Piston Slap: The Importance of A Craigslist 3-Ring Binder

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the importance of a craigslist 3 ring binder

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 Edmunds.com, KBB.com, 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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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.

Join the conversation
3 of 29 comments
  • CapVandal CapVandal on Feb 02, 2015

    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.

  • Sketch447 Sketch447 on Feb 02, 2015

    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....

    • Dtremit Dtremit on Feb 02, 2015

      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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