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There are loads of reasons to buy a used car that requires repairs. Whether it’s for a fun restoration project, fixing to sell, or fixing to own. Whatever the reason, there are a few different things to consider along the way. Buying a second-hand car can be challenging while navigating negotiations and avoiding getting ripped off. Here are three things to consider when buying a car fixer-upper.

Take your time to find the right car for you

An old car for sale by a private party  - tips for buying a car fixer-upper
An old car for sale by a private party in San Francisco. | Getty Images

If you’re going into the car-buying process set on a particular make and model, you’ve got this figured out. However, some people are looking for something that fits their needs. You never know what you’ll find online when searching for a used car, especially for old, beat-up models. When browsing, Auto Evolution recommends searching around 10% over your budget. You should be able to negotiate with most people, who likely post a very high starting price for the car they’re selling.

Take note of any cars you find interesting, and search for at least a few days. New units pop up daily, so you never know when the perfect match will appear. After finding around 20 attractive vehicles, start looking for those models in particular. Soon, you’ll know the general price range and if it fits your requirements. Lastly, the highest mileage unit of each specific model might indicate how long they tend to last. Take note of how high the mileage is, and make sure the car is in it for the long haul.

Search for matching parts before buying a car fixer-upper

Cash for Clunkers - things to consider when buying a car fixer-upper. Used car buying is difficult, especially when the car needs repairs.
Cash for Clunkers | Getty

After finding the make and model you’re interested in, try to find parts for it online. Firstly, simple things like the brakes will likely need repairs, so search for those essential items. Next, search for massive projects like the engine or transmission. This will help you gauge parts availability for the vehicle and see how much it’s going to cost you to get it running again. In addition, check junkyards and other places for smaller replacement parts like fenders, headlights, etc.

If you already know the car doesn’t run, you should be paying around half of what a working model would cost. Take into account that all fluids probably have to be changed from an old car that’s likely sat around for a while. Even if the owner says they changed the oil, the vehicle could’ve sat in one spot for a decade. Finally, check for cheap tires online that are the proper size. With long-sitting cars, bald spots and flatness are common and could cause tears or other damage.

Make yourself a repair budget along with the budget for buying a car. Once the parts you believe you’ll need are priced, you know what you’ve got to work with. Always expect to spend more on parts than the owner tells you, so keep some wiggle room in the repair budget.

Buy a car fixer-upper for a reasonable price

AE says the final price of the vehicle with repairs should be at least 10% less than an equivalent car. That’s factoring in time, labor, and parts. You’ve got to get a bargain on a fixer-upper for it to be worth your time. People trying to sell a poorly maintained, problem-filled model for as much as a perfectly maintained car are best avoided. If you can tell a vehicle has a lot of problems, and the person has a firm, high price, don’t buy their car.

Getting a general idea of the seller’s pricing is good over the phone or online. However, do the real negotiating in person. That way, the person can’t lie about certain parts of the car, plus you can point out flaws and judge their reactions to questions face-to-face. Finding the right balance between a vehicle needing repairs and a complete overpriced pile of junk can be challenging. You never know when you’ll find a diamond in the rough.

In conclusion, when buying a car fixer-upper, some things to consider are finding the right car, searching for parts ahead of time, and getting a bargain. Doing all three of these things ensures you’ll have an easier time making repairs and finding the necessary parts to complete them. Additionally, a bargain of a price means that even if it needs extra work, it’ll be worth it in the end.


3 Things To Look Out for When Buying a Used Car