Updated: Aug 26, 2019
You may or may not be the kind of person that loves the endless hours of scrolling through ads and looking for deals on the side of the road. This post will be broken down into 3 components; What we suggest in an RMR car, where to find one, and how to tell if it is going to endure.
First we will delve into what we suggest in an RMR500 car. This course is long (approx 500 KM "ish"), which means your car needs to be able to not only do that with less fuel breaks, but also without overheating. We all love our V-8's and, we don't want you to shy away from them, we just want you to understand that you had better be counting on more 'Smiles Per Gallon' than 'Miles Per Gallon'. We would encourage you to look for either a V-8 with a larger gas tank or one that has been rated with better fuel economy (ie. a sedan not a van). There are some benefits to a van, a little better ground clearance and some will have a bit fewer miles on them than a sedan.
Next, we should tell you that there are plenty of people willing to get rid of their old clunker for $500 or less. Keep in mind that people willing to sell their car for $500 are not normally going to list it at that. So when on a website like Craigslist, Facebook Market, OfferUP, or LetGo, make sure to widen your price range (setting your max price between $700 and $800 can put you within that range of getting some of these cars for that sweet spot of $500 or less. Many of us have found great luck with Craigslist, which is normally our first resource, for getting into a quality used beater. Craigslist tends to have more than one contact method to help expedite the viewing of a vehicle as well as most ads will include a number of pictures. Though, we encourage you to be careful with Craigslist as it is commonly riddled with spam, scams, and people with untitled vehicles (which makes it a nightmare to register.) Other sites like OfferUp and LetGo have less ability to filter vehicles but you are sure to find a reasonable number of beaters on there, though there are limited contact methods, so getting replies can be few and far between. As a reminder, the RMR500 is a challenging course (some of which a 4x4 may be more suited) So regardless of whether you score a 4x4 it is recommended that you have 6" of ground clearance or more as it may mean you may actually finish.
Lastly, we want everyone to finish, though we know, it is unlikely. Before reading this portion, understand that you are buying one step above a junk car. Checking your fluids is crucial and it is imperative that you don't give your seller enough time to spray starter fluid in it and get the block hot. You want to see how it starts cold and how the fluids sit before and after the engine has run.
Before starting the engine;
1.Check your Oil, and look for water, cloudiness, metal shavings, and overall color. Your oil preferably should not be black (though that can be changed), but red flags will be metal shavings or water or cloudiness.
2. Check your coolant level, color, and look for oil. Oil is a big indicator that you have a head gasket issue that is sure to cause issues for you that will probably take your vehicle out of the running before or during the event. Keep in mind that oil and water separate, so you will notice the difference between oil and just it being dirty from a long life. Low level can be an indicator of a leak, which if it is a hose, can be an easy fix, though if it is a radiator, they can get costly quickly.
3. If your car is an automatic, you will want to check the automatic transmission fluid, often referred to as ATF. Most of the time you will be looking for a stick tucked down beside or behind the engine. Pull that and acknowledge the color. BROWN is SO SO AND BLACK is BAD and you should probably take that into account with your decision. Though smell can be an even bigger indicator. Smell the ATF, if it smells burnt you can stop wasting your time. That transmission is a ticking time bomb and will likely fail before the end of the competition. If the smell and color is acceptable, you will want to run the vehicle and get it to temperature before testing it again. Before I forget, you will want to look for sawdust or metal shavings. Sawdust is an old Used car sales trick to get a transmission to shift fine for another few miles while for sale and metal is an obvious sign of catastrophic failure.
While the engine is running;
1. Look for black, blue, or white smoke on start up. Black means the engine is running rich, white suggests you may have a coolant leak or may be running lean, and blue means you are burning oil. None of which are good but a little rich or lean can be typically dealt with. You can know more if the vehicle is newer than 1996, it will have an OBT2 (OBTII) port that will make it easy to diagnose a 'check engine light'.
2. Probably your most important aspects to your vehicle are going to be investigated during this stage, so START, STEER, and STOPPING is important to your competitive edge. If one of those is not up to par, your event may be shattered, sooner than later, unless you are a competent mechanic and a Macgyver expert and can get a car running with duck tape, a screw driver, and a coffee can full of screws, nuts, and bolts.
3. CHECK ENGINE LIGHT- This is not a death sentence. This can be something as simple as the gas cap being off or a temporary misfire from sitting too long. What you don't want it to be is something that comes on while you are driving it and the transmission slips and thats when it kicks the code. Depending on your grit, you may not be concerned about most check engine light concerns since many are just emissions related. Though, you can still use it as a bargaining chip. (ie. "Sir/Miss, I know your vehicle is listed at $700, with the check engine light on, I couldn't possibly justify that, would you consider $400 so I can afford to take it off your hands and have the underlying issue addressed?") Most the time a quick scan (OBD2) at Auto Zone (for free) will let you know what the concern is and even point you to the most likely solution (As mentioned before, this is only applicable to 1996 and newer vehicles).
4. Steering is a pretty simple situation, it is likely that it either works, or it doesn't. You may towards the end of a steering systems life experience loud-ish whining when you turn the wheel back and forth. Could be failure, though sometimes if caught early, it is just a bit low on the hydraulic fluid that makes it work.
After you get the engine to operating temperature;
1. Check your oil, has anything changed? (ie. level or look)
2. Checking coolant can be dangerous while the engine is hot, listen for boiling or look for an overflow. Could be an indicator of either oil in the coolant or the thermostat failing (Or, you are looking at Emma's Jeep). Thermostat is typically a pretty easy fix. So waiting until the engine is cool to check the coolant again would be recommended if this condition is present.
3. Again to the transmission, this one is actually a bit trickier than the other aspects of inspecting your new vehicle. You will want to make sure the vehicle is running, some vehicles will want it in neutral, or if your parking brake does actually work, it is a safe bet to put it in neutral, then check your fluid level, color, and smell again.
Now this is not a full blown inspection. This just gives you key components to pay attention to. Now go get that piece of junk that smells like a Motel 6 smoking room and lets compete for GOLD ish.