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

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap pre sale reconditioning to what extent

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.

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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.

  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are so many OEM-specific ones out there nowadays (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
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