What to Look for in a New-to-You Car/Truck

Call it what you will – hoarding, junk collecting or a serious automotive addiction. I’ve got it, and I’ve got it bad. Buying a new-to-you car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle you buy is always exciting. The process must release some endorphin in my automotive-craving brain. The downside of this is that I usually don’t have any money to fix the damn cars, but I’m happy (albeit slightly delusional). The bonus is that I can write and take (bad) pictures, and share my experiences with you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Know what you want: If you have an idea of what vehicle you want to buy, educate yourself on it. Find out what options there were, and what reliability concerns there are. For example, if you’re looking at an older 1980s Toyota 4×4 pickup or 4Runner, know the difference between the 22RE and the 3.0L V6, and which one is right for you. 
  • Walk away if there is no title: Unless you’re planning on parting out the vehicle, or turning it into a race vehicle, walk away from it. Even though the seller might have a very entertaining story to explain the lack of a title, it just means an even bigger headache for you. Just be aware that if you decide to part out the vehicle and decide to send the carcass of it to a salvage yard, many won’t accept it without a title. They just have no way of knowing if it’s stolen or not. Some states are kind to you and allow you to jump through the hoops and get the title with only the bill of sale. It takes a whole lot of patience, dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork, and sometimes it doesn’t have a happy ending. Make sure the vehicle has proper VIN plates and check with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your insurance company to see if it was ever reported stolen. The last thing you want to do is exchange money and then the cops come and take the car and you.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 if there is no title!
  • Ask if there are spare parts: Most of the time, the seller just wants the vehicle gone, and you can usually get spare parts for a fraction of what they worth new. You might need those parts in the future. Sometimes the seller will just throw the parts in for free. Even if they say no, it never hurts to ask! 
  • Use parts you don’t like as negotiating points: If the vehicle you want to buy has ugly aftermarket wheels, and you have stock wheels at home, ask the seller if they would consider taking some money off the asking price and keeping the wheels and tires that the vehicle has on it. Fancy wheels you don’t like are worthless until you can sell them, and that takes a lot of time. 
  • Get the nicest one possible: This will save you money, a massive headache, and it will just be a better vehicle. It’s worth the extra money. 
  • Buy vehicles as close to stock as you can: This might seem silly if you’re going to be building an off-road rig or a hot rod, but here’s the thing. A car you want might have all the parts you want on it, but how do you know if they were installed correctly?
  • Try to avoid salvage title cars: This is, for the most part, a huge no-no. Vehicles can be salvaged for a number of reasons, some of which may not be bad, but insurance companies aren’t out there to lose money. Be suspicious if they don’t think it’s worth fixing. Some parts might be missing, but it’s always the little things that kill you. A salvage title always has a stigma attached to it, no matter how much work, time and money you may have poured into it, when you go to sell it, you’re going to lose money on it. At the same time, if you’re going to be building it into a race car, a trail rig, or a beater, does it matter if it’s got a few dents, is missing some trim pieces, or won’t sell for a lot of money?

    Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope
  • Buying most old cars means parts availability: Like it or not, if you buy an old Camaro, Mustang, Chevelle, pickup, Jeep, FJ40, or Bronco, there will be an abundance of aftermarket parts. Many of the parts you will need can be bought online, or you might be able to get them from their salvage yard out back. There are specialty restorers all over the country. If they have a few restorable vehicles out back, don’t bother haggling with them. They know how much the vehicle is worth and what they have. But, you do know that they have good parts, and rest assured that they will want to keep you as a customer.
  • Hang out with pros: Make friends, or become friendly with the people who restore or work on the vehicle you just got. They know what common problems are, how to fix them, and what to look at in a new (to you) vehicle that you’re considering buying. People who have worked on those vehicles know where to look, and chances are high that they will pitch in with your project.
  • Look for late-model 4×4 package (if you’re wanting an off-road truck): There are several late-model 4x4s with special off-road packages installed in the factory. You can score big time if you find one on a dealer lot. Look for Z71, FX4, TRD and Pro-4X. These packages give you deeper gearing, a locking or limited-slip differential, bigger, meatier tires, tuned suspension, and sometimes a beefier drivetrain and skidplates. Just be forewarned that stickers can be added to base vehicles without these packages to fool you. There are also 2wd TRD “Prerunner” Tacomas, and 2wd Jeep Wranglers that lack the front drive components, a transfer case, and all the goodies that come with off-road packages. Just keep an eye out and you’ll be fine. Also, some dealers will slap a sticker onto trucks to fool you into buying it. 

With all of that being said, go out and find that one car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle it is that you’ve always wanted to buy. Build it into what YOU want, not what others want. When they tell you how to build it, tell them to go build their own. It’s your car, and you’ll be much unhappier with the car they wanted you to build. You don’t want that, do you?

What to Do When You Wreck a Racecar

Not the best shot, but it was one of the few that didn’t include fire or tire smoke.

Racing a car or a motorcycle, while fun, is never quite safe. If you do it long enough, you will surely find yourself taking a vacation off the pavement. Before you end up hitting a tire wall or get your roof sanded off when you flip, you should know what to do in the event of a crash. This also applies to if you’re driving around in your daily life.

Stop the car as quickly as you can! If you’re in a drag car, pull the parachute or floor the brakes if you don’t have a chute. If you’re in a road course car, floor the brakes. If you know that you can’t save it, you might as well crash as slowly as possible. Brace your head against the head rest. Pull your thumbs away from the steering wheel so if it kicks back at you when you land or stop, you won’t have reshaped your knuckles.

As the dust settles, take a deep breath. Can you still breathe? If you can, awesome! Figure out where you landed, but you should figure out if you are on fire first. Normally, the safest place to be is in the car, unless you are on fire. Then you want to get the hell out of your car. If you aren’t on fire, you still have some choices. If the car is still moving, or able to move, try and get it off the track, or to a corner stand where a corner worker can help you out. If the car can’t move, cut the fuel and power, and wave your arms around so safety personnel know you’re alive. If you decide to drive the car off the track, make sure you don’t dump fluids all over the track. Watch your gauges, check your mirrors for smoke and other cars, and if you have a sneaking suspicion that something is going to leak or drag, just wait for the safety crew to come to you. Stay off the racing line or dragstrip groove if you can.

Off the track, things can be just as hard. You might have had a bad crash, but thankfully not bad enough to send you to the hospital. Somehow, the track crew was able to extricate your car from the catch fence or tire wall. Watch them if you can, so they don’t cause further damage. That sounds silly, I know, but it will be easier on you if you can rebuild the car. People don’t come to racetracks expecting to crash. Most tracks will allow owners to store the car for up to a week if need be. While all tracks are different, that’s usually what you can expect. For the most part, the track will cover the cost of repairing the broken tire wall or whatever you hit. Yes, it can be rough, but gather any in-car video or data and go home. The big decisions will come the next morning.

Expect to be sore the next day. Many people have more than just money poured into their race car. Damaging or totaling a car can feel like losing a dear friend or a family member. I know this because I still dearly miss my minivan. Just know that beating yourself up won’t fix the dents. Get out into the garage or driveway and take stock. If it’s just body damage, you can get back onto the track in a couple of weeks. If you damaged the chassis or suspension, you might want to look into a new car. Suspension can get replaced, but it can cause massive problems with the chassis. Depending on the value of your car and the frequency of your racing, check out racing insurance before you have to do a full rebuild.

Many racers say that the best way to get over a crash is to win the next race. It will remind you just how much fun it is to race. Just get out on the track and have fun.

The Most Unlikely Off-Road Cars Ever!

Why should you buy a Jeep, a Toyota Land Cruiser, or a Subaru for off-roading pleasures when you could have one of these machines?

  1. Rolls-Royce Corniche: This car competed and finished the 1981 Paris-Dakar Rally! While it wasn’t exactly stock, it was still cool. It had a custom tube frame, a GM small-block V8, a Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD system and an 87-gallon fuel tank. It’s quite possibly the coolest Rolls-Royce ever.rollsroycecornicherallycar
  2. Bentley Continental GT Speed: This car might handle itself like a proper British touring car when celebrities and the upper elite drive it around, but when Top Gear” got their mitts on it, everything changed. They put rally driver Kris Meeke in the driver’s seat and Captain Slow (or James May) in the passenger seat. This meant that the car’s full potential was finally untapped. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrNzPInDja0bentleycontinentalgtspeedtopgear
  3. Aixam Mega Track: Yeah, the name is weird. They probably could have thought of a better one. Aixam built “world-famous” economy cars. Out of the blue came this monster. It was a 400 horsepower, four-seat rally/supercar/absolute beast of a car. Yes, it was unexpected, but it was a gift from God.aixammegatrack
  4. Ferrari 308 GTB: Yeah, you heard me. A Ferrari was a rally car. A very successful one at that. It made the podium 20 times at rallies across Europe in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, Ferrari’s rallying and winning shenanigans were put to an end when the FIA dissolved the legendary Group B batch of rally cars.ferrari308gtbrallycar
  5. Ford Galaxie: Anybody who has bombed down a dirt road in an old muscle car knows that they make the best rally cars. This Ford Galaxie races alongside other intensely cool old cars in the Baja peninsula. The governing body is called the National Off Road Racing Association, or NORRA. This heavily modified Ford Galaxie shows us how it does business, in a very good scary way!fordgalaxienorraracer
  6. Lotus Esprite: Yes, really. The classically-unreliable British sports car actually did a very good job off road. After watching the “Top Gear” episode where they took this car off road, I am still in awe of how well this car performs off road!lotusesprittopgear
  7. Geo Metro: Yeah, you heard me. The tiny, crappy economy car actually performs well off road. There’s a guy who actually LIVES out of the thing! Well, not living IN it, but he’s gone a lot of places in the tiny little car!geometrocampingguy
  8. Ducati 1199 Panigale TerraCorse: This motorcycle is already a great track bike, but a Ducati dealer wanted to take it a step further. He simply adjusted the stock suspension parts, swapped the tires and brakes out, gave it an amazing paint job, and fabricated a skid plate. This bike turned into a holy terror on dirt roads. Watch out BMX bikes!ducati1199panigaleterracorsa

Of course, there are many more that I could mention. However, these are some really cool unlikely off-roaders. If you’ve ever owned an unlikely off-roader that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments section!