Why I Bought a $600 Hyundai Tiburon That Somebody Ditched in a Parking Lot
When the first step is to replace an engine, you’re not dealing with a car that’s had an easy life.
Any ad for a car under $2,000, less than 15 years old, with the words “not running” or “needs work” in it almost always perks my ears up. As you’ll get to know—I very much enjoy buying and selling cars. Cheap cars that somebody else couldn't be bothered to fix is the heart of my hustle, so when I found a manual-transmission Tiburon that had been left to rot in a strip mall parking spot, out I went to take a look.
Kevin Williams is an author at Car Bibles, a coming-soon sister site to The Drive focusing on automotive adventures and DIY tips to help you get the most out of your car. That includes buying, selling, repairing, and misadventures that involve all the above like this one. Enjoy! – Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles EIC
I’ve had some tough weeks of fruitless searching on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace recently. I’m always deal-hunting, trying to find a car that I can easily fix, drive around for a bit, and then sell for a profit. Lately, it seems like any good deal or potential flip gets sold quickly, even minutes after being listed. Well, after dejectedly looking for what felt like forever, I stumbled upon an ad on Facebook Marketplace for a 2008 Hyundai Tiburon. This particular car had a five-speed manual, mated to the smaller (but cheaper to replace) 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. According to the ad, the car had only done 114,000 miles but it “needed a new motor.” It had also been listed for sale twice, the first listing having been put up more than fourteen weeks prior.
No lie, I ignored it the first time I saw it. The owner said “the motor’s about to blow” and the price of $1,500 seemed a bit optimistic. Besides, the advert said that the car was listed for sale fourteen weeks ago! Surely, the car had been sold. But I scrolled down, only to see the same car in a new listing – only two weeks ago. This time, the ad said, “Facebook won’t let me put anything lower. Shoot me an offer, and come and get it.” After chatting with the seller via FB messenger I shot out an offer of $850. I figured, he’d probably reject it, and I’d go on with my day. After all, offering on a car, sight unseen is bad form (and highly disrespectful) in my opinion.
To my shock, he accepted. He even gave me the location of the car, if I wanted to view it in person. Coincidently, the car was a mere five minutes from my house.
In reality, the car was rough. The owner said the engine had a small knock, but would "probably run" if I replaced a “broken sensor.”
Yet underneath, there was a huge puddle of oil. The car didn’t even have license plates. Instead it only 30-day temporary tags, which were two months expired.
The tires had very little tread in front, and the rear tires were completely bald.
The interior was filthy, full of cigarette butts and mini bottles of Fireball whisky. (Don’t drink and drive, folks!)
The white car's door handles were gloss black for some reason, and the driver’s side one wasn't even fully attached. It wasn’t all bad, though. The body was in surprisingly good shape, save for a dent in the driver’s side door. The panel fitment looked good. The paint looked OK. Sure, the car was dirty, but there was no clear coat peeling. Most importantly, I didn't see any rust. These Tiburons sometimes have rust on the rocker panels, but this one looked clean.
The pièce de résistance of this particular Tiburon, as far as having any potential value, was its mileage. It only had 114,000 miles, which is pretty low for the year. When selling a cheap car, the lower the mileage, generally the higher the street value.
Even with the exterior blemishes and broken engine, I thought the car would be worth my time to try and save. But I'll admit that maybe my sight-unseen offer of $850 was a teensy bit too high. I asked the seller a few more questions about the condition of the car, namely if he was in a hurry to sell the vehicle. The seller told me, “If you don’t pick it up today, I’m just gonna scrap it tomorrow.” With that information, I offered him $500. I cited the bald tires and broken door handles, namely. I mean, $500 is likely more than double he’d get from a scrapyard.
He countered with $600, which I accepted.
The next morning, after registering the car and transferring ownership in my name, I came back to look closer at the damage. The transaction was done in the dark (not something I'd recommend either) so initially, I could only see so much.
The interior was pretty gross—aside from the copious bottles of alcohol and cigarette butts littering the floorboards. In the cup holder, there was an iced coffee old enough to have evolved into some gelatinous yogurt-like substance straight out of one of the worst episodes of Hoarders. Boy howdy, the smell inside the cabin was gnarly. The trunk didn't open either.
As you'll recall the previous owner told me that “a sensor” was the reason the car would not start. Sure enough, the crankshaft position sensor wasn't plugged into the engine…
...But if you look closer, you can see a huge hole in the engine block directly next to where the sensor should plug in. You can see the crankshaft, and what looks to be a connecting rod sticking out.
When the tow truck came to take the Tiburon to my garage, because I sure as hell wasn't driving it home, a river of oil cascaded out of the hole in the crankcase and down the tow truck's tray. The tow truck driver actually stopped for a few minutes, just to let the oil run itself out before he got the Tiburon situated on his truck.
Once I got the car on a lift, it didn't look a whole lot better. To absolutely no one's surprise, another gaping hole in the bottom of the engine block revealed itself.
And the passenger side ball joint was completely destroyed, too.
That brings us to the present, or at least time of this writing, at which the car is still pretty much as I found it. I have a running list of parts it'd be needing before it goes back out into the world, based upon what I could see see:
- An engine
- Four new tires
- Front brakes
- One lower control arm
- Two door handles, painted to match
Hopefully, it won’t need too much else, but we will see. Other problems don't always present themselves until the vehicle is up and running. I've had too many times in the past where I've gotten a car running, but then other random problems make themselves known.
Here's a preliminary, loose budget:
- Purchase price: $600
- Tax, title, registration: $78.50
- Tires: about $250, before mounting and balancing
- Two exterior door handles: $50, for both
- Lower control arm, front brakes, timing belt and water pump kit: $218.95 (including shipping)
- Engine: $400. Confirmed by the salvage yard
- Labor: about $600. My mechanic will do the engine install, and likely the brake pads and rotors. Everything else, will be done by me. The replacement of the door handles, scraping off the ugly Plasti-Dip on the wheels and gas cap, and the interior detail will all be done by me. I don't anticipate any other mechanical issues to come up, but if they do, I will fix them.
Total investment: About $2,200.
I'm not sure if I will repair the dent in the door, or if I'll just touch up the missing paint and stop there. I want to make sure the car runs well before I screw around too much with time-consuming and costly cosmetic repairs.
Kelly Blue Book value of this car, a 2008 Hyundai Tiburon GS, in "Very Good" condition is in the range of $3,492 to $5,202. My goal is to get at least $4,000 for the Tiburon, which should net me around $1,800 in profit, depending on if this preliminary budget holds true. I plan to drive this car around for a few weeks, keep miles off my now-decaying 2012 Sonic with nearly double the miles as this Tiburon. I don't plan on spending more than ten hours of labor time repairing the car, not including the labor associated with the replacement of the engine. My mechanic is very speedy, It will only take him roughly 10 to 12 hours to replace the engine, do the timing belt service, replace the lower control arm, and replace the front brake pads and rotors.
I’ve got my work cut out for me.