The Silver Job - A to Z
This is a perfect car to find.  It's just the kind of project that I love to do.  Here is a truly scraggly car.  I learned to look at it a lot differently.  

Watch while I show the good points and bad points.  We've just arrived to look at this car.  I've found it on Craigslist, called the owner and
asked lots of questions.  Then I ran a CARFAX on it and a Kelley Blue Book.  I've searched through for a Miata under, say
$5000.  I'm only willing to spend about $3k, but it's nice to know what's out there and the prices.
Dull flaking paint but a straight body with very few dents.  So it needs paint and the few
dents taken out. Add paint to your list.
Pretty obvious on this one.  It needs a new top.  Add that to your expenses.  Wheels
are dirty but not peeling.  No expense, just a little work.  Looks like the lights and
lenses are good.  That door handle looks a little funky.  Check it out.
This just keeps getting better and better.  We've already decided to paint.  That will take
care of the flaking and also the 'Miata nose' that I guarantee is under that license plate.  So
you have lots of blemishes, but it doesn't cost anything extra for sanding the flaky spots.  
But it takes a lot of value from the car.  
Again, you can disregard the flaking and rust because that will come off with the
sanding.  Looks terrible, but it's the same price to paint the car.  The fuel cover is a
little bent out of shape.  Usually you can bend it gently around until you get a fit.  No
dents.  The top we already have down on the card.                          
Work to be done here is minimal, having already counted paint and a new top.  All the
badges are there, and check the lights for cracks and if they work.  Add it to your list.
Here are some very good points on this car.  The steering wheel is clean and smooth.  
The dash is in very good condition.  The bezel and console are dirty but it doesn't cost
anything to clean.  It's got the rubber half mat but not the Miata floormats.  (Of course I
have an extra set.)    If a car has a cracked or messed up dash, I won't buy it.  It's too
expensive a fix.
Again, a dirty but almost perfect dash, some trash on the floor to detract from it's good
It's got a full roll bar! and the back is covered in trash.  The headrest speaker is
unzipped, not torn.  Console looks solid and the carpets will clean up nice.
All this needs is cleaning, dealing with those wires and adding floormats.  A set of black
sill plates will really crisp up the interior, and they're inexpensive. You can also get the
brushed steel sill plates if you need a little bling.  This car is silver, so the black will look
This needed the vinyl pulled back and glued.  The little red spots came out.  The
plastic on the door slide is broken and needs to be replaced.  Make some contacts in
used parts for this kind of thing.  The rest of the door just needs to be cleaned and a
little vinyl dressing.  You don't want it shiny because then it's just a little greasy.  You
want the entire car to feel good to your hand.  Clean and dry.
This door looks good.  Picture black sill plates and how it would balance the car and
'finish the edges.  
Trash devalues a car.  Yet it's easy to clean it, and cheap.  This one also needs a
cupholder, unless it's somewhere in the car.
The engine bay looks pretty clean.  Don't see any leaks or oil around the
openings.  Check the oil.  Open the oil fill cap and run you finger around the inside
threads.  If it's grainy, the oil hasn't been changed very often.  Put oil change on
your list.

Ok.  Now I go off in my head for a few minutes.  Start with asking price and Kelley Blue Book.  This one would rate a 'fair
condition'.  Decide on price to shoot for by taking the KBB excellent condition and start deducting your expenses.  Paint. top and
a few minor parts.  You've driven it and listened and felt how it drove and it feels good and strong.  I almost always had to spend
something on engine work.  There are lots of things to look for and plenty of information available on that.  You've asked yourself
important question.  "If I put this money into this car, will it be a good car?"  You either want to buy a good car, or one you
know you can make a good car with a little work.

Walk gently when you negotiate for the car.  Don't run the guy's car down, especially if he's attached to it.  You don't want to
offend a seller.  I like my deals to be friendly and easy going.  Show respect for his car and his schedule and he will do the same
for you.  I got a little better at this as time went on. It keeps things friendly.

Now we've decided to buy the car.  Examine the title and look at the smog report, it will tell you something about the condition of
the engine.  Ask to see all the receipts, any warranties, If you think you might be interested in the car, you've brought the cash
and another driver with you.  It's true that money talks.   You don't want to come back for it if you can help it.  It may not be there.  
You can always put your money back in the bank if you don't buy the car.

Fill out the release of liability for the seller and get the smog certificate.  A car needs to be smogged within 90 days of selling it.
here in California.  The seller has to provide the smog certificate.  Take it  and the title with you to the DMV (or AAA, if you have a
membership).  Make sure he signs off on the title correctly.

This is the way I figure out what I can pay for the car.  Take the high KBB value (which you're going to try to sell it for) and deduct
all the expenses you know about.  In this case, a top and paint.  On this car I would pay low blue book private party or less.  Fair
condition means it needs work.  This one looks like it needs a lot more work than it actually does.  If a car is this dirty, I'll usually
pay a couple of hundred dollars less for it.

Another tip:  If you're going any distance, see if you can find a couple of other prospects.  That way, if one doesn't work out, you
have another one to look at.

As you're bringing your new car home, watch the gauges very carefully, until you know the car.  Try to identify any strange noises
or grinding noises (not good, but fixable).  Usually, by the time I get the car home, I've got the car card filled up with things that
need to be done on it. I usually follow Jimmy home and then get in front of him so he can check out the back of the car.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  This is what I saw in that scruffy looking car I bought.
This is why I like to do paint.  What a difference a new top and paint make.
See how crisp the sill plates make it look.  If the
sills are beat up, this covers them nicely.  If
they're not, the plates will protect them.
And now I have a Just Miatas car
The before picture!
New top, new paint, and cleaned up.  THIS is why I do it.  If I had not bought this car and
fixed it up, it would be a 'beater' for the rest of it's life.  I probably put a little over a
thousand dollars into it, and most people don't do that.  I almost always get my money
back out and have a wonderful time with a gorgeous Miata to sell to some excited
people who think it's wonderful!  Quite a change, yeah?

This was a fairly easy restoration, although it needed a lot of money for the top and paint.  All I had to do was clean it up (it took
a week) and run it around to the painter and the top guy and the mechanic.  

An average restoration takes between two weeks and a month, depending on parts.

Most of the tips here can be used in reverse.  When you're selling your car, make sure it's very clean.  Take all personal stuff
out and anything you want to keep.  Fix any things that you can.  

Just this amount of work will make your car sell faster, at a better price, and to nicer people (usually).  Make sure you have the
title in hand.  Keep it registered.  If it's unregistered, there are fines to pay.

Now that the car is finished and smogged, it's time for the photo shoot and then the ads.  I love having people come to look at
my cars!  I've been asked if I'm a little sad to see them go.  Maybe once in awhile.  But usually I'm excited with the buyer and
seeing a new Miata owner.  This is the only car I've ever sold that always generates passion and delight and pride.  I love
showing them off.  

I'm very proud of my cars and think they're about the best around.  I've sold cars to two sisters, several to one person and have
their mother come back and buy one the next day.  I've even had husband and wife buyers, where they got two.  One of my
favorite mail carriers bought three cars from me!  The first one his son talked him out of.  He caught the Miata bug bad!

When owners need to sell their Miatas, I ask them to call me first.  I will often buy back one of my cars.  I know the car and the
work that's been done.  Several of my cars I've owned two or three times!
Copyright @ 2011 by Terese Mac Davis
by Terese Mac Davis