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.