Hooniverse Asks: What’s Your Worst Car Buying Horror Story?

I’ve had, within the past six months, three opportunities to be party to a car-buying experience. One of those was pretty good, one was not so good, and one was where I was the seller so I’d rather not weigh in on how it all went.
Buying a car can be a joyous event. It’s almost like having a baby, only with the actual ability to trade-in when the mood hits. Sometimes however, like with my wife’s and my most recent travails, it can be somewhat less pleasant. I owe you all an update on what’s been going on in my driveway, I’ll admit, it’s long overdue, but I’d still like you all to share with us today your own personal less pleasant car buying experiences. It’ll be cathartic, I guarantee.
Image: EventCartel

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35 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What’s Your Worst Car Buying Horror Story?”

  1. Harry Callahan Avatar
    Harry Callahan

    Suffice it say, every time I set foot on a dealer’s property, I become angry at some point. If it’s not due to the ridiculously inflated parts pricing, it’s the F&I guy who won’t stop trying to sell me undercoating (in Los Angeles),…or “bridge financing (for my cash deal!!!) or the clueless service writer who doesn’t really understand how cars work, or what the warranty covers.
    I support any and all efforts to blow up the dealer cartels. That is one thing I admire about Elon Musk. Dealers may add value for some consumers, but for me, they are nothing but conniving idiots who I seek to avoid.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      When buying parts, I try to avoid the local dealer, unless it’s an emergency. If I have time to plan, I buy from dealers that sell parts online (usually much cheaper).

      1. hwyengr Avatar

        Even the emergency part doesn’t work that well anymore unless they still sell the car. I couldn’t get a serpentine belt for a ’97 Panther on the same day at several local Ford dealers. Not to mention the overriding confusion about whether I wanted an accessory belt, or a timing belt for a car that has a timing chain. And then he tried to sell me a timing chain.

        1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

          “I need a serpentine belt.”
          A timing belt?
          “No, my car doesn’t even have a timing belt; it has a timing chain.”
          So you need a timing chain?

          1. hwyengr Avatar

            That’s about right. “But you said you wanted a timing belt!?!” It took all of my restraint to not say, “No. You said I wanted a timing belt.”

      2. salguod Avatar

        I’m fortunate that the local Mazda dealer (Ricart) is one of the cheapest online. They charge a modest fee to pick up the parts vs shipping them, and you have to order online because phone orders get charged list. But, I get a great price and parts in a few hours.

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      When my instrument cluster crapped out, I asked for the price of a new one, saying I’d fix this myself in five minutes. Well knowing that these minutes would cost me at least 100$+ for the convenience of saying: “You do it”. Instrument cluster price from Honda, shipping included: 5000 NOK. Markup from the dealer for the hassle of emailing me that the part has arrived, and taking care of it until I arrive: 50%. No, thank you.

  2. Kiefmo Avatar

    Walked out of a dealership with a $400/mo payment.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      I can beat that – $427.79/mo (my ’95 F-150).

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        Whoa! Did you get the Lariat model with all the bits, or a 36 mo loan?

      2. gerberbaby Avatar

        Walked out with my brand spanking new 03 Avalanche with a $583 payment. #youngandfoolish

    2. Kiefmo Avatar

      In truth, though, the actual buying experience was quite nice, especially considering I was buying a 3 y.o. Honda from a Toyota dealership. The salesman knew more than I expected him to know about the Pilot, so he must have either been a former Honda guy, or just knowledgeable in general. The same franchise had a Honda store on the other side of town, so its curious that the Honda was left on the Toyota lot. Must have had to do with how the financials looked.
      At any rate, it was high miles for the year, so it wasn’t qualified for CPO, and thus was sitting in a weird position value-wise, and had sat on the lot for 2 months. They knocked $3k off their advertised price for us agreeing to use their financing (they matched the best our credit union offered us, because the missus is rocking the best credit score possible).

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        About knowledge: I don’t get car sellers who get into that business without a passion for cars – and thus an easy way to acquire and keep knowledge, enjoying it. If you want to be a seller and struggle with boredom, sell insurance/fridges/vitamine pills instead…

        1. LeaksOil Avatar

          Or people in the service & repair industry. As a car enthusiast, working around cars just seemed natural to me. I work around some folks that are all about sports and outside of work, could give a shit about cars despite having worked in or around them in various capacities for years. While others eat, sleep, live and breath cars.

    3. salguod Avatar

      I’m not sure how you buy anything relatively new and have a payment much less.

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        That’s the point. It was damned near horrifying to buy such a new vehicle.
        I like my cars like I like my women. Older than me and not flashy.

  3. nanoop Avatar

    I’ve bought only three cars in my life, the last one went like this:
    The good Focus Stationwagon and me drove to a cheaper country, to meet family and have an annual service. I had arranged an appointment with workshop, delivering the car on tuesday, picking it up as soon as they are done later that week.
    On Wednesday around lunch they called me, “please come here and take a look..” The plate tying the lower front control arms to the engine/frame was toast, I could scrape my name into it using a screwdriver.
    OK, the ferry back home will go on Saturday, so I need a car, big enough (so my family could be on board on my name (so I can import it), in my budget, insured and plated sufficiently (for driving in both Germany and Norway). The road authorities for the plates would close on Friday, 12 o’clock, of course.
    My father and me jumped into the Prius and went to about 10 dealers. We found interesting candidates (C4 station wagon – Citroen that is, Touran, C-class Mercedes, Passat) but they all had a common flaw: the dealer could not get the title within the deadline.
    I didn’t know this, but the typical dealers don’t have the titles hidden in the vault camouflaged as oil changing pit, but at a bank-like service, that’s either shipping or taxiing them around. Asking on Thursday, there was no chance.
    Only one single dealer said on Thursday morning: “I can get you the title and tech inspection (required for new registration plates, even temporary ones) on time for either this car (a sorry Golf Max diesel with 300Mm and a detailing issue) or that one (a Skoda Roomster slightly above your budget)”.
    We agreed to pay the express shipping of the title even if we wouldn’t buy it, and took it on a test drive. It drove fine. We had to buy it.
    On Friday morning, the tech inspection failed due to worn brake disks. They fixed it (VW parts in Germany? Everybody has them!) and drove the car to the competition’s workshop, so they would get a second inspection on the same day (tech inspections are done by “independent externals”). We paid the car, got the title, and went to the registration office while the Skoda was under inspection.
    At the road authorities, we queued, and received the tech inspection approval as a fax, sent from the competition workshop – so we had all documents in place once our number was called out.
    I still have that car, it’s fine, practical, and doesn’t consume fuel. It’s blue, and we call it Roomie. A big THANK YOU to Autohaus Möller in Stadthagen, Northern Germany, for saving my butt!

  4. GTXcellent Avatar

    This may sound incredible, but I’ve never had a bad experience buying a car – even private party used cars. No hidden conditions, no slimy sales tactics, no issues.
    Dealer bought cars especially – with the exception of the Miata and the ’05 Ram, every one of our dealer bought cars has been from the small, local dealers where we live. It makes a HUGE difference when you personally know the owner and all the staff. Were all the deals the best we could have done on the financial side? I’m sure we could have saved a Ben Franklin or maybe two by going elsewhere, but paying a hundred bucks more to buy locally, and get that personal service in return is well worth it.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      I think the troubles you had while waiting for the SS would qualify as a bad experience, even though you ended up with good results.

      1. GTXcellent Avatar

        I place that squarely on General Motors, not the dealer. Our dealer really helped placate fears and anxiety with the near constant updates and harassment of their regional rep. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that had we went with a ‘super store’ dealership, where customers are nothing more than sales numbers, the experience would have been markedly worse.

        1. 0A5599 Avatar

          Understood, but I didn’t read the question as being specific to a dealership experience. If I had more time yesterday, I would have posted an extended story about a trip home with a project car.

  5. JayP Avatar

    I try not to let the dealer get to me – I’ll walk away and I’ve done plenty of times if I’m not “feeling it.”
    But I did get suckered into an extended warranty. I know about cars, car loans, even leasing but this guy had his slight of hand down. Told me his son blew out the car’s system by charging his phone thru the USB. He also said I could get a lower APR by “points and adding the warranty.” No idea what that was but I was getting $5k off on a $23k car.
    Then he leaned over the desk and said “just cancel the warranty after 6 months or so.”
    Had I read what I signed, I could have cancelled the warranty that day and gotten 100% back. Because of the prorate I lost a a few hundred bucks. I traded the car a year later for what I’d paid.

    1. Alff Avatar

      I got suckered into buying the extended warranty on the only new vehicle I’ve ever purchased. It cost $1000. The truck’s steering rack failed with 2000 miles left on the warranty. Repair bill was $1021. I essentially lost the time value of money and learned a lesson not to buy another, not that I’ll be buying another new car.

      1. JayP Avatar

        “…not that I’ll be buying another new car.”

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          Close, but Alff lost me at “another.”

          1. Alff Avatar

            No regrets. It’s the last pickup I’ll ever need to buy. I use it for pickup things. When it becomes obsolete, I will be too.

  6. JayP Avatar

    When the 1st gen G35 was just introduced, I went to an Infiniti shop and put a deposit down on a black, sunroof car. It MSRP’d at $30k or so. I got a call weeks later that my car was in and would be ready in 2 days. Was told the MSRP was about $37k, plus they were adding $1200 of pinstripes and tint. And it was green.
    I backed off and went to another dealer, got a black sunroof car $500 under MSRP.
    It was harder to get the deposit back than it was to buy the damn car. Jerks.

  7. hwyengr Avatar

    When I was in college and stupid (though the GF says the last part is still true), I just had to buy a new car the second I got an job offer letter with about 3 months left in school. And of course I picked a brand new Mustang. My uncle was friends with a Ford salesman, and assured that I was getting the ‘cousin’ price. I went in with my guard TOTALLY down. Rebates that I knew were valid weren’t honored, the price was practically MSRP, and because it was a dealer transfer I felt too guilty about walking away.
    I ended up getting a check in the mail from the dealership after my uncle heard about it, but it was still a miserable experience.

  8. NapoleonSolo Avatar

    Somewhere around 1980, I was living in Milwaukee and drove down to Chicago one night to look at a 1971 Plymouth Scamp with only 24k miles on it. As it happened, it was a dark and rainy night. The car seemed pretty decent. It was definitely shiny in the rain. I bought and drove it back to Wisconsin and rather quickly realized that the odometer had passed and it had about 100k more miles on it than I thought it did. I think it was when it became clear that I had to put a quart of oil into it every time I filled it up from empty. Oh well, it ran and drove pretty well. That winter the temperatures in Milwaukee got down to -26 F and I don’t mean wind chill. On days when we hit 0 F, people would take off their hats and gloves and remark on what a nice day it was. The was a silver lining to this story. I went to JC Penney and bought an oversize battery that just fit in the tray, and every morning when I went out, that old Slant Six started right up every single time. It seems there are advantages to having little or no compression. My neighbors, who had all sorts of engine heating contraptions and were taking their batteries into the house every night, were extremely exasperated watching me just come out, turn the key, and drive off a minute or two later. Finally, one morning I was driving into the city and was sideswiped by a tow truck. It mushed my right front fender but the headlight still pointed in the right direction. The insurance check from the tow company paid for most of what I had originally spent on the car. When we sold it (that’s more money), it was still utterly reliable. MOPAR ’70’s green on green with a green vinyl roof. I suppose it was sort of avocado which was big in appliances back then. So, what seemed like a fiasco actually worked out well for a newly married part-time school bus driving full-time student.

  9. mdharrell Avatar

    On three separate occasions I’ve ended up with vehicles from Austin Rover Group.

    1. Andrew_theS2kBore Avatar

      I hear that… the day I bought the Elise was the best worst day of my life. The hardtop liner fell out on the test drive, I found a loose shock bracket the next day, and it’s been chewing its way through my wallet for six months now, yet I couldn’t bear to be parted from it.

  10. crank_case Avatar

    I’m an idiot… lets get that out of the way, then get on with the story.
    I used to own a Toyota MR-S (JDM MR2 MK3 Spider), which in itself had been a disaster. I’d paid €13k to an import dealer managed to buy one with a dud 1zz which ended up needing a rebuild at a cost of €3500 (could have gone cheaper but got a reputable engineering firm to do it), then the gearbox broke, probably because I’d been silly doing snow donuts, that also cost me a packet, though did give me the chance to fit a TRD LSD. I also splashed out on a tasty TTE (rebranded Remus) exhaust over the two year ownership.
    But that isn’t the disaster story dear reader… oh no…
    Having put lots into the car and having had its engine properly rebuilt, the sensible thing would have been to keep it, but I had become paranoid about it and decided to sell… did I mention I’m an idiot? Good, moving on..
    I sold it for a pittance €4k, having bought when they were still pricey, but selling when the arse had fallen out their values. I’m sure the lady trading up from an MGF was ecstatic with her purchase, though it seems to have fallen into worse keepers since, I spotted it on Donedeal (Irelands craigslist but even more random, I know, the mind boggles at that thought), about a year ago, looking sorry for itself, not road legal and sporting Lamborghini doors.
    Anyway, I’m getting off the point, I did mention I’m an idiot right? An idiot with money burning a hole in my pocket so loudly you could probably hear the sizzle of sucker trousers burning for miles. I’ve always had an irrational love of the MK1 MR2, so I thought damnit, I’m gonna do it! Spotted a car in Birmingham over the other side of the Irish sea in the UK, and called the seller. Even on the phone, I sensed something off about the guy, but my enthusiasm short circuited all the logic neurons in my brain and before you knew it, I’d booked an early flight over, without even having had an inspection done beforehand.
    It was an early flight, and I couldn’t quite handle breakfast… I’ll get it on the plane.. plane food was unappealing.. I’ll get it in the airport when I land so… no time.. seller picks me up from the airport in an E39 5 series and asks if I’d eaten. Nope, so he offers the only thing he had, some sort of sickly energy drink type thing. Sugar rush on an empty stomach, not so good. I’m a little delirious.
    So we arrive at small terraced housing area, but the car isn’t there, he needs to pick up another car for someone else, we get into fairly hardcore tuned EG Civic with harsh suspension, ear bleeding exhaust and Toda cams, it’s cool, but perhaps does not suit my delicate state.
    We finally end up at his home, and the MR2 is ropier than expected with a cracked dashboard, and I give it an brief look over, that’s so lacking in thoroughness it’s beyond a joke.
    My plan is to drive it three hours to the nearest port and get on car ferry back to Dublin. I’m overconfident, because I’d done this before with an Alfa Romeo 75 and that worked out brilliant. The tracking is a little off, engine soungs great though. It’s 3PM and I still haven’t eaten, I stop at a services and try force myself to eat a burger, but I can’t really stomach it. I carry on, really not in a state where I should be behind the wheel, but I’ve little choice if I want to make the ferry. I get there in time, thank goodness, but it’s been hell.
    While waiting to board the boat, I decide to get out and give the car the inspection I should have earlier. I look underneath and am greeted by a sight that is more iron oxide than sill, I get a second bout of nausea..
    Oh, and I’m getting on a boat..
    I manage to get a little food in from the buffet this time, but the sea conditions are not great. The seating is arranged in a manner that there’s nowhere you can actually lie down. I ask the crew, but they’re not helpful, the contents of my stomach decide it needs fresh air and makes acquaintance with the outside world in the gents bathroom.
    I manage to find at least a comfortable seat in the film viewing area for the rest of the trip. As I drive off the ferry a customs official clocks the car and reminds me it needs to be registered (at considerable cost) or else.. at least a tunnel on the way home lets me enjoy the epic crackle of a 4AGZE.
    I get home, I pass out, I skip work the next day because I’m still in bits.
    I then have to deal with the reality that I have a car that won’t pass inspection and need something to get to work (did I mention I was an idiot), thankfully a friend helps out and finds me a bargan E34 520i that gets me through for a few months.
    Without funds to do much with the MR2 in the short term and a nead to imminently register it, I decide to sell it instead, I spot an ad looking for a 4AGE engine for an AE86 and a deal is done. Great I think, at least no-one else will drive this death trap and the engine lives on in another retro toyota.
    I spot the car for sale on Donedeal the next day advertised as “rust free!” …I lose the will to live.
    Did I mention I’m an idiot?

    1. Alff Avatar

      My worst car buying story is far less dramatic but the takeaway is the same … don’t get your hopes up and don’t invest so much time, travel or cash up front that you can’t afford to tell the seller to fuck off after an inspection.

  11. MistrX Avatar

    I had a dealer tell me I had to put down a “fully refundable, of course” $300 deposit before he would tell me the price of the vehicle!

  12. salguod Avatar

    When I bought my Mazda3 I was told that it had been damaged and repaired, minor damage to the right rear. I looked it over and was satisfied with the repair and I bought it.
    To make a long story short, it then spent 30 days of the first 60 or so getting the body work corrected. Turns out that minor damage to the right rear means a new RF fender, replacing both right door skins, reworking the RR quarter panel and a new rear bumper. It never really was right, but it got to a place where I could live with it.
    The upside is I got a new Mazda3 with a sticker at $18,500 or something for $17,000 out the door. I still have the car, 11 years and almost 185K miles later, and aside from those early issues and later rust issues, it’s been great, costing me about 22 cents per mile.

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