Looking to buy a cheap car? You’ll do well to take the long-term view … the best cheap cars aren’t just inexpensive to purchase, they’re inexpensive to operate.
When you get right down to it, the acquisition of a cheap car is the culmination of the first part of what will (hopefully) be a long-term relationship. Frugality doesn’t stop after you’ve signed on the dotted line …
To begin the process, you have to do a bit of soul searching and mathematics. Can you afford a cheap new car or will you be content with a cheap used car? (Sorry Liberal Arts majors, there is no substitute for doing the math.) It’s up to you to determine how much you can devote to your new purchase – whether you’re buying it outright or with a cheap car loan – while leaving enough spare change to cover those inevitable unexpected expenses. If you can afford to buy a new car, you’ll avoid the wild card of repair costs and gain a good bit of peace of mind. Of course, it all comes down to whether you qualify for that loan.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How much can I afford up front?
- If a loan is involved, how much can I afford for a monthly payment?
- How much can I spend on gas each month?
- How much do I have put aside for maintenance and repairs?
Consider maintenance costs. That cheap sports car that looked like a bargain can end up being a massive headache if parts are expensive and the only qualified mechanic is 200 miles away.
Do your research before you start shopping. Once you’ve researched reliability with Consumer Reports and done your due diligence researching cheap car prices at Kelly Blue Book or eBay, it’s time dig for cheap car deals.
Start your search locally. One of the best tactics is to simply keep your eyes and ears open. There’s a good chance that you can find a cheap car for sale not far from home. There’s nothing quite like finding a dusty gem parked in a neighborhood garage or tucked away in a barn. Local service stations and repair shops often have a handful of cheap used cars sitting around. They can be a great source of leads, as well. And with the economy in the state it’s in, impromptu clusters of used cars for sale are popping up in shopping center parking lots across the country.
Shop carefully and creatively. Failing the local find, you might comb Craigslist or check out the cheap car auctions … just keep your hands in your pockets and don’t make any odd gestures. You’ll want to be extra careful at the cheap car auctions to check out your find as thoroughly as possible before it hits the auction block. Don’t get caught up in the moment only to find that you’ve forked over your hard earned cash on a hopeless rust bucket that looked great from fifty feet away.
Have it checked out before you cut the check. It’s always best to have your mechanic (or a mechanically-minded friend or family member) go over the car before you’ve make the purchase, rather than after. Ask the current owner if you can get the car up on a lift … if they say no, you should, as well.
Don’t expect perfection. Used cars are never perfect and the cheaper the find, the further away it’s likely to be from perfection. Focus on what it take to get to work and back: four good tires, a battery that holds its charge, a smooth-running engine, and a set of operable brakes.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. If there’s a hole in the dash where the radio once was found, you can have a cheap audio system installed in a few hours when your budget permits. If there’s rip in the upholstery, pick up an inexpensive seat cover.
After all, half the fun of buying a cheap car is tacking on those tacky accessories …