Can You Get a Decent Car for $1000 or Less?Yes, and Here’s a Pathway through the Junker Jungle
- May 4, 2017
- Auto Financing, Car Loan, cars, cheap cars, More Categories...
- Posted by Michael Smithey
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MAY 2, 2017 AT 10:06 AM BY STEVE LANG | ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF XU
Today it’s as easy as it has ever been to buy a vehicle for less than a grand—and equally dangerous to your financial health. The internet has allowed more sellers than ever to pass on tons of crap cars to unsuspecting buyers, and you don’t want to be their next sucker. So where should you go to get a good used car for $1000 or less? Let’s start at the nadir and work our way from there to Cheap Car Heaven.
Impound Lots: Most cars that are crusher fodder and worth more in parts than whole wind up at impound lots. Abandoned vehicles make up the vast majority of the rolling relics sold by local wrecker services and tow yards. However, there are a few drug-seized vehicles that are of the Better Call Saul variety, along with cars impounded for drunken-driving offenses. You can expect most to be as rough as a worn-out mop.
So why go to an impound lot? Because it’s a great place to buy a parts car without the Craigslist price premium or hassle. For parts cars, this is the right place to go. But for ones that actually run, keep looking.
Junkyards: Some junkyards also are licensed to sell running cars. Millions of vehicles are sold by the big salvage auto-auction companies such as Copart and Insurance Auto Auctions. A small percentage will be older cars that still run but are deemed totaled due to the cost of replacement parts. Often, the car will only have cosmetic issues from minor accidents, such as a dented door or a bashed-in bumper.
So you need to determine whether you care that a car has taken a stiff left hook to its rear door. It’s not always easy on the ego to buy a car that looks as if it got into a fight and lost. But if dents, scuffs, and older metal are your personal ticket to cheap motoring and penurious plentitude, call up a local junkyard and see what it may have available. Take note that some states are far more liberal than others in regulating such sales.
Airport Auctions: Some folks take a one-way flight overseas and never return. Passport issues and expired work visas may have a hand in this. But the resulting abandoned cars have a big, telling advantage over those previously mentioned: You know they were still running when they were parked.
You can find vehicle auctions at many airports. If you want to bid, call first, then show up during the preview time slot with a jump box and an OBD II vehicle diagnostic scanner. Aim for ugly and unpopular, and you may just find a vehicle that is $1000 or less. If you don’t want to wait that long, read on.
Public Auctions: There is a pecking order when it comes to these sales. The very worst cars are usually from independent used-car dealers trying to unload rolling junkmobiles with Exorcist levels of hellish issues. New-car dealers offer trade-ins, which are usually hit and miss. The least worst cars are usually the repossessions from banks, credit unions, and finance companies. It’s tough to buy smart here if you don’t know cars well, however.
The Spare Car: Sometimes a car sits for a long while without being driven, either because it is the oldest car in the family driveway or the owner just doesn’t like to—or can’t—drive anymore. You can always try to get the word out on Facebook that you’re in the market for a cheap ride, but most of these cars are better found through asking around among friends and family who aren’t as internet savvy.
Government Auctions: So how can you find penny pincher’s paradise? The best car you can buy for less than $1000 is most likely to be found at one place. Yes, that $1000 Ferrari is a myth, but for $1000 or less you can often get a surprisingly nice car that has been fleet maintained, and it doesn’t have to be a police car. Govdeals and Public Surplus are quickly becoming the 800-pound gorillas of government auctions. You can also find plenty of cities and counties that do sealed bids offline and advertise in local newspapers.
Mayors, county commissioners, fire chiefs, detectives, and other high-level government employees get vehicles that won’t feature the vinyl seats and Third World plastics that adorn most police cars. The most frequent vehicles of the government-surplus variety are Ford Tauruses and Crown Victorias, Chevrolet Impalas, and older Ford Rangers and F-150s, which are personal favorites of this author. These aren’t the cutting edge of new-car technology, but to get from point A to point B, they will serve the tightwads among us quite well.
Ninety percent of your success with these cars will come from showing up in person and inspecting the vehicles, since the sellers provide almost no useful information online. Ask the manager of the county maintenance department if you can view the maintenance records, where applicable, and be prepared to spend several hours out there inspecting the cars. The other 10 percent will come down to luck.Here’s the uncomfortable truth: To spend less than $1000 on a car, you have to be willing to risk that money and spend maybe $500 to $1000 more to get it back into tip-top mechanical shape. So do yourself a big favor and don’t be lazy in your pursuit. Go where you can have the least uncertainty and invest in the automotive beauty that lies within.
Steven Lang has been an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction for nearly two decades.
Call Smitty’s Motor Company at 903-583-2277 or visit us online at www.smittysmotors.com – Let us help you get in a reliable vehicle thats not wasting your money. We have the SMITTY’S 3 STEP on every vehicle, which includes the 3 month or 3000 mile power train warranty, 3 day return and first oil change. We don’t sell junk cars!