Help! Doug: How Do I Find A Great Used Car For My Kid?

April 18, 2010

Q: I used your services for a $10,000 car. This time my 17-year-old needs a cheap car around $2,000 cash. I'm afraid he'll end up in a car that will cost more to fix than what he pays for it. Any advice to help me help him? A: Going cheap can quickly become expensive. Finding a great car on a small budget is always more labor intensive and time consuming. Every potential gem will require some work. You must see danger and run when the cost of immanent major repair requirements will likely eclipse the price of the car.

Don't expect perfection. Look for something very good. I might let you hire me for a $2,000 car, but only with conditions. I rather not shop for a $2,000 used car, even though I do it well. I'll do it out of obligation for immediate family members because, when it is for one of my kids, the pain I must endure provides poetic justice for my wife going through hard-labor with one child and a c-section with my twins.

Principles and Guidelines for finding a great cheap used car:
1. Consider all the costs beyond the cost of the car. Add that cost to sales tax, license fees, emissions, etc, so the price of the car allows him to have the money to handle the rest.

2. Don't cut corners of essentials like a pre-purchase inspection.

3. Expect any car found to require some repair or service.

4. Focus on essential reliability and safety. How are the "heart", "lungs" and other "vital organs" doing?

5. Be willing to live with things that are less than perfect if they don't compromise the essential integrity of the vehicle. For instance, don't refuse consideration of an otherwise good car because of "surface rust". It is hard-core corrosion you must avoid.

6. Many cosmetic issues can be restored at a later date. Don't let grumpiness over "un-cool looks" stop the purchase of a quality and reliable find. Contact Top Notch Automotive or another high qualified cosmetic magician. You will be amazed at what can be done after the purchase.

7. Don't allow anything that will undermine your child's safety. You can look at crash tests and other government info online. However, I like to know how real people faired in real accidents, in the year, make and model under consideration.

People don't usually know that you can see how much money insurance companies paid for injury claims in real accidents, and you can go back in time and see how the exact year, make and model of the vehicle you consider did. These are found in the "injury" statistics offered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (

Don't judge tires by the looks of the tread. Get a tire shop to confirm if tires are over six years old, when risk of tread disintegration becomes significant.

8. Check with the manufacturer to see if there are open recalls on the vehicle. Dealers will fix these for free, and may be life saving in scope.

9. Your child not bothered by a smoker's car? Don't encourage extensive time spent in a car breathing in third-hand smoke. It's a risk I would not accept for my family.

10. Don't rush. Try to neutralize impulsiveness. The temptation to "get 'r done" and get back to life's normal pressures often cause people to make expensive and regretful mistakes. Paying for a rental car is cheaper than owning a money-pit.

11. Don't over restrict the field of possible vehicles with exacting requirements. Determine what is required and completely unacceptable. Look for the best that fits within those lines.

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from the site. I can withdraw my consent at any time by unsubscribing.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.