Friday, July 10, 2015

How To Buy A Used Car: Step 2 The Hunt, Searching For Your Next Ride.

With Elon Musk's announcement last year that Telsa Motors will allow its patents to be "open source," it seemed like a good time to lift up Daily Turismo's skirt and expose a little of our intellectual property.  Unfortunately DT's trade secrets are about as valuable as a bunch of pie-in-the-sky patents for technology that neither manufacturer nor consumer wants to touch -- but that won't stop us from trying to protect it with lawyers share it with the world.  Coincidentally, this is (the long overdue) Step 2 in Daily Turismo's How To Buy A Used Car (HTBAUC) series.

I fondly remember browsing copies of Autotrader print magazine in the local 7-11, but those days are long gone. Finding a good used car in the world wide web is easier, but also filled with far too much nonsense.  Scammers, con artists, and axe murderers lurk around every turn, but if you are cautious and diligent, you can find all sorts of marvelous cars for a fair price.  Time to examine the various sites you can find used cars, starting with the big ones.

Ebay Motors
Ebay isn't just a site with thousands of cars for sale, it also features one of the best interfaces for finding what you want and quickly.  Just type in the name of the car you are looking to buy and presto -- the results are filled with items matching and related to your search.  Should you feel adventurous, you can also search by specific make/model/trim/transmission type/fuel/engine -- but be aware that sellers don't always input that information correctly and you might miss out on good deals.

You can also browse by category, but there is a catch!  If you really want to find the good stuff, you've got to use the drop down menu on the left side of the ebay motors homepage and select Powersports & More, and then click on Other Vehicles.  You are now taken to the mysterious land of vehicles that don't necessarily show up in the normal ebay motors Cars & Trucks search spots.  Yes.  Mysterious indeed.  In the Other Vehicles category you can further refine your hunting by selecting from such choices as aircraft (groovy), buses (mmmkay), military vehicles (better...), race cars -not street legal (now we are getting somewhere) and finally other (oooo...the holy grail....).  That is right, there is an others subcategory in the other vehicles group under powersports and more.  In here you will find all manner of things like the World's Largest Food Truck, a giant pig trailer, a home built desert fox dune buggy, 2/3s scale Corvette replica...its basically a swap meet for ebay rejects!  Yes!

If eBay is a three bedroom single family residence, then craigslist is the mobile home located on the edge of town.  It isn't that the cars on craigslist aren't as nice as those on eBay, it is just the free and anonymous listing service offers a low barrier of entry to hackers, 419ers, derelicts, and bargain car buyer/seller alike.  Craigslist offers a fantastic native search function that was only recently augmented with the ability filter your search by year, make/model, transmission type, odometer reading, all kinds of stuff.  Unfortunately, the ability to search across nationwide craigslist is still something you need to head to google, onecraigs, or autotempest for...more on that later.  The key to buying cars on craigslist is to the use the simple rule -- if it is expensive, ignore it because the seller won't take an offer, and if it is cheap, it's probably a scam.  Clear?  If you want my honest opinion -- this is the place to get deals on cars.  The ride will be wild, but the potential might outweigh the risks.  What is the worst that can happen?

These aren't sites that involve reptilian powers, but they do offer a great way to surf multiple listing services without filling your browser with new tabs.  Autotempest is one of my favorite for its clean interface and comprehensive packaging (autotrader, craigslist, ebay, carsdirect, -- all in one place), but there are tons of other similar sites, like autolist, and many others.  These are great for finding some oddball classic or rare model, but a bit overwhelming if you are searching for a popular vehicle, so I tend to stick to the native site unless looking for something really specific in a wide area.  Know of another aggregator that does a great job? Put it in the comments below.

Make/model specific forums are fantastic places to research information about a particular car and typically offer a classified section.  Although you can get your fix at any number of oddball model specific sites, I prefer highly active user forums like NASIOC.  Some classifieds are limited to specific vehicles with all kinds of rules, while others are a free for all where you can post your Evo-powered Pinto without fear of being flamed.  One of the cooler things about many forums is that you can post up a "wanted" ad and get tons of feedback from dedicated enthusiast (aka nuts) about that particular make/model and perhaps a few good leads.  Just be aware that forums are going to be filled with people who love their specific make model a little too much, and conversations that go like this:

Dude A: Here is my awesome limited edition hoopty mobile for sale. 
Dude B: That car is sweet, I've already got three, but this is a great deal.
Dude A: Still for sale.
Dude B: How has this car not sold yet?  So sweet.  Just picked up another at a pick-a-part yesterday.
Dude A: If this car doesn't sell today, I'm gonna paint it a confederate flag on the top and keep it for ever.
Dude A: Bump to top, still for sale.
Dude A: Price lowered, still for sale.

Autotrader is what is left of the king of car listings from a few decades ago, and what it lacks in quantity compared to craigslist, it makes up in the fact that paying sellers aren't going to be least they are less likely to be scammers.  One of the funny things about AT that I've noticed is that the demographic of users is strongly skewed towards older men, particularly the guys 40-60 years old who remember the print magazine in their prime.  These guys don't have a problem paying $50 to list a car and probably think craigslist is mostly used for drugs, casual hookups, and murder-for-hire (and they are likely correct).  Expect AT to be a great place to buy a Camaro or C4 Corvette for many years to come, but don't expect to find a psychopathic drug dealer looking for a quickie.

For a place that has the reputation of being a hoity-toity  site for the Pebble Beach crowd, you can find quite a few good deals on Hemmings any day of the week.  Mostly on marques that the leather glove and fancy watch crowd won't touch, like a vintage Saab or Simca.  Hemmings has a very interesting parts section that is filled with all kinds of engines that aren't as good, reliable, powerful, or cheap as an LS1, but would make for an interesting swap.
A personal favorite search tool of DT's Hunsbloger is  Almost every dealer in the country has their inventory immediately tied into it and it is just as popular with newer cars as autotrader.
Hunsbloger is happy to point out that he bought his last 5 cars sight-unseen online.  The ones for fun were found on eBay and craigslist and were not seen 'in the flesh' until they were delivered by trailer.  The ones bought for daily driver duty were cars found on In each case, the cars were located via, then dealer was contacted and a deal made subject to inspection at time of delivery.  Then, depending upon distance Hunsbloger either flew in (had the dealer pick up at the airport) or drove to the car and then drove it home. has the best filters for narrowing your search but you have to know to click on the 'advanced search' tab to utilize them.  Once in the advanced search, you can narrow or broaden your search to include not only specific make, model and year, but you can also search for two types of cars at the same time  filter by  price, distance, and vehicle mileage.  We use this as a very quick market survey of where any particular car with a range of miles is trading for on dealer lots.  (As with all dealer and private party listings, the prices vary wildly)

Hunsbloger just concluded a very long search for a 2010 Passat wagon with just 20K miles on it last week. It is best to look nationally because if the car is priced right,  you'll find a number of cars, but that model is so wickedly popular with VW-dealers and searchers alike that most were gone w/in 24 hrs of hitting the dealer's lots. also allows you to save a search and will notify you by email when one meets the criteria you've established.  It was an email from, notifying Hunsbloger in the evening that a new 2010 had been listed that allowed him to find the car he just bought.

Start your searches by looking nationally for a specific year, make, model (body type), then filter by lowest mileage and scan the results looking for a deal on price where lowest mileage and moderate price intersect.  Don't shy away from dealers on cars less than 10 years old because they generally have access to the cleanest ones via their own trade-ins and by dealer auctions.  They also have their ear to the price of the market so they tend to be greedy (but not crazy) in their asking price.

By the time that you've located a car using that method, you've become very quickly aware of several things that help you with the dealer, but the very best tool, tip or advice that we can offer you is;  
a) dealers also typically include the car fax report which gives you a great read on how the car was cared for and whether or not it was wrecked (eliminates a lot of otherwise attractive cars) but, here's the jewel:  
b) they also include the exact mileage in  If a car is purchased at auction with say 20,138 miles, and the dealers listing shows it with 20,142 it was probably trucked to the dealership from auction.  Then, if you will call the salesman and very innocently ask, "could you please send me a picture of the dash showing the current odometer reading on the car as it is right now on the lot?'  What you will yield is GOLD.  If the car has another 250 miles on it, the dealer has been driving it because he likes it so much, or if it has the exact same mileage or just 2 or 3 miles more, you know that NO ONE HAS BEEN TEST DRIVING IT!!   If they've had the car for say 30 days and it hasn't been test driven, you now have that in your arsenal to use when you're looking for a price discount.

When dealing with dealers on out of state cars its very important to remember that you don't want the AVERAGE salesperson, you want to speak with their internet sales manager if they have one.  The reasons are many, but they include, they can negotiate price, they understand the issues of state tax reciprocity and the easiest way to transfer title best way to transfer title to an out of state buyer and they may have good information for a cheap way to transport the car if you want it trailered to you.  Many sales people and many car dealers still have never concluded an out of state transaction over the phone.

Blog Spotters
These are sites that are dedicated to providing a daily (hourly...or weekly) listing of the more interesting cars around the interweb.  Naturally, you'll want to visit the best -- DailyTurismo (that's us, in case you accidentally clicked on this story thinking you were at the Wall Street Journal's section on farming tips), but plenty of other sites provide curated listings, BarnFinds, BringATrailer, Jalopnik's Nice Price or Crack Pipe, Hooniverse, Fast In Fast Out, Petrolicious, Germancarsforsaleblog...the list goes on.  What do they all have in common?  A passion for all things automotive, and you can't beat that with a robotic search engine.  Obviously each site has its own slant on things, but expect competition for the good deals to be fierce and you'll need to act fast to beat other buyers.

Say what?  This is one of my personal favorite ways to find cars for sale -- look for them.  See a for sale sign in a car as you are driving to work -- flip that illegal U-turn (in California it is customary to extend a middle finger to anyone nearby as a thanks for giving you the right of way) and check it out.  Walking around at a car show?  Half the cars are for sale, and probably overpriced, but who knows, you just might get lucky.  Keep your eyes open.  Talk to you friends/neighbors, let them know you are a car guy, and chances are good you'll find cars falling in your lap. They might need some work or have a few cobwebs in the wheel wells, but some of my favorite cars were found via word of mouth. 

A few more thoughts...
The real trick when you are searching for your next ride is that you shouldn't be simply trying to find "the one", but you should also be cataloging and surveying the market.  Do you see lots of cars languishing for months on craigslist or not meeting reserve on fleabay?  That means the market is soft and you might find similar issues if you try and dump your ride in a year or two.  You should keep a spreadsheet or a folder on your personal computer (for the mobile loving kids out there, these are the big things that old people use to surf the web...) with a catalog of the cars you've found, and don't be afraid to peruse eBay's completed listings; this gives you a great idea of what the market looks like and who uses shill bidders for their auctions.  What did I miss?  Put it in the comments below.

Stay tuned for Step 3 of Daily Turismo's How To Buy A Used Car Series: First Contact:  How to screen potential cars via web/phone/email. 


  1. Thanks for this. Between my MidWeek and this, I've got plenty to occupy my time in the ensuing weeks.

    1. What's the V8olvo status update, Doc?

    2. I'm still in the game, just lurking... I have a number in my mind that I will go up to and we aren't there yet so I'll let it play out a bit.

    3. Best of luck! I hope it works out the way you want it.

  2. ~ From part 1. [I've been waiting for a long, long time]
    scot -September 24, 2012 at 9:08 PM
    ~ i'm anxiously looking forward to this series of articles. i began buying cars before i could legally drive. it is an exhilarating science with myriad hidden stumbling blocks. some mistakes are so simple and so subtle i've been unable to avoid them after hundreds of deals. luckily, we are never too old or too smart to learn.
    ('that AMC based BatMobile''re not gonna let that go, are you?)
    Thanks guys!!

  3. Yugos in Beverly Hills: nice. But "your dream car"...?

  4. If this ends up as a double post it's because I swear this uploaded but now it's gone.

    Disclaimer - I only quickly browsed this and did search for RSS before posting this.

    You didn't discuss the magic of RSS feeds in the main article. Back in the day before aggregators you had to make your own. Think of RSS feeds as your own personalized aggregator. Takes just a smidge of work on the front end to setup (sometimes I use the aggregators to help with this), but in the long term often provides a very specific, one shop solution. This also may be a better strategy when you’re searching for something fairly rare. I’m currently doing this for something fairly common (a Jeep Cherokee) and to some extent am overwhelmed with hits largely because the specific combination of bits I want is rare and there is no standardization to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Craigslist (and many car forums, including Daily Turismo!) support RSS feeds. Even better CL (and many car forums) supports RSS feeds from search result pages. So you fine tune your search (or in many cases multiple different variations of that search) and save all the resulting RSS feed links from those search result sessions. (Protip: Became a search engine syntax master and it significantly improves your signal to noise ratio. Downside is you may miss that one wrongly marked steal of a century by doing so. But you may also miss that deal of a century because you didn’t see it because you had 300 bad results and it was mixed in because you used a really generic search.) You feed all those RSS links into your favorite RSS reader. Google Reader is an internet favorite, but I use RSSOwl currently. I previously used RSS Bandit but I think that's been abandoned by its programmer and I started having some issues with it. I preferred RSS Bandit due to its archiving of historical RSS results and natural ability to remove duplicates that are found in multiple feeds. I’d suggest you give it a whirl before going straight to RSSOwl.

    Your RSS reader program will allow you to group RSS feeds together, roll them up, search, archive, etc. Basically it takes these specific results and turns them into viewing everything just like you do your email. You can set the refresh frequency as well. So it runs your searches once a day, every two hours, etc. (Protip: Don’t query CL over multiple geographic areas on a regular basis (15 minutes or so for example). You might find your IP address banned from CL from spamming them as a search spider. Don’t ask how I know. )

    Then it’s just a simple matter of looking at your results every day. The biggest benefit I get from this is quickly getting a good feel for the pricing of what I’m looking for and the frequency for which they appear. You can also get a good feel for how long they have been on the market if your RSS reader saves old results. When I was using RSSBandit I had two plus years worth of results for some things and could easily tell you how long something had been listed for and how the asking prices had changed by looking back through the archives. It would save CL ads locally even when the original ad had been removed.

    If anyone needs more details or help with specific setups let me know. I’ve been doing this for awhile for some specific oddball stuff and is how I spam our regional RX7 FB group with all the CL goodies in our area (of course withholding anything I’m interested in until I know I’m not getting it. Lol).

  5. Just updated post with a section on written by Hunsbloger.

  6. @DT - My post is missing again. Did yall nix it or did the software eat it?

    1. Tanj! -- sorry, the auto-spam filter bot decided you had too much good information and stuck it into the trash. I re-published it, but with your permission, I will add it to the main post, along with proper attribution. One question -- how do you pronounce "!"? -Vince DT E-i-C

    2. ha! Well it's not the best writing anyways. And FYI Google reader has apparently been discontinued sometime in 2013. So no clue what "the" preferred RSS reader is these days. It's a bit of a dying format from a consumer aspect.

      You pronounce the ! with emphasis.

  7. Pretty decent list but I think you're missing CarSumo, an aggregator that gets listings from Craigslist, eBay, and a bunch of other sites and displays them all in one place.


Commenting Commandments:
I. Thou Shalt Not write anything your mother would not appreciate reading.
II. Thou Shalt Not post as anonymous unless you are posting from mobile and have technical issues. Use name/url when posting and pick something Urazmus B Jokin, Ben Dover. Sir Edmund Hillary Clint don't matter. Just pick a nom de plume and stick with it.
III. Honor thy own links by using <a href ="http://www.linkgoeshere"> description of your link </a>
IV. Remember the formatting tricks <i>italics</i> and <b> bold </b>
V. Thou Shalt Not commit spam.
VI. To embed images: use [image src="" width="400px"/]. Limit images to no wider than 400 pixels in width. No more than one image per comment please.