On request I wrote a short article for the Chinese living in B/CS area in the form of FAQ (frequently asked questions) about vehicle purchase. Please let me know your opinions and suggestions. You can always find this file through a link at the bottom of Texas A&M China Club Info page. Technical aspects are omitted due to space and prerequisite knowledge on the reader's part. For general guidance on how to buy a car, go to or books published by them. I'm also told every August the International Student Service of A&M sponsors a seminar for newcomers on how to buy cars. Admission is free.

1. Where can I find car sale ads?

Eagle (local newspaper), Battalion (A&M school newspaper), Thrifty Nickle (found in washaterias and grocery stores), bulletin boards on campus (one at the entrance to the current periodical department of Evans Library, one at Pavilion, etc.), bulletin boards in washaterias and the Internet. On the Internet, in addition to news of China Club and other student organizations (e.g. Taiwanese students' Chinese Student Association or subscribe to their mailing list, you may also be interested in the newsgroup Needless to say if you buy from other cities, you may read,, (for Dallas-Fort Worth), and newspaper Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, or Austin Chronicle.

2. Buying from a big city is cheaper, isn't it?

I used to compare prices between Houston and B/CS a few years ago. The relative price slightly changed in a several-month period. My conclusion is, the titled rumor is unfounded. But new cars may be different. A guy who bought a new Toyota Camry from Dallas told me the price there is slightly lower than in Houston while the new Camry price in B/CS was rather high.

3. How can I find the correct price for a used car?

There're so-called blue books and yellow books depending on the color of the cover. They are available at the reference desk of Evans Library, Hastings Bookstore, Waldenbooks at Post Oak Mall. In fact I become more interested in the price reported by Edmunds company on WWW which supposedly updates their car prices weekly (?) To find the price, don't forget to make a mileage correction esp. on cars bought from a big city. Unfortunately cars more than 10 years old are not listed at Edmunds. Kelley Blue Book is also on line which lists much older cars too. Lastly, I should say the most correct price is from the actual ads for the same car (same year, make and model and similar mileage) although it's practically impossible to find an exactly matching one.

4. Is it necessary to bring the car I'm going to buy to a shop for a checkup?

Depends. If you're car illiterate, you may. a $20 or $30 complete checkup is usually quite comprehensive. But some defects are not detectable untill a few days to months' driving.

5. Name a few and tell me how to deal with it.

(1) If the car had a serious accident, usually the rods and arms of the suspension/steering system are slightly bent, if not cracked. This may or may not show up as a car turning to one side symptom, for example.

(2) If the coolant was leaking and the seller poured such additive as "coolant stop leak" to it, it won't leak for a few weeks. (It could stop leak permanently or for a long time, but could also develop leak in a matter of few weeks.)

(3) The car is brought to the shop at a particular moment when the problem does not occur. E.g., it has starting or idle problems in rainy weather but the car is brought there on a fine day. Or there's electric leak once the car is not driven for a few days but the car is checked after it's driven today.

To be honest, there's no good way not to be cheated by these problems. You may ask the seller whether/when the water pump was changed last time (should be changed every 60k miles or there'll be coolant leak and/or engine overheating) in order to see whether the "no leak" is real. All in all, it more depends on the seller's honesty than on the mechanic's expertise.

6. Can I buy a car that had accidents?

Professional mechanics would probably tend to avoid them while it's a known fact that many Chinese in B/CS bought these cars from Frank, a Lebonese car dealer living on Oran Circle (crossing Boyette), and drive them without problems. One thing I need more info about to support or oppose buying an accident car: the cars from Frank are mostly driven local; anybody later moved to a big city and has a lot of 70 mph driving? So far I can say it may just be a psycological thing. If you're a doctor, you won't fight with people since you know that under almost every spot on your body there's an essential organ. Go figure. :)

7. How can I know a car had accidents?

Ask the seller. Request he show you the title of the car and look for the word "SALVAGED", "RECONDITIONED" or even "FLOODED" (You never want to pay before you know for sure these words are not there unless you buy from a good friend). Ask for an explanation of a whole body repaint, of chipped paint on a whole or large area panel (repaint usually is not as good as the manufacturer's original) and different color brightness on two adjacent panels. Call a phone number (I believe it's 1-800-346-3846, $20 fee). 8. I'll have a techie friend look at a car I want to buy. What do I do besides paying money?

You can remind him of some things he easily forgets: CV boots, the black soot in the tail pipe (except for diesel engine cars), car turning to one side when driving, timing belt/water pump/drive belt change history, tire wear, headlights, loose exhaust pipes underneath the car. On non-technical side, you should demand seeing the title with no "SALVAGED", "RECONDITIONED" or "FLOODED", ask for old receipts and maintenance records if any (which if kept show how much the seller loves and babysits for his car), how often he changes engine oil, why he sells it and how long he has kept it (short possession is possibly associated with a problem; private dealers buy and sell cars that could have serious problems), who is driving (preferably a male who knows the basics of cars), and even as "trivial" as where he parks and whether he waxes it. Recently, HONDA discussion group had some messages on a comparison between US made and Japan made Honda cars. They seem to indicate there is quality difference. If you care (as I do), only buy a Japan made car if it's a Japanese brand, i.e., the first letter of VIN (vehicle identification number) is J, meaning made in Japan. Please read my summary titled US vs Japan Made Japanese Cars.

9. Is it worth buying a new car? Anything I should be aware of?

How full is your wallet? In addition to what you already know, I want to tell you some facts but you make decisions. New cars need at least 1 thousand mile break-in ("mild" driving). New models are yet to improve and so you may avoid. Some models are made by other car makers, e.g., Honda Passport is in fact Isuzu Rodeo. When reading magazines evaluating new cars, remember they're talking about new cars, its comfort, performance, etc. That information is essential to those who only drive new cars. For the poor general public (esp. me included), quality and reliability (durability) should be the top concern. Consumer Reports is good at this, as well as The Used Car Safety and Reliability Guide (available at bookstores and CS Public Library). On the Internet, check out National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration Be aware of price drop with age. At least in the past American cars dropped prices faster than Japanese cars and so given the same price of a new car the latter may be more valuable. As a side point, be careful about new car dealers' additional package. You don't want to waste money on such things as undercoating. Anti-lock brakes? Depends on you. I probably won't. But air-bags are good.

10. Any comment on buying a car 2 - 5 years old?

An often neglected fact is that the older a car you own the more car literate you should be in order to be a happy owner. If you don't have enough money, time or interest in car care, a 2-5 year old is probably the best. In fact this is the car I prefer as an amateur mechanic although I'm also very happy driving my 86 Honda Accord. It's widely believed that American cars catch up with Japanese during those years. Quite a few mechanics, car enthusiasts I know or Internet-meet, and I are still conservative in this short period comparison. Somebody says "I work for Saturn but I drive a Honda". Also you may want to visit Honda, Saturn or other newsgroups to get quick response in choosing the make (brand). You may use my newsgroup name search for this purpose (Note: this link broke. I'll redo it). In hesitation, buy Japanese. (European cars are more of a status symbol than a down-to-earth life companion. Read Consumer Reports about repairs statistics.)

11. What's your suggestion on car insurance?

We live in a small town. But don't just make a choice from among local insurance companies. Personally, I insured my 92 Nissan with Geico (800-841- 3000), reachable 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You may request a free brochure "Texas Consumer Against Insurance Companies" from Texas Department of Insurance (800-599-shop). The 1994 top 7 (least consumer complaints) are National Standard Insurance Co. (800-553-7348), American States Preferred Insurance Co., Safeco Lloyds Insurance Co. (800-453-7724), The Standard Fire Insurance Co., State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., Safeco Insurance Co. of Illinois (800-453-7724), Mid-Century Insurance Co. of Texas (800-225-0011). All these can insure your car. As for what option, the minimum liability is OK for most of us. B/CS is a pretty safe place. One theory says don't insure anything you can afford once the mishap happens. If you do buy some fancy insurance, remember to read their brochures to see if you can save money by, e.g, buying anti-theft devices. It's possible that the agent forgets to ask you about your money-saving features. For more information about shopping for car insurance, read the Houston Chronicle article.

12. Is it risky to buy a car from an auction?

Yes, I firmly believe so. At an auction, the crowd are mentally aroused by the auctioneer's frequent announcement. However, I'm not saying you'll never get a very good deal.

written by Yong Huang on 7/1/96 and revised many times afterwards

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