You might find a diamond in the rough at one of them, but it's not likely.
[warning: long read!]
While on the hunt for the latest 124 that I mentioned in the previous post, there are the three principal rules that I learned from that experience:
1. Be patient.
Even if you're buying a brand new car, take your sweet time searching and seeking out the exact car you want. But as far as used cars go, never be hasty, and always be choosy (see rule #2.)
Remember that the seller is always more eager and determined to unload his car onto you and part you with your money than you are eager to take it off of his hands. Don't just scour the classifieds. Go out there and see actual stuff. Kick some tires. Look around. Meet people. Don't be too embarrassed or afraid to get your hands - and your back - dirty when inspecting a potential buy. Get your hands in there, and lie on your back and look underneath.
2. Be ruthless.
Always have the courage to walk away, no matter how good the deal seems to be, and no matter how sweet that ride you just checked out appears to be. If you smell $hit, walk away, no matter what. Listen to, and trust, your instincts.
Let's say you found this beautiful specimen with the exact options you want in the exact color you want. But one of the floorboards is starting to rust through. The dashboard has a slight crack in it that looks more like the result of the owner's negligence than the weather. The backrest of the driver's seat has a four-inch tear in it - all of which are issues that might think will be easy for you to live with. In reality, these "little things" that are actually costly to set right (a small crack means replacing the entire dashboard skin, for instance - a very costly job that almost never goes right) that you will have to see every morning will gradually eat at you, and eventually you'll grow to hate a perfectly good car just because of them.
So, not matter how seemingly perfect that gem you think you just stumbled upon is, if you feel bothered by the slightest thing, no matter how trivial or insignificant, make sure that you have the courage to just turn your back and walk away.
The bottom line is, don't just settle for anything you can find. There's always something better out there that's exactly what you want. Just take your time seeking it out.
Mind you, in the process, you just might find something else that you forgot ever existed - and that you never new you had wanted in the first place - and get that instead!
3. Be prepared to go over budget.
They say good things come to those who wait, but at what cost? I'll tell you this: after my (largely self-inflicted) experiences with the pleasures, trials and travails of car ownership, no expense can ever dull the pleasure of actual ownership. No matter how much money you pour into the thing, and no matter how troublesome it gets, it's still cheaper than any lease (well, unless you make $200,000 a year and it's a Kia Rio that you're leasing
- but then again even Rios are no longer as cheap as they used to be.)
So let's say you found that gem, that "diamond in the rough" as Musikmann so eloquently put it, that is exactly what you want to a tee, but it's a few gees out of your budget. You know what? I'd be willing to borrow, beg and steal to get it, as long as it makes me happy for a long time to come and I end up owning it outright.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about with regard to going over budget. While I was out looking around the two major car markets in Riyadh in early 2010, I wasn't particularly looking for a 124. It was on the list, though - along with a slew of other stuff that I may or may not have found. So I took two months (yes, two whole months - remember what I said about patience?) just walking around the market place. I would leave work at five in the afternoon, go straight to the car market, park the car and walk the joint, shop by shop, showroom by showroom. keeping an open mind, I looked at everything, from older V6 Camrys (quite a big deal over here, and I knew I didn't
want a Camry) to various Lexuses (Lexii?) BMWs and what not. I must've even come across and old Bentley Turbo R that someone so desperately wanted to unload, which I wisely passed on, given where I live. Finally, after two months, I had narrowed it all down to this one metallic black 1998 W140 that I spotted, a short-wheelbase S500 left-hand-drive out of Japan, with 78,000 kilometers on the clock, that used to belong to the secretary of some Saudi prince.
Yet still, something just didn't feel right. I'm a mere 5'3", so you can imagine how awkward I probably would feel in something as big as a W140. The car had a bunch of accessories added to it at some point, including a radar detector and the like. When I saw it the first time, it started and drove just fine. But when I went back with my wife for a second look a day later and started it again in the dealer's yard, something odd happened: when I tried to move the steering wheel, the seat moved, and when I tried to move the seat, the steering wheel moved! I switched the car off and restarted it, and it went back to normal.
That was when I thought it was about time to throw in the towel and just stop looking. Two months had passed and I still hadn't found anything that I was willing to part with a chunk of my annual bonus for. Then, a couple of nights later, I had taken one last, slightly desperate drive to the other car market south of the city. Still feeling that my search was fruitless, I thought I should call it quits and call it a night. So as I was driving out of there, I passed this little showroom on the main road that's rather hard to see without actually driving right past. Inside was an E38 740i, a bunch of W140s, a 560 SEL, a few other later Benzes and a bunch of SUVs, and something silver buried way out there in the back. I stomped on the Mazda's brakes and backed up. And there it was - a 1994 E320 that no one seemed to want. Hell, with all those other "fancy" cars obscuring it, it was the most "downmarket" car in the showroom! So no wonder everyone was walking right past it.
But then again, for the guy's asking price, a normal person would be crazy to touch it with a crowbar. A typical W124 of decent condition and a straight-six engine is probably worth about 20,000-25,000 riyals in the local market, and range from as much as just below 30,000 for the cleaner ones to as little as 5,000 riyals for the really bad examples with missing body parts. But this one was exceptional. It was also a LHD out of Japan, with almost all the options (except sportline, memory for the seat controls, and traction control) and had only 73,000 kilometers on the clock. And he wanted 40,000 riyals for it!
I did have the courage to walk away, but only for about a week or so
. For that whole week, I could barely sleep. I was already trying to make arrangements to get out of my leases, so I thought I was going to need wheels soon anyway. Then my wife came into town to visit and I took her to see both cars - that W140 and the 124. She chose the 320, partly for its size (my wife is 4'8"!
) and partly for its sentimental value - I still had that old '87 when we got engaged.
So finally I said what the heck... I handed over the money to the guy and drove it away. Call me crazy (as almost everybody I knew did,) but hey, at least I own it! If the bank comes knocking tomorrow to repossess the three Mazdas, at least the repo men won't be able to swing a dead cat at the Benz!