car buying horror stories

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Aaron Pincus is what you’d call a true car lover. An owner of nine cars currently, he spends much of his free time searching for interesting cars to drive and work on. You’d think that would make him pretty immune to a bad deal when buying cars, right?

Not necessarily.

Here are a few car-buying horror stories Mr. Pincus endured, and his advice to help you prevent going through the same.

The Craigslist Kerfuffle

About 10 years ago, Mr. Pincus discovered the next car he wanted to own during a Craigslist search. It was a somewhat rare early 90s Japanese sports car that was advertised to come with a slew of new parts. Talking with the seller on the phone, the seller described all the new parts for the various aspects of the car and motor. Mr. Pincus decided he had to see it in person.

As he looked around the seller’s garage, he noticed that the floor was littered with unopened boxes. That was when Mr. Pincus discovered the catch: the owner bought new parts for the car, but he didn’t install them. If Mr. Pincus wanted the car, he was going to inherit some work too.

Ultimately, Mr. Pincus went for the purchase. He saw it as a good deal and knew he could do the work — it was his hobby, after all. One and a half months later he finished installing all the parts … only to find that the motor was blown. So after all that time and money, he still couldn’t drive his new car unless he replaced the motor.

After enjoying the car for a bit, he sold it.

It’d be easy to think while reading this that perhaps buying a car online is a mistake. After all, it didn’t work out very well for Mr. Pincus, right? Not so fast. When it comes to car dealerships, his experiences get worse.

The Car Dealership Disaster

Last year Mr. Pincus was driving a VW diesel when the entire line got repurchased. With the cash from the repurchase, he went to a car dealership to find another diesel SUV as a two-year-old Mercedes caught his eye instead. After being given all of 24 hours to buy the Mercedes or watch it get sold to someone else, he decided to make that his next car.

By the first weekend, the car’s dreaded check engine light illuminated

Luckily, Mr. Pincus had a warranty. Unluckily, that meant going to the car dealership’s service center for the repair. After waiting five weeks for the repair to be finished, Mr. Pincus joked with the service manager that he’d like visitation rights with his new car. He finally got to take his car home on week six.

So Mr. Pincus bought the car on July 4 and was only able to use it at the end of August. But the drama didn’t end there. To this day, Mr. Pincus and his wife start the car with an eye on the check engine light to illuminate again.

What Can Be Learned From This?

Mr. Pincus has learned a lot from his car-buying experiences. And even though the Japanese sports car situation didn’t turn out well, he still prefers to buy cars online from individuals. In his words, there’s an assumption of trust you need to have with a car buyer, and that trust is simply rarely earned by a car dealership.

That said, he has a few pieces of advice to give to anyone interested in buying a car online:

  1. Don’t buy at the edge of your price bracket. Buying online means buying used, and used cars will almost always need some sort of repair. Give yourself some room to pay for repairs by lowering your budget to include both the purchase and a car emergency fund.
  2. Go see the car for yourself. Just because you buy the car online doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it in person. It’s imperative to take a look for your own eyes and make sure that what you see online is what you get in person. (Let’s not forget about the new parts Pincus found … outside of the car he wanted to buy.)
  3. Take the car to an independent mechanic before buying. Homebuyers often pay for an inspection before closing on a house, and car buyers can do the same. Test drive that car on over to a mechanic to get it checked out. And if the car you want is out of town, you could try to commission a mechanic to take a look for you. Either way, you’ll want some help from a professional to make sure you’re about to get a good deal.

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And the most powerful lesson Pincus learned through all of it was not to let your emotions get in the way of logic. In both situations, he walked in expecting one thing and, when he found something else, he moved forward anyway. He describes this as a classic case of not asking the right questions and not fully listening to the answers he was being given.

It’s important to keep your head on straight when buying a car — no matter where you buy it. Avoid shiny object syndrome so you can stick to the plan you had going in and end up with a car that will work for your lifestyle for years to come.

Nervous about committing to a car? You can always try one out through a lease. Click here to learn more about car leasing and if it might be a better option for you, and click here to see if you’ll need good credit to get a lease.