| Buying A Probe
When buying a used car... any used car... always remember one rule: Assume the seller is lying to you. Expect that everything he or she is telling you is total bullshit. Even if your told 10 things and you find out that 9 of them are definitely true, assume the other 1 thing is a lie. I've been involved in buying many things from other people, and quite a few cars, and I'm convinced people will do or say anything to get more money out of you. 95% of the people I met selling cars are more than willing to sell you junk... and lie to you about it... just to get a few extra dollars. It's a sick, sick world and you have to be careful.
MINT CONDITION: In the world of trading cards, a baseball card that's considered to be in 'mint condition' is perfect in every way. No scratches, no fading, no bends, and no worn edges... just as it was when it was first removed from the package. In the used car world, 'mint condition' has no definition. People throw the word around like it's meaningless. Every used car you see in the newspaper is advertised as being 'mint', but I have yet to see one worthy of the word.
Before I bought my 1991 Ford Probe GT, I went out looking for either a GT or an LX. One guy told me his '90 LX was 'Mint', so I drove 25 miles to see it. Result: the passenger side window control was missing (just a wire protruding), the interior was filthy and well worn, the exterior was scratched and dented, the headlights didn't work, the heater core was blown, and the car vibrated like it was about to explode. Mint? Not even close, but this asshole had no problem claiming that it was.
NO ACCIDENTS: Usually means 'no accidents are evident'. It's illegal to sell a car without letting the buyer know about any accidents a car was involved in. Sellers get away with this by saying, 'not that I know of'. How do you not know? When was the last time you drove into a tree and didn't notice it? I've heard this a million times. People repair the work so that you can't easily tell and then lie about it. Don't believe it. Even if everything else checks out ok.
When I first looked at my '91 GT, they seller told me the car wasn't in any accidents that he knew of... famous last words. After I bought it, I switched the interior with my LX's interior. While I was doing that I found that the inner part of the passenger door was red (the car is gray). Also, I found broken tempered glass under the back seat. Oops! I'm sure he wasn't aware of that!
EVENINGS ONLY: Could mean 'the car's flaws are too evident during the day'. A good way for someone to sell a car if the paint is fading or is scratched. Light scratches and fading can be hidden by low light conditions. NEVER buy a car without seeing it in the bright daylight.
Again, going back to my '91 GT, when I bought it, the guy said he worked until 5pm every day. I found out later that the paint had some swirls from dry polishing. This was unnoticeable in the twilight.
NEW PAINT: ...to cover up the exterior problems. Who paints their car before they sell it? Someone who's worried about people seeing the original paint, that's who. Also, even if the paint looks good and you don't see any evidence of cover ups, someone who paints their car before selling it will get the cheapest paint job available. This can end up being more of a problem than a car with faded paint.
MUST SELL: ... 'before it falls apart in my driveway'. 95% of people aren't willing to take a loss on their car, no matter how much they want to sell it. Watch out for people looking to sell as quickly as possible.
A friend of mine went to look at a car a few years ago. The guy was really pushing to sell... on her second trip to see it (both trips were at night) she told him that she wanted someone to look at it to make sure the car was good. When the seller heard that, he said he had someone else looking at it and if she wanted it, she had to buy it immediately. Fearing it would be lost, she bought it. The car was then towed to her driveway where it sat for years until being picked up by a local junk yard. It was complete rusted through. If someone can't wait for you to feel comfortable about buying something, go on to another seller.
RUNS GREAT: ...looks terrible.
LOW MILES: There's always a reason for this. Not too many old lady's buying new Probes to drive them 2 miles to the store every week. If the car has low miles, it could either mean 1) the car's odometer was spun back a few thousand miles, or 2) the car never worked good enough to use regularly.
Years ago, my father looked at an '85 Mercury station wagon. After thirteen years, the car only accrued about 50,000 miles. He thoroughly checked the engine and tried to figure out if the odometer was spun back about 100,000 miles. The car was good and clean and found no evidence of odometer tampering. A while after he bought it, he noticed that the doors weren't lined up perfectly. Upon further inspection, it became apparent that the car was in a pretty bad accident at some point in its life. A good reason why it didn't have that many miles on it.
Why or Why Not Buy A Probe?
There are plenty of reasons to buy a Probe as well as a few reasons not to buy a Probe.
- Uniqueness: The world is perfectly populated with Probes. There are enough Probes around to be familiar with them, but there are few enough to still be unique. There are also enough styles of Probes to increase it's uniqueness. If you're looking to be a bit more unique, go for a '90-92 Probe GT. They're distinguishable enough to easily tell them from the rest and rare enough that you'll probably be the only one in your neighborhood to own one. Looking to be very unique? Buy a '97 Probe GTS. The chance that you'd run into another one is very slim.
- Handling: There's no questioning the fact that the Probe is one of the best handling cars on the road. So good in fact, that it's the number one compliment everyone offers after driving one.
- Cargo Space: The Probe's trunk can easily accommodate any type of luggage you may have, but the amount of space the Probe has is very underrated. Fold the rear seats down and you'll have a mini station wagon where you can have as much as six feet of room length-wise. (Everyone borrows my probe for this reason).
- Performance: Although performance stats may look good, they only tell half the story. All probes are notorious for having only adequate performance at very low speeds (below 10mph). This is what makes the performance stats seem so conservative. Probes are much faster after 10mph and even the base level Probes offer more then adequate highway performance. Probe GT running start 5-60mph stats have been comparable, and sometimes better, to Mustang GT stats.
- Price: It's been often said in reviews that the Probe is easily one of the best cars on the road for it's price. In a coast to coast road test by Automobile Magazine in search of the best cars in the world, the Probe GT scored third place... right behind an $80,000 Mercedes-Benz and an $80,000 BMW. In the article, the Probe listed at about $15,000.
- Insurance: I've found that insurance on Probes is very reasonable in comparison to other cars. Unlike Mustangs and Camaros that have a high theft rate and are often targeted by police, Probe rates are comparable to other compact coupes and mid-size cars. Very reasonable for a car that performs so well.
Which Probe To Buy
- Repairs: Although Probes are considered very reliable cars, repair costs can be considerable. Probes are notorious for having expensive parts partially due to their Japanese make. Even Ford employees who order parts all the time are surprised at the price of Probe parts. Also, finding Probes in junk yards can be somewhat difficult as well as not being very cheap.
- Rear Seats: The rear seats can be somewhat cramped due to limited headroom and legroom. Although I've had passengers in the rear seats for long trips without a complaint, it's not the optimal car if you normally have tall adults sitting in the back.
The main consideration is which generation to look for. With two generations of Probes to choose from, the styling is quite a bit different between the first generation (1989-1992) and the second generation (1993-1997). Styling between trim levels is different as well. The first generation GTs have ground effects and a racier look, while the GLs and LXs have a more cleaner look. The second generation GT and SE are more sporty looking than the base model, solidifying its stance with ground effects. Many years have their own unique features that make them stand out. Check the changes over the years.
Depending on which generation Probe you're looking for, you have a choice of engines to go with it. If your into the first generation, you have the option of an efficient 2.2L 4-cylinder, smooth 3.0L V-6 for more luxurious driving, or an aggressive turbocharged version of the 4-cylinder for sports driving. If the second generation is the style for you, you have the option of a 2.0L 4-cylinder or a rev-happy 2.5L V-6. Check the statistics on all the models.
For the first generation Probes, you may want to stay clear of 1989 Probes, since many changes for 1990 may make part compatibility or locating more difficult for this lone year. 1989 also is known to have the most problems, although most problems are minor glitches. If an 1989 year is desired, look for a production date of late 1988 or newer. 1991 and 1992 model years are usually considered the better of the models.
For second generation Probes, 1993 models may prove more problematic than newer models. Also be aware that starting in the 1996 model, Probes became OBD-II compliant, which may make the car more fussy. 1995 is normally considered the best model year as far as reliability.
Problems to look for
Here is a list of common problems with Probes. When buying a Probe, look for all of these problems. If you find some, they're a good place to mention when negotiating. Some of these problems I wouldn't worry to much about when purchasing one, since there unavoidable when owning one. Since most sellers will bullshit you into believing the car is perfect, bullshit back and say the car is far from it. Problems such as water in the spare tire well can be exaggerated into a minor catastrophe.
Always test drive more than one Probe like the one you're looking to buy. This can help you spot problems, such as low engine power and poor drivability.
- Engine Compression- As with any car, get the compression checked before buying. Compression problems can be a big problem.
- Timing Belt And Water Pump- These must be replaced on Probes every 60,000 miles to avoid engine problems. If the Probe has over 60,000 miles and they haven't been changed, it can be quite costly to have done, and as much as $250 if you do it yourself, depending on where you get your parts. If the seller says they don't know, this usually means 'No'.
- CV Joints- As with all front wheel drive cars, the CV joints don't last to long unless property taken car of. A car with 80,000 miles or more are very susceptible to this problem. You'll notice a clicking sound coming from the front wheels when turning while pressing on the gas. Although this is unavoidable, the life of the CV joints can be lengthened by care.
- Water In The Spare Tire Well- This is normal for first generation Probes, and happens occasionally with second generation as well. 95% of the time it's due to the taillight seals. This is unavoidable, and not the owner's fault, but a good place to point out during negotiations.
- Engine Blow-By- This happens when there's piston ring wear and a small amount of oil gets blown back through the breather tube. This is quite common with Probes having more than 80,000 miles on the odometer. Remove the fresh air breather tube from the intake boot and look for any oil. Although this may sound bad, it really isn't the end of the world.
- Stuck Headlights- The flip-up headlights can sometimes be a problem. If one or more of the headlights don't raise or retract, the problem most likely is a stuck hinge. This is an easy fix with some lubricant. Worst case scenario, the headlamp motor is dead. You can get a used one for about $75-$150.
- Rear Washer Problems- One thing most people forget to check is the rear washer. If it fails to work even though there's plenty of fluid, it probably has either a dead pump, or a clogged nozzle. Clogged nozzles can be cleaned using a pin. If the pump is bad, you can pick up a new one for $20 at any auto parts store.
- Cracked Engine Mounts- Probably the biggest problem with Probes having over 75,000 miles on them is cracked or broken engine mounts. Harsh vibration while the car is idling is a big symptom of this problem.
- Low Coolant Level- Open the radiator cap and look for coolant (behind the right headlamp on first generation Probes, behind the left headlamp on the second generation). If none can be seen and the coolant reservoir is empty, fill them both. If there is a leak in the radiator, a seller might keep it half filled so you don't see it leaking. Once it's filled, run the car until warm and check for leaks. Radiators are pretty expensive, so make sure it's working properly.
- Burning Oil- If the engine is burning oil, white smoke will come from the exhaust. Also, when the car is off, check for oil in the muffler tip(s).