Seniors: How to Buy a Car for Cash

By Eric Olsen, Executive Director HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm,

Some people mistakenly think that the only way to buy a car is from a dealer and it must be financed. For many seniors even if they are able to finance a car, a payment might be simply too much on an already tight budget. When you buy a car that is financed you are required to carry expensive collision insurance. Used cars are almost always sold by dealers “as is.” That means there is no guarantee if the car breaks down next month. There may be a better option to financing a car, especially for seniors on a tight budget.

I am the Executive Director of HELPS 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Law Firm. Part of our mission is to help seniors learn how they can maintain their financial independence. Affordable transportation is a common problem for many seniors. Sometimes seniors learn they really don’t need a car. But if a car is a must there are possible solutions.

Craigslist, an internet site, is the modern version of want ads. But it is want ads on steroids. It’s free, includes pictures of cars for sale, much more description and covers a wider area. It can be a wonderful way to locate transportation at about any cost. All you need is the internet which is as close as the public library or a friend, if you don’t have access yourself.

IF you are unable to finance a car or realize a car payment would be too much of a burden, consider paying cash for a less expensive car. You should be able to find reliable, yes reliable transportation through Craigslist for sometimes as low as two, three or four times the amount of one normal car payment. A sum you can save up or borrow from a friend or relative.

Log into Craigslist’s local website and get on “cars and trucks.” Type in “runs good” in the search bar and search from “owner only.” Why “owner only?” Because private owners will normally not advertise a car as “runs good” if it is not running good. If you were selling a car you owned you wouldn’t advertise it as “running good,” if it was a lemon. Private owners don’t want you calling next week and telling them the car you just purchased from them broke down. With a dealer you have no idea what you are getting. They sell cars “as is” so you’re really rolling the dice especially on an older car. You can put the maximum you would be willing to pay in your search criteria. Here is a sample of ads I got in less than five minutes where I live, searching in “Owner Only,” Runs Good,” from $500 to $1200:

1997 Plymouth. Would be a good family vehicle. … still runs pretty good. Needs new tags $700.

7 Chrysler Town & Country minivan,… runs and drives great, 4 .… asking $895.00 OBO, cash talks, clean and clear title in hand.

97 Mercury Villager minivan runs and drives good has good tags asking $1000 or best offer come test drive at this price it will sell fast call me.

1996 Honda Accord starts and runs great. It has been well maintained and never had problems. The interior is in very nice and clean condition. The exterior is in good condition…$1150.00

1988 Honda Civic Hatchback.. Senior Owned…Runs/ drives/ handles/ Excellent….. 35 MPG…Mechanically excellent Condition…Tires like new.. $650

I am confident that in almost any community reliable transportation can be located fairly quickly even for as low as $500-$600. Of course more money gets you a better car. It may not look the best or be the newest but it will likely be reliable transportation that “runs good.” If it goes bad after a year, so what, you never made a car payment for a year. A $300 payment for a year is $3600. That is only part of what you saved! Your insurance costs will be less because you will only need liability. There will be more money available for the family. No high car payment with high interest. Do yourself a favor and do some investigation on Craigslist. I think you will be surprised what you can find with a little time and patience.


You are not alone. I'm here to help. There is no need to suffer in silence. We can get through this. Tomorrow can be better than today. Don't give up.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach

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