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Our "new" car with a checkered past!

February 17th, 2007 at 10:22 am

Until 2-1/2 weeks ago, we had 2 cars: a '94 Taurus with over 170K mi and a '99 Camry with 100K mi.

Last summer when the Taurus needed brake work, we thought about replacing it and started looking around at what was available (both used & new --- we always like to keep all our options open and then go with what we think is the best deal). After lots of reading, looking, test driving, and discussing, we finally decided our best option was to fork over the $ to have the Taurus' brakes repaired.

What we concluded was that, due to sky-high gas prices, the type of cars we prefer (what I call "sensible sedans": reliable, safe, moderately-priced, full-size sedans with decent gas mileage) were very much in demand. Back when we bought our Taurus and Camry, SUVs were all the rage, and our cars were considered rather unfashionable. Fast-forward to 2007: hybrid cars are all the rage, and good old "sensible sedans" are once again selling well. Dealers' lots are over-flowing with SUVs that have been traded in. [Anyone else remember reading the news bit about the dealer in CA who was arranging to have people's SUVs torched so they could get some insurance money and buy a smaller car?]

Of course, high demand meant we weren't going to be able to get a "deal" on the type of car we wanted. Hence the decision to keep the old car.

Then this winter, we had another problem with the Taurus --- thought it was the starter, but fortunately it just needed a new battery. At that time, we went through a different mental exercise. We thought about whether we should downgrade to just one car. After a couple days of sharing one car while waiting to get the Taurus running, we (well really it was mostly my husband) decided that having just one car wasn't a very attractive idea. So, thoughts of what we would do with the Taurus were still percolating at the back of our brains.

Then, 2-1/2 weeks ago one of my husband's friends called him and asked for some help in getting his company's car sold. [The company is closing down their US office. The friend will be going back to his home country, but before that he has to sell off the company's US assets on top of preparing his family to move.]

The car is a 2002 Subaru Legacy with 58K miles.

They ran the Carfax report and found out that this car has had a very checkered past indeed! We will never know for sure, but we suspect that somewhere along the line the title was "washed." The car started out as a rental, and eventually was in an accident that caused enough damage that the insurer wrote it off as "salvage." Then it was moved to our state where the car was re-titled without the proper inspections (major no-no)! Whether that was done intentionally, we'll never know, but we do have our suspicions ... Our friend had bought the car not knowing what he was getting (obviously it had been repaired and you could not tell it's history by looking at it).

Husband & friend took the car to a dealer, but they said no way would they sell a car that had been salvaged. They suggested that they could sell it on Craigslist for $5-6K. [Had the car not been totalled in its past, the Blue Book is about $13K.]

Husband approached me about buying the car. My first reaction was "Heck no!" I told my hubby that I'd rather he go out and buy a brand new top-of-the-line Mercedes (and of course I'd be steaming if he did that) than drive something that would make him one bit less safe if he were in an accident. But finally I agreed that if our very-much-trusted local mechanic inspected it and declared it completely safe, I would consider it. I called the mechanic prior to the inspection so he would know exactly where I was coming from, and he gave me his word that he would not sign off on it unless he was as sure as he could be that the car's safety had not been degraded. Turns out, the wreck had been a side-impact crash that caused extensive body damage on one side of the car (both door panels) but had not affected the car's driveabilty or safety. He also said it had been repaired extremely well.

So, the price discussions began. We wanted a deal, and our friend wanted to get the selling over and done with and wanted someone who was willing to deal with the red tape involved in getting the car "street legal" in the eyes of our state government. Agreed on price: $3,000 (and our friend agreed not to deposit our check until we had passed the Washington State inspection).

On Feb 1, we took care of the paperwork, got the temporary permit, and scheduled the necessary inspection (Feb 16th at 8am was the first available date) with the Washington State Patrol. A nice bonus was that we only had to pay use tax (euphamism for sales tax) on the $3,000 sales price because the state has no way of accurately determining value on a salvaged car. We gave our friend the check to hold and parked the Subaru in the garage. We also posted an ad for the Taurus on Craigslist and put a For Sale sign in the window.

Talk about good fortune ... Yesterday, not only did the Subaru pass it's WSP inspection, but in the afternoon we sold the Taurus! [We had hoped to get $950 for the Taurus and we only got $700, but we are okay with that.]

My favorite part of the story is the discussing my husband and the WSP inspector had. It went something like this.
WSP: "I love these cars. I've been shopping around for a good deal on one. May I ask what you paid for it?"
Husband: "$3K"
WSP: "I'll give you $3,500 cash for it right now." [Yes - he was completely serious.]
Husband: "Sorry I think we'll keep it."
WSP: "Good call. Even the salvage value is $6-7K and the repairs were excellent. You got a great deal."


4 Responses to “Our "new" car with a checkered past!”

  1. living_in_oz Says:

    I drove a salvaged Jeep for several years with no problems at all. I finally traded it off for a van when child #3 came along. We simply no longer had the room we needed for 3 kids, DH and I, and car seats.

    Sounds like you guys got a good deal!

  2. Lux Living Frugalis Says:

    I've driven loads of salvaged cars myself - family member is an autobody instructor. Never had a problem other than convincing the next person who wants to buy it that salvage titles don't always mean bad things.

  3. scfr Says:

    Oops ... I'm really not a car person! Smile I should have mentioned that it's a Subaru Legacy OUTBACK (quite a bit higher value than a regular sedan) which as you dog people know is an awesome doggie vehicle!

  4. jodi Says:

    My brother backed into a great deal ($200) on a car last year - high mileage, but the car itself was only a few years old and in great shape - by hearing about it from an acquaintance who no longer needed it for his job. It pays to keep your ears and eyes open. Good for you for taking the time to check out the safety. You did great!

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