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Buy a Rust-Free Project For Cheap

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Man, I really, really hate to do this. Readers forced me to, constantly griping about magazines scoring unbelievable deals on Southwestern rust-free cars when all they have to pick from are rust-bucket hoopties. Truth is that we're victims of the ridiculous pricing trend, and the tag for an average four-door Maverick just shot to a million bucks overnight. Old cars are gold, but that hasn't stopped us from scoring four new projects in as many months for around $500 a whack. Sure you're not going to take home a Road Runner or an SS for cheap any more, but if you're willing to have an average Dart, Nova, or Maverick that you can buy without a home loan, here's the secret: get on a plane. It's always amazed me that more people don't figure out that a plane ticket or a road-trip party is cheaper than replacing every piece of sheetmetal on a car. So draw some lines dead south and west from Montana, throw a dart at the map, and score yourself a rot-free project.

You're going to have to have a sense of adventure about it, coming West with probably no clue about the specific car you'll come home with. That's because anyone who goes to the trouble of advertising in a spot visible to an out-of-state buyer probably wants too much money. You can still get some very decent stuff on ebaymotors.com, but the bulk of it is jacked up by bidders desperate to overspend, or it's on auctions that never meet an outrageous reserve. Straight classifieds like collectorcartraderonline.com can also turn up a few gems, but Hemmings Motor News, formerly handy, now reads more like The Robb Report. You're going to have to dig a little deeper.

We actually get lots of cars just by cruising the barrio and spotting them; sometimes they have for-sale signs, but often we just badger broke little old ladies into taking a few hundred bucks for their prized possession. Kidding, sort of. Another good source for finding deals is our local classified paper, The Recycler. You can search its listings at recycler.com, though the paper seems to have better deals even though it's horrifically organized and you've got to look for ads in places you would not expect to find them. The cars in there are cheap because the ad listings are free. Another valuable source we've used lately is craigslist.com, which lists cars for sale in most states, and because those ads, too, are free, you'll find the occasional deal from someone who just wants that four-speed Duster out of their backyard.

People wanting to dump automotive trash that is our treasure also means that you should look into those tax-write-off donation yards. The best one out here is at cars4causes.net, but you can find a yard in your town by searching at donatecarusa.com. It's amazing what kinds of cars some people will hand in, and while they often flip them for money that seems high to us, it may seem low to a denizen of the rust belt.

There's also no shortage of L.A. dope fiends getting their decent cars seized, and we're always surprised at the cars that people will forfeit when they get impounded for a parking ticket. It makes the police auctions and tow-yard auctions the best deals of all time, though you may need to go to lots of them before you find something you want. Find out where the auctions are at liensales.net.

Finally, it's no secret that we also cruise the junkyards and swap meets for deals. Our favorite yards are the Pick-Your-Part (pickapart.com) and Ecology (ecoparts.com). The swaps are at Pomona (pomonaswapmeet.com) and Long Beach (toppingevents.com), though they have become virtually useless for getting good deals on cars. The drive-around remains the best option, and you have to be relentless to score the good stuff. Now come along and look at some of the stuff we found in just two weekends of hunting.

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