Run away from a used car that's barely been driven in years?
July 26, 2014 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a used car, and I know that it's bad news when a car isn't driven regularly. I've found one that's otherwise good for me. I don't know how little driving is too little, whether the kinds of problems that result could be checked by a mechanic's pre-purchase inspection, and whether my own tough driving patterns make any difference.

The car is a 2009 Subaru Impreza with 17,500 miles. From photos and a call with the seller, it appears to be in excellent shape and the seller sounds sincere. But it's barely been driven since the seller moved away and left the car with a relative in May, 2012. Since then:

-They've kept up the inspections and registration, and left it in the garage.

-He guesses that the relative has run it 10-15 min per week in the community, for a total of <200 miles in 2 years. He did not make any reassuring mention of highway miles or maintenance. He noted this was all just a guess. If this isn't a definite 'run now' situation, I can talk to the relative and see whether he says anything different, and ask for service records to see what I can piece together in terms of dates and odometer readings.

-One repair was made. He thinks it was brake pads or something else brake related, because there was rust there that New Hampshire required addressing. He didn't seem certain of the details, but the records may be with the car.

I'm in no rush, but I've already been looking for a few months, and it's very rare for anything to match my criteria at the price I'm targeting, and I think I could probably get this one into that range. I haven't gone to see it. If I did, before closing a deal, I'd definitely take it to a mechanic for an inspection and run a CarFax (or a better alternative?). But I don't know if the damage done by sitting too much is something a mechanic can see. If I buy the car, I'm also open to doing whatever servicing could help.

My own driving pattern is tough on cars -- I park outside through Boston seasons, don't drive much, and what driving I do is usually 3 non-highway miles at a time. I usually keep cars for 10 years or so. Maybe that means that whatever's bad about a car sitting around will be true of any car once I own it, anyway?

Should I let this car go or try to get more info from the relative, any service records, a mechanic's inspection, and the CarFax? (If I do get more info, I'll update below.)
posted by daisyace to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
daisyace: "He guesses that the relative has run it 10-15 min per week in the community"

The risk with not driving is seals degrade from lack of lubrication and exercise. If that driving report is accurate you are fine. Change the fluids when you get it (oil, brake, antifreeze, transmission), have the tires inspected and enjoy your low mileage vehicle.
posted by Mitheral at 5:05 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

If it is a good price I'd defiantly consider it. 2 years in a garage is a lot different than 5 years outside. But, yeah absolutly have it gone over by a good mechanic letting them know the situation. Hoses and other rubber parts and any sludge from stagnant fluids would be MY concern, I'm sure others will have a more detailed list.
posted by edgeways at 5:07 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

It should be fine. The brake issue sounds like the discs were rusted, which is likely if they sit undriven (therefore unused and unscraped) in a humid environment. If the price is good, I'd at least look at it. Your driving/parking pattern will be hard on whatever you get, so might as well not pay too much for it.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:39 PM on July 26, 2014

YMMV (quite literally, in this case), but my own experience with buying a car that had been stored like this was really, really bad, even after all the fluids were changed. I'd have a mechanic look at it super-closely.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:07 PM on July 26, 2014

I think this could be an awesome deal IF:

1. You know a specific no bullshit mechanic shop you can take this to and have then do a PPI, having given them a lead in of the exact situation

2. They don't want some unreasonable price because the miles are "soooo low!"

If it passes an inspection, and you're ready to spend the next couple of months probably doing cheap minor repairs(belts, stuff that dry rots like that) id jump in.

My parents bought a Subaru from similar circumstances. But that had also been overheated, had a dealership installed engine swap, but the owner had been driving her other car and just let it sit for ages. It's now at like... 250k and still kicking ass. I also inherited a Toyota from my grandpa before I could even drive that was like this. It had maybe 200 miles put on it in 5+ years. I had to do tires, hoses, plugs, and a few other bits and bobs. Ran like a dream after that for almost a decade before I had to get rid of it because of life stuff. During that whole time I got oil changes and some tires. A car sitting fucking it up super bad is very very exaggerated. My 60s Plymouth sat in a yard(outside!) for a decade, and with a new battery, fluids, and some finagling drove 5mph to the tire shop a few blocks away to get new tires, then all over town... And everywhere else. This is a modern, current generation of tech car that sat indoors for two years. It'll be fine.

And that said, this is that "grandmas garage car" deal everyone dreams of. I've looked at cars like this to buy, and they were all in awesome shape all around. Just be prepared for the belts/hoses/tires thing. Tires do not like to sit like that.

If you can get a good price, and it passes inspection, and you're ready to deal with some minor cheap caveats, do it. I would do it. But make sure your mechanic checks the radiator hoses and stuff first. I wouldn't be scared of this. Id be cackling that I got one over on the people who were, and scored something awesome.

Use anything the mechanic says it needs to haggle down the price too. Bring the estimate so you don't seem like an asshole making stuff up.
posted by emptythought at 1:28 AM on July 27, 2014

Response by poster: So far, so good except you, thomas j wise -- I'd be very interested if you care to elaborate on your case. What was the car's situation when you bought it, what ended up happening, and do you think anything could have helped in terms of inspection when you were considering it or service after you did?
posted by daisyace at 4:38 AM on July 27, 2014

In my case, the car's mechanics had degraded, corroded, and goodness-knows-what during the time it had been in storage. It was just one long litany of one thing falling apart (or falling off...) after another. I was young(er) and naive, and didn't yet know anything about auto mechanics. In any event, the car lasted about three years before the transmission blew out and I replaced it.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:16 AM on July 27, 2014

Response by poster: Bolstered by the majority opinion here and with a mechanic's post-inspection blessing, I bought it yesterday! Here's hoping that my luck is different than thomas j wise's. Thank you everybody!
posted by daisyace at 6:59 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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