November 29, 2007

#01-043: Used Car Ads - Part I: Buying from Dealers

A small used car lot

Note: In May of 2007, the newspaper I worked for in Shenzhen, China, reported that over a million cars had been registered in that city, and new cars were being sold at a rate of over 200 per day. (Quick math: six months later--when I wrote this lesson--times 30 days times 200 cars equals over 36,000 more cars in the hands of Shenzheners!)

Get Ready: Have you ever bought a used car? What might an ad for such a sale look like?

Let's look at some real car-for-sale ads and see what kind of information people give when selling used cars in America. (The cars in this lesson are being sold by a dealer; we'll look at a "private party" or "by owner" ad next time.) Notice the heavy use of abbreviations; that's because many ad forums charge advertisers by the letter.

The first ad:

2005 Honda Civic   27,884 mi.  $14,977
2dr, Gray, FWD, AUTO 4SPD, 1.7L, 4cyl

First we are told the year the car was made. Next comes the make: Honda. This means, who was the car's manufacturer? After that is the model. For example, Honda makes the Civic, the Accord, the Prelude, and many other models.

The next information given is the mileage ("mi." means "miles.") How far has the car been driven? A five-year-old car that has been driven only 30,000 miles is probably in better condition than a two-year-old car that has been driven 100,000.

Then comes the price. There are standards for this, formulas applied based on the answers to several questions: What make and model is the car? How old is it? What's the mileage? What is its general condition? What is its maintenance record? What accessories does it have? And so on. Of course you can fix any price you want, but if you go too far above the standards, you may not be able to sell it.

Now we learn a little more about the car:

  • 2dr: This is a two-door car, also called a "coupe." (A four-door car is a "sedan," and a five-door car is usually an SUV--Sports Utility Vehicle--with a door on the back, called a "hatchback.")
  • Gray: the color of the car's exterior. Sometimes we see something like "Gray, white int" meaning the exterior is gray and the interior is white.
  • FWD: This is "Front Wheel Drive." Traditionally, cars received their "push" from the rear wheels. More recently, many cars are powered by the front wheels. And some are "4WD," Four Wheel Drive, where all four wheels are powered.
  • AUTO 4SPD: this car has a 4-speed automatic transmission.
  • 1.7L, 4cyl: It has a 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine.

This car was being sold by a dealer, so only the basic information is given.

Are you getting a picture of this car? Let's look at another, also being sold by a dealer:

2005 Honda Civic LX   46,442 mi.   $11,995
4 dr, at, a/c, gas saver, alloys, xlnt cond, Financing/Warranty Avail

This seller gives us less useful information. Beyond the basics, we know that it is a sedan with an automatic transmission and air-conditioning. Then:

  • gas saver: This is what we call "hype," an attempt to convince you that THIS car is the best. But every Honda Civic is a "gas saver." It's like saying, "Buy this house. It has a front door!"
  • alloys: Again, these are largely for appearance.
  • xlnt cond: "Excellent condition." Hmmm...
  • Financing/Warranty Avail[able]: Hype again. Every dealer offers financing; every car has a warranty. This dealer is trying to get you to come look at this car, not based on its own merits, but on his ability to sell. Don't fall for it!

Next time we'll look at a car for sale "by owner."


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. 1.7L, 4cyl
  2. 4SPD
  3. 4WD
  4. coupe
  5. hatchback
  6. hype
  7. int
  8. mi.
  9. sedan
  10. SUV

  1. describes the transmission
  2. describes the engine
  3. tells how far the car has been driven
  4. a two-door car
  5. a four-door car
  6. a large truck-like vehicle
  7. a "fifth door"
  8. describes the inside of the car
  9. tells which of the car's wheels are used to push it forward
  10. extra information used to try to convince the buyer

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 29, 2007

This lesson received 158 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. a; 3. i; 4. d; 5. g; 6. j; 7. h; 8. c; 9. e; 10. f