Flipping a Car One More Time…What Could Go Wrong?

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“What did I just get myself into…?” I murmured to myself as I rumbled away in my newly purchased piece of crap 2001 Honda Civic…

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

  • We were saving up money to buy either a rental house or a flip house
  • An opportunity came up sooner than expected on a flip house that would have left us a paper-thin emergency fund
  • I thought, “Why not find a flip car to make a quick $1,000?”

….and that’s what led to this next car flip.

Flipping a Car One More Time: The 2001 Honda Civic

So here’s the idea with any car flip.

  1. Buy a car for a ridiculously good deal (this is the most important part)
  2. Fix it up to look good enough for a quick sale (fix any mechanical repairs and clean both the inside and outside)
  3. Put on your sales hat and sell it for WAY more than you bought it for

I’ve done this successfully four other times…so this is lucky #5….I hope!

flipping a car - Honda Civic1) The Purchase

I was laying in bed, just thinking about how we would come up with the money for this potential house flip… Naturally, when I can’t sleep, I do what any other intelligent individual does – grab my phone and randomly look through my apps. It didn’t take long before I discovered my Craigslist app and had that light-bulb go off inside my head.

“Hey! I could find a cheap flip car and earn another $1,000. I’ve done it plenty of times before, and it would give us a little more cushion if we bought the flip house!”

Within 5 minutes, I discovered a forest green 2001 Honda Civic. It was listed for $1,200. I texted the owner and made an appointment for the next day. And I was once again thinking about flipping a car…

*           *           *

I walked up, gave it the quick glance, and it honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. The bumper was unpainted (but I’ve painted them before), it had just a tiny bit of rust, and there were a few dings here and there. I asked if I could take it for a test drive and took it for a quick spin around the block.

Honestly, it ran pretty rough, and the headliner (the inside ceiling fabric) was ripped out, so the upper view was bright yellow foam core – not too appealing.

When I rolled back into the owner’s driveway, I had my mind made up: I wasn’t going to buy the car.

I told him the few quirks I had noticed and that my offer would probably be far lower than he would accept. He told me to make him the offer anyway.

“$800,” I said with a smirk.

“Sold!” he responded.

“Uhhhhh.” I stood there in disbelief. First of all, I probably should have said, “$600”, and second, I wasn’t sure I wanted this car now! He was pretty quick to say yes to a fairly low-ball offer. There must be something seriously wrong with this thing!

He assured me that they just wanted to get rid of it fast since they had just purchased a new car and had absolutely no use for it.

So, I handed him the money and rumbled out of the driveway.

I had my flip car.

2) Fixing It Up

To be honest with you, I’m writing this post at 4:00am because I’m so freaked out at all the repairs I’m going to have to make on this car. Will I even make any money? That’s what I’m trying to figure out in my head right now. Writing it all down on this post will hopefully help calm me down a bit…and hopefully not freak me out even more…

Alright, so for starters – what do I think this car could sell for if it was all fixed up and looking pretty?

I’d probably list it for $2,200 and expect to get $1,900. That gives me $1,100 of wiggle room to break even. Okay…that makes me feel a little better at least…

And what are the issues with the car? And what would it cost to fix each of them?

  • The rough engine – my estimate, max $250 (I’m really crossing my fingers that it’s a $10 spark plug issue! 🙂 )
  • The SRS light is on (this illuminated about 30 seconds after I left…grrrr) – my estimate, $100 to install a new seat-belt, a known Honda issue
  • Unpainted front bumper – $25 for paint and clear-coat
  • Missing hubcap – $30 for replacement or a whole new generic set
  • Faulty hood latch – the front hood doesn’t latch all the way down and will need to be repaired – $75
  • Missing headliner – $70 for a nice replacement. Less if I figure something else out…
  • Cracked windshield – $150 for a full replacement…but I might just leave it as is
  • Balding tires – The tires work, but they’re pretty bald, figure $100 for two newer-used front tires

Alright….well that’s quite the list.

Oh, and I still need to register the car and pay the tax to make this whole thing completely legal – $60

If everything is as expensive as I think it will be, the total cost to fix up this car is…. $860, which would leave me a profit of just $240. That’s obviously not great, so it’s time to find some cheaper options!

What’s your guess? How much money will I make (or lose) by flipping this car??

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12 comments to Flipping a Car One More Time…What Could Go Wrong?

  • whiskey

    Rough idle – run a can of “Sea Foam” thru it. (just about any auto parts store) $15
    Take hub caps off. Free
    Headliner – hmm… does it reeeeaaalllly need it?
    Don’t paint. Free
    Used tires. Varies but $35-50
    Windshield – yea that one stinks
    Hood latch – depends but its important.
    Once again, anything to reduce your total cost. You didn’t mention mileage but that’ll play a factor. Ill usually dismiss anything over 200k, period. 100-199k but the price is decreased.
    Use kbb in rough to mid condition for your area and that’ll give you an idea. Instead of the cash, why not try trading up for things you might need.
    Home/rental handyman services, another slightly better auto etc

  • You might be able to get a deal on a set of hub caps and a newer bumper at a junk yard for less that it would cost to paint and clear coat the other bumper.

    Not many suggestions for the other stuff, but a junk yard is one of the best places to help find what you need for various vehicles. 🙂

    Good luck!

  • Definitely get that hood latch taken care of. I watch a lot of Russian dashcam videos and there are a whole bunch with hoods flying up. Every time I see one I’m like “What an idiot” so don’t be one of those idiots, LOL!

  • Dottie

    I am years older than you and your young family, but we, us moms, had a saying that if an extra expense happened, it was due to “cars, medical, or kids”. E.V.E.R.Y.T.I.M.E.
    If it was something else, it really wan’t an emergency expense.

    Don’t cause yourself extra stress and expense.

    Will wait for the ending on this one and hope it will be worth your while!
    (My former neighbor flips cars, but on the higher end, and makes a pretty penny!)

    Yours truly,
    Faithful Honda owners: ’76 Civic, ’81 and ’83 Preleudes, 95 Odyssey, ’11 CRV.

    • Hi Dottie!

      Ha, I love the advice, and I also love that you’re all faithful Honda owners. While this car isn’t exactly the best looking, it’s kind of fun to get back into the ‘ol Honda! 😉 It rides nice and is super cheap. It’s going to be a super nice car for someone.

      Can’t wait to fix this one up, sell it, and then tell you all about “Part II”! 🙂

  • James

    Derek:

    I have followed you for a few years now and know you are a car guru. For your personal vehicles, is it worth it to have a new paint job? I have two and they run fine for now. I worry the transmission will go out on the ’06 Ford Taurus (replaced it 1 1/2 years ago with a rebuilt one). Maybe this is an idea for an article–When does it make sense to make major repairs?

    Thanks for all you do.

    James

    • Hi James. First off, thanks for reading AND commenting! I love hearing from my readers!

      Now onto your questions:

      1) Is it worth it to get a new paint job? Hardly ever. A proper paint job can cost $4,000 or more. Unless you buy your car for WAY under book value, it’s just not going to pan out. You’re better touching up the paint as best you can with touch-up paint or a carefully applied spray paint.

      2) When does it make sense to make major repairs? For me, it makes sense if I’m confident the car will stay on the road for a few more years (ie. be worth the cost of the repair by consistently getting me from Point A to Point B). It’s a tough mathematical equation, but I always think, “How much is my car worth now? And how much is the repair cost?” Add those two amounts together and if you can use the money to buy a better used vehicle, then you should probably do it. If you can’t, then you should stick it out with your own car and make the repair.

      Make sense?

  • James

    Sure does. Thanks for the reply!

  • […] …Apparently I just bought the car, and that’s where this flip began. […]

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