BUYING A CAR > Never Buy a Car In The Dark

Never Buy a Car In The Dark

Brad's car pics 013This is a little story of buying a car in the dark. Just to get this out of the way: Don’t Do It! What follows is my tale of woe.

It all started when one of my best friends bought a 1971 Datsun 510. These are little cars that made quite a reputation for themselves on race tracks all over the world. They were cheap and easily modified for racing.

My pal found a great car and proceeded to highly modify it with performance parts, special wheels, and an authentic paint scheme copying that of a very successful racing team from back in the day. After riding in and driving this little bomb I had to have one.

After searching for several weeks I finally located a 510 fairly close to my house. I had to work all day, so the only time I could see the car was in the evening. By the time I found the sellers house, it was dark out. In the dim light the car looked really cool. It had a great set of mag wheels, was lowered, and had a red paint job. I was sold! I got out the cash and paid the kid. The drive home was great.

Well, next came the sad part. With the light of day came the problems. The whole lower third of the car was rusted through. I pulled up the carpet and could see the ground through the holes in the floor pan. Nasty. I immediately called the guy I bought the car from and said I wanted to bring it back to him and get my money back. He told me to shove it. He said I had bought the car fair and square. I guess I didn’t have any recourse against him – I did buy it. It wasn’t really his fault that I didn’t see the damage in the dark. But he knew what he sold me.

So the car was mine – problems and all. To make matters even worse, the car belched out blue smoke every time it was started. This was another thing that I couldn’t see in the dark. The motor was shot. I had two choices: fix it or dump it. I knew I wouldn’t get much for it in its current state. It was time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

The first thing to do was to make the car safe to drive structurally. This meant cutting out the rusty floors and replacing them with fresh sheet metal. This was seriously not fun. I took an electric saw and hacked away at the car. From there I had some custom floor pans made at a metal shop. I must have used two hundred rivets to get the floors installed. I didn’t know how to weld, so I did the best I could! Good lord my hands hurt.

Once the structure of the car was restored it was time to tackle the rusty body. I had to have the front and rear fenders and the doors replaced. Once that was done I had the whole car repainted. Now it was looking good. The next thing was to get it to stop smoking.

I traced the smoking issue down to a worn out head – the valves where bad. I took it off and sent it out to a machine shop. A week later, I had the part back and was set to put it on. The only problem was that I had never done this before. I simply bolted the thing on. I started the car up and it smoked and overheated right away. I screwed up.

At this point I called in a mechanic friend for help … and I needed it. He told me that I had bolted the head on wrong. He explained that you need to tighten the bolts down in a specific order and to exact specifications for the snugness of the bolts. He went to work with a special wrench and got her done. The moment of truth was here. I started up the car and all was well – no smoke and no overheating. I lucked out by not warping the head during my amateur repair efforts. Rookie!

This little car cost me an arm and a leg to get restored. The only bright side was that it was fast, loud and handled like a dream. The serious moral of this story is to never buy a car in the dark. It sounds simple, but a lot of us bright-shiny-object folks don’t always see the flaws in a new baby. I should have at least taken a flashlight with me.

Don’t make these mistakes unless money is no object. Cars are fun, but this was ridiculous. I held on to the car for about a year – until I saw a Mazda RX-7 I had to have. This is one of my serious problems: I see the next car and just have to have it.

The difference between me and the nut I bought the 510 from was that I told the buyer the history of the car. I think it is bad karma to commit sins of omission. Tell the truth – you will feel better.

For more tips, check out my 37-point checklist for buying used cars.

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