I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze

This car had a hard life despite low mileage, but I brought it back to some semblance of glory.

People have accused me of flipping only “boring” cars, and I guess that’s kind of fair. After all, I’ve owned four Toyota Yarises, a Dodge Journey, a Saturn Vue, and two Ford Escapes. My flip car list probably looks closer to an Enterprise reject lot. But just because the car may be unexciting doesn’t mean the process of getting it back on the road isn’t interesting. A case in point was my six-speed manual Chevy Cruze.

Here’s a car I did in December of 2018.

The Car

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams

The vast majority of my cars have come from Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace classifieds. You’d be surprised at the number of cars people don’t want to deal with – fairly late-model, lower-mile cars with major issues, on Craigslist for pennies on the dollar, because the owner got tired of trying to fix something.

When I saw a listing, for a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS. 1.8-liter, non-turbo, six-speed manual I got interested. That car is fairly new to me – only seven years old! The price was a bit rich for my blood at $1,500, but the ad said it only needed a clutch. Clutches are cheap, so throwing in a cheap clutch and putting it back on the road should have been simple. I was trying to make up for the less-than-stellar profit from the Mazda 3 I had sold about six weeks prior; the junkyard had given me a bad engine for it, so I had to pay my mechanic to do the engine swap twice, doubling my labor budget.

I met the Cruze’s owner at a transmission shop, which should have been a red flag. Why is a car with only a bad clutch sitting at a transmission shop? Why wasn’t this car serviced here? Yet, I was seduced by the “it’s only seven years old” rationale and wanted to get the full story before I made a decision either way. So I went inside and asked the front desk clerk about the car.

“Oh, that thing? It was some guy who used to work here. He was gonna fix it off the clock, but he got fired last year and it’s been sitting here since. We told him it’s gotta go this week, or we’re taking it.”

Oh, no. That’s red flag two.

The receptionist had a key, so I was able to look at the car before the owner showed up.

“Hmm. The key doesn’t work?” I said as I pressed the fob to unlock the doors. The key did work in the doors, however, so I opened the door and popped the hood.

With the hood open, I could see that the car was partially disassembled. Red flag three. I make it a point to never buy someone else’s project. There are too many variables when a car is disassembled. Are all the pieces there? Why did they give up?

I surveyed the area under the hood and discovered that there was no battery, and the intake manifold was missing.

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze

The interior was worse. The beige cloth inserts had become a horrible shade of brown. The car reeked of cigarette smoke, french fries, and old farts. Every surface was sticky, all of the glass hazy from dirt. The rear windows had stickers from some sort of coloring book on them.

The exterior was not great either, you’ll be shocked to hear I’m sure.  The front bumper cover looked fine but there was a fist-sized dent on the passenger side front fender. Also, there was rust on the bottom of the front doors.

I hadn’t flipped a car in a few weeks, and I was itching to buy something. This Cruze was rough, and I wasn’t sure if this was the car to flip. The body was nasty, and the interior was trashed. I didn’t even know how many miles were on it! I told myself “unless this car has less than 80,000 miles, I’m going to pass. This car is too rough.”

The owner eventually showed up, and let me use his jumper cables to apply power to the vehicle, which let me view the gauge cluster.

The display read just a little over 79,000. Now fully seduced by the low mileage, I bought the Cruze for the full $1,500 asking price.

The Damage

I’ve been told that kids are hell on a car, but I don’t think that’s fair to children as a whole. The previous owner said that their kids were the sole cause of the trashed interior, but I don’t fully buy that. I come from a big family, and my mother would have never let us trash her Ford E-Series like that. Last I checked, Kids don’t sit in the driver’s seat so they couldn’t have been to blame for that being dirty.

To start the ressurection, I had to buy my Cruze a battery. The previous owner was adamant that the car would not come with any battery. Fine.

I found a pipe in the back seat and assumed that it was the catalytic converter. Wrong. That pipe was the remainder of a catalytic converter. Someone had sawed off and stolen the catalytic converter. That pipe would lead out of the converter, into the muffler. The car didn’t have any exhaust manifold, so the converter integrated into the exhaust manifold was missing too.

My mechanic took the car apart, unmated the transmission from the engine, and saw that the previous owner was so bad at driving stick that the clutch had melted to the flywheel. Both needed replacement.

After taxes, registration, and a new battery, I started to question if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this car. Even with 79,000 miles, I was at nearly $2,000 invested here, and I hadn’t even fixed the car’s biggest problem – the clutch! But I figured I’d get the car running before I made the next decision.

I started by buying a clutch, converters, O2 sensor, flywheel, and brakes. Here’s what the bill looked like:

  • Clutch Kit (includes throw out bearing and associated hardware): $105.79
  • Brake Rotors: $37.50
  • Catalytic Converter: $156.79
  • O2 Sensor, Upstream: $31.99
  • O2 Sensor, Downstream: $44.79
  • Intake Manifold: $167.49
  • Flywheel: ~$154
  • Shipping: ~ $65

After about a day or so, my mechanic had the clutch out and everything else back together. Surprisingly, there weren’t any screws or fasteners missing, everything was in the trunk, in a nicely labeled bag.

Bracing for the worst, I took a Lyft to my mechanic’s shop to pick up the smelly car. The interior was still trashed, and the fender still dented. But the car started up easily and idled quietly. A quick spin around the block revealed a remarkably good-driving Chevy. The Cruze was actually whisper-quiet, there was no check engine light on. It tracked straight and true with no vibrations, the air conditioning worked, the gearbox worked just fine; no grinds or slipping. It still smelled foul inside, though.

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams

“Maybe there’s hope for this car yet,” I thought.

The Cleaning

The interior was gross. Did I mention that? Normally, a cheap detail is budgeted in my flips. A friend of mine is always looking for side work, but I knew that this car was in far worse shape than he’d ever accept at the price point I could afford to pay him.

So, armed with knowledge from the videos of YouTubers like Stauffer Garage and ChrisFix, I decided to give a major detail a go myself.

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams

I went to Home Depot and rented a portable extractor, right on Christmas Eve. The clerk decided to do me a favor, she rented me the extractor for “four hours” only an hour before close. Because the store was closed for Christmas Day, I was able to have the extractor for two days, for the price of four hours. Score!

I got some degreaser, a cheap steam cleaner from Amazon, and a few other cleaning products, and got to work.

The interior was full of garbage. French fries, Taco Bell sauce packets, Black & Mild cigar wrappers… In the trunk, I found a few cans of crushed White Claw, or Mike’s Hard Lemonade, not sure which one. Some gas-station wine cooler. The car was also chock-full of payday loan receipts, lottery tickets, and bounced checks. What sorts of problems and financial woes was the previous owner going through, that they let a seven-year-old car with 79,000 miles go? Cleaning the car out and let me learn some stuff about the previous owner, and to be honest, I kind of felt bad for them.

The whole detail took me two days. The rear seat pad alone took me a full day to get remotely satisfactory. With each pass of the extractor, more brown and gross water would come out – smelling of cigarette tar and chocolate milk.

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Video: Kevin Williams

But, with some elbow grease, I was able to get some solid results:

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams
I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams
I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams
I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams

The Bodywork

As a rule, I normally do not do body work. It’s out of my skillset and the potential to spend a lot of time and effort on a body repair, yet have it look worse, is actually very high when you DIY. But I knew the rust on the bottom of the doors was dragging the vehicle’s value down. The car drove and felt like it only had 79,000 miles, but it did not look that way. I decided to take a stab at doing some cosmetic repairs. Because the Cruze is a common car, I figured that replacing body panels might not be too expensive. The dent on the fender was only on the fender itself, not any other frame, chassis, or body parts, thankfully. The rust on the bottom of the front doors couldn’t be ignored but didn’t mean I had to get into welding. I was able to find replacement doors fairly locally that would bolt up.

Here’s the body bill:

  • Front doors: $350
  • Front fender: $75
  • Front marker lens: $3.75
I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams

Repairing the front doors and fender was pretty easy. Coincidentally, one of the door cards from the replacement door had the same interior combo, so there was no swapping of interior panels involved for that door.

After the door swap and the interior detail, the car looked pretty good.  

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams

The Post-Repair Scare

I always drive the cars I flip for a couple of weeks before I list them, to make sure they’re running well. The last thing I want to do is give someone a car that turns out to be a dud. I was driving for Uber on the side, so I added the Cruze into my shuttle fleet as a test run. It was likely whoever bought the thing would end up using it for rideshare duty anyway, given its age and price point.

The car was driving fine until one day, I went to put it into third, and… got nothing. Fortunately what momentarily might have been a big problem was no big deal. The shifter cable had broken, and after spending $78 on a new shift linkage the car was back to normal.

The Verdict And Sale

I listed the Cruze on Craigslist for $4,500. About two days later, a buyer in rural Ohio handed me $4,000 cash and drove off with their new car. One of the more painless sales I’ve ever done.

The Rundown

  • Purchase Price: $1,500
  • Tax/Title/Registration: ~ $165.70
  • Clutch Kit: $105.79
  • Brake Rotors: $37.50
  • Catalytic Converter: $156.79
  • O2 Sensor, Upstream: $31.99
  • O2 Sensor, Downstream: $44.79
  • Intake Manifold: $167.49
  • Flywheel: ~$154
  • Shipping: ~$65
  • Front doors: $350
  • Front fender: $75
  • Front marker lens: $3.75
  • Shift Cable: ~$78
  • Extractor rental: ~$24
  • Used battery: ~ $25
  • Labor: $500
  • Total Invested: $3,484.80
  • Profit: $515.20

This was not one of my more profitable flips; there were a lot of little things that by themselves were not expensive but quickly added up. Still, $500 of profit, plus the fact I got some utility out of the car by driving it for deliveries for a few weeks is a win in my book.

I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams
I Made $500 Saving This Sad and Disgusting Chevy Cruze
Image: Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin WilliamsKevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.