Hunted: Honda Civic

1998 Honda Civic

1998 Honda Civic

Last fall a friend of mine, Lilly, had a 1992 Honda Civic that was slowly falling apart. She had the typical concerns of safety and reliability, and not knowing what to do when it came to cars. So ignoring things and hoping problems would either not arise or would go away on their own was her strategy. Hope is not a strategy. Yet it’s a pretty common way people deal with their cars.

The one saving grace in Lilly’s case is that she doesn’t drive very much because she lives close to where she works. I offered to help her find a “new” car and unload the old one.

First we established a budget for the new car: $4,000. Then the time frame. She needed it soon but there were no immediate problems so it wasn’t an emergency. Finally, she had to decide on the kind of car she wanted. She wanted a similar car, just better (newer, safer, more reliable). And it had to be a stickshift.

Over the course of a few days she went through a dozen ads for various models on Craigslist and emailed me for my opinion. From just the ads and the photos I said no to all of them for differing reasons. Finally, I combed through some listings and found a promising lead on a 1998 Honda Civic.

I called the seller to inquire about the car. He was a straight arrow, had records for the car, was a stickler for details and the Carfax checked out. His reason for selling was also good – he bought a new car (a brand new VW GTI) because he wanted to.

We came to see the Honda that afternoon, checked it over and test drove it. All the maintenance was up to date, including the timing belt. Lilly and I talked a little bit after the test drive, and then we negotiated a price of $3,400 (a couple of hundred under book value). Then she paid the seller a $200 deposit, he signed a note that said Lilly would buy the car a couple of days later by paying the balance of the amount.

Two days later we came back, paid the seller the remaining amount and he signed the title over. It was as simple as that.

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Parking Pylon Problem (Part 3)

Once I had the repair estimates I checked the book value of the car. It’s about $5,900 without damage and about $4,500 as is. There are four plausible alternatives we can choose from.
  • Don’t repair the car.
  • Try paintless dent removal.
  • Replace the doors.
  • Have it repaired by a bodyshop.
Another big question which will influence the decision is whether my Mom wants to keep the car or sell it. For several reasons, she wants to get a new car.
If she were to keep it, not fixing the dent is out of the question. And with the dent there is probably a greater risk of not being able to sell for even the as is value. Plus I can’t test that idea out until after she buys a new car. Otherwise, she won’t have transportation. So I feel the car has to be repaired regardless.
Paintless dent removal is an interesting idea. I read up a little on it and there are two main reasons why it isn’t suitable in this case. First the dents need to be further from the panel edges. Unfortunately they span the edges of both doors. The second issue is that if the paint has been scraped it’s still going to require painting. As you can see, the paint is quite scraped. This process is better suited for door dings, hale damage and the like where the paint isn’t damaged.
Replacing the doors from salvage parts would be an interesting option. I’ve done it before on a Saturn but that car had a molded plastic skin which didn’t require repainting to match the rest of the car. With a steel body the paint will probably not match. But I did check to see about local availability and pricing. Each door is $400 (it was only $130 or so for the Saturn), so this is a non-starter since the parts alone would be $800. There’s no telling what the labor would be and if the paint would match. But it’s unlikely to save any money compared with the other choices.
So the decision is to have one of these bodyshops repair the car. I checked that none had any BBB (Better Business Bureau) complaints. From past experience I know at least two do good work so I’ll go with the one with the better price.
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2003 BMW 3-Series Coolant Leak

Last weekend I met up with some friends, both of whom have BMW 3-series sedans (type E46). Upon arrival, one of them started leaving a puddle of coolant in the parking garage. Not good.
I could see it was dripping out from one side of the undertray, but the source was otherwise hidden. We filled the radiator with water and my friends took the car to the nearby BMW dealership where it was discovered the coolant expansion tank had developed a leak.
The repair quote was $400 at a minimum to replace the tank, though it was unclear whether there were further issues since the car appeared to overheat somewhat on the way (I wasn’t there). The videos below go into a more detail about this model’s particular issue:

As an aside, the other friend’s BMW also suffered a broken headlight the same day due to extremely windy weather combined with an unmanned shopping cart that made a beeline for his car. It was not a good day for Bimmers.
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Parking Pylon Problem (Part 2)

So I took my Mom’s car to get repair estimates at 3 different body shops. All the quotes were in the region of $1,300 to $1,800, depending on whether I wanted to get a separate fender ding fixed. Here’s what I learned.
The process is expensive mostly due to the labor. The cost of materials and supplies is about 25% of each quote.  The labor is high since the doors have to be stripped of their trim, the panels repaired and then repainted. Painting is generally estimated to take 25% of the labor, with total labor all quoted in the 25 to 28 hour range at $40 to $42 per hour.
The label in the driver’s door jam contains the car’s paint code. From this a body shop can use it to look up a recipe for the paint mix. Then the technicians can tint the paint to match a specific car to account for any wear and fade that’s already taken place, an art form in itself.
The idea is to match the whole side of the car, though in this case it would require painting more than just the doors. Once the car is painted and clear coat is applied, the car is generally baked at around 150 degrees (F) to finish the job.
This should not damage the car but it does typically require the car to be out of service for several days (all quotes were 5 to 7 days) due to the amount of time the whole repair process takes.
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2007 Volkswagen GTI

Source:  Wikimedia Commons
The fifth generation GTI shared a platform with multiple VW/Audi models such as the Golf (Rabbit in North America), Jetta, Jetta Sportwagen and Audi A3. Introduced in mid-2006 as a 2007 model it earned rave reviews from the press, including winning Automobile Magazine’s 2007 Automobile of the Year Award. They had this to say about its handling:
“… feels utterly responsive but never punishing.”
Priced from around $23k to close to $30k, it featured a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine good for about 200 hp. This was paired with either a 6 speed manual transmission or a 6 speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), which featured two clutches and launch control.
It was available as either a 3 or 5 door hatchback, and came standard with stability control, six airbags, 17 inch wheels, and xenon headlights. Those who would prefer something other than plaid cloth upholstery on the seats could upgrade to leather.
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Parking Pylon Problem

My Mom called me a few days ago to tell me about a little problem. It seems a new parking pylon was installed in the garage at her office, a pylon which is kind of low which she didn’t see when she pulled into her space. Oops! Bodywork is something I haven’t had to deal with much so this is a chance to learn what (and what not) to do.
So I stopped over to look at her car and assess the damage. Both doors on the passenger side are looking rough. They open and close fine, so there probably aren’t any structural issues. But the dents will need to be worked out and the surfaces repainted.
What now? I’m going to take the car to get some repair estimates and then report back. Depending on the amount, it may or may not justify reporting it to the insurance company. Though if that happens they will in all likelihood raise the premiums. Stay tuned.
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How to Sell Your Car (Part 3)

Now it’s time to see all your prep work through. The final steps of selling your car are to show the car to prospective buyers and complete the sale.
6. Show the Car
Be prepared to answer the same questions over and over. Often times the answers will be clearly stated in your ad. People just don’t read. Normally this is annoying. But in this case it reveals what is important to prospective buyers. Listen carefully to how they respond to your answers.
If you start seeing a pattern of disinterest in one or two aspects of your car, you might do well to make a change either to the car itself or how you present your response to that particular question (but never lie).
When prospects evaluate your car they will need to drive it. Make sure each one has a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. Go with them. Remember, these people are strangers. A degree of trust is required from both parties, but the seller is the one with more at stake in this situation. Do not let the vehicle out of your sight as there’s no telling what could happen. It’s also best to let a friend or family member know who you’re meeting with and when.
7. Make A Deal
Your pricing should be in line with a price guide (e.g. Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds). Be prepared to receive lower offers by some margin, generally between 10% and 20%. However, less experienced people will often not bargain or negotiate.
On the other hand you should also expect low ball offers far below your asking price. Don’t waste your time with those. Low ballers are tire kickers who are not serious prospects. Even if they do buy your car the effort you will expend will likely be excessive and the price will be much lower than you want.
So price your car according to book or thereabout and then be prepared to entertain somewhat lower offers. Obviously the lower you go the sooner you’ll sell. But a good car that’s well presented will help ensure you sell faster and much closer to book value than a car that’s not as well prepared.
Once a price has been agreed upon with a buyer they are to present you with valid payment (cashiers check or cash) and you sign the title over to them. It’s usually a good idea to also use a Bill of Sale to further document the transfer. Beware of scams involving cashiers checks or ANY deviation from “cash for car”. The best way to prevent fraud is to deal in cash and/or conduct the actual transaction at the buyer’s bank.
If you have a lien on the car (i.e. the loan isn’t yet paid off) then arrangements must be made with your lender to pay off the loan and release the title to the buyer. Call them and ask what they require to do so.
Lastly, the buyer needs to have auto insurance and tags upon taking delivery of the car. While it is common practice to let the buyer use your license plates until they get theirs, you’re better off taking the tags back and turning them in to your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) yourself as soon as ownership changes hands.
One easy way to do this is to go with the buyer to the DMV office after the sale. The other alternative is for the buyer to purchase a temporary trip permit that’s valid for several days. This can be done online and printed out. Check with your state’s DMV for details.
Once sold, be sure to inform your insurance company of the sale, cancel your registration with the DMV, turn in your license plates and cancel any parking permits you may have for that car. You may also need to report the sale to your town or locality for property tax purposes.
In a nutshell that’s how to sell your car privately. Make sure you have your paperwork in order, the car’s maintenance is up-to-date, it’s clean, you have a clear, compelling ad to sell the it, and your price is within the ballpark for similar cars in your area.
Then show the car, close the sale, and report the transaction to the appropriate parties to close out your obligations involving that vehicle.
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January Recall Roundup: Is Your Car On This List?

As of January 2011, certain units of the following vehicle models are under recall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to address these potential issues:
  • 2011 Cadillac Escalade, Escalade ESV, Escalade EXT, Chevrolet Avalanche, Colorado, Express, Silverado, Suburban, Tahoe, and GMC Canyon, Sierra, Yukon and Yukon XL vehicles for rear axle lock (p. 3).
  • 1999-2003 Ford Windstar in certain states for lower control arm separation (p. 8).
  • 2010 Honda Accord, CR-V for engine stall (p. 3).
  • 2006-2009 Lexus IS models for fuel leakage (p. 8).
  • 2006-2007 Lexus GS models for fuel leakage (p. 8).
  • 2010-2011 Saab 9-3 for engine stall (p. 5).
  • 2009-2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara equipped with 4 cylinder engines, certain 2011 Suzuki Grand Vitaras and certain 2010-2011 Suzuki SX4 vehicles for drive belt tension adjuster pulleys (p.15).
  • 2011 Think City for seat belts and heater-defroster systems (p. 7).
  • 2010 Volkswagen New Beetle, New Beetle Convertible for replacement due to noncompliance with crash test requirements (p. 9).
For details on any of the above recalls click here for the full report (PDF).
Cars Under Investigation
Automobiles that might be recalled pending a current engineering analysis are:
  • 2002-2005 BMW 3 series sedans (E46)
  • 2007 Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon
  • 2001-2004 Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute
  • 2002-2005 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
  • 2004-2006 Ford F150
  • 2004-2005 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey
  • 2002-2003 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable (in Salt Belt states)
  • 1999-2003 Ford Windster (in Salt Belt states)
  • 1999-2003 GMC C/K pickups and SUVs (in Salt Belt states)
  • 2003-2004 Infiniti M45
  • 2003-2005 Infiniti Q45
  • 2007-2008 Kia Sorento
  • 2001-2007 Volkswagen (VW) Passat
[Source: NHTSA]
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How to Sell Your Car (Part 2)

Continuing on from yesterday’s article on how to sell your car, the next steps are:
4.  Determine Your Price

How much is the car’s book value and how much are you willing to accept?  Check the car’s value on Kelly Blue Book ( for a “Private Party Sale” in your zipcode. is also another site to check. Those values are the most buyer’s would likely be willing to pay.

However, you should expect as a matter of course that they will negotiate with you.  How much are you willing to really sell the car for?  Pick that number and keep it to yourself for negotiating purposes.  Five to 10 percent is generally a reasonable figure.
Another alternative is to go to a dealer for a quote. You’ll likely get the highest bid from a new car dealer who sells that brand of car (e.g. if you’re selling a Honda, go to Honda dealers).
5.  Draft a For Sale Ad

Write down facts and good things about the car and about your ownership of it as a basis for your ad.  Important facts about the car include the vehicle’s year, make, model, mileage, transmission time (auto or manual), air conditioning, how many airbags, anti-lock brakes, engine size/type, color, number of doors, whether it’s 2 wheel drive or 4 wheel drive, what options it has (navigation system, DVD player, CD, MP3, etc).

Facts about your ownership of the vehicle include whether you’re the original owner or how long you have owned it, other states you have lived with this car, if there are complete maintenance records, if it’s been in any accidents, if it is still under warranty and so forth.

Other good things to include are if you’re a non-smoker, don’t drive your pets around in it (dog hair is hard to remove from upholstery). You might also want to include your opinions on what the vehicle is good for.

For example, in the case of an SUV it could be useful for hauling things, going places in snow, or off-roading and so on. Mention things you have used it for that a potential buyer would also likely find useful.

Once you’ve done these steps I’d suggest advertising it on CraigsList with the photos you took, possibly in the local newspaper and other places online (Facebook marketplace is growing). Don’t put your phone number in the ad.  Let online prospects contact you by email before proceeding in a way that you’re comfortable with (though if you advertise in the paper you’ll need to list your number). That way you’ll also have an easier time managing the information.

Tomorrow we’ll cover the final steps to closing the deal.
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How to Sell Your Car (Part 1)

If you want to sell your vehicle, you need to present it well and back that up with solid evidence that it’s a good vehicle.  Here are a few things I would suggest:

1.  Clean and Wash Inside Out

It doesn’t have to be detailed but it definitely needs to be clean. Vacuum and dust (clean the inside of the windshield and windows), dash, seats, ashtray/cointrays/cupholders, carpet, floor mats and trunk.  Clear out anything and everything that’s not part of the car, especially in places like the glovebox.

Then drive it through a car wash.  Take pictures of the exterior and interior for advertising the car.  I would use a photo editing program to blank out the license plate numbers.

2.  Get Your Records Together

This is good to have all the time, not just for when you sell it. Make sure you know how long the registration and inspection is good for, and collect all the receipts you have for service that’s been done on the car.  Put it in chronological order in a folder or large envelope. Get caught up on maintenance if it’s behind. those are the items you should be on top of as a matter of course.

3.  Check the Vehicle History

Run a CarFax report on it to make sure it’s accurate.  Even if you’re the original owner, the reports aren’t always correct.  For example, if the report says the car has had a major accident and it hasn’t, it’s better to know this ahead of time than to be caught off guard later. Plus this will enhance your credibility with prospective buyers.

You’ll need the 17 digit VIN # to do this (on vehicle registration form and bottom of windshield, driver’s side) to check this.
VIN location
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