User Story: Buying a Used Plymouth Neon

2001 Plymouth Neon

I recently junked a '91 Chevy S10 and bought a 1999 Plymouth Neon.  The S10 was only worth $1,000.00 while it would have cost about $500.00 to me to fix it in order to pass yearly safety and emissions inspections.  My mechanic would have charged about $900.00 to fix it himself.

I've been doing a lot of driving lately with my new job being about 45 minutes and 35 miles from home.  I needed something more economical on gas and something better in the snow.   I am counting on the Neon's front wheel drive to get me around with maybe a couple bags of cement in the trunk for added weight.

Why did I buy a Neon?  The price of course  -- I don't have much to spend on a car. I was working with a budget of only $2,000.00.  Basically what I was hoping to buy was my money's worth at that price.  Meaning a car free from defects for a period of about 2 years.  I needed something fast and cheap.  I priced well over 10 different models that had about the same mileage of 100,000 at Kelly Blue Book Online and   For about 2,000, I know it is "Buyer Beware" and "You Get What You Pay For" and this is why I bought a $2,000 Neon over another car.

Basically I then went to a local Auto Technician who put about one car a month out in front of his shop for sale.  This was after searching for a similar Auto Tech I had previously done great business with.  The past Auto Tech always had a quality car for sale for at or under $2,000.  True they had a bit of miles on them but they were well maintained.  These guys with the shop had a low rider 1998 Chevy S10 for sale at the moment.  I went in to ask if they had any 4 cylinders, and they directed me to a new lot they just opened a few blocks away.
They had about 15 vehicles on the lot .  The Neon was the best looking and the most promising candidate for the money.  I could have bought an older car with less miles but I wanted a '96 or later model. 

The reason I wanted a '96 or later was that in 1996 all the new cars sold in this nation were equipped with OBDII or On Board Diagnostics II.  This means the engine was managed by a computer and that they were no longer carburetor or had Throttle Body Injection but had Port Fuel Injection.  TBI is just a fancy carburetor while Port Fuel Injection was the wave of the future.  Port Injection meant less gas and more mileage.  It either worked or didn't and you saved a ton of money on gas and repairs.  Because they are diagnosed by computer which cleaned up the diagnostic process so that fewer false diagnostics would be made.

Another thing I liked about the on board computer was that if you had your own scanner - you could get some additional benefits.  A scanner is the computer which talks to the car's computer and tells you what is going on under the hood.   You could almost guarantee your car passing emissions inspection without costing an arm and a leg at inspection time.  This was the sole reason I bought the Neon despite it's mileage.

The maintenance schedule for the car called for 105,000 miles or 48 months which ever came first.  I am hoping that it was done at 48 months.  If not, I am prepared and equipped to do it myself.  I bought the car knowing this because no matter what 4 cylinder I bought with the same amount of money I would be facing the same problem.

So after checking a few other Lots I decided upon the Neon.  Now as I was checking the other Lots I got a small lesson in the "urban legend" of the used car salesman.  One of the lots I looked at was at a dealership I once worked at.  I knew the way they worked and I did not mention to the salesman that I happened to have worked there at one time.  He pointed out that it behooved him to give me a good deal based upon the reputation of the dealer.  Unfortunately we could not do business together because I did not have enough money which is what occurred at most of the other Lots I looked at.  I settled at the Lot I did because they could equip me with a vehicle of my liking for the money I had.  Plus they were Techs so they would know their product a bit better than an actual salesman.

When spending such a small sum what you may indeed wind up doing is buying the car for the inspection stickers alone.  The car will give you about a year to get the money up to either get it fixed at the next inspection time or buy another car.  If you are lucky and you get two years out of it for the money.  Then you are ahead of the game but one should know that it would be wise to save your money in case your car just completely dies upon you. 

Now the Neon I got is a pretty nice little car.   It has a single over head cam engine which is better engineered than the old overhead valve engine.  A dual overhead cam engine would have been great but beggars can't be choosers.  It is front wheel drive.  It has all new tires on it and both safety and emissions inspection stickers on it are good for a year.  The interior is clean and well kept and the paint job is flawless although there are a few dings on the passenger side but really what's a few dings?  I did have to ask the guys at the Lot to replace the transmission fluid and give it an oil change before I bought it but other than that it seemed to be up to snuff on all the maintenance.

I am quite happy with it and if it breaks down tomorrow I will at least know how to either fix it myself or get it fixed at my new shop.  Without owning my own lift or having an independent technician inspect it for me I had to go by the word of the man who sold it to me.  Everything I looked at for the price was about the same quality -- I doubt I could have done any better.  Plus these guys had been in business in my area for about 15 years and I am sure they have professional pride when it comes down to their work and want to keep the good reputation that they had.

If the timing belt does go bad all I have to do is find Chrysler online and I can buy both a maintenance and service manual from them for the car I now own.  That will give me detailed instructions on the repair and is far superior than an aftermarket manual for the same price.  Next on my shoping list is an inexpensive scanner for the car's computer.

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