Piston Slap: Pre-Sale Reconditioning, To What Extent?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Christopher writes:

Sajeev,

I have a ’96 BMW Z3 (1.9, manual) that I bought several years ago from a friend who was moving away. This is my “weekend car,” but I haven’t been driving it much lately since my two young kids require a back seat. This means our Highlander now sees more weekend action than the Bimmer. I love the car, but am thinking of selling it and getting something fun that can hold more passengers (E30?).

My problem is that the car now has 191k miles on it and needs some work done to “make it right” before selling it. Mechanically, it needs new rear struts, sway bar bushings, ABS sensors (only about $3 each on eBay), an AC recharge, new tires (old ones have lots of tread but are getting really old) and a noisy tensioner pulley that needs replacement. Oh, and the aftermarket radio/CD player is awful.

Cosmetically, it looks good but the leather upholstery on the seats bottoms is shot (have covers on now) and a broken fog light from hitting a branch in the road.

It still runs and drives great and I feel there’s a lot of life left in it for someone looking for a cheap and fun ride. And aside from reupholstering the seats, I can do all the work myself, saving on the shop labor. But it will be a giant, time-consuming pain in the ass and those parts aren’t going to be cheap. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but free time has been in short supply lately.

Now that these cars are now fully depreciated and not worth much (especially with close to 200k miles), I’m wondering if it’s worth putting the time and money into it OR if I should just sell it dirt cheap and with full disclosure of the issues to someone looking for a weekend project car?

What would you do? I appreciate that feedback!

Sajeev answers:

Reconditioning a car for sale always means maximizing the sale price via addressing lowest hanging fruit in your spare time.

But also consider learning something new in the process, beyond the usual oil change, tune up, brake job, etc. Every car I’ve sold was a learning experience in improving the user experience: there was the almost-new Cadillac that taught me under hood detailing, the acid-etched Mustang needing re-dyed floor mats, the cracked dash (installing a dash cap) on a Town Car, etc. Which also, and always, provides a story when reminiscing with others. Can’t put a price on that!

Considering market value, I recommend these in your meager spare time, adding value to your soul and the Z3.

  • Change ABS sensors, if they are that cheap and if it’ll turn off a dashboard warning light.
  • A/C recharge, assuming there isn’t a leak, as the gauge/filling tool is reusable and will come in handy again.
  • Change the pulley (not the assembly) is cheap-ish, eliminating a value-killing noise.
  • New, high quality radios (i.e. Kenwood Excelon, not the Kenwoods at Walmart) are a great addition for the next owner because of their smartphone integration and superior signal processing. They’re cheap as a factory refurbished unit on eBay/Amazon/Crutchfield.
  • Poor description of “shot” leather aside, it’s amazing what a few cups of Leatherique (or similar) does if they aren’t ripped up. And local folks that re-connolise leather aren’t gonna break the bank.
  • Clean interior, shampoo carpets/floor mats, detail the engine, trunk and polish the bodywork. It’s amazing how far that goes for a private seller: shows you really care!

And don’t forget to save the receipts for the next owner!

What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Shutterstock user Standret]

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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Nlinesk8s Nlinesk8s on Oct 21, 2018

    I'd like the people claiming this is a $700 car to show me a few Craigslist ads. Around Cincinnati anything in similar condition has an ad price around $2300. For a decent fall evening driver that's not a bad deal. The m44 engine isn't any weekend warrior's ideas of fun. Having said that I'd say vacuum shine and full disclosure.

  • Nlinesk8s Nlinesk8s on Oct 21, 2018

    I'd like the people claiming this is a $700 car to show me a few Craigslist ads. Around Cincinnati anything in similar condition has an ad price around $2300. For a decent fall evening driver that's not a bad deal. The m44 engine isn't any weekend warrior's ideas of fun. Having said that I'd say vacuum shine and full disclosure.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff I a,so had a 1969 Thunderbird with the 429 V8, and it was a smooth highway cruiser. I sold all those cars when I got commissioned into the Army. I regret selling those cars and miss the simplicity of them. I do have an 1985 FJ 60 Land Cruiser and it is real easy to get to everything in the engine bay. My 16 year old son inherited it. The Mavericks are pretty popular here in Az.
  • John Hummer owners don't care. Like shingles.
  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
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