What’s the Best Place to Buy a Cheap—and Good—Used Car?

Used car shoppers are cheapskates. As an auto auctioneer, I can’t tell you how many times some smart-ass at an auction tried to lowball me with a $2,000 bid for a $7,000 car.

“Two! Two!” They would hold out the peace sign and laugh while I was selling a car that was usually worth more than three times that. I would respond, “Peace, brother!”

Auctions are filled with jokers, but when you’re trying to buy a used car these days, the jokers are increasingly deceptive. There are two reasons for this. First, almost everybody buys with with their eyes. Most folks simply aren’t mechanically inclined, and when they see something they like, good looks and all, they start getting stupid with their money.

A pre-purchase inspection? I'd say 90 percent of people shopping for a used car simply don’t get one, and the lower the price, the less likely they are willing to spring for it—even though the cheaper the car, the greater the chance it’s a rolling turd. An extra hundred bucks seems to be too hefty a price to pay for cheapskates who are obsessed with buying a good car for the absolute least amount of money, and that’s the problem with buying a cheap car.

I've noticed one constant when it comes to shopping for cheap cars: Most buyers don’t know they’re getting conned. They want a car that’s good, cheap, and looks nice. But they value the good-looking and cheaply priced one over the a vehicle that's actually, you know, good. This is why so many cars get washed and detailed before they’re sold, but so few ever get repaired.

So you want a good but cheap car sale? I’ll be happy to help you with that if you’re willing to go beyond the usual places. So let’s bust a few timeless myths while we search for those unique places where you can actually get your hands on that most mythical of unicorns—an inexpensive, nice-looking, and, yes, good used car.

Let’s start with the absolute biggest mythical market for cheap cars:

CRAIGSLIST

The Myth: Craigslist is the ultimate free market where dealers are forced to lower their prices due to competition from those who are willing to sell their cars on the cheap. Individuals can sell as "for sale by owner" and dealers must absolutely, positively prove they are dealers.

The Reality: Most private sellers are dealers in drag. What’s worse, most individuals are aspiring dealers who buy and sell multiple cars. Nearly every car selling for less than $2,000 is either dead or dying, and worth about a third of what they’re asking. The reason why most ads don’t feature a VIN is because the seller doesn’t want to promote the real recent history of the car—and if you ask about recent maintenance, the most common answer is, “all I did was change the oil.”

The Strategy: Always get the VIN before heading out to see the car. But don’t write the car off just because it had a minor, or even a moderate, accident. A good mechanic who spends all day looking at the insides and undercarriages of cars can figure all of that out far better than you can, and in most cases, an accident history doesn’t mean a bad owner or an unsafe car.

What makes the real difference is your ability to ask what are called "conversational" questions. Those that aren’t threatening, and result in more than a yes or no answer. My personal favorite is: “I like to get caught up on maintenance whenever I buy a used car. What has been recently done to the car, and what do you think will need to be done in the next year or so?”

If the seller tells you, “it needs nothing” or, “all I did was change the oil,” welcome to Craigslist! The reputable sellers will mention a couple of things that will likely not be mentioned in the ad.

Stay in friendly conversation mode while taking notes on how long they owned it, when any accidents occurred, and then compare what they say with the Carfax history to see if it’s a mirror image. My favorite conversational question also includes, “would it be possible for me to take it to a nearby mechanic?” weeds out 90 percent of the bad cars, and keeps most Craigslist shoppers from wasting their gas and time.

The Verdict: Craigslist is the ace-high trump of cheap. But it’s also a backed-up automotive sewer filled with rolling turds. If you want a cheap car that's good and nice looking, do your research, be patient, and ask a few conversational questions. People like conversations, not interrogations. And for the love of God, don’t believe all the pictures you see online are of the actual car! A large number of them can be found on Google images.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY (AND OTHER PEOPLE YOU THINK YOU KNOW)

The Myth: Grandma Josephine and your best friend from middle school have only one thing in common (besides the fact that they're nosy and sometimes smell funny): They own a car they don’t need anymore, and are willing to give it to you for far less than the market value.

The Reality: Used cars from family and friends can become not only complicated, but emotional. Often the seller will either want something from you that you’re not fully aware of, or the car may have some upcoming issue that you don’t know about. Rejection is a bitch, but an 18-year-old Buick that drools oil like a Saint Bernard on barbiturates is far worse.

The Strategy: If you can get a car for next to nothing this way, great. Count your blessings. But before you say yes, let someone else look at it. Have the vehicle inspected by a smart mechanic—not by a friend who happens to read car magazines. If price becomes an issue, focus on a fair price instead of a cheap one, and if it still isn’t a good fit, just tell them that. Sometimes it’s smart to just say no, and move on.

The ‘Friends And Family’ Verdict: These are the cars you usually get before buying what eventually becomes the car you keep for the long haul. As long as you’re still willing to invest in the car and handle any issues of neglect or abuse, this can be a pretty nice place to find a good cheap car. But it can also be hell on earth. Do your homework and prepare yourself for the wrath of Grandma Josephine.

IMPOUND LOTS (THE NO-NO NADIR)

The Myth: "Oh, that nice old Buick over there? That was owned by my good friend Charley who lives down the street. He took extra good care of it. Charley died and his son asked us to haul it away since the car had stayed in the garage for so long. I'll let you have it right now for $1,200 because I like your taste in cars!"

The Reality: Charley's son was a wannabe gangbanger who got high on meth a few months ago. He decided to play a game of automotive pinball that would involve the Buick hitting as many curbs, pedestrians, and stop signs as possible. After Charley's idiot son and his Buick were rendered immobile with spike strips and 25,000 volts of airborne electricity, the police found his stash of Ice and seized what was left of the vehicle. The mag wheels and radio have already been recycled by the owner of the impound lot and sold on Craigslist. The rest of the car is a rolling turd.

The Painful Truth: Impound lots are an incredibly tough place to buy because the regulars are usually told about the good cars beforehand, and chances are, you're not considered a regular. Impound lots get their vehicles from three sources: traffic accidents, abandoned vehicles, and those cars that were impounded by the police due to an arrest warrant or a traffic violation. The folks featured in the show "Cops" are the typical owners. The good news is the cars impounded by the police were running before they were involuntarily parked. The bad news is that most of these cars are also worth more dead than alive.

The Verdict: Only buy an impound lot car if you can afford a financial version of Russian roulette.

PUBLIC AUTO AUCTIONS (WHERE "AS IS" REALLY MEANS "AS IS")

The Myth: Public auctions are a mecca of good cheap cars. Most are just unpopular, or have minor cosmetic issues—just like the guy you see on late-night infomercials who proudly features the $100 deals you can find there.

The Reality: Ever buy a car without test driving it? You can’t drive any of these vehicles down the road. Public auctions are where cars that can’t be retailed are wholesaled to people who often know absolutely nothing about all the tricks that can be done to make a bad car seem good . . . that is, until the new owner pays for their cheap car and drives it about a mile down the road.

The Strategy: Public auctions have a Darwinian pecking order when it comes to quality. Banks and credit unions that sell off their repos are at the very top of the food chain when it comes to cheap cars. That’s because they're in the money business, not the car business. They just want the cars sold, and sometimes, surprisingly, you can get a decent deal.

New car dealers come next. Most of these cars got kicked to the curb by their owners due to an issue that won’t be disclosed when the car is on the auction block. The scummy bottom of the cheap-car muck are from used car dealers, some of whom make a nice side living cleaning up the impound lot cars and selling them to a completely oblivious John Q Public.

The Verdict: Unless you’re okay buying a repo from a bank and work on cars every weekend, don’t go. The auctioneer will have you bid against yourself and their smile and chant will con you into doing something stupid. The better place to go is across the street.

CITY AND COUNTY AUCTIONS (WHERE GOVERNMENT CHEESE GETS MOLDY)

The Myth: Most government cars are just like the residents of small Southern towns that were once segregated—mostly white and old. These cars also share a stunning lack of personality, but boy, can they be had cheap.

The Reality: This is mostly true. If you ever wondered who bought all those Ford Crown Victorias, Chevy Impalas, and Dodge Chargers, look no further than your local government. The good comes with maintenance; most of these cars were regularly maintained by mechanics who are familiar with the vehicles. However, many others are also abused or neglected. Some even get shucked off to a back lot for years on end, which requires a lot more work than a new key and a car battery.

The Strategy: Finding a nice government car requires the same thing you need if you’re going to run an oldies station: records, records, and more records. Before you go to preview the cars with a jump box in hand—and yes, you will need one, because many won’t start—go visit the online site if it’s featured there. GovDeals.com and PublicSurplus.com are the two big ones.

From there, find the two or three that interest you most and call to see if you can stop by on a specific day to view the maintenance history. If you're nice, most people will say yes to this request. If you find one with a recently replaced transmission, regular oil changes, and also recently had major suspension components replaced, don’t be scared—this is exactly what you want to see. Avoid the police cars. Instead, opt for the ones that were driven by government employees but still had the heavy duty packages that can withstand the abuse.

The Verdict: If you were to live in a van down by the river, nothing’s cheaper than a 20 year old Ford Aersotar with only 60,000 miles on the clock and back seats that have never been sat in. K-9 cars are loaded with dog hair and dog smells. But if you know a good detailer, they can be killer deals.

Ride Along In The Cockpit With This Apache Pilot For His Final Flight

Dutch Apache pilot and published author Peter Gordijn filmed his last flight in his beloved attack helicopter for all of us to enjoy.

Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64Ds have had a strong presence in Afghanistan, flying combat operations over some of the country’s most dangerous terrain. Gordijn wrote a book titled "Wakker!" ("Awake!") about the life lessons he learned as an attack helicopter pilot. The book takes the reader from the time Peter was a young pilot-in-training to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and how each step along the way changed his perception of life.

Fini-flights, as they're called, are bittersweet events. Giving up what for many pilots has been a dream job for which they worked tirelessly to obtain and maintain over the years, is more of a leap than just taking the next career step. Knowing that you will never grace the skies in such an amazing and powerful flying machine is sobering, to say the least.

Here is some gorgeous cockpit footage of Gordijn ringing out the Apache for one last time, making rapid descents, maneuvering low over the countryside around Gilze-Rijen air base, and ripping past a group of friends and comrades at max speed:

Well done sir, well done.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Vin Diesel Is the Fast 8 ‘Candy Ass’ Dwayne Johnson Hates

If TMZ is to be believed, Vin Diesel is the unprofessional “chicken shit” that inspired Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson’s rant earlier this week. The gossip site claims the two had a secret meeting right after The Rock’s diatribe went live, but it ended poorly. Now, the Fast 8 crew is taking sides—and none of them are #TeamDiesel.

Allegedly, Johnson was upset with Diesel’s lackadaisical work ethic, with Diesel turning up to set more than 30 minutes past his call time and sometimes making the crew wait up to an hour to start a shot. Was he caught in traffic? Or held up dealing with a different element of the filming, since Diesel was given a producer credit on the latest film in the Fast & Furious franchise? Nope. He was reportedly just sitting in his trailer, refusing to come out.

Diesel also moved call times on Mondays from 7am to 10am simply because he could. His ego reportedly ballooned with his new producer title, as well, which led to him giving other actors notes criticizing their performances. Needless to say, the crew—and The Rock—weren’t feeling it, leading up to Johnson’s explosive social media posting.

TMZ claims the crew of Fast 8 loves Johnson, saying, “He's the ultimate professional who is always on time and always nails his scenes. They also say he's easy to work with.”

Yesterday, Diesel posted a cryptic Instagram video. In it, the 49-year-old actor begins talking about finally coming home from being on the Fast 8 set for the first time since Christmas and finding out that his daughter Pauline learned a new word: happy. He goes on to say that “Happy kind of described my spirit, my soul, and most people who stay positive.” Then things take a bit of a weird turn; Diesel promises to “tell you everything. Everything,” but he drags out the final word before cutting the video. Is that a shot across The Rock’s bow? Who knows at this point. Judge for yourself from his post below:

So much has gone on this year. I can't believe I wrapped two back to back pictures I both starred in and produced. Now I get to return to my family, my life... To me.

A post shared by Vin Diesel (@vindiesel) on Aug 10, 2016 at 10:27pm PDT

Diesel has at least one ally within the cast: Tyrese Gibson. Gibson uploaded a snap of himself and Diesel with a novel of a caption that included the words, “I've always said that if ONLY people knew how hard you work to protect this franchise and characters, minds would be blown," adding, "I'm so fucking proud to call you my family and my brother.” Lastly: "If no one else will jump out there and stand up I will."

When I Ask for a Chrysler Minivan, Just Give Me a Damn Chrysler Minivan

Shoots are hard stuff. Days are long, temperatures can run high, and one of our produced pieces can be create about the most abusive conditions a car can see in its entire life. That’s when the real heroes, separated from the weak and weary, are made. “Or similar” performance just won’t cut it.

I’m talking, of course, about the rental cars we use as camera tracking vehicles. Rental cars are an integral part of my life making these films, and we never discuss them unless something goes horribly wrong. Which, in case you haven’t figured it out, is why I’m bringing it up now.

As we travel around the world making films with sports cars old and new, we spend a lot of time and energy focusing on the car as the hero of the film. The detail shots, locations, timing for perfect light—all of this presents the car, hopefully, in an ideal world. And if we do our jobs well, the ideal world should appear easy and natural, when in reality, that’s not always the case.

If you rent a car and request a “Hyundai Sonata or similar,” ending up with a Chevy Malibu doesn’t really change anything. Sure, maybe you specifically wanted a Hyundai Sonata, but a Malibu serves exactly the same purpose: carrying four (or five) people and their stuff around.

Ninety percent of the time, the perfect filming vehicle for a crew of our size is a Chrysler Minivan. We rent at least three dozen Chrysler Minivans a year, and by far, this is the finest crew vehicle around for basic road or racetrack shoots.

It has the best chassis, the best manual gear selector, plenty of power, and its brakes will last at least six laps of a two-mile road course at a full clip. The perfectly slab-sided body ensures you can mount cameras nearly anywhere, and we've developed entire filming methods and custom camera-rigging gear based around these cars. You wouldn’t believe the things we’ve done on racetracks in Chrysler minivans. Most people don’t appreciate the art of camera car driving, but my crew takes pride in it. All the members of my film crew are amazingly competent racing drivers behind the wheel of a Chrysler Minivan.

"Our rental camera vehicle, as of this writing, sits in a Denver hotel lot looking absolutely a shambles."

This isn’t a commercial for Chrysler, I swear. I’m just saying that if you're renting a car and have a need beyond just driving around a bit, specifics are important, and can be the difference between my film crew returning a pristine rental car and one that’s been absolutely trashed.

I like Enterprise because they let me choose a car from the lot, always ensuring I get a Chrysler Minivan in good shape and with fresh tires. I’ll first spend ten or fifteen minutes looking around the lot at a few vans; the lot attendants think I’m insane, though aren’t generally bright or motivated enough to realize they maybe should make a note to check the vehicle a little more carefully on my return.

In the last ten days, though, I’ve been on shoots in North Carolina and Colorado, in which our rental vehicle was acquired elsewhere, forcing us to roll the “or similar” dice. And both times, we got fucked.

Landing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, we had reserved a Toyota 4Runner “or similar.” The intention was to take three people, six camera cases, three suitcases, and three backpacks some two hundred miles into the North Carolina side of the Smokies to spend a day with racing driver Leh Keen and his absolutely brilliant 1981 Porsche 911 Safari rally car, which we will discuss in its own column. Our trip included a lot of camera gear and significant off-road driving. The 4Runner is unique in that it possesses off-road capability, lots of ground clearance, RWD-based architecture, and—most importantly—a rear window which rolls down so a cameraman inside the vehicle can shoot out the back without having the tailgate open.

"The 3.5L V-6 coughed and wheezed, struggling to make any kind of power at all over 10,000 feet, and eventually, at the 12,000-foot mark, it refused to make any power at all."

Directed to space number 330 in the offsite rental lot, we found what this particular rental agency considered “similar” to a Toyota 4Runner: a 2WD Dodge Journey. Now, I understand that both of these vehicles will carry five people, and that they are approximately the same size, but "similar" they are not. If you’re handing out crossovers, why on bloody earth would you advertise it as being “similar” to a 4Runner, one of the most capable off-road trucks in the segment? A Dodge Journey offers, basically, none of the things we wanted from our 4Runner, and is frankly one of the most miserable new vehicles I’ve ever driven or spent time in. The engine is weak, the steering is more numb than Charlie Sheen’s face, and the worn all-season tires showed every bit of that particular Journey’s, 20,000-mile, well, journey.

The chase cam stuff was the worst. That’s when the camera chase car follows the subject vehicle with cameras mounted on the nose. The Safari 911 spun its BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires in first and second gear like a gravel machine gun, and the Journey’s front bumper did not survive. Then came the follow cam stuff, which is where the subject car is in back, chasing the camera car. The driver of the Journey kept up an unbelievable pace, but every crash on the bump stops could be heard from a quarter-mile away. We were lucky not to destroy the oil pan. In slower sections, the Journey struggled to get traction going uphill and got noticeably less steady on the return trip to the airport, laden with six hundred pounds of human and another four hundred of luggage.

A basic 4Runner, even a rear-wheel drive one, would have fared much better; it would have been able to stay closer on the rough sections, not taken nearly as much abuse, and frankly, would have helped produce an even better film.

Then it was straight to another large-scale shoot in a far corner of the Pacific Northwest. These shoots can be huge undertakings by a very small and somewhat ragtag group of miscreants who practically grew up with each other, and each shoot gets bigger and more difficult. My old friends Chris Harris, Mike Spinelli, and I hit out on a long off-road, uphill journey in three cars. I like my job, so I can’t give away the story, what those cars are, or anything else about it, but suffice to say we had to cover a reasonable distance on tarmac and a reasonable distance on public dirt forest roads.

But what I can talk about is our rental camera vehicle, which, as of this writing, sits in a hotel lot looking absolutely a shambles.

We needed a large SUV to hold two producers, two cameramen, and a significant amount of camera equipment. We needed four-wheel drive, obviously, and a decent amount of ground clearance. A roof rack would be helpful for some of the luggage. And since we planned to be at very high altitudes off-road, and could encounter a tow situation, the power of a V-8 engine. A Chevrolet Tahoe fit the bill perfectly, and earned bonus points for its “Liftglass” pop-up rear window, making life much better for that particular camera operator.

We rented a Chevrolet Tahoe “or similar” at the airport. But when we arrived to our assigned space, what vehicle did we find to carry the film crew to victory on our big off-road adventure? A 28,000-mile 2016 Nissan Pathfinder; the new, unibody one. With a transverse V-6. And a CVT.

If I were a producer, I would have marched back to the rental counter and argued the merits of calling a Pathfinder “similar” to a Tahoe, but by the time I arrived on scene, the Pathfinder was already at the hotel.

There was a time that the Nissan Pathfinder made for an excellent off-roader. Most of its life, in fact, the Pathfinder was a rugged, sturdy truck that could hold its own against anything south of a Wrangler.

Those days are no longer, my friend. The new Pathfinder is a sorry beigemobile, not even deserving of its name. Fucking thing couldn’t even get up paths that were already there, let alone find new ones. First, the 3.5L V-6 coughed and wheezed, struggling to make any kind of power at all over 10,000 or so feet; then, at the 12,000-foot mark, it refused to make any power at all. The CVT stopped engaging properly about the same time. On the next off-road section, a rock strike took both rear exhaust hangers out and we had to use tow straps to hold the exhaust in place for the better part of 24 hours. Every single low-profile wheel was damaged while off-roading in a field of softball-sized rocks. The alignment is now 10 degrees off, and the paint is 100 percent fucked.

Again, none of this would have been an issue if we simply got the Tahoe we requested. Or even last year’s Pathfinder. But someone at this rental agency thinks that a Dodge Journey is similar to a Toyota 4Runner, and that a Nissan Pathfinder is similar to a Chevrolet Tahoe.

The good news is that we’ve finished shooting these two films, and they are both going to be good. The other good news is that we always get full insurance on the cars, and they will probably get fixed, and life will go on. But in the future, if you promise to simply rent us the cars we ask for—because we ask for them intentionally—I promise to not completely destroy your cars when they aren’t remotely up to the tasks we ask of them.