw the listing on Craigslist everything went fairly quickly. I took BART to El Cerrito and the fellow with the Prius met me in the BART parking lot. The car has 135,000 miles on it which seemed good for an older model. He had a Car Fax print out that showed the previous owners and that it had not been in an accident. He had just installed the catalytic converter shield which was good news. Inside was pretty clean, just some stains in back seat fabric. I was interested in buying it and he was willing to drive to Berkeley to my bank. We drove back and forth and talked. He said he would change the windshield wipers and eventually the big battery (it has a new second battery). Since it was a Friday afternoon I got it registered at the DMV Monday and insured online with Geico. The process was smooth and the seller was friendly. I was ready to say no if I had a bad vibe or felt uncomfortable but it all went great.