I Actually Did Make Money on That Wretched $600 Hyundai Tiburon I Flipped

This car cleaned up great!

byKevin Williams|
Hyundai News photo


Alas, it’s time for farewells. It seems like just yesterday when I bought an alcohol-stained Hyundai Tiburon destined for the scrapyard. I had to cycle through two engines, and almost a third, but eventually I got the damn thing running and running well. The Fireball bottles are all gone, and that little devil on the label who cursed this car, shouldn't bother me no more. I hope.

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Kevin Williams

I didn’t expect to like the Tiburon as much as I did, to be honest. Back when I was a teen these small front-wheel-drive coupes were constantly shit on for being less "hardcore" than a Mustang. Or they were called “hairdressers cars,” whatever that homophobic and misogynistic phrase was supposed to mean. So 14-year-old me, with absolutely zero driving experience, threw the Tiburon in the trash in my mind along with the Audi TT and Mitsubishi Eclipse (which were also similarly derided, you may recall). That wasn’t fair. I’m sorry, Hyundai.

The Tiburon was a good-looking car with great proportions—a classic fastback two-door shape that is unapologetic about its front-drive configuration. Sure, it’s got a bit of front overhang, but I don’t know what you expect from an FWD coupe; where else should the drivetrain sit? The body wears its wheels well, those 16-inchers don’t look obnoxiously large or small.

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Driving the thing was good, too. The shifter was precise, something I couldn’t really say from the other early Hyundai and Kia products I’ve driven. The 2.0-liter Beta engine is torquey, and the throttle response is rapt, resulting in a car that feels deceptively quick. Is it fast? No, I mean the thing only made 140ish horsepower from the factory, but the gearing and response make it feel brisker than you might expect. The steering has a nicely balanced ratio, paired with just the right amount of heft and feel. The Tiburon felt agile and nimble, but not uncomfortable or darty on the freeway.

After putting nearly 1,000 miles on this one after fixing it up, I understood why so many people liked them. The same year Mitsubishi Eclipse felt fat and heavy, and the two-door versions of the Civic, Cobalt, and Focus didn’t feel as special. I felt myself getting a bit emotional and thought about maybe keeping the car, but then I remembered that I had purchased two other broken cars that needed attention and money. So, the Tiburon had to go. Everything was running well, no trouble codes, holding all its fluids. I knew it would be a solid car for someone looking for basic (if not a bit sporty) transportation.

Kevin Williams

Yet, despite my good vibes about the Tibby, it still tried to screw me one last time before I went to sell it. Maybe it’s that demon thing on the front label of Fireball (it cursed this car, I think).

I knew that maybe $4,000 was an optimistic selling price for my car, but I also know how the sales-game works—people will always try and negotiate down. I figured, with the door damage, and adjusting for other cars on the market, maybe $3,500 would be a good goal, still offering a decent profit. $3,500 seemed fair for a decent car with little to no issues, right? I settled on listing the car for $4,000 with room for negotiation.

In the under-$4,000 price range you attract a lot of different people, many of them being the teens shopping for their first car with their parents. Whilst showing the Tiburon to a parent looking for a first car for his 16-year-old son, the Tiburon decided to spring a coolant leak. The leak wasn’t just a little dribble, but a huge visible jet of green sweet-smelling liquid, right as the man looked under the hood. How embarrassing—I couldn’t even explain where it was leaking or how it was leaking, I just knew it was leaking, and I looked unfathomably dumb trying to explain that it probably wasn’t that big of an issue. Predictably, he passed on the car.

The coolant leak turned out to be a heater hose, which was easily swapped a couple of days later with an AutoZone-branded replacement.

The next couple of buyers were also parents looking for cars for their kids. They seemed to like the Tiburon, but one thought was too hard for a new driver to see out of, so they passed. The other offered me $2,000. Whack.

I had a lot of interest in the Tiburon, offers all over the map, both from Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Both of those apps are flaky as hell, people were offering me anything from $1,800 to $3,700, and at least two people scheduled a time to see the car but didn’t show up to meet me.

Eventually I met a guy from Craigslist who had just moved back to Ohio, and was looking to buy a car "today." He had cash in his hand, and wanted a stick shift car that was “good on gas.” It looks like I finally had a buyer serious about the car, thankfully.

Nothing is ever that easy, is it? The Tiburon tried one more time to screw me over. On the test drive, an obnoxiously loud dragging and grinding sound made itself known, one that I hadn’t heard before. The sound stayed proportional to road speed and got worse when I turned left. The noise sounded eerily similar to a destroyed differential or CV axle. God, I had run out of energy trying to figure out what the hell else was wrong with this car. I was already over budget, and I didn’t want to have to pay for a new transmission, after already replacing the engine.

I looked over to my potential buyer, and I could see his face, he was no longer interested. I apologized for wasting his time and sprinted home to figure what the noise was. The chaotic spirit of Fireball Whisky was coming out and trying to make itself heard with these random-ass part failures.

But then it seemed the Fireball gods (devils?) took pity on me. It was not a CV axle or differential, but the plastic fender liner that had somehow lost a clip, an easy and quick fix. With the front buttoned up, I messaged the potential buyer again, asking if he was still interested. No answer. Shit.

Kevin Williams

I figured I had blown it—until about two hours later, the guy said he’d still be interested, I’d just have to drive it to him across town. An hour after that, I was $3,500 richer and minus one Hyundai Tiburon.

So here’s the new budget breakdown:

  • Purchase Price: $600
  • Tax/title/registration :$49.50
  • Engine: $450 (including tax)
  • Delnite DH2: $253.66
  • Tire labor/disposal: $106.42 
  • Front rotor and brake pad kit, timing belt and water pump kit, control arm (x2): $218.55 (including shipping)
  • Engine replacement labor: $900
  • Keyfob: $16
  • Hyundai genuine key: $2.55
  • Driver’s white door handle: $20
  • Pass side white door handle: $55
  • Alignment: $89
  • Struts: $44 x2
  • Wheel bearing: $60
  • Vehicle speed sensor, suspension end links, swaybar bushings, Parking Brake Cable: $60 (including shipping)
  • Heater hose: $15

Total Invested: $2,887.68

Sale Price: $3,500.00

Profit: $612.31

Now listen, I read some of your comments on my previous content that “this is a waste of time” or “well, I could have just asked for overtime and got the same money” or “you spent all this time on this car to make this amount of money.” I get it, really I do. Real-life isn’t like Wheeler Dealers where you find a barn find for a few dollars, put some new gas in it, and then sell it for tens of thousands of dollars. Profit is profit, even if it’s small. Plus I got to drive this fun little car around for a bit.

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Flipping cars is something I do passively. I work on the cars a little bit on the weekends or evenings, not spending too much time on any one task. True, there are other methods of side income that would probably have a better return on investment. But, flipping is fun, and side-income hustles like this have a somewhat easy method of entry. I started flipping back in college, and the flip car thing was a way for me to get seat time with cars aside from my own, gain more wrenching skills, and make a bit of coin in addition to my poorly paid regular job. Sure, maybe $400, or $600 might not be a lot to some of you. But for me, or others like me, that could very well be rent. Or student loans. Or an electric bill. I’m sure a lot of people would like to have an extra few hundred dollars every now and again. 

As far as time invested, I think I’ve spent around 25 to 30ish hours performing repairs, waiting on tow-trucks, shuttling parts back and forth, cleaning, and troubleshooting problems. That averages out to about $20 an hour, which is well above minimum wage in a lot of states. For a lot of people, $20 an hour is considered a damn good job.

Kevin Williams

One of my flip car friends had this to say: “Yeah, the money’s nice, but man flipping cars is just so much fun.” It is! Let’s get out there and have fun, y’all.

Kevin W is a writer at Car Bibles, a new sister site to The Drive focusing on practical tips and DIY advice to help you get the most out of your car. Come see the freshly redesigned Car Bibles right now! Or check us out on Twitter, IG, and Facebook. Actually LinkedIn too, if you're on there.

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