Buying a car in Hawaii

While living on Oahu for 5 months we had the joy of having our own car.  It came along with the sublet we had and honestly I can't imagine what our time there would have been like without it.  There is just something so nice about the freedom it affords you.

Freedom on the Red Road in Kalapana
We had been car less for 2 years while we traveled through South East Asia.  It worked out really well while we were there and since we did get to rent mopeds every so often really I did not miss having a car at all.  But the US is different and with an island life and all the little areas to explore we knew having a car would be advantageous.

Once we landed on the Big Island we realized owning our own car was vital.  It's a large island, very spread out with its resources and although there is a bus system and even some local taxis, we missed having a car the moment we returned the rental.

So the car hunt was underway.  Probably the best resource here on the Big Island is Craigslist.  Everyone uses it for buying and selling cars, renting homes, and accumulating any kind of item you may need to fill a home.  We found quite a few cars that looked promising but ended up not going with any of the ones we saw there.

There are also lots of buy, sell, trade type groups on Facebook but again that didn't show any promise.  We were under a bit of pressure as my sister in law was coming so we felt we needed to get something fast.  Buying a car under the gun like that with people that are the farthest thing from mechanics (that would be us) is not generally a good idea.

The first car, that's right the first one, that we bought reflected that pressure.  We saw an ad in the paper and it seemed too good to be true.  A minivan in decent condition and it was only $400.  We knew it had some body work issues but that kind of thing matters little to us.  We just needed a get me from point A to point B type of ride, so we went to go see it.

The family selling it was really nice and the car seemed pretty good aside from the smell.  Probably the intense mouse urine smell should have told us not to get it but for some reason we went for it anyway. We purchased it and then went to see about the inspection.

In Hawaii a car inspection is done yearly and must pass or you are not road legal and you will get a ticket.  You also will not be able to get your registration renewed unless it has passed.  When we took it in for inspection we learned that the body work issues happened to be so bad that the car would not pass inspection without doing about $2500 worth of work to it.  Yikes!  We called the seller back and told him about it.  To our surprise he took the car back and refunded our money.  They have also come to be friends of ours too so nothing lost really, only a gain.  But we still needed a car, and quick!

Word to the wise though, due diligence BEFORE purchasing a car is key, especially when dealing with a used car!

After that debacle we ended up driving past another van just down the street.  After test driving it and seeing that it already had passed inspection we were sold.  I highly recommend buying a car here that has registration and inspection already set.  I also would suggest getting a car with decent tires as those darn things are crazy expensive and vital particularly here on the Big Island.

This car was a bit more expensive, $2800, so we needed to quickly decide what to do.  We could get some type of auto financing, but we wanted to avoid that if possible.  We could also try to scrape together the funds between our accounts but that did not appeal either.

My husband asked the sellers if they would be interested in placing a lien on the car until we paid it in full and they were happy to do that.  We decided on $600 every 2 weeks until the car was paid off.  If you get creative you'd be surprised at what people are willing to do to make the sale.  I do not think something like this would work at a used car lot so you will find a lot more flexibility when dealing directly with an owner.

Once we agreed on terms we went down to the DMV together.  Luckily there is one close by and not very busy.  One of the things we really liked about the car was that the registration and inspection were still valid.  That meant less money up front and no worry that the car wasn't legal.  At the DMV we were able to do a transfer (both parties had to be present) for $10 and once the lien was paid off we could pay the same fee of $10 to get a new registration lien free although that is not necessary.

That was pretty much all there was to it.  We made our payments and they were ale to sign away the lien right on the back of the form.  Their signature was in the computer at DMV so they did not need to come with me, so in some instances you may need to seller to complete this step.

When it was time to renew the registration it was another quick trip to the DMV.  We discovered that inspection was also due so we had to run back and forth between the garage and the DMV to get it all sorted but roughly $400 later it was all complete.

We lucked out on this car!  We have put a little bit of work into it but not much.  I drive her all over the island and have even summited Mauna Kea in it, she's a great car and we are thrilled we saved a ton and bought used!

What has your experience been when buying a used car?

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