Thinking of Purchasing a $500 Beater Car?

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Wouldn’t you love to drive a car that you can push shopping carts around with in an empty parking lot at night? Wouldn’t you love to drive a car that you can plough into a snow bank with and then park at home just like any other day? Need a ride for school and don’t have much cash to spare? Sounds like you want the $500 beater!

Most enthusiasts use the $500 beater to supplement their driving needs when it’s too harsh out for their precious garage babies. But, there aren’t any rules in the used car world and that doesn’t mean that you can’t drive one to supplement public transportation, or worse, your bicycle. Owning a car cheaper than a video gaming rig can be fun and joyous despite how terrible it sounds at first.

The first thing you have to remember when buying the $500 beater is that you are buying a complex and very heavy piece of machinery for the same price as the tires on said complex piece of machinery, in some cases less. Your standards should start low. The seats won’t be factory fresh and the paint won’t gleam in the Sun. This is what makes the $500 so good. Want to get into wrenching but didn’t want to muck up your Audi? Here’s your chance. Want something that accommodates your posterior for the amount of time it takes to get somewhere else and no more? You’re in luck! Just make sure to consider a few things first:

Buying the $500 beater means you will most likely have to fix some things. A car is only worth $500 when it is either A: not running, B: the seller is in a rush to move and needs it gone, or C: in great shape! (but needs a new alternator, battery, water pump, transmission, exhaust system, air conditioner, and wheels). For the purposes of this article, we will avoid situation A since that is pretty much useless to us. If you find yourself in situation B, that’s great because all you need to do is fix a few small items and you’re on your way. Situation C is a bit more complicated, however.

When you are buying the situation C $500 beater, you are going to want to check for two things and two things only, the powertrain and the wheels. If the engine idles roughly or varies RPMs randomly, that might be a simple fix like a new airflow sensor or maybe a new throttle body. But if it is spewing black smoke and takes a few days to get to speed, there are other cheap cars out there. If the tires are a bit worn, but the wheels are otherwise straight and vibration-free, then slap on some new rubber and get rolling. But if the car goes left when the steering wheel is pointed straight and if one of the wheels wobbles like a drunken otter, there are other $500 beaters out there. Air conditioning not working, radio not working, cigarette lighter not working, doesn’t matter. This is the compromise-mobile! You have to pay to play for such luxuries as working airbags and door locks.

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Your $500 beater broke down and it’s going to cost you thousands to repair? No problem! Sell it to some other chap for $500 or scrap it and get at least a fifth of your investment back. Not a bad deal if your alternative is back to what you were doing before. Put a grand or two of parts and hard work into the $500 beater, and it can last you until that big promotion. Get fed up with one $500 beater, sell it, move on to another one, rinse, and repeat. There simply is no losing!

Just don’t buy the $400 beater, that’s a whole other ballgame.

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Guide to Buying Used Car Parts

When many people think of car parts, they automatically think that they must be bought new or else there is little point. However, that isn’t always the case. There are many people who want to keep their wheels running well on the cheap or modify that project car on a low budget. Buying slightly used car parts may just be their ticket in.

There are certain parts that are very easy and stress-free to buy used. Mufflers, for instance, can easily be visually inspected for rust or holes. Body panels are as good as they look to the naked eye. Interior pieces likewise. Bigger ticket items are sometimes more complicated, however.

If you are looking to upgrade your car with a supercharger kit, for example, it may be very difficult to verify if the unit is in good working order without taking it apart or seeing it run on another car. There are enthusiasts who get tired of a modification and simply take it off and sell it as like new, but people with that much consideration are sometimes difficult to find. It’s important that you don’t take any complex parts for their face value. Get some verification of some sort.

Wheels and tires are big items that can be bought used. Certain makes of wheels can be very costly if bought new, thousands of dollars in some cases. Buying used wheels is a great way to get genuine wheels that you want that may just be a little dirty or perhaps scratched a tiny bit (often fixable). Tires are a little more difficult since it is difficult to judge the condition of a tire completely until it is on the car. The belts in the tire could be broken leading to a continuous noise and reduced grip, they could be poorly balanced leading to shaking in the steering wheel, or they could be unevenly worn by the previous car they were on. Taking used tires to a mechanic with tire mounting hardware is usually a good move, especially if you are going to be saving a lot of money.

Another thing to keep in mind is those that modify their cars likely are looking to get rid of the stock parts that came off the car. In many cases, these modifications are done early in the ownership of the seller’s car and the stock parts that come off are relatively new. You can save more than half the original part’s price by looking out for these deals. Similarly, people with beat-up cars may look to ‘part out’ their cars as opposed to selling the entire car as-is. This means that they sell the individual parts off the car that are still in decent condition. Look around for cars that are the same make and model as yours and bring a list of the parts that you will need. Good deals can be had with part outs.

Lastly, try not to buy consumable parts used. Tires can often be viewed as an exception, but things like serpentine belts and oil filters are a big no-no to buy used as the whole point of changing these parts out is so that they are new. Other consumables not to buy used include spark plugs, batteries, radiators, clutches, and any brake components.

Buyer’s Guide: 2004-2009 Mazda3

Mazda3 Sport

I’ve been trotting around in a first generation Mazda3 for long enough to know that I needed to make this guide. A review of the very same car can be found here. Just as well, some Canadians outside of Quebec and Ontario don’t even know what this car is – looking at you, Vancouver. If you want an incredibly fun-to-drive, economical, practical, and well-built car for a great price, look no further.

The 2004-2009 Mazda3, much like the current model, came with a choice of two body styles and two engines: a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback and a 2.0L MZR 4-cylinder and the 2.3L variant, respectively. The 2.0L was only available in the sedan until 2008 when it became available on both models. Transmissions included a delightful 5-speed manual and a piggish but smooth 4-speed automatic (a 5-speed auto was later made available on the 2.3L models). Unlike much of its competition at the time, the Mazda3 was offered with such luxuries as xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic climate control, options you should look out for when shopping for this car. They are worth the extra coin. Air conditioning, however, was not standard, so make sure to check that the car is equipped with it if you want it.

If you stick to later models, namely 2007 and up, common issues are few and far in between. Earlier models suffer from notorious rust issues and weak paint. The paint is so thin, that an extended highway drive would leave the car littered with paint chips. If you live in a snowy climate where road salt is used, make sure to go over the body and suspension pieces with a visual fine-toothed comb before committing.

Mazda3 Sedan
Other potential issues include engine mounts that can crack or break prematurely. Make sure the engine is running smoothly at idle and at speed when testing. These engines are extremely smooth at idle, don’t accept any worse. Some owners also have had complaints about excessive rear brake wear on the factory setup, but most used copies will have had their brakes changed to something else by now.

Things that you shouldn’t be too worried about: the interior was almost designed to be scratched. It’s no secret that some of the interior materials are a bit cheap, and with cheapness comes scratching and scuffing. Don’t let what seems to be major interior wear deter you from an otherwise clean copy. If the seats are still in good shape, chances are the rest of the interior is as good as it’s going to get. Also, the 4-speed automatic suffers from the same “lurch into 1st” problem that most econoboxes of yesteryear have. This is simply characteristic of the transmission, and should not usually indicate trouble.

If your prospective 3 has survived the scrutiny of the items on this list, chances are you will be in for a very enjoyable ownership experience, both from a driving standpoint and a value one. The first generation Mazda3 was built in Japan and oozes of build quality no matter how much some of the interior materials might suggest otherwise.

Want to Buy a Motorcycle? How to Choose One that is Right for You

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You may have noticed that this blog has been overrun by machines with four wheels. It’s important to acknowledge an interest in our 2-wheeled brethren every so often, though. What do you need to ride a motorcycle? Which one is right for you?

The first consideration anyone has to take when getting into bikes is taking lessons. In the time of yesteryear, people had motorcycle licenses attached to their regular drivers licenses despite having no instruction on top of a bike. Luckily, someone got smart and made lessons mandatory in most places, and with good reason. You may think of motorcycling to be nothing more than cycling with a big engine and higher speeds, but it is so much more. There are many regulations and safety procedures to learn, and you must before you go out on the road.

Once you have received adequate instruction, it’s time to select your poison. All beginners need to start with a less powerful motorcycle. Generally speaking, you will want to stick to something no more than 600cc and not too heavy. Another consideration you have to make is what kind of riding you want to do. If you just like wind in your hair and scenery going by in relative comfort, pick up a cruising bike. If you like ZZ Top impersonations, grab the nearest high-handlebar Harley-Davidson. If you want to feel “grounded to the ground”, a sportbike is in the cards for you. Just like with cars, there is variety to be had and different flavours within each.

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Buying a used motorbike for your first is always a good choice given that it will probably hit the ground whether it falls over in the garage or worse. The most important thing to look for is if you can place both of your feet on the ground comfortably. If you can’t, the bike is too tall for you. Also, if you will be using the bike for any kind of commuting, consider a more upright, standard bike versus a sportbike for comfort.

Things to look for when buying used include looking for cosmetic damage and rust. Unlike cars, the locations of the damage can indicate what kind of accidents the bike has sustained very well. If the foot pegs are more worn on the bottoms than the tops, the previous owner may have turned too sharply with it on one or more occasions. The condition of the seat can also indicate how harshly the bike was treated.  Aftermarket parts are very common with sportbikes; check to see if stuff like clutch levers and handlebar grips have been modified (it might be because they broke!). Check the transmission and engine seals for oil seepage and leaks. The condition of the drive chain is important; a grimy and loose chain can indicate poor maintenance and a clean and tight chain is a good thing.

After you cover those big areas, you’re ready to spend some money on a good Snell-rated helmet, gloves, boots/shoes, rain suit (flameproof is nice too), and maybe some good eyewear. Once you get suited up and you have your bike of choice, choose a nice day and go for a ride!

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Finding the Car You Love: Part II

In my first blog post on how to shop for a good used, or nearly new car, I covered basic questions you need to ask yourself in order to get a vehicle you really love. With a recent survey done for Kijiji finding that only about 1/4 of all car owners really love their ride, it is essential to do your homework and find just the right car.

To recap, the main things you need to consider when searching for your perfect vehicle are:
1. Figure out what type of vehicle you need – do you need a car, van, SUV or truck?
2. Narrow down the type of vehicle and features by using a powerful auto site, like Kijiji. With over 350,000 different vehicles online at any given time, this is a great resource for shopping and researching.
3. Look for a vehicle sold by a private seller or a car dealership. Both have merits but you need to decide in advance before you start shopping.

Once you have gone through these and the other processes, outlined in my previous blog, it is time to get really serious and start looking at vehicles first hand.

If you are shopping at a dealership, you need to ask for specific things in order to make sure the vehicle is represented properly. The first is a Used Vehicle Information Package that will include a report on the history of the car, insurance claims, mileage report, repair history and warranty work done on the car. CarProof is a service that most dealerships subscribe to and this report should be free to any shopper. A search done by CarProof will highlight when the vehicle was placed into service, the mileage recorded throughout its lifetime, any major repairs that have been done and government inspections. If the dealership does not offer this service, the potential buyer can get it done but there is a fee, so try and get it included with the car. In provinces where insurance companies provide any claims history, it is great idea to get this provided to you as well. The mileage on the car should be cross-referenced with the CarProof report to make sure there are no inconsistencies. Also ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN) to cross-reference with the CarProof report and this number will also be helpful if you are looking for the vehicles warranty repairs.

Car Key_Ready Set Drive

When you take the car for a test drive, make sure the car is cold. A cold car will typically highlight any problems with the car, like a rough idle, hard shifting transmission or noises. Once the car warms up, pay attention to any leaks that might be visible underneath the car. If you intend to drive the car in the city or on the highway every day, it is vital to experience the test drive in these situations. When driving, test all the systems in the car to make sure they are working properly and notice any noises, vibrations or inconsistencies. Try the brakes under hard stopping and see if the steering wheel pulls to one side, also accelerate quickly to feel if the engine is producing enough power.

If the buyer is really serious about purchasing a vehicle, after the test drive, it is vital to have the car inspected by a third party certified mechanic. The buyer should pay for this report and the report should only be shown to the buyer. This will give you piece of mind and maybe a bit of negotiating room if there are a few small items that need to be fixed.

If you are buying from an individual you will need to collect the CarProof report yourself, get the mileage cross-referenced and search any insurance or warranty work on your own.

Before you meet anyone for a test drive, make sure to bring a friend or family member along and meet the potential seller in public area like a grocery store parking lot – safety is key.

The same process should be followed on the test drive to make sure the car is working properly. If you like the car then it is time to schedule a third party inspection. Once again, the buyer should pay for this report and the report should only be shown to the buyer.

If you have done your homework and searched for the correct type of car with just the right features at Kijiji, the test drive and inspection is all that is needed to make sure you have a vehicle you love. Don’t be like three quarters of the public, driving a car they don’t love, get something that fits your exact needs. Follow these simple steps to ensure it is done properly.

Want more information? Watch my interview on The Rush Vancouver to learn more tips on buying a car online and to see my top 5 picks for the best used cars that offer the most value.

*This post was contributed by our friend Zack Spencer of Motomouth.ca

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