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Story by Lois Grace

Every so often, I am asked by a friend or acquaintance for help in buying a used car.  I guess because my used car buying-to-selling ratio is so high, they think I'm an expert.  I AM an expert, of course, but they never find this out because they never seem to take my advice.

The latest friend to fill my email in box with questions is someone who is very bright, just not about certain things.  She is a highly skilled technician in her field, and has a heart of gold.  Neither of these attributes make her any good at a used car purchase.  In fact, she is downright pathetic when it comes to spending money on automobiles. In the past few years she has bought an Olds Delta 88 (I can't recall what year but suffice it to say that it had so many problems it was not worth the cost of registration), a 1980 300 D-class Mercedes turbo diesel (broken a/c, and a shift problem), a 1984 Ford Escort wagon (of all the cars she's had this is proving to be the only one worthy of repair) and a couple others I can't remember now.  All the cars needed big repairs to make them roadworthy. This is a woman who runs her own business and takes great pride in helping our troops overseas.  She is not feeble-minded. I would say that, rather, she has a distorted view of machinery.

My friend is what I call cash-deprived. She spent no more than $1000 for any of these gems, and most times she spent less. We all know you don't have to spend a lot to get a nice car but most of the time you do get what you pay for.  And, I counsel my friends to have someone who knows cars go along with them (not me, please lord) when they look at one.  Usually, once she buys something without consulting me about the particulars, I'll get a string of emails asking why something broke. After losing her trusty old Volvo sedan (a worthy car, but elderly with all the associated ailments), she is now fixated on a used Mercedes, because she has the nearly-non-functional 300D sitting next to her driveway.  The poor Volvo was the victim of a hit-and-run hood, that flew off the car in front of her and smashed the Volvo to bits. My advice regarding the upcoming used car purchase consisted of telling her she would be best off spending her thousand bucks (by now I think she may have saved a little more) on something ugly and dumb, like maybe a Nissan Sentra, that runs fairly well and will cost little to repair.  Used Nissans and Escorts have a reputation of running nearly forever and don't cost a fortune to fix.  I am sure there are other cars in this category also.  Now mind you, I have nothing against Mercedes and I'd own one myself if I had unlimited funds to repair and/or maintain it.  But as a former Saab owner, I have no desire to jump right back into that particular well at the moment.  I'd like to dry out a little more first.  

My friend called me again tonight begging my help with yet another - you guessed it - Mercedes.  No matter how many times I tell her to forget about the high-priced luxury cars, she seems to find one more she's GOTTA have.  At least I have trained her to check them out before she buys them.  She now will take the latest candidate to the local gas station to have them look it over before she decides. I have ranted and raved at her so many times about lowering her expectations to fit her budget, that I can't believe she is still speaking to me.  With every phone call or email that arrives I get progressively more and more agitated until I finally blow, and just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, like Are you out of your mind?  Have you been listening to me at all?  Cuz if you have, you'd know you have no business buying anything right now, much less a Mercedes!  The only thing she can tell me is But it's PRETTY, it has a sunroof and the a/c works.  And it's BLUE.  Gee, that'll be really handy when you are sitting alongside the road somewhere in the dark.

I may be sensitized to this issue because I have had personal experience with her kind before. SHHH, don't tell anyone but my sister is like this.  She will fall in love with a car the moment she sees it and it suddenly becomes the one.  My friend and my sister both lack an essential part of the equipment required for successful used car purchasing: the car-buying gene that normal people have.  If they want a red car, they will ignore every other qualified candidate that comes along until the worst possible one shows up, which, of course, will be red.  And, they will buy it on that basis alone. And pay way too much for it. I guess I have this gene (I thank my dad for passing it along to me), because after buying 4 used cars (3 of which I still own) I haven't been burned once.  They were ALL good, honest used cars and haven't failed me. 

I think I have pretty much decided that, in the future, I will not be helping anyone buy a used car.  So, if you're in the market for a used car, do us both a favor and don't ask me for advice.  Seriously.


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