Carl T. Holscher fights for the customers.

Tag: Craigslist

Trials and Treadmills

Friday night I left my house to pick up a Sole F80 Treadmill from a Craigslisting. I drove from my home in Maryland to Northern Virginia in rush hour traffic. Even so, my wife and I made it right near 7 pm, the meeting time. Only to learn there was no way this massive machine would fit into my vehicle. I needed a pickup truck. I do not own a pickup truck.

The guy we met said there was a Home Depot a few miles away, so we jumped in the car and headed there. Sure enough, 2.4 miles away was the store. Would they rent us a truck at this late hour? Now nearly 7:45 pm? Yes. Barely.

I think the woman working the customer service area took pity on us and even though it was after their rental cut-off, and my repeated promises to have the truck returned by closing time (10 pm). I walked out with truck keys. We jumped in the truck and headed back to pick up the massive fitness monster. 

The three of us were able to lift it into the back of the truck. I didn’t have any straps or twine to secure it, but I wasn’t worried about it moving around. I was going to take it easy going home and this thing was nearly 300 pounds.

Before you laugh at my treadmill moving story, here are the dimensions of this thing.

  • Height (in.): 57″
  • Length (in.): 82″
  • Width (in.): 37″
  • Item Weight (lbs.): 278

After we loaded it, I got into the truck and my wife into her car. Because we had left from difference places, we had to drive separately to the pickup. We hadn’t planned on renting a truck and adding that complexity to this purchase. But little did I know, my night was only beginning. At 8 pm…

Heading out of the neighborhood and onto I-66 then I-495 to I-270 was uneventful. The treadmill shifted once when I had to brake harder than I wanted. The problem with leaving enough space between your truck and the vehicle in front of you in DC-area traffic is an open invitation to anyone with a car small enough to zip into that space. And one of those cars zipped a little too close and braked suddenly when the car in front of them did.

Other than that, I made it across the three interstates to my exit and slowly drove through the neighborhoods near my home. The slow turns and rough roads cause the treadmill to move around more than 25 miles from the store. It moved a bit and I had one nightmarish moment as it slid towards the side when the truck hit a pothole rounding a corner.

But eventually, I arrived home with our prize.

We fought the near-freezing temperatures and gusting wind cutting through our clothes to get it off the truck and onto the lawn. I thought momentarily about trying to wrestle it inside, but I was on a deadline. I needed to get back in that truck and drive it another 25 miles back to the store. 

10 pm was my deadline. I pulled up the route on Waze and checked its estimate. 9:22 pm. I was going to make it. But I needed to get moving. Ordinarily, a 40-minute window would be more than enough to give some comfort. Not where I live. 40 minutes can easily get added to a 25-mile journey.

So I was off again. Back in the truck. This time, without cargo so I was able to drive the speed limit going back and didn’t need to worry as much. It was another uneventful drive back to the store. I gassed up the truck and returned it to the store’s parking lot.

I walked in and over to customer service where I saw the woman who had checked us out. 

“You’re back! You made it!” She nearly shouted when she saw me. I could tell she thought I was making promises when I rent the truck so she would give it to me. I was back at 9:30 pm. I had gassed the truck and was rewarded with a final cost of just shy of $40 for the truck and $9 for the gas.

So our $1500 treadmill was up to about $290 so far.

Then I had to drive home. Again.

My wife stayed behind to order dinner and get off her feet since she’d been working all day and there was no reason for two of us to drive 50 miles round trip together.

I left Home Depot. I headed home again. I arrived shortly after 10 pm to the mammoth treadmill lurking in the darkness in my yard. It hadn’t moved. It wasn’t going to without a lot of effort.

I went in and ate the best-tasting calzone I’ve possibly ever tasted. 

Then it was time to meet the next challenge. How do we get this 278 pile of metal and plastic into our house? We had a wooden dolly (a rectangle of wood with wheels). The treadmill has wheels, but they were useless over the grass, so we wrestled it on the dolly to the paved pathway to our front door.

This is where our next set of problems began. With every dimension, it was too big to fit through our doors. So we started figuring out what to take apart and how to take it apart.

Keep in mind it’s 33° F (one degree above freezing). It’s 11 pm, windy and moonless outside. Even with the house’s exterior lights, flashlights and gloves were required.

While I looked for Allen wrenches, my wife looked up the manual and for a video on how to put it together (since no one makes a video on how to pull it apart). So we knew what and where we were looking for. Now I just needed the tools.

This is where my saving tendencies paid off. I had a collection of Allen wrenches from various Ikea installs. I hoped one of those was the right size. Thankfully, they were. It was too late to go anywhere to get the tools we needed so we would have had to left the treadmill outside overnight until we could get tools.

So I went to work removing the top display. Hoping this would make it short enough to fit through the doorway. It was only a couple of screws to remove and collapse it. But it didn’t get us enough room to get in the front door. After nearly an hour of trying, frozen and exhausted already, we loaded it back on the dolly and rolled it around to the side door. There were no stairs. Just a small step up from the paved path to the door. 

But even with the top off, it was just too big.

Because of the hydraulic system that allows the belt to descend once unfolded, it was wouldn’t allow us to collapse it without the weight of the machine holding it down. There was no way we could press it down enough to move it through the door.

We tried one direction. Then the other. And with the weight of it, I could lift it and my wife could steady it, but we weren’t able to lift all of it at once. 

Halfway in the door, when it became clear, it wasn’t going in anymore, I went to move the doormat which had gotten stuck between the belt and the door, I hoped maybe it would give us a tiny bit more room to make it inside. 

Not only did it not, but I also knocked it over and it fell on my wife’s foot and scraped down her leg. Thankfully, it didn’t break anything and didn’t land on her, more bounced off her foot as she put it. But it still put her out of commission for the night and destroyed most of the plastic parts, including the part that covers the motor and electrical system. So that was now exposed. I left it where it fell and went inside to make sure we didn’t need to get her medical help.

She was more or less OK. Just wish a sore foot. I got her some ice and pain killer and she got set up on the couch under a blanket to warm up and rest her foot.

After confirming she was OK and didn’t need anything else from me, I went back to the problem of getting this treadmill inside our house.

I crouched over it and started looking at what else I could take apart to get it inside. I was looking at the plastic covering on the underside of the belt. Could I remove the base from the track? Could I find a way to compress it or disable the hydraulic lift at all?

Yes.

Yes, I could.

As it was now around 12:30 am, still freezing cold and still windy, I was exhausted. Maybe if I was thinking clearer I would have thought of this sooner. But I looked at the lift and realized it’s the same type of mechanism that works my screen door, which I had taken apart earlier in the night.

So while I could not remove the base or track without a lot of work and tools I wasn’t sure I had. I could remove the single screw that held the hydraulic pump in place and kept the belt upright.

I couldn’t believe it. After hours of struggling. After the injury to my wife and the bruises and cuts I had and didn’t even realize until my wife pointed them out to me, possibly because I was numb.

I grabbed my trusty Allen wrench.

I removed that single screw. I stuck it in my pocket and laid the base flat to the belt.

Now, a little after 1 is, I finally had the treadmill small enough to get through my door. So I wrestled it on to the dolly and rolled it into the house. This got me halfway into the house. Through moving one side, then the other across the kitchen’s tile floor, I was eventually able to get the rest of the treadmill inside our house.

At 1 am. More than 6 hours after I left my house thinking “I will go pick up this treadmill and bring it home at a great price!” It was inside. In pieces.

It was battered. There were many plastic pieces that were broken all or partially off. I was cut and bruised. My wife had swollen and cut. I had the treadmill inside, in three pieces. But it was inside.

I went upstairs to shower and collapse into bed.

The next afternoon, after getting a good night’s sleep and taking some more pain killers, we set to work putting this treadmill back together. Thankfully, we didn’t lose any screws and there weren’t that many pieces to put back in place. We slit the remaining plastic protectors on and screwed the base together. We connected the cabling and screwed everything back into place.

I plugged it in and it powered on. I was happy. I was afraid we had broken something, most likely a cable when we were moving it. But it wouldn’t start. The motor wouldn’t turn. It seemed to be in a display mode. None of the buttons worked. Panicking a little bit, I then realize we didn’t have the safety key in place. The bright red piece of metal and plastic that acts as an emergency stop.

Once we found where we’d put it, set it in place, and pressed start, the machine sang and slowly started the motor running and the belt moved.

Success! We had done it.

Even with the replacement plastic pieces costing another $70, we had a working treadmill. All said and done, it was still far cheaper than buying it new anywhere.

The final cost breakdown was:

  • $240 for the treadmill
  • $40 to rent a truck
  • $9 for gas in the truck on return
  • $30 in gas (estimated) for the driving back and forth
  • $70 for replacement plastic parts

$389 for a $1500 treadmill. Not counting our time, blood, sweat and tears.

How to shop for a new car

When I say “new car” I mean new-to-me. I would never buy a new car. They’re far too expensive and drop a ton of value the moment I leave the lot. New cars makes no sense to me.

Last Thursday, as I was driving from home to on one of the hottest days of the year in my car with no air conditioning, it started to smoke. Not too much but enough to be concerning.

I was on the beltway with no phone1, no air conditioning and a car that was starting to have problems. I nursed the car home, as it wouldn’t go any faster than 40 mph. But it wasn’t until I made it to the hill I live on did I see just how bad it was. The car would barely accelerate past 20 mph. I barely made it up the hill and into a parking space.

After a few hours of letting it cool down and I tried to move it to a new space to avoid a weekend paving project, the car would not shift into gear at all.

No reverse. No drive. No first. Nothing.

I rolled it down the sloping lot to a freshly paved space to avoid it getting towed the next day while the paving continued. Now, it was time for a big decision.

Repair or Buy?

I first thought about repairing the car. I looked at AAA rates and where I could get it towed. Then how much the repair might be, since I suspected it was the transmission or something else major. It looked to be well over $1,000 and as much as $3500. The car wasn’t worth that.

My wife and I talked it over since it already didn’t have air conditioning2, had over 140,000 miles on it and wasn’t in the best physical condition it was time to find another car.

A Word of Warning

I read through Get Rich Slowly’s Reader Story about car hunting. From there, I found Motley Fool’s Car Buying Guide which also offered a ton of great information.

Dealers love to call and email you endlessly. They love to try to up sell you and send you marketing materials. I’m still hearing back nearly four days later about cars I’ve already declined or cars they told me were sold already.

Before you start contacting anyone, setup a new email address and if possible, a Google Voice phone number or something similar. You will get calls from dealers or associates from other dealerships all trying to win your business. Even after you’ve told them you already made a purchase.

The hunt begins

Where to start? Since I am tall (6’5″), I am limited in what I can drive. I had a 2001 Ford Taurus since I fit into it and could drive it comfortably. However, after 8 years of driving the same car, I was ready for a change.

Since we had talked about getting an SUV when my car did finally die, we looked into those as well as other sedans to see what was out there and what we could afford.

We wanted a car that could last us at least five years since even with the down payment we had and I’d get no trade-in value for my car, we’d need a longer term loan. We had a couple of guidelines when we started looking.

  • Under 80,000 miles, ideally closer to 60,000
  • Price around $10,000, with a down payment of $2000 – $4000
  • Clean Carfax report
  • Good mileage
  • Good safety rating

With this in mind, we started looking.

Carmax – Lots of variety, high prices

We visited a local Carmax. I like Carmax because they have a huge variety of cars and each car has a lockbox on it so the salesman has access to every key to every car on the lot. This makes it easy to perform a series of sit tests.

Because of my height, I have a series of tests I performed in each car.

  • Can I comfortably get in and out of the car?
  • Is it tall enough? Does my head hit the roof?
  • Do I have enough leg room or are my legs splayed out around the steering wheel?
  • Does it have an adjustable steering wheel?
  • When the wheel is adjusted to where I need it, does it obstruct my view of the instruments?
  • Is it comfortable to sit in? Does anything dig into or rub against my leg from the dashboard?
  • Is the sear adjustable? Can I make it lower or move it back far enough to fit my long legs?
  • Do I feel confined by the center console. Is it comfortable to reach into when I’m in the driver’s seat?

These are the things I look for when I sit in a car and decide if it’s something I’m interested in. You wouldn’t believe the number of SUVs so short my head rests on the roof or instrument panels that jut out impeding my knees, sharp edges that dig into my legs or the amount of contortion needed to enter and leave the vehicle.

When I look at a car, I consider a lot of things before I even start the engine and take it for a drive. I need to not be annoyed by minor things since I will be driving the car every single day.

Incidentally, we never had the intention of buying from Carmax because their prices were much too high. It didn’t help that our salesman was terrible. He wandered away from us, steering us towards expensive luxury vehicles. He didn’t listen to our questions or requests to see certain cars. More than a few times we had to wait at a car we wanted to see until he came back from whatever other vehicles he wanted to show us.

Even if we wanted to buy something, I would not have bought that day because the salesman was so bad. It is worth noting I have had positive experiences with Carmax before. The last time I looked, I was in Richmond and had a stellar salesman who was attentive to my questions and really helped me choose the right make and model of vehicle for me.

Carmax served its purpose

Carmax’s purpose was to allow me to see what was out there and what I liked and it served that purpose admirably. I had an idea where to start looking elsewhere. With so many cars on the market, it’s important to narrow the choices. We left with five choices in mind.

Contestants

In the beginning, I was resistant to getting an SUV despite the advantages in poor weather and increased storage capacity. I wanted another car because I liked driving them.

However, after looking at the smaller SUVs, I was warming to the idea and really liked some of them.

We had narrowed the list of desirable cars to:

  • Nissan Murano
  • Ford Escape
  • Ford Explorer
  • Honda CR-V
  • Dodge Charger

After combing Craigslist, Cars.com3, and AutoTrader.com, we saw there were a lot of user dealerships down in Manassas, Virginia so we hopped in the car and took a ride down there to look in person.

We visited three places and I test drove a Nissan Murano, Ford Explorer and looked at a couple other SUVs in the same class.

I really liked the Murano. It was a little nicer than the others. It had a massive dashboard area where I could set something without it sliding around. I liked how it rode and handled. It had massive amounts of room but wasn’t too big. It had pretty good gas mileage.

The Explorer was just too big. We don’t need a third row of seats and it rode like a truck, not a car.

The Ford Escape was nice but prices were on par with the Murano which and the Murano was a little more luxurious

The Honda CR-V was surprisingly expensive. I had expected them to be more affordable. They were as expensive as the Muranos but not as fun to drive or nice inside.

The Dodge Charger was more of a pipe dream. I’ve always liked the look of them but couldn’t find any that were within our price range. Except one offered by a Craigslist scammer.

Craigslist Scams

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that.

We saw a listing for a 2006 Dodge Charger and emailed about it since the price was fairly low but not suspiciously low.

The reply we received was this (emphasis is mine),

I’ve received your email regarding the 2006 Dodge Charger RT with 52,882 miles on it, Sedan, Automatic, Gasoline, Engine: 5.7L V8 SFI. The car is still for sale and my asking price is $3300. It is a 2006 model loaded with everything.You have here the VIN # to see that everything is like I said : VIN REMOVED. The car is very well maintained and it has just been completely serviced. The engine runs very good and the automatic transmission shifts perfectly.The car is in perfect condition with clear title,no accidents, no liens or loans.
I’m an oceanographer and I’m on sea at this moment, so I left the car in Perkins OK, at the shipping company, it’s already packed and waiting to be shipped anywhere.
Here are some pictures with the car: LINK REMOVED
Let me know if you are still interested.
Regards,
Jennifer Bradley

We received a couple different email replies signed by different names from different oceanographers around the country to various car ads.

So either there was a huge number of oceanographers trying to sell cars on Craigslist, or these are all scams. Hint: Craigslist’s Car Sales page comes with a warning that includes, Offers to ship a vehicle are virtually 100% fraudulent.

More car hunting

The test drives helped solidify my choice of cars and I wanted the Nissan Murano. The CR-Vs were too expensive for what I felt wasn’t as nice a car. The Chargers were too expensive and the Ford Escapes were about the same price as the Muranos from the same year.

Edmunds – Cars for Dummies

Now it was time to go to Edmunds.com which I found from the Get Rich Slowly article. The site was a godsend since I don’t know much about cars.

It has fantastic reviews of cars from all makes, models and years and it’s super easy to use from a mobile phone since the URL is very easy.

www.edmunds.com/Make/Model/Year

For instance, to look at a 2006 Nissan Murano, I typed in http://www.edmunds.com/nissan/murano/2006. If I want the 2005 model, change the 2006 to 2005.

On the main page, they give the fuel economy, “What Edmunds Says”, a short review of the vehicle, and their pros and cons. It’s a great way to get a 30 second overview of a vehicle and helped steer us away from certain years where the car had maintenance problems, or certain models that rode harshly.

The site also offers safety, reliability, features, etc for the vehicles. It has everything you would want to know about a car before making a purchase.

Mission for Murano

The Nissan Murano had won out as the top choice for a vehicle. Now it was time to find one. Back to Craigslist we went, combing the headlines and refreshing to see if anything new was listed.

The first email was never returned a day later so we called and the number was disconnected.

The second car was already sold by the time we found it.

The third try was met with success. I called the number and spoke to the owner we agreed to meet on a rainy Saturday evening about 20 minutes away.

Success?

So my wife and I jumped in her car and met the owners who had a beautiful Burgundy 2006 Nissan Murano. The car looked to be in great condition and talked about it for a bit including why they were looking to sell the car.

The seller let us take it on a test drive and it was wonderful. The ride was smooth. The engine sounded good and the acceleration was smooth and braking firm and responsive. Even on the wet roads it was a good ride and the lights and wipers did their job admirably. The car had 60,000 or so miles on it and the owner wanted $11,000 even for it.

A little higher than we wanted to spend but the car was in great shape and had lower miles that we had expected to find. It looks like a great deal.

Now came the most important part.

We asked for the VIN number to run a Carfax report. I told the owner if the Carfax report was clean, I would call him the next day to arrange the sale of the car.

We shook hands and parted ways. Driving home, we were giddy. We had found a great looking car for a good price. When we got home, I plugged the VIN into Carfax expecting to be delighted…

And my heart sank.

Warning!

Always check Carfax, Always!

I had never seen a big red exclamation point on a Carfax report before. So I read on.

The car had severe damage from an accident in New York some years before. The car had been in an accident again and declared a total loss / salvage and was issued a salvage title.4

The car wasn’t worth the risk.

We quickly located two more 2006 Muranos for a little more money but both from local dealerships with free, clean Carfax reports. It was Sunday afternoon so we called and confirmed they were open and off we went.

We took a ride to the first and wanted to look at one they had available. We arrived and told the first person to pounce on us, we had seen the car on their website and noted the price we had seen it advertised for and wanted to know if they still had it.

He said he knew exactly what car we were talking about and praised it and our choice.

The car was there and Burgundy. It also looked to be in great shape. We took it for a test drive and it rode as smoothly as our the one from the previous night. It was smooth, responsive and had been meticulously cleaned and had some minor repairs done by the dealership.

It was in great shape and had around 65,000 miles on it. We talked it over and decided we wanted it. The second Murano was a 2003 with considerably more miles on it so we felt this was a better deal.

We told the salesman we wanted the car and we started the paperwork. There is a lot of paperwork.

We spent just under $12,500 for the car plus the tax, tags, title and other expensive T-words. I feel good about the purchase. We are going to take it on our upcoming vacation which should be a good road test for it and if anything does go wrong, it’s still covered under the limited-time warranty.


  1. As I had left mine at home when I raced out the door to try to drive into some of the worst traffic in the US and back in time for my Batman movie marathon. Needless to say, I missed the first movie. 

  2. Which I had just talked about getting repaired a day earlier. 

  3. The Washington Post uses them for their car classified ads. 

  4. This is when I learned New York state won’t issue a title for s salvaged car to the previous owners had moved it to Maryland which would apparently issue a title for it.