MML Alex: My First Frustrating Used Car Experience

Written by
Alex Eaton
MML- Alex

In the last two weeks I began searching for a used car in earnest. After sifting through sites like AutoTrader and I found a few options in the area. I generally tried to stick to around an $8,000 price point, but I found it more difficult to meet all my criteria as time went on. However, I did find one car in particular I was excited about. It was a 2008 Volkswagen Jetta, for under $8,000 with just 75,000 miles on it. It was definitely the best value I've found available so far. So I called and set up a test drive.

This is where things started going downhill. I went out for a test drive and really liked the car. We found no issues with it at the time. But I wasn't going to purchase based on just that. So the manager at the lot the car was located said I could also take it overnight if I wanted to try it out more. This would work great because I wanted to take it to a mechanic to get a full check-up to be safe. This inherently is where the issue with the used car buying process lies. There isn't really a step-by-step process for buying. From my point of view, the test drive was my first interaction with the car. I felt like there should be a few more steps and things to check off the list before a purchasing decision was made. Especially for a purchase this big. But there aren't.

I told the manager I'd reach back out soon to check out the car more in depth, and left. I proceeded to head to my bank to discuss financing, because I will need to finance a small part it. This process is separate from this story, but I'll write more about this later. All I'll say for now is it added to my frustration.

The next morning I called a local mechanic to ask about a check-up, he said no problem you can bring it by this afternoon and we'll have it done in an hour. Fantastic. At this point I'm starting to get excited about the possibility of this car. So just after lunch I call the lot back to ask about taking the car that night. Someone was test driving the car when I called. My heart sank. I was told I'd get a call back when they were done to set it up.

The afternoon comes and goes, no call. I call back and lo and behold, they put a deposit down. The manager said there was a chance their credit wouldn't get approved, but because they put a deposit down it was theirs if it did. The next morning I get a call back saying the car was gone.

From conversations I've had, it sounds like just about everyone who has bought a used car has had this happen. So my anger at the car getting bought out from under me has gone down in the days since. It's a cut-throat world out there. Part of what makes me mad is that being cautious about making a smart buy is what lost me the car. I'm simply not going to spend thousands of dollars based on one test drive. Not going to happen.

I'm very cautious, and tend to over-research purchases. So from this first experience with used cars and banks, I know I have a frustrating journey ahead. Time to restart the search.

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