North Hills Auto Mall: The Best Place to Buy a Cheap Crappy Car in Pittsburgh

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A couple of years ago we bought a cheap 2003 Honda CRV. Her name is Rhonda and she is a lovely shade of crappy brown.

Rhonda The Honda
Rhonda The Honda

I think she has about 250,000 miles on her. She shakes violently if you drive over 45 miles per hour, so it’s been a great car for my teenager to drive – don’t have to worry about speeding!

I seriously love the car and I actually even have a song about Rhonda. It goes like this: “Her name is Rhonda, she is a Honda, she’s Rhonda my Honda my dear…” – maybe someday I will record that.

Here’s a picture of Rhonda’s “Good Side”.

Rhonda The Honda Good Side
Rhonda The Honda – Her “Good Side”

I noticed while taking pictures just now that the air in her tires looks a little low, will have to check that. We haven’t driven her much in the past few weeks because we had to fix her power steering.

Strangely enough, people are still driving these things around everywhere. Every time I go somewhere I see another piece of crap Honda just like ours and am amazed they are still on the road.

We spent about $5000 for her, and ironically I could probably sell her right now for close to that price thanks to inflation + the used car market being what it is these days.

Anyways, if you need to buy a cheap crap car in the Pittsburgh area, I highly recommend North Hills Auto Mall, which is where we bought the Rhonda. It’s a dealership located in Camp Horne, right by the Giant Eagle that stands towering over the 279 Camp Horne exit.

After I came home I was curious about what other people said about the place in reviews, I figured they would be pretty bad and I was right. After reading a bunch of mean and terrible things other people said about the place, I decided to write my own positive, glowing review of the dealership here on my blog.

If you are looking for a place to visit around the Pittsburgh area to buy a cheap crappy car, maybe you’ll like this place as much as I do.

North Hills Auto Mall Car Dealership Review: Camp Horne Pittsburgh Car Dealership

Let’s first be clear on what type of car dealership this is: it’s a cash pay here lot.

What this means is no bank financing. If you don’t make a lot of money but can scrounge up some cash this is a great thing for you because it means no car loan, no car payments, no interest charges. Whatever piece of crap car you buy is 100% yours.

Get a car with a clean title and VIN number and you can essentially rebuild it part by part to last forever if you are willing to do the work.

It’s important to note that it is a cash lot though because it tells you right off the bat that most of these cars would never qualify for traditional bank financing. They’re used, they’re old, they have high mileage and they probably need a ton of work.

Of Course, You Are Never Going to Find a Good Used Car Anywhere in Pittsburgh

Now that you understand what kind of lot and dealership this is, you also need to be realistic with your expectations on any kind of used car you might find for sale in Southwestern PA.

Any used car in general that comes from Pittsburgh is going to give you problems. Have you paid attention to our weather, terrain, and traffic at all?

Pittsburgh is all steep hills, icy roads covered in salt 8 months of the year, and increasingly worse stop-and-go driving. All of these things tend to be really be rough on cars.

Whatever used car you get, at whatever dealership you go to…It is going to need some work.

It probably needs tires, brakes, and rotors checked. It’s going to have some dings and high mileage. You may even have to do some annoying repairs like batteries or an alternator or replace the exhaust and a tie rod.

You should realistically expect that any car you buy is going to need about $1200- $2000 of work put into it the day you buy it. If you are mechanically inclined and can do most repairs yourself, parts are cheap.

Having to put $2000 into a car you just bought is sadly almost true for every other dealer in Pittsburgh.

You can pay $22k for a used car that’s 5 years old with lower mileage at the “real dealerships” and have all of these exact same problems, on top of a car payment with interest.

Not to mention, you’ll likely be facing higher repair costs because after-market parts aren’t always available for newer cars. Labor can also be much more expensive as newer cars get more complicated and require specialized tools to work on.

We had a Mazda for a while and as much as I loved the Mazda it was AWFUL because nobody could work on it and fix it except the dealer. (And they only had one mechanic who knew how! Replacement parts cost thousands of dollars.)

If you talk to most people, you’ll learn that nearly every person will say about every single car dealership in the entire Pittsburgh region will screw you over. This is the norm. You should be prepared for this. (Of course, there are some dealers who are great too – but most of them are not!)

You Will Not Feel Disappointed If You Have Clear Expectations

I really felt like since we had clear expectations to pay way more than we should for an old beat-up car that may not even make it home the minute we left the lot, we got exactly what we came here for and had an excellent experience.

The car we bought had a check engine light on when we took it for a test drive. One of their mechanics was nice enough to tell us what the error code was, just a simple knock engine sensor. Most people would probably run after learning that, but not us.

We aren’t like most people because we know most of the parts on the specific car we bought can be found for less than $20. An entire new engine is only $400 for the particular piece of crap car we bought.

I was even able to find a new exhaust & catalytic converter for the Rhonda for all of $300. It’s not OEM and it makes the check engine lights come on, but the car passed the PA state emissions test which is all that really matters anyway.

I Didn’t Get Ripped Off for Paying Too Much for a Car, I Paid for a Service and Experience

I know that I paid over the blue book value of my car when we bought it at North Hills Auto Mall, but that doesn’t really bother me too much because I feel like I did pay for a valuable service. That value of convenience is worth every penny!

Being able to visit just one place, look at a lot of different cars and pick one, and be done in just a few hours was so nice.

It saved me a lot of time. It saved me the stress of comparison shopping for the “best car” when in reality all cars within my price range of $5,000 were total crap.

Think of it this way: Do you walk into a gas station convenience store and complain that they sell a box of 4 ibuprofen for $12 when you might be able to buy a giant bottle of ibuprofen online for a better value?

No, because if you have a headache, you are grateful that the gas station even has ibuprofen. You’ll gladly pay whatever just so you don’t have a headache anymore. You don’t want to wait 2 days for shipping.

That’s how I felt about shopping for a car. A huge hassle. A huge drain of my time and energy.

So, one of the things I LOVE about this place is the ability to be able to walk through such a huge lot with so many cars to choose from available. This dealer had a huge inventory and all the major brands.

Not a lot of Ford or Chevy cars, but that’s to be expected – most of those would never stand the test of time to get 150k miles on it and be 12 years old and still running.

The good news is you will find plenty of cars that CAN go forever if you’re willing to work on them: Toyota, Honda, Subaru, BMW, Saab, Volkswagen, Saturn. It’s not unheard of to get 250,000 or even 400,000 miles on these cars if they are properly maintained and repaired as needed.

Honestly, walking around is like taking a nostalgic walk down memory lane. Look over there, honey! That’s the car my grandma used to have!

Oh, wow, look over there!!! Do you know what that is!?!?! That’s a 1992 Saab Hatchback! That was my dream car when I was in high school!

Oh wow, look, they even have a station wagon! It’s just like the one my friend’s mom used to drive us around in for the kindergarten carpool!

It’s Good to Support Local & Family-Owned Businesses

Most of all, I appreciate that this is a small family-owned and operated business. It’s nice knowing that even if I did just pay $2000 over the blue book for a car that’s probably only worth its scrap value, at least I’m helping support a small local family business in the area.

Pittsburgh is a tough area to survive with any kind of independently owned business if you aren’t a major corporation. Just the cost to own or rent a commercially zoned lot in this area is not cheap.

There was also this intangible feeling while we were shopping there, I guess best described as “this is a family” kind of a vibe.

In a society where families often don’t even talk to one another, it’s a rare and beautiful thing when you see a whole family like that working together. That in itself is something I appreciate and value and want to support.

In addition to supporting the family of the dealership, because my car is so crappy we’re also able to support other local small independent businesses, like our awesome friend Scott Pink. He did a ton of work on Rhonda this past year to get her passing inspection!

All in all, I’m quite happy with the crappy car we bought. I am happy with the people who helped us buy the car. I am most grateful for the experience because it certainly makes for a great story.

Our car even made it home with no problems, which is better than I can say about other much newer, lower mileage, triple the price cars I have bought in the past.

If you are thinking about coming here to buy a car, it can also help you truly reconsider: do you even really need a car?

Lots of places rent cars if you only need it for a day or two every couple of months. Maybe you can walk, ride a bike, take the bus or be a modern-day hitchhiker thanks to apps like Lyft and Uber.

Even if you decide that yes, you do need to buy a car, it’s good to know of those services as a backup anyway because it’s quite likely your car will be out of commission frequently every time it needs repairs.

The Real Test of a Business: Would I Go Here Again? Would I Recommend This Place to a Friend?

I think the best way to really test if a business is awesome or not is to ask whether you would go there again or if you would recommend the business to a friend. The answer here is, absolutely, but only if you know what you’re getting into.

I would totally shop here again if I were ever in the market for another cheap crappy car. I’d also shop here again if I were looking for a specific vintage model I wanted to restore – chances are they have it!

Bottom Line: Go here with clear expectations of buying a piece of crap car and you won’t be disappointed! You’ll be debt-free, own your car, and can learn how to work on cars yourself all at the same time.

Have you bought a car here? What were your thoughts? Do you share my same appreciation? Tell me your experiences in the comments section below!

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