Monday, November 10, 2008

Where Do You Find Cheap Cars?

Cheap cars are everywhere. They might not be prominently displayed, or even say that they are for sale. You have to know where to look. Thumbing through an Auto Trader magazine or your local newspaper is probably not the best place to find your cheap car. There are other publications and websites you can check out to find the cheap cars in your area, or you might just have to wander around town and see what you can find.


eBay Motors - Used to be a great place to pick up a $100-$500 car in running condition. Not so much anymore, although I did buy my last car there for $355 and it does run and drive. I'm waiting to put more money into it until springtime. It needs battery cables, a battery, and some little bits like a reflector and a parking brake ratchet mechanism to pass inspection. You can still find driveable cars cheap, especially if you live in a large metropolitan area like Chicago or New York.

Craigslist - This is the place to go for finding cheap cars online. I have purchased no less than five cars on Craigslist in the past few years for well under $1000. All of them were fine to me. If you don't have a local Craigslist for your town, search the next nearest few towns and you'll find something. I also find that limiting search by price eliminates listings that have NO price, in which case you might miss something good.

AutoTrader - You won't find much for less than $1500 on AutoTrader because it costs money to put an ad up. But the cars are there sometimes. Doesn't take long to do a search, so go for it.


I'll keep this nonspecific because there are literally THOUSANDS of car auctions around the country. To find local car auctions, keep in mind there are three kinds of auctions where you'll find cars.

Government Surplus Auctions - To find these, DO NOT go out on the internet and search for them. All you'll find are scam websites looking to take money from you and then give you an outdated list of auction companies and vehicle lists from five years ago. Just call your local police department, sheriff's department, school district, water utility, or whatever, and ASK THEM how they dispose of their surplus vehicles. They will likely either give you a date-time-location, or refer you to an auctioneer who they do business with, who can then give you details on upcoming auction sales.

Abandoned/Impounded Auctions - These are my personal favorites. It's almost like a grab bag (or a box of chocolates). You never know what you're going to get. Most of the time, the tow company or police department knows NO history on the cars they are selling. They might run, they might not. They might have keys, they might not. The car might not even be complete. But once you've been to a few of these you'll start picking good cars. I always look for cars that were forfeited by people who were arrested, or cars from DUI/DWI arrests. These are most likely to have keys and be in running condition (how else did they get pulled over?) and ready to drive. If you see a car at an impound auction and want to know more about it, the best bet before the auction starts is to talk to the tow truck drivers. They brought it in, they should know more about the situation. The best way to find out about these is to either check the Public Notices in the newspaper classifieds, or call each towing company and police department in your area directly.

Estate Sales and Bankruptcy Auctions - Again, you will want to contact individual auction companies here. That or check your newspaper for upcoming auctions. You might find a cherry garage queen type car, or a well-worn farm truck, or something that has been sitting in pieces for a decade or more. But it might well be worth it. These are usually held in mornings, at the residence or business location, and during the week, so make sure you can get time off work for them if you simply have to go.

Wandering Around Town

You might be able to find a good deal by just LOOKING for cars which look like no one is driving them, or have for sale signs on them, or are just begging you to ask about them. Good places to find these might be at small strip malls and shopping centers, repair, body, and transmission shops, or possibly in your own neighbor's garages and back yards.

Shopping Areas - Signs warning of towing are up but no one seems to care, because there are 12 cars for sale at your local Stuff Mart. Go check them out. Make a ridiculous low offer. You might get a great deal!

Auto-Related Repair Shops - You can get some terrific deals with mechanic's liens. Stop by a large transmission shop in your area and ask if they have any cars for sale. People might buy a car and find it needs transmission work, drop it off at a shop, and then get shocked at the $1500-$2500 bill to get it back! They abandon the car, the shop owner files for a lien, and then he gets to sell the car to cover his investment in fixing it. You can easily find $4000 cars for $2000 at these places. Regular mechanical repair shops, body shops, even brake shops can have these deals. If the same car is sitting on the side of the shop for more than a week or two, it's likely the owner just left it there and it will be for sale soon if not already!

Just Wherever Around Town - So the crazy guy in town who always walks around holding a stuffed lion lives three blocks over from you. He walks everywhere, and his Buick Regal sits in the driveway collecting sap and dust for months at a time. Strike up a conversation, see if he wants to sell it. You might see a Chrysler Sebring sitting at the local bakery for three months without moving. Maybe the owner works there and the car wouldn't start one day after work. He might even pay YOU to take it away so his boss doesn't get upset over it being there for so long. Pay attention when you drive around, your next car might be that Pontiac Bonneville sitting behind four feet of weeds waiting for you!

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