QOTD: What's Your Sketchiest Used Car Buying Experience?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

For most people, not having a brand new car sort of budget can mean scrounging around on AutoTrader, Cars.com, eBay, or even the ever-professional Craigslist for used vehicles. The resulting experiences end up shaping the future of our car ownership, our finances, and perhaps our legal situations in some cases.

Today we want you to know about your sketchiest used car buying experience.

I’ve always bought used cars; it’s a fun little (expensive) game to play. Use your skills and knowledge, and you might not get burned. Let someone else take that depreciation hit! Totaling up the cars I’ve owned thus far, my count is 11. All were used and at least five years old at the time of purchase, and only two came from dealers. My sketchiest car purchase story comes from one of those dealer vehicles, and it’s the silver Giugiaro-designed blob you’ve been jealously eyeing.

The year was 2009. After parting ways with my Infiniti I30 and sampling the excellent public transport in Busan, South Korea, I obtained my Korean license (story for a different day) and decided I wanted a car. Given everything from the newspaper classified ads to the websites were fully in Korean, I muddled through with my rudimentary understanding and leaned on my Korean coworkers for assistance where necessary. The process itself was different than the U.S.: Koreans don’t keep old cars around like Americans do, and the idea of calling someone who listed their car in the classifieds was uncomfortable for my coworkers. Those ads weren’t leading anywhere — every Daewoo Prince I called about was already gone.

My boss decided to lend a hand, and said she knew of a dealership which had some older cars. Making a telephone call, she wrote down a few for me to consider, and a Daewoo Lanos sounded appealing. Off we went before work the next day in her Samsung SM7. The dealership was all the way across town and we were limited on time.

Arriving at the dealer, the ’97 Lanos was packed in a grouping of cars and needed extraction for a test drive. A short five minute drive around the block later, and it seemed everything was in order mechanically. The car was not especially clean inside or out, and the translated-to-me negotiations were iffy. Starting price was either 1.3 million or 1.5 million Korean won — about $1,300 to $1,500 at the time.

“How about a million?”

“He says no. He will take 1.3.”

“How about 1.1, but I want them to clean it first. This is filthy.”

“They are not going to clean it. They will take 1.1 though.”

Sold, $1,100. Paperwork was hastily filled in with information I couldn’t read. In fact, I think the car might’ve been in my boss’s name to save some complications with the paperwork. Not once did I have actual possession of the title on that car. That means I was on her insurance as well, I suppose. To the best of my recollection, I paid the insurance at the dealer.

Transaction completed, we hurried back to the school building in the mid-afternoon, nearly running over a pedestrian in the process. I’d go back a day or two later when the paperwork was ready to pick up the car on my own. Daewoo Lanos adventures commenced!

A few months later in late August or early September of ’09, it was time for me to head back to my native land. A cheap car in the hands of a willing and English-speaking person was rare, and meant I had a fairly quick sale to another teacher from a couple of hours away who commuted to a rural school.

The exact sale price escapes me, but I do remember I just about broke even when all was said and done. My boss came with me to do the title transfer to the new teacher, and I’m sure she was relieved not to have a foreigner on her insurance anymore. Overall, the entire buying experience was sketchy and uncomfortable. But I did enjoy being the only foreigner in the general vicinity who had a car, and all the freedom and road trips it brought me.

I was able to dig up these lovely pictures ( taken right here) from when I listed the Lanos for sale. The non-matching paint and eagle hood badge I completely forgot about, but I remembered the single powered mirror on the passenger side, power windows up front, and manual ones in the rear. The rad door panel fabric is a nice touch as well.

Time for your sketchy stories!

[Images © Corey Lewis]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Apr 26, 2018

    gtem, YEP!

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Apr 26, 2018

    One of my all time favs was something you would see on the local evening TV news. I was silly enough to watch it in those days. They would show a NASCAR pit stop. Tires and wheels changed, gas topped up, and windshield cleaned in less than 15 seconds. Then the scene would cut back to the studio with the talking heads. "Wow, wish I could get service like that from my local garage!" Followed by laughter and head shaking. Never was it mentioned how much the crew got paid and that it was their only job to take care of that car.

  • Rando [h2]Coincidentally, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is more than $41k as well -.-[/h2]
  • Ajla "Gee, wonder why car (as well as home) insurance rates are much higher in places like Florida..." Severe weather is on the list but even if a benevolent genie reverted the climate to circa 1724 I think FL would still have high cost. Our home insurance rates have increased 102% since 2021 and I don't think weather models account for that much of a change in that period. Florida's insurance assignment of benefit regulation meant that it had ~80% of the country's of the insurance lawsuits on ~12% of the nation's claims and litigated claims can be expensive to insurance companies. The state altered some regulations and is having some success on getting more companies back, even with the severe weather risks, through relatively bipartisan efforts. With car insurance just beyond the basic "Florida" stuff, the population increase of the past few years is overwhelming the roads. But, I think the biggest thing is we have very low mandated car insurance levels. Only $10K personal injury and $10K property damage. No injury liability needed. And 20% of the state has no insurance. So people that actually want insurance pay out the nose. Like I commented above my under/uninsured coverage alone is 2.5x my comprehensive & collision.
  • Juan Let's do an 1000 mile drive and see who gets there first.
  • Eliyahu CVT needed for MPG. Outback is indeed the legacy of, err, the Legacy.
  • Gayneu I can comment on these. My wife always thought the Minis were "cute" so I bought her a used 2005 (non-S, 5 speed) for one of her "special" birthdays. She loved it and I kinda did too. Somehow a hole developed in the transmission case and the fluid drained out, ruining the car (too expensive to fix). A local mechanic bought it for $800.We then bought a used 2015 S (6 speed) which we still have today (80k miles). Her sister just bought a used S as well (also manual). It has been a dependable car but BMW-priced maintenance and premium gas hurts for sure. I think the earlier generation (like in the article) were better looking with cleaner lines. The 2015 S rides too stiff for me (Chicago roads) but is a hoot on smooth ones. It does seem to shift weird - its hard to describe but it shifts differently from every other manual I have driven. No matter how hard I try, so won't let go of her Mini.