Lemonade

I hope I didn’t buy a lemon.  Neither Son nor I are connoisseurs of automobiles, though, so it was hard for me to feel confident when I purchased a used Volvo last week.  I would have liked to have the car inspected by a reputable mechanic before I purchased it, but the seller was a stubborn old man.  And given his low asking price, I think he had the right to be a little stubborn.

Son and I had already test-driven a few cars listed on Craigslist, and I’d seen a few cars that looked promising sell before I had the chance to give them a test drive.  I’d also seen a few scams.  The cars that we had test driven were always disappointing.  They had multiple previous owners, had more rust than I was comfortable seeing, and were generally in poorer condition than I would have expected, given their model year.  I finally decided that it was simply not worth driving more than 10 miles to test drive a used car.  There is a lot of junk on the used car market, and I was tired of wasting gas to see it all.

So I wan’t overly-optimistic when I saw a posting for a Volvo XC70 in Sterling with 184k miles on the odometer.  I was mostly interested because it was less than 10 years old, was a wagon, and was only listed for $5300.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it – no rust!  no unpleasant odors!  leather interior in very good condition!  no unnerving rattles or engine noises during the test drive!  The seller said that it was a 2002 model year, but I was skeptical.  The condition of the vehicle was better than I’d expect for a 9-year-old car.  Plus, Volvo XC70s were not made before 2003.

The seller agreed to let go of the car for $5,000; this seemed like a very reasonable price for a 2002 Volvo wagon.  He also agreed to drive the Volvo to a mechanic of my choosing for an inspection, and I went home happy, optimisitic that my days of scouring Craigslist ads were coming to an end.

Sadly, the next day, the seller changed his mind.  “I’m 70 years old.  I don’t want to be driving all over town to have some random mechanic mess with my car.  There’s nothing someone else can tell me about that car that I don’t already know.  I looked at the title last night, and it’s actually a 2004 model year.  For $5,000, it’s going to sell fast, whether or not I allow people to have the car inspected.  I’ve gotten calls from a dozen people this morning who are interested in the car.”

I was sorry that the seller changed his mind about having the car inspected.  Neither Son nor I like to work with fickle, uncooperative people.  But at the same time, I wanted that Volvo.  I knew that I was unlikely to find a comparable car for less than $7,000.

I appraised the Volvo using the Edmunds.com used car appraisal tool.  The base price for a private party sale of a 2004 Volvo XC70 was $9,766.  Add $364 for the leather, sunroof, and audio system.  Subtract $1,956 due to the high mileage.  Price was still $8,184.  Say that the condition was “average” (may need considerable reconditioning) rather than “clean” (may require limited reconditioning).  That takes off another $1,908, but the private party sale price was still $6,276.  $5,000 was the trade-in value for the Volvo if it was considered to be in “average” condition.  I was willing to bet that the Volvo was in at least “average” condition.  It had a few door dings, a relatively minor scrape in the right rear door, and the engine occasionally skipped while idling, but there were no other obvious problems with the car.

So I bought it.

The seller had a family emergency that day (?!), so he had his secretary complete the sale.  Apparently, the car was originally purchased as a company vehicle for a cleaning service.  In order to complete the sale, the secretary “sold” the car to Glick Nissan in Westborough (?!), and I bought the car from Glick Nissan.  So technically, it was not a private party sale. 

We picked up the car the next day, after I had completed the registration and obtained plates from the RMV.  The whole transaction seemed slightly fishy, so I was relieved to get the car home without incident.

On Friday, I took the car for a state inspection.  Sadly, it failed the inspection.  But happily, the problem was not too expensive to fix: the car needed a new tie rod end.  I had the car serviced the following Tuesday.  The bill came to $530 for the new tie rod end, wheel alignment, new air filter, new fuel filter, and new ignition coil.  I was thankful that a new ignition coil was all it took to fix the skip that the engine experienced while idling.

So I think I made out alright.  I don’t think I bought a lemon.  I’ve been reassured that Volvos are built to last, so I’m betting that the XC70 will at least get me through the next 3 years of pharmacy school.  Time will tell.

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