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My parents are in a very serious financial mess. They are currently working with a debt counselor, but there is very little left over once they pay their bills.

They had an old vehicle that has died. They desperately need a car for my mom to get to work. She works at night. They have $500. They have gone to a dealership and the finance company approved them for a car loan of $250 a month! Luckily my mom realized she could not handle the payment. We have looked in the paper, and every now and then, we see a car for about $500. However, as soon as we call, the vehicle is already sold. They have thought about buying an auction car, but that is awfully risky.

Does anyone have an idea about purchasing a dependable car for $500 or any ways to finance a small amount in their situation? They know a mechanic that might sell them a car, but he wants at least $1500. They could afford a $100 a month payment. I would appreciate any ideas.

Post Ad at Retirement Home

Post a "want ad" in a Senior Center or Retirement Home. I recall my grandmother and some of her friends having to sell cars when they could no longer drive. The cars were older, but well maintained.

Check with Your Church

Check with your church or another charity that accepts old cars as donations. I donated my old Ford Escort that was still in good running condition to my church and it was purchased by another member for about $800. Not only did the purchaser have a good-running car, but the church building fund received a donation and I got a tax break. I think it was a good situation all around.

Give Auctions a Try

In her letter, "S" wrote that car auctions are "risky." Not all auctions are risky. A lot of non-profit organizations have car auctions, such as Goodwill and The Kidney Foundation. Non-profit and Government car auctions have to follow certain federal laws including disclosure laws. They have to inspect the vehicles and disclose any problems with it. Also most auctions offer a "preview" of their cars so you can go the day before and see what they will be offering. Take a note pad and write down the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of any car you are interested in. Use CARFAX to find the cars history. (I have never personally used CARFAX but have heard praises for it in The Dollar Stretcher!)

In 1998, I purchased a 1996 Chevy Corsica with 48,000 on it for $5400, which is far less than I could have ever purchased it from a dealer. It needed new tires (which was disclosed) but that was it. I still have the car and it now has 86,000 miles on it and it still drives well.

Get the Word Out

It is possible to find a "good" $500 car. It takes a lot of patience and leg work. Most dealerships wholesale out those cars, so one of the keys to finding the cars is to get a salesman who is willing to make the $50 or so they would make off a car like that. Keep calling or visiting him/her and ask him to call you if one is found. The other thing I would suggest would be tell everyone you know you are looking for a car in that range. It's surprising how many people "know" someone with a car they are looking to get rid of but don't bother advertising because of the low cost.

As far as a loan, if they go that route, I would try for a personal loan instead of an auto loan. You could qualify for a smaller loan than what a car loan would be and don't have to carry full coverage insurance if they are not holding the title for collateral.

Check Into Possible Charities

I recently donated my car to a local organization called "Auto Technical" that repairs serviceable cars and sells them to needy folks for $25. They also teach the new owners how to maintain the car. The organization is a bonafide charity and is run by a former car dealer who wanted to give something back to the community. Perhaps other cities have such wonderful programs.

Talk to Tow Companies

My boyfriend had the same problem and he called around to several local tow companies. Often, towed cars are not claimed and then the tow company can sell it to recoup its costs. My boyfriend found a car for $500. It needed some work (about $700 worth), but now it runs fairly strong. It's not the best car in the world, but at least, it gets him to and from work.

Dependable Cars for Under $500

Go to an auction. The best ones are city, county or state auctions where they auction off their vehicles. Many of these cars are in good running condition, but when they reach a certain mileage, they are sold. You can get some excellent deals under $500.

Pass the Word Around

Tell everyone that you are looking for a car, especially teenagers or those in the 18-25 year range! You would not believe what these kids get rid of! That's the way I got my daughter's latest car. A friend of a friend needed some quick cash to bail her boyfriend out of jail. She wanted to sell her car, which was a '96 Sebring LXi with 135K miles. It was loaded with A/C, power everything, rebuilt transmission, nearly new tires, etc. She wanted $1200 cash, which I had. My daughter now has a dependable car that she's paying me back for at $100/month. And before the week was out, I had offers of two more cars that other kids were needing to sell quick! So, pass the word around!

Share a Car

One of my friends came up with the idea to "share a car." He and his neighbor jointly own a car. They jointly pay the insurance and each pays a mileage figure into a joint account for the miles that they drive. Sometimes Jack drives John to work, and then uses the car. At other times, it's reversed. Both go to the library a lot, so they go together. The joint account fees are used for upkeep and mechanical repairs as necessary. They started with an old car!

As for where they found it, they went to school! The local university students often have cars for sale. And for oil changes and such, they go to the local college auto shop.

Seek Out State Surplus Store

I was recently in a serious wreck that totaled our "good" car. My husband's putt-putt car is a stick shift, which I can no longer operate. We got a '91 Dodge Sedan for $600 from our state's surplus store. While the car is older, with 100K+ miles, we know it has had regular service. Surplus items must be kept for one year for other agencies to have the option of taking them, so the battery was dead and the tires were dry rotting, but that is within normal for the situation.

One set of tires and a tune up later, my husband is delighted to have upgraded to a car with A/C and a radio, and we can take our time looking for a replacement for the "good" car.

This car is typical of what they offer. Check with your state government to see if they have a surplus store. The local library will probably have a State phone book to help you get started.
Gypsye in SC

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