By on February 2, 2015

Three ring binder. Shutterstock user Africa Studio

TTAC commentator dtremit writes:

Hey Sajeev —

Inspired by your recent Mazda3 Piston Slap, I thought I’d throw this question your way. Seems like something the B&B might have advice on.

I have a 2005 Mazda6 that is a rather desirable used car…on paper. It is in excellent condition mechanically, and has fairly low miles for its age (about 78k). Single owner, and I have maintained it well, though I am not sure the mess of receipts in the glovebox counts as excellent documentation. I have a good set of Nokian snow tires for it on steel wheels, which would go along with it. It would make a good car for someone for quite some time to come.

My problem is that it’s cosmetically a lot worse off; ten years in Boston is hard on a car. It has a ~3″ perforation in the front bumper, and both front and rear bumpers are quite well scratched. (Otherwise, the paint is in reasonably good shape, and there aren’t any major flaws that wouldn’t buff out.) There’s also a bit of rust starting in one rear wheel well, though it appears limited and cosmetic.

Inside, like nearly every 6 of its era, the foam on the driver’s seat bolster has failed, though the leather is intact. The leather on the wheel is pretty scraped up, and there’s a tear in the carpet in the driver’s footwell.

I had intended to keep this car for a few more years, until it was more or less worthless anyway. However, my plans may include a new car sooner as a recent injury leaves me struggling to get in and out of the Mazda. So I’m wondering — what is my best strategy for getting value out of this car?

Do I try to repair some of the cosmetic stuff, and hope it increases the sale price? If so, what does it make sense to spend on, and where should I scrimp? Or do I try to cut my losses and negotiate the best trade I can in the current condition?

I will probably be buying a Ford using A-plan, so the price of the new car won’t be up for negotiation. I’ve considered just being blunt about its shortcomings, contacting a bunch of local Ford dealers, and letting them know I’ll be buying an A-plan car from whichever one offers me the best trade. I don’t have a sense of whether they’ll play that game, though.

Anyhow, thought this might be an interesting question, since a lot of readers probably find themselves in this basic situation at some point.

Sajeev answers:

First, grab a 3-ring binder, I betcha there’s one about to get tossed at your/your loved ones/your friends office right now! Use a hole punch on the receipts, pop them in and print out an image of your car (from Google Image search) and slide it into the front’s clear sleeve.

BLAM SON, a fantastic repair/service history that makes you look like you really, truly loved this car!

Rust and body damage is par for the course in your part of the country.  I also assume your suspension is beat to hell on Boston roads. Whatever, that’s life: restoring a 10-year-old sedan won’t generate the value to justify the cost.  So find the most willing buyer for your dollar. My first stop? Carmax.

Carmax sets the floor for your asking price, your Mazda would probably be sold at their auction for a bit more than they have in it. Which implies that you’ll find a willing buyer on Craigslist for more money, maybe what it would go for at the auction. Essentially you offer a decent auction car with none of the hassle and cost. See how you’re adding value by essentially doing nothing? 

Back to the 3-ring binder: that’s your secret Craigslist weapon.  Keeping in mind the Carmax offer, put the Mazda6 on Craigslist in as-is condition (aside from a proper cleaning if you’re messy) with good quality photos and offer it at the private party asking price of,, etc appraisal tool. Write an honest assessment of the car’s positives and negatives in bullet point format, it will build trust and speed up a buyer’s first visit.

And mention that cool 3-ring binder you have for the car, too!

Your final transaction price will likely be between private party and the Carmax offer. It must be higher than the trade-in credit you get from the Ford dealer.

Credit perks aside, the Ford dealer(s) will likely beat Carmax’s offer if you ask.  Maybe because they wanna pretty it up if its good fodder for their used car lot. But one of them will deal: especially if they’re hungry to move another unit that month.  Or that quarter.  Or this year.

[Image: Shutterstock user Africa Studio]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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29 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Importance of A Craigslist 3-Ring Binder...”

  • avatar

    Mazda and salt states are not congruent. Not much else to talk about except filling internet bytes.

  • avatar

    Sounds like ya maintained it well except for the exterior. A 3″ perforation? Well-scraped bumpers?

    Is this you driving poorly, or other people hitting you while parked, etc? An 05 Mazda 6 with holes in it, 78k, rust starting, a failed bolster, torn carpet, shot suspension.

    I mean, $2800.

  • avatar

    “I will probably be buying a Ford using A-plan, so the price of the new car won’t be up for negotiation.”

    Why can’t you negotiate with A-plan?

    • 0 avatar

      For the A- and Z-plans, the pricing is set by Ford directly, I believe. Both prices are the same – A-plan is for current employees, Z-plan is for retirees. Both prices are listed on the dealer’s invoice. If you ask to look at it, the number will be right there, and that’s what you pay, minus any additional incentive cash that Ford is offering.

      I looked at two Focus ST’s at two different dealers a few months ago. One let me look over the invoice, and even let me keep a copy. Ford was also offering $1,500 cash, or $2,000 with Ford financing. The second dealership only flashed the document in front of me, and wrote a number down that was lower than the Z-plan I was looking at. Of course, I knew he wasn’t telling me about the cash incentives, and that the dealers was trying to keep most of it.

      So the variables are how honest the dealers is regarding the cash incentives, and the negotiation of the trade-in value.

  • avatar

    Your must-beat-it price for selling it yourself is the dealer trade in offer plus whatever the sales tax rate is in Boston. You don’t pay sales tax on the portion of your new car’s price that came from your trade.

  • avatar

    I would just trade it in, the tax benefits are going to be as good if not better than whatever price benefit you get selling it yourself, and with much less hassle. The dealers have staff on-hand to fix that “typical” damage, it costs them a fraction of what it would cost you to get that stuff fixed. Selling it damaged is just asking for the bottom feeders to come out and lowball you. I have said it before and I will say it again: with used cars over $2k or so, cosmetics are as important as mechanicals, maybe even more so. Most people buying a car want it to look nice, the OCD guys like me will pour over receipts and maintenance history, but the great majority of buyers out there wouldn’t even know what to look for. They simply want it to look nice.

    This is also why I keep my own cars cosmetically as nice as possible. Its much harder to fix/repair cosmetic issues than mechanical issues. Much like people, once you let the car’s appearance go downhill its that much harder to bring it back. I hear from people all the time saying “its just a car, they get scratched/dinged/dented”, then when they try to sell it or trade it they take a big hit. I have sold a ton of cars privately, and I always get top dollar because I always make sure the cars look nice, and the few times I have traded in I had the same good fortune.

  • avatar

    Unless you can do the work yourself or know someone that can do the job on the side, you’re probably better off just cleaning up what you can and selling it “as is”. A real “shop rate” to do that work is going to add up quick.

    I’m not a big believer in trading in, and I personally think people GREATLY overestimate the tax value of trading a car in vs selling it themselves. Trading it in would probably mean you’d save $300 on this deal? And if the dealership is going to have to wholesale the car out at auction vs selling it on their own lot, expect a real lowball offer.

    Selling a car is a pain, but when I really add up my time, I basically make $1,000 an hour vs giving it to a dealership.

    The nice thing about CraigsList is you can basically see “for free” if the car is hard to move or not. If you’re getting zero response even with a fair price, you can make a good case for trading it in.

    • 0 avatar

      Sales tax is moot in this case, as I’m probably going to lease the immediate replacement; for a number of reasons, what works for me today isn’t likely to be what I want in three years.

      I did get a quote from an upholstery shop to fix the seat bolster for $150; I may end up doing that and finding a way to cheaply patch the carpet. Aside from those two very specific flaws, the interior is in good shape.

  • avatar

    It’s rusty. It’s 10 years old. Get out!

    For a car more than 8-10 years old, I’d be inclined to just take the Carmax offer and not even bother with the hassle of Craigslist, letting people over to your house, haggling, dealing with buyer’s remorse, etc.

    You’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it, now it’s time to find the exit.

    • 0 avatar

      At this price point, I doubt that after fix up costs, loss of trade in tax benefits, keeping two cars for a few weeks, or being carless for a while, will add up to $1000/hour noted by Jacob C (above).
      I too have sold cars privately, but at this price point for a well used car, in the midst of a Boston winter, I’d put it on Craig’s list “as is” and note “bring cash”. After 48 hours, I’d trade it in. Good luck.

  • avatar

    I love me the Mazda 6 from this era, especially the wagon and the 5-door. However if it has the V6 or the automatic, I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

    • 0 avatar

      The V6/ATX issues were largely confined to the JATCO 5 speed used in ’03 and ’04. The ’05-up ATX is a 6 speed Aisin Warner unit that hasn’t caused many problems.

  • avatar

    Have you seen the price of junketrs lately?! If it can pass MA inspection and only has 78k on it, you shouldn’t have a problem selling it for well over the trade in. This is especially true if you do those few interior repairs, a little bondo over the rust (assuming it isn’t structrual), and a cheap spit n’ polish.

    I’d check CL and find out what other people with cars similar to yours are asking and price it accordingly. Besides, it sounds like rust and dings are par for the course, but not low mileage one-owner vehicles with “extensive” service histories.

  • avatar

    Spend $300 …. fix the interior, get it detailed, and have the detail guys do something about the little rust spot.

    Looks trump service records on craigslist cars.

    $300 and a few hours? A good bet. You will get $300 back and maybe more. If it isn’t worth 8 hours and $300 to you … just trade it.

    People will be getting tax refunds soon, and this should be in the sweet spot for someone. Sounds like good transportation.

  • avatar

    10 years of Boston winters? Parked on-street for some of its life? Assuming this is truly a “Boston” car, meaning parked IN the city of Boston, and on Boston’s narrow, pot-holed and cratered streets, we can conclude this: The car is a wreck.

    I’ve seen what the mean streets of Boston can do to cars. In the winter, Boston uses massive amounts of sand and salt, creating a perfect diabolical spray that rots even the most galvanized of metals.
    And don’t forget the moist air coming off the harbor…

    The end result? A car in Boston during the winter never dries off. It’s basically wet and salty from November thru February. And if this car was parked on-street, I guarantee you it was literally buried in snow from the plows more than once.

    That’s the thing about Boston: lotsa snow and nowhere to put it….

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in Camberville, but that’s close enough in car terms.

      This car has led an odd life — its first few winters spent parked on the street, and the rest in a heated garage.

      That resonates this week, though. We’ve gotten somewhere around 40 inches in the last ten days…

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