Can I get some advice from you LA drivers?

As much as I enjoy my public transportation exploits, I’m hoping to buy a car as soon as I can get some money together. For the past 8 or so years of my life, I mostly relied on the NYC subway system to get around, so I don’t have a clue how to buy a car.

What’s the cheapest possible used car I can buy that might actually hold together and get me around for a while? (I dream of one day owning a shiny silver hybrid, but at the moment, I’d be happy with anything that can get me from place to place.)

Where does one buy a car like that in LA?

Any tips on what I should avoid, and how to be sure I’m not buying a total piece of junk?

What should my vanity plate say? (just kidding… at least for now)

13 thoughts on “Can I get some advice from you LA drivers?”

  1. Try publications like “Photo Buys” and the old standby, the “Recycler”. Line up a mechanic to check it out before you finalize the deal. If the seller will not let you have a mechanic check it out, don’t buy it.

  2. Hondas and Toyotas are famous for:
    1) reliability through 200,000 miles
    2) gas mileage
    3) unfotunately, holding their resale value. Reliability isn’t necessarily cheap.

    Before I moved here, a friend of mine gave me this LA advice: Buy a car that’s just a little more than you can comfortably afford. Skimp somewhere else, but not on the car. The extra dollars spent will go towards reliability and comfort, both of which are important. Reliability for obvious reasons, comfort because you’re going to spend A LOT of time in that box…

    Make sure the car in question alrady has passed smog — legally, that’s the seller’s responsibility. DO NOT buy a car that hasn’t passed; the seller disappears and then you’re stuck with a car you can’t register. (Long, sad wisdom gained through experience).

  3. look in the yellow pages for an auto appraiser. for $100.00 or so someone will come out and look at the car with you and will tell you everything you’d ever want to know about what is good and bad about the car. they work for YOU so you won’t get any shady double talk and you may end up saving yourself a lot of money by making the intitial inspection investment.

  4. Probably can’t go wrong with a no-options, econo Toyota or Honda; would be ideal if you could buy from a dealership with one of those certification/inspection programs (but probably out of your budget range). I would advise making sure it has air-conditioning (not always a dry-heat out here); you’ll thank me later.

    If you are new to LA and don’t have an on-call navigator/friend who has lived here for 40 years and knows her way around, I would strongly, strongly, strongly (!!) recommend that you buy a map-based, portable GPS device. I bought a GPS 5 by Garmin two years ago; paid $500 for it and use it in my Jeep (nowadays you can get one of those for like $250; it only has memory enough to store one city’s worth of map info, LA in this instance). I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, this little GPS device has probably been worth $50,000 plus to me in time and stress saved over the last two years. You will thank me if you buy one of these (you never waste time or gas getting to where you want to go; if you are at all an environmentalist, you must have one of these or a new car that is GPS-equipped). I think that the U.S. military must have specifically designed the GPS satellite constellation to aid auto navigation in LA and OC. Thomas Guide might have been nice in the 1950’s, but it’s time to upgrade

    Oh, and vanity plate should say “LA ZGR8.” :)

  5. Just a follow-up on an issue with the GPS devices by Garmin. If you decide to buy one of these and it requires you to download map information from a Cd-ROm, you should know that these things usually aren’t Mac-compatible (GPS 5 wasn’t and I don’t think the old Street Pilots were either); I had an IBook in 2002 and I was pissed about this. Ended up having to go to a computer repair store in the Valley to get the LA maps downloaded to my GPS 5. Try doing this At Kinkos or a computer cafe like C&C on Sunset and its a no go. So, have a PC (not a Mac) if you are going to use a device like this.

  6. For car buying, check out one of several local auto auctions. There are incredible deals to be found there. Make sure you take someone along who knows a bit about cars, so as to make sure what you’re buying will run well. Initially, your new car may not look pretty, but consider this…Last year a friend bought a 1989 BMW 318. It was filthy when he bought it, but after a wash the thing looked like new. Runs great, no dents/dings, total cost $1,800. Great deals are out there. Good luck!

  7. I would add that this is the worst town for doing superficial damage to cars that I have ever lived in– in a little over a year I’ve had the lights on three corners smashed in (two in lots, one on the street), a major dent in the side (in front of my apartment, a hit-and-run), and a side mirror knocked clean off. I mention this because even though you’re trying to go cheap you might have last-minute doubts about buying a car with dings and cracks in it, but it’s probably stuff that’ll happen to you anyway so don’t sweat it.

  8. Wow, you guys rock. Thanks for all the help. I had been thinking that what I really need is to just hire someone who knows about cars. I didn’t know there were people who did that for a living! (And thanks for the suggestion of a GPS device, too — A friend came to visit a few months ago, and had one in her rental car. It made life so much easier. Even if I can’t afford it right away, I’m definitely going to look into that.) Thank you so much for all the suggestions. I probably won’t have the money together for a few more months, but this helps me feel a lot more organized about making a plan.

  9. GPS? Oh, please–you’ll leave it in the car and it’ll get stolen. Buy a new Thomas guide. The extra $500 will be better spent on tires, etc. Join AAA. Look at AutoTrader online.

  10. I sold my car last year on, you might want to check them out. I had a Subaru, which I highly recommend as a good value as well as Toyotas & Hondas.

    I agree with Burns, that little scrapes on the bumpers mean nothing. A car is a mode of transportation and to pay so much attention to the aesthetics of an older car is to lose sight of its purpose. Find someone knowlegable to shop with you if you can’t hire someone and don’t be afraid to use carfax or take the prospective car to a mechanic.

    As for the GPS, I agree with Rachel – I’ve been using the same Thomas guide for 10 years. If I’m really in doubt, I check out the address online before I go out. And there’s always the option of calling for directions on your cell.

    Definitely spend the money on joining AAA – it’ll pay for itself with one flat tire or tow.

  11. I think the only problem you really have to worry about is the smog-check (especially at test-only stations that are more stringent on passing). I ended up paying a lot of money to mechanics to get my 93 Nissan to pass.

  12. Here’s a local tip: If you’re near Little Tokyo, Gardena, or Sawtelle, try the bulletin boards outside a grocery store like Marukai or Mitsuya. Exchange students are always selling cars to buy their tickets home, (could be heaps, could be “like new”, too).

    My criteria for bottom-of-the-barrel used cars: Original paint, (so the damage is obvious); and no fire damage, (electrical system will never work right after a fire). (In a similar vein, I’d stay away from power windows and door locks.) Oh, yeah, and if you want (somewhat over-hyped) Toyota reliability, look for a Chevy/Geo Prizm, (it’s really a Corolla!)

    I second the Auto Club (“Triple A”) recommendation, but you don’t need a GPS–get an LA-Orange Counties Thomas Guide and learn to read it. Maintenance: Find a good mechanic that’s not too busy, and have him get the thing smogged for you, (garage’s know where to get smog certs); tire warranties should include lifetime free puncture repair (or replacement); and if you don’t do it yourself and seeing your mechanic’s a hassle–what do you care?–take your car to Jiffy Lube until they kill it by not replacing the oil plug or something. Jiffy Lube’s usually located next to a suitably greasy joint like Jack-In-the-Box where you can sit for thirty minutes while they jack up your car….

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