QOTD: How Low Is Too Low?
At some point in our lives, usually a very early point, the number of coins we have to rub together couldn’t buy a half-decent meal, even on Whopper Wednesday. Strapped for cash, working a retail-type job, returning empties for cans of cheap swill, college or university sucking every last cent from your wallet — does this describe a certain period in your life?
It probably does. And it’s usually a pretty exciting period, too. Around this time, the urge for vehicular freedom grows so great, we’re pulled like a compass needle towards third-hand used car lots, those bastions of sagging suspensions and blossoming rust, in search of bargain basement wheels. Top of mind: finding something that doesn’t scream “dud!” to everyone within eyeshot. Runner up: finding something that won’t become a 3,000-pound paperweight in a month’s time.
Whether it came from a used car lot or a relative eager for an easy cash sale, this first (or second, or third) vehicle came equipped with a low, low price and, more often than not, a laundry list of unfulfilled maintenance work. Still, you paid a price that ensured your ride wasn’t a total beater, right?
No such thing, you’re thinking. Some cars play the aging rock star, tempting us from afar before falling apart the second our name hits the ownership. Others end up as a faithful servant, carting around friends and school supplies and apprenticeship tools like a reliable sherpa, earning our enduring respect. And it’s possible each of these cars carried the same window sticker, possibly with the word “WOW!” printed underneath.
Personal experience tells me there’s a price floor for anything half decent: a grand. Yes, anything less than $1,000 (cash, as is, no safety) is just not worth looking at. As tempting as it may be, falling for a vehicle below that price usually means you’ve just inherited someone’s deferred repair. An urgent repair.
For a vehicle you can reasonably expect to drive for a year with only basic maintenance and, say, one minor repair, $1,000 seems like the bare minimum. I’ve bought a reliable, aged car for just that sum (too bad about the Impala that totalled it), and I’ve sold an even more reliable car, with plenty of recent work, for that same price. Sure, Grand Am 2.0 (as I called it) could have netted me $1,500 in the middle of summer, but I was looking for a quick sale in the dead of winter.
“$1,000 firm” gets clicks. It’s a car that’s priced to sell, but that hint of self-assuredness on the part of the seller gets would-be buyers thinking they’re onto something. It can’t be that much of a shitbox if he’s not willing to go any lower, the buyer muses. Yes, you’re going to see a cautious buyer show up at your door, but if the car’s not half as bad as he feared, it’s a safe bet you’ll have an empty parking spot later that day.
Of course, that’s my experience; yours could be very different. What’s the cheapest “decent” used car you’ve ever opened your wallet for? Do you agree that $1,000 is the bare minimum for such a purchase, or is that too low? Too high? Sound off in the comments.
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