By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 12/5/2020
Posted: 5/20/2013
Page Views: 4829
I explain what I did wrong when I bought a car.

In early March, I received a partial judgment in my disability case, which gave me a small sum of money but not an actual monthly income. Still, with the idea that I was going to return to work, I decided to buy a used car to get to work in. I found it on Craigslist and have learned some very dear lessons from the experience, which I pass on to you, gentle reader.

First, though, I should point out that this is not the first vehicle I purchased from a Craigslist ad. I found and bought two cars for my ex-husband, Michael, both of which turned out to be awesome deals.

So Michael drove me around on my search for a used car, with a Craigslist app in my phone so we could respond to the very latest ads, if need be.

Michael's car needs have always been: 1) Room for his portable massage table, and 2) Good on gas.

My needs are different. Of course, I would like good gas mileage. But I want to use my vehicle to go camping, sometimes in rather remote areas. So I need an SUV, both for carrying gear and for the toughness needed to travel unimproved roads. And of course such vehicles cost more than little compact cars with big trunks. To compensate pricewise, I was willing to look at older vehicles.

The first one we looked at would have been perfect…if it had had seats. It didn't even have a driver's seat, a fact the seller neglected to put in his ad. (And, of course, it hadn't occurred to me to ask on the phone.)

We looked at a couple more that seemed to have more problems than I wanted to take on. One, in particular, would have been great if the seller's grandsons had been able to actually start it. Or steer it, after they did start it. (It had no power steering fluid, so we drove the boys to buy some, but even after putting it in, the steering didn't work.)

But finally, we found one that seemed ideal. The lady selling it was in a bind, moving to be with her dying mother out-of-state. Now, perhaps, if I hadn't been so tired (by now my ankle was swollen and painful, making it hard to concentrate) I might have asked better questions…or, indeed, any questions. Instead, I drove away with a 1998 Ford Explorer and by the time I had finally gotten it registered, I had learned a number of valuable lessons that, hopefully, I will remember for next time!

  1. Ask where the car came from. If it's from out of state, it will be more difficult to get registered in your own state.

  2. Notice when the seller unlocks the car from the passenger side. It may mean the driver's-side lock has been changed and there's no key for it.

  3. Ask to see the title before paying for the car. If it was made out to the seller's aunt who then gave it to the seller, you'll need a valid Power of Attorney to register the vehicle.

  4. Also, notice if the mileage on the title is actually more than the mileage on the odometer. If it is, the odometer was probably set back.

  5. Never buy a car from a woman who tells you, "Jesus wants you to have this."

  6. When you take the vehicle to your mechanic to be checked out, apparently you have to actually say, "And it needs to pass the state emissions inspection."

  7. When you go to the Motor Vehicle Department to get it registered, know that you have to have the emissions inspection first.

  8. When you go for the emissions inspection, make sure you don't bother until the check engine light is, indeed, out.

  9. When you take it back from the mechanic who's just gotten the check engine light off, know that you have to drive it for several days before being certain it will stay out, instead of making a second, wasted, trip to the emissions inspection station.

  10. When you take it back to the mechanic for the third time, don't agree to pay another $500 to fix something else that he thinks must be the problem.

  11. When that doesn't work, don't go to the special Emissions Waiver Office without paperwork showing the mechanic actually attempted to fix the actual problem causing the failure.

  12. Don't wait for the fourth trip to the mechanic to demand they make good their promise to fix the car enough to pass emissions without charging any more.

  13. Plan on alternate transportation so that when the mechanics' repeated attempts to make the car street legal take almost six weeks to succeed, you won't be taken by surprise.

  14. Now that you have the vehicle and the emissions inspection paperwork, the second trip to get the vehicle registered will fail if you don't have the Release of Lien paperwork from the dealer who sold the car to the seller's aunt in Kentucky. Hope for a helpful car lot that will hunt up and fax the paperwork to you, as I did.

  15. Trip number three to the MVD will fail if you haven't, by this time, realized the Power of Attorney signed by the seller, was made out backwards so she actually has your power of attorney. The MVD will insist on a corrected POA, or you will have to spend a couple grand getting bonded.

  16. Trip number four to the MVD will fail if you insist on making the mileage on the new title match what's actually on the odometer. (Fortunately, it was late in the day and the clerk didn't give a damn, so she merely copied the mileage from the old title.)

  17. Don't be discouraged if, at this point, the overhead console with the map lights and controls for the sun roof, drops for no apparent reason, dangling by its connecting electrical cables.

So, at this point, I have an SUV whose rear timing chain, I've been told, urgently needs replacing; whose driver-side door cannot be unlocked by the only key in existence that opens the passenger door and works the ignition; whose overhead console in on the floor in the back seat until I can figure out what to do with it; that needs new tires; that has no radio, and that I cannot sell until I've driven it at least 3,000 miles so the odometer reading of 144,000 miles has rolled up to the 147,000 on the title.

If Jesus actually wanted me to have this car, then I think Jesus should have it and figure out what to do with it. After all, do until others as you would have them do unto you.