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Previously Published Articles:

More expert advice for the consumer on car buying, selling and maintenance tips from the author of The Used Car Buyer's Manuals I & II. Bon appetit!

"Don't Play the Trade-In Game, Sell Car on Your Own"

Car & Travel, NY, April '97

Tired of the same old song and dance of receiving low-ball offers on your trade-in at dealerships? Why not sell your car beforehand--for perhaps, almost double what nay dealer would offer--and use the cash instead for a down payment.

Selling your car can be as easy as a Sunday drive--if you follow these four steps:

1. Make your car look as close to new as possible. A good detail job, if professionally done, costs about a $100 and will contribute to a quick and easy sale. But if you have the extra time, get the engine steam cleaned for about $25, and do the rest yourself.

2. Use effective advertising. To bring responses from the right buyers, publish a classified ad in your local newspaper and include the following: year, make, model, engine size (only if your model offered another size), whether transmission is standard or automatic, miles on odometer, 2 door or 4 door, all other options (air conditioning, cruise, etc.) and the vehicle's condition.

Be honest about your car's condition. Otherwise, you will be wasting your time showing buyers who will end up passing on your not so immaculate car.

3. Determine the right price. If you want to sell your car fast, price it about $400 below market value and allow yourself $100 of bargaining space. Selling your car at $500 below market still puts you way ahead of what any dealer would offer. However, if you can afford to wait, take your time and try to get fair market value or better.

Because a car advertised below market guarantees a large response, you will have plenty of people wanting to see your car. This puts you in the position to play hard-ball with buyers. If the first serious buyer tries to bargain you down just inform him about the five other people already scheduled to look at it over the weekend.

4. Screen your calls.

The biggest inconvenience in selling your own car is having to take time to show it to potential buyers. However, through proper phone screening you can weed out time-wasting appointments.

Just ask callers directly, "Are you really coming over? I don't want to take time off work for nothing." When they say yes, ask them to call back right before they are ready to leave and you will give them directions at that time. If you hear back from them, you can count on them coming by. If you don't, they would have been a no-show anyway.

For someone who wants to come over immediately, ask for a phone number in case something comes up and you need to reschedule. About fifteen minutes before the person is supposed to arrive, call the number. If you get no answer or a recording with his name on it, then it looks like you have a serious buyer on his way. If you get a wrong number, don't hold your breath.

Selling a car on your own does have a drawback: you'll have to find someone to drive you back to the dealership with your cash down payment.

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"No One Wants to Buy a Rust Bucket!"

National Motorist; The Steering Column, Winter '97

Rust. It is unsightly, unsafe, and undesirable. And because no one wants to buy a rust bucket, it can radically depreciate your car's resale value. For those of us who buy used or own older cars, is it is important to learn how to: find rust; keep it from starting; and address it once it has started. In order to detect rust on an unfamiliar car or combat it on your own vehicle, one needs to understand how rust usually starts and where it is most likely to emerge.


The way rust usually begins is through the chips and nicks you receive from the pebbles and stones that pepper your car through daily driving. With a small nick exposing bare metal in an unnoticeable location, it's just a matter of time until rust forms. Left unchecked long enough it will eat its way through to the other side. When this happens you have problems because once a rust hole starts it can not be stopped. It can only be slowed down.


The most likely areas to check for rust would be in and around the wheel wells and on the fenders immediately behind the tires. These are the war zones where your tires will kick up stones and chip the paint. The front of your car can also catch flying stones from other cars, making this a problem area as well.

If you are looking at a used car for sale, use a flashlight to look underneath the car behind the front and rear tires on both sides. Of course, before you do this make sure the car is parked on a level surface in park/gear and the emergency brake engaged! If it's on a slope, put blocks under the wheels for added safety. Shine your light on the inside of the fenders and wheel wells. Check for excess body filler, which from this side will look like hardened putty all globbed up. In areas where you don't have a clear view, use your fingers as your eyes and feel around. Do you feel globs of hardened putty under there? If so you're looking at a likely rust repair job.

Now you can use the sound test to decipher how far up body the filler goes. Above the suspected area, tap lightly on the car's body with your knuckles. You should hear a tinny metal sound. Continue tapping and move slowly down to the area in question. Does the sound change from tinny to solid and dense? Where the sound changes is where the filler starts.

Once you have detected a rust repair job you may want to stop your inspection and find a rust-free car because eventually the rust will come bubbling back up through the paint. The car may look great now, but if it looks like swiss cheese in a year, you'll be the loser in this deal.

Another word to the wise for the used car buyer: Avoid cars with fresh paint. Think about it. No one paints a car just because the color has faded a little. It was painted because it was either in an accident or it had a rust problem or worse yet - both! A body man can hide a lot of sin with paint and body filler. Be wary.

Other rust-prone places to check when buying a car, would be the exterior flooring under the driver's and passenger's seats, the interior flooring underneath the carpeting/matting, under the carpeting/matting in the trunk, and around the engine compartment. Use your flashlight, your eyes and your fingers!


The key to keeping a rust-free car is by stopping rust before it can start. Or at at least address it before it eats it way to the other side. Because bare metal will oxidize and painted surfaces won't, you only need to protect your car from the elements to keep rust a bay. You should maintain your car's body just like everything else. This means a periodic checking of the most common areas where rust might rear its ugly head.

Keep some touch-up paint on hand and periodically go over your entire car's painted exterior with fine tooth comb. Look for chips and nicks in the paint. If you find a chip where surface rust has already weaseled its way in, use sand paper (220 grade or finer) and carefully sand it down to bare metal. Tiny nicks will be a challenge. Wrap the sand paper around the tip of a small screw driver and try not to mar the surrounding painted surface.

Clean the dirt from the chips with a rag dampened with mineral spirits and let dry. Using a touch-up brush, dab a little paint on the nick, just enough to fill in the gap. There's no need to coat the surrounding painted surface. Otherwise it will just make your touch up more noticeable. Do it right and your nick practically becomes invisible. If you botch up your first try just wipe it off with your dampened rag, let dry, and start over.

Periodical washing of your car's undercarriage is also a good way to protect your car from corrosion. Visit your manual car wash on a monthly basis and spray the underside of your car and inside the wheel wells too. A build up of dirt can hold moisture against your car's undercarriage and promote rust. Keeping it clean under there will allow surfaces to dry quicker making it less susceptible to oxidation.

Whether you are in the market for a used car or just trying to maintain your current set of wheels, practice of the following steps can keep rust from eating away your car as well as your pocket book.

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A Car Buyer's Bag of Tricks

Car and Travel, NY, Jan '97

When buying a new or used car from a dealer, there are certain tricks-of-the-trade that you can and should use on your salesman to get him down in price. What follows are six tips all designed to put you on the road to a money-saving deal.

1) Choose the right time to get the best deal on a car. The end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month, and the end of the year are the best times to make a purchase. This means the optimum time to buy a car would be right around New Year's Eve. Of course, not everyone can wait until then, but do try holding out until the end of the month. Most dealerships have certain sales goals they try to meet each month, and when they fall short, they become eager to make a sale at this time.

2) Avoid making the first offer. That's true whether it's for your trade-in or the car you intend to buy. The person who makes the first offer loses an edge by taking that risk of testing the bargaining waters. Offer too low and the dealer scoffs at you. Offer too much and your dollars are flying out the window. Do everything possible to get him to make the first offer in both cases.

When you do make your first offer/counter-offer, always give yourself bargaining room to come up to your target purchase price. If the asking price is $10,000 and you only want to pay $9,500, then offer $9,000. If you offer $9,500, the salesman will counter-offer, expecting you to come up in price to meet him. In this case, it would probably end up at $9,750 which is $250 above your target price.

3) Show some sign of dismay. Throughout the bargaining process, whenever the salesman comes back with a new offer, make some immediate gesture indicating that it's unacceptable. Grunt, moan, raise your eyebrows, flinch, scream--do something--to show that the offer he just made is still out of the ball park. If you don't show some sign of dismay, the salesman will think the offer he just made is within reason, since you didn't seem bothered by it.

4) Create a sense of urgency. While the salesman tries to instill the urgency "buy before it's gone," you can create a similar kind of urgency to lay upon the salesman himself. It's called the "lower your price now or I buy somewhere else" urgency. You must lay it on the line with force like the whole deal hinges on the salesman's decision to reduce the price. If your pitch doesn't come out strong and he calls your bluff, get up and start walking.

5) Use repetition

Repetition works. Repetition works. Don't hesitate to repeat yourself frequently during negotiations. Saying the same thing, but rewording each time works best.

6) Say you'll "sleep On It."

One last-ditch effort to get the salesman to lower his price one more time is by telling him that you wish to sleep on it. Use this ploy only when you are at the end of your negotiations. Stand up, shake the salesman's hand, and tell him how unfortunate it is that you couldn't meet in price...and watch him start adjusting his figures.

There you have it. Six tips designed to save you money. Use them correctly and you just may have enough cash left over for floor mats!

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Pay Now or Pay Later...

Seven Steps To Preserving Your Car's Resale Value

(From the Rocky Mountain Motorist, July '96)

Whether you buy new or used, the day you purchase your car is the day to start preparing it for sale. As a proud owner, you do have control over your car's resale value because how you care for your car today will determine its value tomorrow. So with little effort, heed to the following seven steps and your set-of-wheels will be well on its way to cherry-dom.

Step 1: Maintenance

Regardless of what your owner's manual says, change your oil and filter every 3 months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first. Many owner's manuals out there recommend 7,500 mile intervals which is costly advice. Frequency of oil changes could mean the difference between engine repair at 130,000 miles or well over 200,000 miles. With an oil change costing less than $20, frequent servicing is an inexpensive warranty.

For the rest of your car's maintenance, follow the service schedule in your owner's manual and get your auto tuned when it is due. Your car will run stronger, longer, retain its best possible mileage, and hence, age like a fine wine.

Step 2: Interior Upkeep

If you want top dollar for your car when you sell you must keep it looking like new. Consider a dash cover to keep the sun from baking cracks. A bath towel matching your car's interior set neatly in the rear window is an economical way to keep the sun from fading the fabric back there. For your seats, some inexpensive cotton seat-covers will keep the upholstery pristine and your car's resale value to the max.

Step 3: Exterior Upkeep

For the exterior, keep some touch-up paint on hand to take care of the nicks and chips that all cars get from daily driving. The trick is to re-seal exposed metal before Mr. Rust can set up shop in there.

As for fender-benders, utilize your insurance policy and get your car repaired. Pocket the claim and you will lose twice as much in resale value later down the road. Also, utilizing salvage yards for pricey dealer-only parts like tail-light lenses, moldings, etc. can save you money and keep you car looking good.

Step 4: Driving Style

Our driving style contributes to how many miles we can squeeze from our cars before major repair is needed. Therefore, avoid hard driving - especially on a cold engine. Because motor oil is designed to lubricate an engine best at normal operating temperature, most wear occurs from the time we start it until normal operating temperature is reached (about 5 to 7 minutes on a stone-cold engine).

This few minute period is crucial. Take it easy on the accelerator and try not to go over 55 mph until the engine has completely warmed up. Get in the habit of leaving a couple of minutes early to avoid rushing. The only place hot-rodding will get you to in a hurry is to the repair shop.

Step 5: Records

Without receipts to back up your word, no one will take a 3,000 mile oil-change claim seriously. Therefore, keeping records of all the service and repair done to your car can add to its resale value. Whether it's an oil change, tune-up, or new brakes, keep a file for all those receipts.

If you do your own maintenance, start a computer generated or hand written ledger and log in the mileage, date, service performed, parts replaced, etc. As for receipts, you can save the ones from all the cases of oil, oil filters, air filters, spark plugs, etc. you will be buying from your local supply store. These will also have the date on them which will allow you to show chronological evidence that the car has been serviced regularly.

When the day finally comes to sell or trade in your car, open up your folder full of neatly kept receipts and watch the buyer's eyes light up. The proof is in the pudding. Everyone wants a car that has been well cared for.

Step 6: Detailing

A thorough, deep-cleaning prior to putting your car on the market will definitely maximize its resale value. However, instead of spending a $100 at a detail shop, get a $25 engine steam-clean and do the rest yourself.

Once you give your car a good hand wash/wax, dress the tires/rims, and vacuum and buff out the interior/trunk, your car will look so good you may decide not to sell it after all!

Step 7: Knowledge

Knowledge is not just power, it's dollars in you pocket. So be absolutely sure of your car's worth before putting it on the market. It doesn't make much sense to go to all the trouble of meticulous car-care without getting fully rewarded in the end.

The best way for accurate car-pricing would be to check your local classified which offer private-party ads. Compare ads for the same year/model as yours. After watching these a couple of weeks you will get a price range for your car. Go one step further and call the two-week-old ads and ask the seller what they got for their car. Explain that you are selling the same year/model car and just curious as to what the market is paying. Whether you sell or trade, information like this prepares you well for bargaining combat.

There you have it - the seven steps to resale enlightenment. Follow the above advice and you will not only get top dollar for your car, selling it will be like a drive through the park!

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Buying Used?

Try the Private-Party Route

If buying a used car over a new one makes smart money sense to you, then purchasing one from a private-party seller over a dealer will make even more sense. What everyone overlooks when shopping for a used car is the simple fact that private sellers are not dealers, they are just people like you and I on the same level as the rest of us which makes for a relaxed sale. There's no office to sit in hour after hour while some slick-talking salesman wears you down. You buy at your own pace.

And with no unfair advantages between buyer and seller, it's not difficult to bargain them down which is where some huge savings can be made. In most cases, a price can be reached within 10 minutes of stress-free negotiations. Sound like a dream come true? Yet before I go any further, let's consider who we are about to buy a car from and why they are selling one.

Because private-party sellers are average people just like you and me, you will find some that are honest and some that are not. Some take real good care of their belongings and some do not. However, when checking out the owner's car, it's not difficult to separate the two species.

For example, tell-tale signs for the careless/dishonest breed are a messy yard, house or garage. They will claim the oil has been changed every 3,000 miles or report about major repair work done recently, yet they will have no receipts to back it up. Tell-tale signs for the careful/honest variety is a neat and tidy house, garage and yard. They are also meticulous about maintenance and can produce a stack of receipts for all work done to their car at your request.

These are the kind of sellers you want to deal with, and once you do corner one with a car in your price range, you have the advantage of learning all about the history of the car: How long have they owned it? What work has been done? What will it be needing soon, etc? You'll never get any straight answers to these questions at the pound (dealership). They either won't know or worse yet - tell you what you want to hear just to make a sale.

As for why people sell cars on their own - that's easy. They are tired of trading in their five year old well cared for $5,000 car only to receive $3,000 as a trade-in allowance. In other words, they are tired of getting burned both coming and going. The smart new-car buyer knows his old car's real value so he advertises his $5,000 car at $4,500 for a quick sale and settles somewhere north of $4,000. Had he traded it to the dealership where they would have detailed it and put it on their lot at $5,995, someone like you will come along and get it for around $5,500 after hours of stressful negotiations. Yet, the same car bought for $4,200 through an ad in the paper would save you in, this particular case, a whopping $1,300 while the seller comes out $1,200 ahead for his trouble. Not a bad chunk of change for both parties simply by eliminating the middle-man.

When you consider you will be selling your old car too, you will be playing both rolls and coming out ahead twice which is all the more reason to take the private-party route. Obviously this is just a scenario and every deal is different, but the point is loud and clear: Significant savings can be made when buying from (or selling to) a private party.

Ah, but what about the fact that when you buy a car from a private party you buy the car "as is". There's absolutely no warranty. Actually, there is a type of warranty you can protect yourself with which only costs around $50 and this is how it works:

After agreeing on a price, take the car to a reputable mechanic to have it checked out. The mechanic should charge you no more than one hour's worth of labor (currently around $50) and go over the car with a fine tooth comb (most private sellers won't mind this and the ones that do oppose are probably trying to hide something). The mechanic may detect things you overlooked like an oil leak, worn brake pads, or a front end in need of alignment. Insist on a written estimate for any problems that need correcting and then present this to the seller for another opportunity to bargain them down in price.

Most will succumb when they see a written estimate from a reputable mechanic detailing problems with their car that they were unaware of before. In the end you get back many times your $50 inspection fee along with your peace of mind from knowing that your new addition to the family has a clean bill of health!

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