Small Cars Rule! How to Buy One

35 MPG on the highway, that’s the estimated fuel usage for a 1996 Toyota Corolla. I bought one of these for 1550$ on Craigslist about two years ago and it has been nothing but good to me since then.  At that price with 124,000 miles, it was a great Craigslist score, not quite as good as the free hot tub, though.  Sure it had a busted grill, dented hood, broken door handles, and the upholstery had a “vintage” look with a unique mix of sun damage, stains, and dog fur stuck to it. But the engine was perfect and there was a well-kept stack of maintenance receipts from a local mechanic. So far the only maintenance I’ve done is change the front brake pads, which really did only take about 10 minutes and cost a mere 20$.

How to change Corolla brake pads in 10 minutes, narrated by an adorable little Japanese man.


I had been in the market for a small fuel efficient car and had done my research, and although the hatchback model would have been my preference (much harder to find than the sedan) I knew that for the miles this car was a deal. Such a deal that I was waiting at the owners house with a hand full of cash (student loan money) then they got home from work. Good thing too because their phone was blowing up with As Is cash offers. After a test drive I made an offer of 1550$, asking was 1850$, and they took it. No real reason for the low offer, I just have an aversion to paying full price.

Buying an older cheap car is easy, just do your research, have a list of cars you are interested in and spend some time looking at listings over a few weeks so you get a feel for what people are asking, and what they are selling at. Then get your cash in hand because if it’s a truly good deal the listing could be gone in a day, and if you see it after the banks close you are SOL. ATMs have a limit that is too low for all but the cheapest jalopy (not that you shouldn’t consider those).  Then you wait, and patience is your friend here, for new listings. Those that have been up for a while are likely not the best deals. If you are serious about it check Craigslist every few hours, and even more on the weekends.

When you show up have an idea what kinds of question you are going to ask. Make references to other cars you have looked at, don’t let them know if you think it’s a good deal. Test drive and check that basic functions are intact, and make an offer if you like it. Bargaining, which is to say negotiating price, is a cultural thing in most parts of the world. Here is the USA I’m constantly surprised with how often I run into people who are made uncomfortable by the process, and these people tend to pay more as a result. I enjoy bargaining and think it’s a valuable skill. 

An old friend and mentor once told me that the most you should ever pay for a car is 500$ (which he had done a few times) and that when it breaks down, and you can’t fix it yourself just buy another. If your able to get even a few years out of a car for that price you are doing well, you will save thousands of dollars to put toward your financial independence. A 500$ car that last two years is only costing you 250$ a year, less than most people’s monthly car payment. In the case of the Corolla I bought for 1550$ I’m banking on at least three years, but if it makes it to six years, which it very well may, then the averaged cost of the purchase will be just 250$ per year. Not to mention the notable savings of having a car that gets 35 MPG!

In my mind, a car is a tool for going places and moving things when it is too difficult to do so with a bike. Car culture convinces people that they need new shiny high-powered vehicles for a whole slew of largely unjustified reasons, but probably the main one is that the car is seen as part of one’s personal image. This in my mind is utter hogwash, I don’t care what anyone’s car looks like, least of all my own….  as long as they aren’t trying to run me over while I’m on my bike that is!

See the next post on this topic Small Car Adventuremobile 



2 thoughts on “Small Cars Rule! How to Buy One

  1. Pingback: How to save 375$ a month – BUILDING LIFESTYLE

  2. Pingback: Small Car Adventuremobile – BUILDING LIFESTYLE

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