QOTD: What’s Your Sketchiest Used Car Buying Experience?


For most people, not having a brand new car sort of budget can mean scrounging around on AutoTrader, Cars.com, eBay, or even the ever-professional Craigslist for used vehicles. The resulting experiences end up shaping the future of our car ownership, our finances, and perhaps our legal situations in some cases.

Today we want you to know about your sketchiest used car buying experience.

I’ve always bought used cars; it’s a fun little (expensive) game to play. Use your skills and knowledge, and you might not get burned. Let someone else take that depreciation hit! Totaling up the cars I’ve owned thus far, my count is 11. All were used and at least five years old at the time of purchase, and only two came from dealers. My sketchiest car purchase story comes from one of those dealer vehicles, and it’s the silver Giugiaro-designed blob you’ve been jealously eyeing.

The year was 2009. After parting ways with my Infiniti I30 and sampling the excellent public transport in Busan, South Korea, I obtained my Korean license (story for a different day) and decided I wanted a car. Given everything from the newspaper classified ads to the websites were fully in Korean, I muddled through with my rudimentary understanding and leaned on my Korean coworkers for assistance where necessary. The process itself was different than the U.S.: Koreans don’t keep old cars around like Americans do, and the idea of calling someone who listed their car in the classifieds was uncomfortable for my coworkers. Those ads weren’t leading anywhere — every Daewoo Prince I called about was already gone.

My boss decided to lend a hand, and said she knew of a dealership which had some older cars. Making a telephone call, she wrote down a few for me to consider, and a Daewoo Lanos sounded appealing. Off we went before work the next day in her Samsung SM7. The dealership was all the way across town and we were limited on time.

Arriving at the dealer, the ’97 Lanos was packed in a grouping of cars and needed extraction for a test drive. A short five minute drive around the block later, and it seemed everything was in order mechanically. The car was not especially clean inside or out, and the translated-to-me negotiations were iffy. Starting price was either 1.3 million or 1.5 million Korean won — about $1,300 to $1,500 at the time.

“How about a million?”
“He says no. He will take 1.3.”
“How about 1.1, but I want them to clean it first. This is filthy.”
“They are not going to clean it. They will take 1.1 though.”

Sold, $1,100. Paperwork was hastily filled in with information I couldn’t read. In fact, I think the car might’ve been in my boss’s name to save some complications with the paperwork. Not once did I have actual possession of the title on that car. That means I was on her insurance as well, I suppose. To the best of my recollection, I paid the insurance at the dealer.

Transaction completed, we hurried back to the school building in the mid-afternoon, nearly running over a pedestrian in the process. I’d go back a day or two later when the paperwork was ready to pick up the car on my own. Daewoo Lanos adventures commenced!

A few months later in late August or early September of ’09, it was time for me to head back to my native land. A cheap car in the hands of a willing and English-speaking person was rare, and meant I had a fairly quick sale to another teacher from a couple of hours away who commuted to a rural school.

The exact sale price escapes me, but I do remember I just about broke even when all was said and done. My boss came with me to do the title transfer to the new teacher, and I’m sure she was relieved not to have a foreigner on her insurance anymore. Overall, the entire buying experience was sketchy and uncomfortable. But I did enjoy being the only foreigner in the general vicinity who had a car, and all the freedom and road trips it brought me.

I was able to dig up these lovely pictures (taken right here) from when I listed the Lanos for sale. The non-matching paint and eagle hood badge I completely forgot about, but I remembered the single powered mirror on the passenger side, power windows up front, and manual ones in the rear. The rad door panel fabric is a nice touch as well.

Time for your sketchy stories!

[Images © Corey Lewis]