I give you the money, you give me a car. Please.
February 16, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I have $3000 cash. You have a car. Help me make this transaction go smoothly.

My husband and I are planning on buying a used car this weekend and paying cash. Our budget is about $3000.

[NOTE: This, financially, makes sense for our family and the purpose of the car is to be a temporary vehicle until we buy an actual new new car this summer. We are looking for a safe car, but we're not planning on making a significant investment in a car right now - hence the low budget.]

I've been looking at Craigslist for the cars and have downloaded all of the relevant forms w/r/t title and registration from the RI DMV. However, I have to admit, I don't really know what I'm doing. Dear people of AskMe, please tell me what I need to know to exchange cash for a car.

(One nagging two-part question: How long does it typically take to get plates? Can I get temp plates for a car I don't yet own?)
posted by sonika to Work & Money (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The hardest part is finding a car that's worth the money you'll pay for it. Many of the cars on Craigslist are ridiculously overpriced. Check bluebook values, get an independent inspection, etc.

In Ohio the process goes like this:

1) Get temp tags.
2) Exchange payment for notarized title.
3) Transfer title into your name, pay sales tax, etc.
4) Get plates.

Step one is purely a convenience and can be skipped. Steps 2-4 can happen the same day.
posted by jon1270 at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: Here's how my one experience buying a car for cash(ier's check) went in Virgina, if I remember correctly:

Once I had found a car I liked and agreed on the price I handed over the check and the seller gave me the keys, the title, and a bill of sale. In my case it was handwritten on a scrap of paper stating the date, buyer and seller's names, and the amount of the sale. I think the seller also had to sign the title over to me or something, it had instructions on the document.

Then I drove the car directly to the DMV to register it. I think there's some disagreement over the best way to proceed on the plate issue. I took the plates off my dad's car and put them on the new car, which is illegal, but I figured nobody would know that unless I got pulled over and I had an explanation. Some people say you should just drive to the DMV without plates, but I figured that was more likely to get me pulled over, even if in either case I could probably avoid a ticket.

At the DMV I showed the clerk the bill of sale and the title, and I think had to sign a statement of the car's mileage. They printed me a new title, with my name etc on it, and had plates on hand, so I was able to get them right away. I also had to pay sales tax based on the amount of the sale, but that probably varies by state.

Then I called my insurance company and added the car to the policy. I believe generally your insurance will cover you in a new car for a few days until you add it to the policy.

That was it.
posted by ghharr at 9:28 AM on February 16, 2011

Something you need to consider in your choices is, if there really is no way you can find a long term rental/lease car for about $1000 (which is likely the money you'll lose on a car exchange in the summer) is to make sure you buy a car that has attractive resale value (significantly weighted over your personal car preferences) as well as considering cars that show well in dealer trade ins to make sure that you don't lose too much money in the summer.

Changing cars is a daft thing to do from a purely financial perspective. You always lose money here and there and it is a major hassle. So make sure you do everything you can to minimise that with a very firm eye on your summer transaction as your aim, and very much consider this car as a stop gap/short term loss-minimum unless you have any intention of keeping it.

If there was any way I could avoid buying a car for a few months, I'd take it. If you know what car you want, maybe talk to your dealer and see what they have? Maybe take a cheap trade in from them in lieu of a new car deal in the summer? Any way you could push forward your summer purchase?
posted by Brockles at 9:33 AM on February 16, 2011

Where I'm from:

You give seller cash.
Seller signs the title away to you, writes bill of sale saying how much you bought the car for. Some people write $50.
You drive the car to your house, give seller their old plates back.

Go online, insure the car. Print out the proof of insurance.
Take the signed-over title, bill of sale, and proof of insurance to your local town hall's tax collector. Tell them you'd like to register your car. Pay the excise tax and registration fee, they should then give you your plates then and there.
You will have to wait a week or so for your new title, but you can affix the plates and start driving right away.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Changing cars is a daft thing to do from a purely financial perspective.

Oh, I know. To explain a little bit more, we're expecting a baby in the... um... VERY NEAR future. (As in, literally ANY DAY now. I hit the full-term mark of pregnancy this weekend.) We've been using a car that was on permanent loan from my own parents, who now need the car back to be able to travel to help us with the baby. My husband will be getting a new job this summer when he finishes his PhD, thus enabling us to buy a new car, but for the meantime we need a car. There's no way around the timing of it as we can't make the baby wait any longer!

Thanks for all the answers so far, very helpful!
posted by sonika at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2011

Agreed with Burhanistan. You could probably get a decent deal on a new car for that $3,000. January and February are slow for dealerships in most parts of the country -- they'll be happy to wheel and deal. Then you'll have a more reliable car with a full warranty and nothing potentially wrong with it.
posted by me3dia at 10:20 AM on February 16, 2011

Here is what to do.

FIRST!!!! tell him you DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY ON YOU. Meet near a bank and get the money AFTER the price is set. DO NOT MEET A RANDOM PERSON WITH 3K IN YOUR POCKET. that would be really really dumb. Banks will let you pull out the money inside the bank, or get a cashers check if thats what you want to do. But NEVER show up with cash in hand. Its asking to get mugged. I have never met anyone that would take a personal check and cashers checks have a fixed amount on them, so haggling has really hard to do.

Second, Test out the car. I always want to look at the car cold first. Look for oil leaks, when you do start it look for hesitation in the start. Then once its going wait for a while and open the oil cap, look for steam, steam means a bad head gasket. After that go for a test drive, feel out the acceleration, the handling, rub your butt in the seat and see how it feels ect. Ask if you can add gas to the car and then add a gallon and see if the gauge works. Turn as tight as you can and see if the makes a cracking noise(bad CV joints will). See if all the lights work. Look for flaws as it will help you in step three.

Third , haggle, remember that you can drop at least 25% of the cost every time you buy something on craigslist. Last weekend I payed $700 for a item listed at $1200. It is craigslist and this step is fun and expected when buying cars. My car was listed at $2500, it cost me $1700. List the flaws and give a low ball price and then work from there.

Still want it? Go to the bank, get the cash or check. Meet in the parking lot and sign the bill of sale. and hand over the cash. Look on the DMV website for a bill of sale and then print TWO out, one for you one for the other guy before you even go to look at a car. He should have the Pink Slip, On the bill of sale, record the price, millage, status (salvage Or not), Vin and licence. As well as the full name of the other person. Sign and date both and then go to the DMV and fill out paper work that you need. They will have you smog the car before the tittle is transferred, but they will give you time to do that.
posted by Felex at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do not, under any circumstances, go buy a $3000 car from a dealer. They will sell you a piece of junk and you will end up paying more. There's no way in hell they'll give you a full warranty for such a cheap car- $3000 isn't what it used to be.

Find a car being sold by a private party, and really go over it to make sure there isn't anything wrong with it.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2011

I don't know how committed you are to purchasing a "temporary" used car, e.g. if you have any specific alternate uses for it in mind once your new car is purchased.Just thought I'd mention that I rented a car on a monthly basis for about $450/month (paying my own separate insurance) when I was deciding on a new car to buy. Maintenance and procedurally free, 24 hour road service, just pay gas and insurance. If ever financially set, I'd honestly rather do this again than lease a luxury car with a 400+/month payment on it. Total peace of mind as far as anything going wrong.

Sorry for the derail, but our situations were kinda similar so just thought I'd chime in, in case you hadn't thought of it...

Back to the topic at hand, one quick tip, try not to use cash (as in money) but rather cashier's check or other form of payment with a paper trail in case anything goes wrong and you feel you have a case in disputing the sale for whatever reason. Lastly, and not saying you would... this happened to my mother... be careful of people insisting on you leaving a deposit if you need to think about it, or leave to check another car. She got scammed when an individual basically "sold" his car to about 5-6 different people (it wasn't too good to be true, either, maybe $200-$300 less than you'd expect) but needed a $100 deposit to show definite interest while he cleared up something with the title to sign it over. We went back the next day, and it turns out he was just renting the garage from the owner of the house (we had assumed he was the owner) and had taken off.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:34 AM on February 16, 2011

One last thing... It would be an extremely prudent idea, IMO, to have $500 or so set aside strictly for initial repairs/parts (like air filters, wipers, tires, fluids, alternators, batteries, etc.) for use after purchasing a cheap used car. Maybe it's just bad luck, but I honestly have YET to see any of my family or friends purchase a cheap used car without having to dump at least $250-$500 into it within the first 3-6 months at some point for the above repairs or parts...

You may not know how long a person has been trying to sell their car, and while they will definitely keep it looking and smelling nice, probably change the oil a lot and stuff, they're likely not going to change common consumables if they hope to not be owning it in a short while.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My husband is taking care of the financial side of things and is very savvy about such things - I'm not worried about that side of things at all, but thanks for the words of warning!

Mostly just trying to iron out logistics w/r/t registration, title, etc. Thanks so much for all the help thus far.
posted by sonika at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Follow-up! We found a car we liked on Craigslist and got someone who knows about cars and whether or not they're going to fall apart in five minutes (that would be my dad) to check it out with us. Negotiated a reasonable price based on some cosmetic damage and drove the car home with the seller's plates. Seller followed us in his own car and retrieved his plates. Paid cash and got the title. That night, added car to insurance.

Next day, went to DMV and had the forms for title/registration/tax. In RI, I was able to do the tax stuff at the DMV and didn't also have to go to the town hall. Paid the registration fee and the tax and got the plates right away. Easy Peasy. (Well, except for that whole "DMV Purgatory" thing, but whatevs.)

The comments in this thread were super helpful in figuring out how to get organized and what we needed to do. Thanks so much!
posted by sonika at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2011

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