I want to buy a car that is 300 miles from me, sight unseen.
April 22, 2021 6:37 PM   Subscribe

So my trusty Old Car is showing some signs that her time is up. I'd like to get a replacement sooner rather than later. A new car is not in the cards for me, I don't think. Since I'm looking for a manual transmission, acceptable used cars are hard to find. I know the make and model of car that I want, and I found a good-looking used car 300 miles away. Help me not make a bad decision.

Based on this question, I think I will find a local mechanic and ask the dealer to bring the car there so that the mechanic can inspect the car on my behalf and let me know if they find issues.
The local dealership let me know today that the deadline for ordering a new 2021 car passed two days ago, and they have no information yet on the 2022 models. I don't want to wait for them to figure it out, as whatever time that will take will be added onto the 6-8 week wait (!) that ordering a new car apparently entails.

I am looking for a manual transmission, which drastically reduces available inventory.
I am looking at a used 2018 subaru with ~25K miles on it. The warranty provided by the dealership covers only the powertrain, but covers it for the next five years / 100,000 miles. With a manual, the problem I'm especially alert to is that the first user had no idea how to drive it and ruined the clutch. I think this is less of a problem because of the warranty.
They'd have to drive the car out to me, I'm hearing that this will run me around $600, which I think is reasonable.

This sounds like a good idea to me because the pictures of the car look fine, the carfax summary looks good, I will save $2-3K because it's a used car, and I will get what I want relatively quickly for the cost of having two guys drive it to my house. What else have I not thought through? What else could I do?
posted by Vatnesine to Shopping (16 answers total)
I asked a question a few days ago and it's so eerily close I wanted to give you the link
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 6:45 PM on April 22

My only advice is to make sure you know exactly what the dealership warranty covers, especially with regards to the manual transmission. About 6 years back bought a 2011 Mazda 3 with a pretty decent Mazda certified used warranty, and about 6 months in it indeed had to have the clutch replaced. The clutch disc was considered a wear part / driver error, and not covered under warranty, while other parts would have been.
posted by true at 7:13 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]

(On preview, true got there before me) Are you sure the powertrain warranty covers the clutch? Usually that is considered a consumable wear part like brakes. Also, you didn't say what kind of Subaru you have your eye on. If it's something sporty/high performance like a WRX, or a BRZ the concern about a prior driver abusing the clutch is greater. A plain old Forester or Crosstrek or whatever isn't going to attract the boy racer crowd and is less likely to have been abused.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 7:16 PM on April 22

I drive and buy manuals, so I appreciate how hard they are to find. If you still want a new 2021, call up a different dealer and ask for exactly the car you want. Ask them to check the existing inventory. Maybe you'll get lucky and find one that they can dealer trade and bring in for you. You may have to be flexible on some of the options (like the colour or the trim), but if it has your must have list, then bend a bit.

Don't worry about buying a car at a dealer who is out of town. My local dealers were useless, so I bought my car from a dealer an hour's drive away. That dealer was willing to find me the car I wanted at the price I named. Once you have the car, you don't have to do back to that same dealer. I've never returned.
posted by sardonyx at 7:41 PM on April 22

You might check with AAA, Costco, or any other large organization you have a membership with. Some have "finders" for automobiles for a small fee, and can help organize this at a distance.

Another manual advantage: Most modern thieves pass them by since they don't know how to drive stick!
posted by nickggully at 8:45 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]

So, the dealership warranty for the powertrain (which you suspect is the most likely thing to fail) is for the next five years, but the dealership is 300 miles away? And it costs $600 for a person who is not you to drive it that distance?
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:56 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]

One can always try the meta car search engine autotempest.com
posted by kschang at 10:10 PM on April 22

Another option that might save you some money and give you the opportunity to test drive it and evaluate the clutch yourself: rent a car, one way, and then drive your new-to-you car home after giving it a spin. If it falls short of expectations, rearrange the drop off with the rental car company and head home, a bullet dodged.
posted by carmicha at 6:43 AM on April 23

Triple check with the dealer that the car is actually manual before investing any time with buying it. Online listings are notoriously wrong that a car is manual.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:00 AM on April 23

the carfax summary looks good
Carfax has gaps. The way I can use it is that carfax can rule a car out of consideration, but it can't rule a car in, and it's no substitute for a mechanic's inspection.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:28 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to just go there and test drive it?
posted by turkeyphant at 4:23 PM on April 23

A new clutch is like $500. It wouldn’t be a dealbreaker to me, since if you’re a good driver that will last you 100k plus miles. It’s also super unlikely that someone creamed a modern clutch in 25k, like vanishingly so.

But yea check that listing. Incorrectly listing cars as having an MT when they have AT is now more common than actual MT cars. It happens all the time.

The take rate on manuals is about 3% and falling. The selection is terribly limited. The folks who still buy manuals mostly are sensible car people who keep their cars a long time (the only economically sensible thing to do). So used manuals with low mileage are even rarer.

I said this in a recent AskMe, and I speak as someone who loves manual transmissions. Modern autos get better fuel mileage than their manual equivalents almost across the board. Including geared, CVT, and DCT autos. They rarely fail before 150-200k miles, and even then it’s rare. There’s a reason manual transmissions are disappearing. Unless you want a manual for performance reasons (and a modern auto can accelerate just as fast as a manual, all things being equal you have to be a really GOOD clutch driver to beat the specs) or bexause you go off road or tow a lot, or because it’s just more fun to row your own gears, there are no other good reasons for a manual left. Many carmakers are just phasing them out entirely. Quite a few models are not available in MT anymore. Mechanics who really understand manuals are getting rarer. And your selection of used cars falls off drastically if you insist on manual.
posted by spitbull at 5:02 AM on April 24

You have probably heard this but this is also a terrible time to be shopping for a late model used car due to pandemic effects on supply and demand and pricing. If you can possibly wait a few months you may save a shit ton of money and have a much wider selection. I wouldn’t do it now unless I absolutely needed a car yesterday. Prices are nuts for late model commodity commuter cars and SUV/CUV models especially. Subarus are especially hot because every idiot thinks AWD is safer. (Actually... not really, or by a small enough margin not to really matter.)

Limp that old beater a while longer if you can.
posted by spitbull at 5:10 AM on April 24

A final point: I would try my best to avoid any dealership for a used car. Private sales are so much more likely to be honest deals, and not involve negotiating with professional con men, which all car salespeople are

And especially so for a manual transmission car. The profile of a modern manual driver is now someone very sensible and frugal and knowledgeable about cars. (Also likely higher income, more likely to maintain cars on schedule.) Those people are more likely to sell a car privately and keep all the maintenance records, your SINGLE best guarantee of future reliability by a mile (also to mention dealer “warranties” on used or “CPO” — a joke — cars are not worth the paper they’re printed on, not least when a dealer is far away from you. They’ll cover nothing and blame you for the problem.)

A glovebox full of receipts for oil changes and tire replacements and brake jobs is the best evidence you can possibly have, conjoined with an inspection by a mechanic you hire, of a reliable car. Dealers all get their used stock at the same auctions. They never know the maintenance history. And by the way a CarFax report is as close to meaningless marketing as you can get.

Ask yourself why someone would sell a perfectly nice car with 25,000 miles too. That’s always an interesting question to ponder. They just took a giant depreciation hit that would have evened out over 5 more years. Why?
posted by spitbull at 5:19 AM on April 24

Finally not to pepper the thread but at the moment the delta between late model used cars and new cars is relatively narrow. Superb financing rates and slow sales of some models (sedans!) mean you can get practically free money after inflation is figured in (like 1-2% loans are out there). A new car has a robust warranty that will be honored at any of the brand’s dealers. It also comes with an initial depreciation hit (which is lower and slower for Subarus, they’re really hot right now) that fades away as you own the car longer. At 7 years or so, it amortizes fully. The total cost of ownership of a brand new car at the moment is potentially very close to the TCO of a late model used car at an inflated pandemic price, and you can then maintain it yourself from the start and be as sure as possible of a long, reliable life.

Run the numbers. Don’t assume you’ll end up saving money on a late model Subaru with 25k. Subaru used prices hardly depreciate at all in the first year and with mileage that low. And you can potentially order the exact model you want with a manual transmission.

I’m serious. Car forums are buzzing with this perspective right now. The numbers seriously get close.

And remember to put a price on peace of mind, and the value of your time.
posted by spitbull at 5:28 AM on April 24

I ran a detailed analysis based on my own purchase of a brand new car in 2014 in this recent AskMe. My following answers continue the analysis. Total cost of ownership /= initial price, and the fear of new car depreciation is often misplaced.

It remains the case that the best — cheapest, safest, most hassle free
— path for most people is to get a good deal on a reliable and sensible new car and then maintain it like a freak for 10+ years, and then until repair bills start to exceed about $2000 a year. I calculate that it costs roughly $2500 a year to own a reliable commuter car, and most of the questions are where and how and when you spend that.
posted by spitbull at 5:35 AM on April 24

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