Buying a Second Hand Slotcar

This is not about buying nice new, boxed slot cars that should work straight from the box, and if they don't can be returned and replaced as faulty goods. It is about cheap second hand cars, the ones that are sold "as is" to using full size car terminology and the phrase Buyer Beware applies. With time this becomes less painful, but to save you some bad experiences, this is how I do it. (I mainly buy Scalextric cars as they are the most common second hand in England, so I don't know if my comments here apply to other makes).

Types of Stall

The best place to buy slot cars are Toy Collector's Fairs. These used to be called "Swap Meets". There are other places such as Car Boot Sales, but IF there is any Scalextric stuff available it will only be a box of dirty track that may include a pair of single seater cars.

At the Toy Collector's Fair there will be a number of stalls that do new boxed cars. It is a good opportunity to have a close look at any models you have only seen in a catalogue or in a low quality image on the Internet. If you hunt around (don't just buy the car you want from the first stall you get to) you may find a bargain. This picture is of the Slots & Models stall at a Toy Fair. Click on the image to look at their website.

Phil Smith's Scale Slot Cars

It is a good idea to done your research on the Internet first. You don't pay postage at a Toy Fair and you may be able to haggle if you are buying more than one car. You should always remember that it is easy to buy new cars. If you have a limited amount of cash in your pocket it is not worth going to a Toy Fair just to buy a new boxed model.

There will also be a number of stalls devoted to just slotcars that will only have cars in good (or better) condition. One of these stalls may belong to Robert of Westwood Models. The cars will already have been cleaned up by the dealer and will be competitively priced. They will have a good selection of new and second hand cars and will almost certainly have one (or more) very nice cars you want. Remember these are mainly aimed at collectors and it can ruin your investment if you loose control and smack it into the wall while racing!

Don't just pass these stalls by as they may have some cars at the edge of the table or in a box under the table, that the dealer knows are too broken to restore to a good enough condition to sell to a collector. However most dealers salvage the good bits from otherwise broken vehicles to restore other cars. This is how they make their money. So the vehicles they sell on cheap could be only made up of broken bits.

On the other hand some dealers have a load of vehicles that require cleaning, the braids and tyres replacing, the wires resoldering etc. Once the dealers have spent time and money restoring these vehicles they might not be worth very much. If the dealer thinks it is not worth him restoring the car, he will sell them on at a suitable price to get rid of them. As it is your hobby you should enjoy spending time cleaning and preparing the car, so these vehicles can be a good bargain, but you should still be careful and follow the guidance below.

Some dealers will have just 1 or 2 cars. They will have bought up a big collections of toys/die cast cars/trains etc and these will have been included. This can mean one of two things;

  1. The cars are priced low as the dealer does not want them.
  2. As the dealer specialises in something else they just guess a price. At the moment this appears to be 10. Be careful as the car may not be worth this.

However if you think you have a bargain, remember the dealer probably travels to Toy Fairs most weekends and will know a lot more about toys including slot cars than you do.

The best stall to try in an individual or a group of mates trying to sell off their 'old' Scalextric stuff. They may or may not know the going rate for their stuff, but they do want to get rid of all of it by the end of the day. If you give them a reasonable offer they will probably accept it. After lunch time they will probably accept unreasonable offers as they become afraid they have not sold all their items as they are 'over priced'.

You can also get similar deals if a slotcar club takes a stall. The members will be trying to get rid of the stuff they no longer want (so they can by new stuff). Sometimes a member of the club will provide an item for sale, but will not be able to attend the Toy Fair to sell it personally. Therefore they will provide a minimum price that their colleagues cannot go below when negotiating. Sometimes this price is a bit optimistic, when the seller remembers how much they paid for it originally and still thinks it is worth that, or worse, they think it has now become a collectors item.

On the other hand the amount on the piece of paper can be low as the seller does not want the item so they think nobody else will want the item and they want to guarantee a sail. To ensure the item is sold, the clubmates will usually drop the price of the item to the minimum price set by their friend straight away.

Inspection

When you see a car don't instantly fall in love with it, and therefore just ask the price and buy it. If it is a reasonably sized event, wander around taking a look at what is available and what the marked prices are. What you thought was a good deal when you saw it on the stall nearest the entrance, may loose its attraction as you see other stalls and you have had time to think about it.

However don't pass all cars. Some deals will be so good that if you don't snap it up somebody else will. The skill is knowing which to pass, which to return to and which to buy straight away. I still sometimes impulse buy and while driving home realise I have made a bad call.

Marked Price on Ford Fiesta

When you have found a car you like, pick it up carefully and turn it over. This will probably reveal the "marked price". This will show whether you are in the right ball park, but it not necessarily the price you will pay. Start looking carefully.

Check the wheels and axles. Once when examining a car, a wheel fell off. I put the wheel back on, put the car down and walked away. The wheel was either broken or had become warn and loose as it had been removed from the axle too many times. The whole axle could easily have been replaced, but if the previous owner had removed the wheels so many times, what else had they tampered with and broken?

Wiggle the front axle to see if the axle mounts are broken. If the wheel travel is more at one side than the other and one wheel touches the wheel arch, the mount is probably broken.

Broken axle mount
Tube hot glued in place

I would discard it. I have not found a satisfactory way of repairing this type of fault. I have replaced the original mounts with a tube before, but have found that axle articulation (vertical movement) is important when cornering.

You should also check the back axle to see if the plastic bearings are still in place. You may need to carefully push the axle so that the bearings pop back into their holders before you can do some of the following tests. This may not be possible if the back axle is bent. A replacement axle with the gear wheel (and wheels and tyres) are available, but you have to consider how much force did the previous owner apply to the car to bend the back axle? Will there be other damage, bent chassis etc?

You may also need to plan on replacing the axle if it is rusty. Front or rear axles that are a size that is not now available, can be replaced with a suitable length of 3/32" steel rod. It is much cheaper than a Scalextric axle, but it can be tricky swapping over the gear wheel from the rear axle.

Rusty front axle on Ford Escort

Next turn the rear (driven) wheels in both directions. If the axle jams or sticks in one direction, it probably means the drive pinion on the motor is worn or cracked. Not too hard to replace, so don't worry.

Broken motor mount on Porsche

While turning the rear wheels check that the motor does not move. I mean does the motor case change position, not does the rotor rotate. If the case does move it means the motor(s) mount is broken. You may also be able to test the motor mount(s) by pushing on the bottom of the motor, but this depends on the design of the chassis. If the motor moves the mount(s) could be broken and as this is hard to fix, I would discard this car and move on.

If the rear axle rotates freely with no resistance (eg. the rotor of the motor does not rotate), see if you can see the drive pinion on the motor. The pinion has probably split and has moved down the motor shaft. This should be easy to fix by putting on a new pinion.

Look at what type of motor it has. (As I have not replaced the motor on a non-Scalextric car yet, these comments do not apply to other makes). If it has a short motor (open or latest specification Mabuchi) it is easy to replace from around 4.50. when you are at a Toy Fair there is no way of knowing the condition of a motor, so I assume the worst and that way I won't be disappointed when I get home and give it a run. A working open style short motor is not nice to drive compared to the current Mabuchi motors, so I replace them to make the car more drivable.

Short motor
Long motor

A longer Johnson 111 motor is harder to replace as they are no longer produced. There are no other motors of the same size with the drive shaft at the correct end (please e-mail me if I am wrong). This is not a big problem as a new Mabuchi motor can be made 'long' with a plastic spacer that will only set you back about 0.50. This is actually the way old chassis molds were used after the introduction of the new motor.

Then check the tyres. You are not checking their condition as they will almost certainly need replacing (if not now, then later after racing for a while). What you are looking for is their size. Some tyres are not made any more by Scalextric. I am still working on a chart of which new tyres fit on which old wheels. Until I publish a list, it is up to you.

The best way to find the correct size is to go along to your local (friendly) Scalextric dealer. They should have a display stand with all the sizes currently available. The shop owner or assistant will let you try the tyres on the wheels if ask nicely and explain what you are doing. Otherwise it may look like you are stealing stuff so the shop owner will get upset.

Packs of tyres

I then check the guide blade and braids. If they are the common design (the old style with wires or the new quick change type) they are easy to replace so it is not really worth checking the condition of the guide or braids (you can do this later when preparing the car). It is also possible to replace the 360 braids found on stock cars (I have not actually reconditioned my stock car yet).

Broken peg

It is more important to check the articulation of the guide. It should not normally able to turn to far. On some single seaters there are two pegs that restrict the movement of the guide. I have some cars where one of these pegs has broken off (this page is written from experience!). This means the car will corner well one way where the guide is restricted and the car is pushed around the bend, but corners very badly the other way as the backend just steps out.

If you really like the car, have already bought it by mistake or break a peg off yourself, you could probably drill a small hole and add a new peg. This is what I plan to do to restore the performance of my cars with a broken peg. The joint will not be strong enough if you just try to glue the pin to the surface without a hole.

Then you need to zoom out a bit. Check the chassis is not warped or bent. You may be able to straighten it up using hot water or a hair drier, but don't bet on it. It might be the sign of an abused car. Then turn the car over and have a look at the body. This is a mater of taste. You have to decide whether you like the look of the full sized car. This will probably have been the first thing that attracted you to the slotcar, but don't let this cloud your judgement too much. However you may forget about the fact it handles badly etc if you think it has a nice body.

I like V8 Rovers (I have my own full size Rover V8 engine) so I have a few of them in my collection (I think they are actually called SD1s). They don't all have bumpers, wings etc and they do have scratches and marks which reduces their value to collectors. If you are concerned some replacement trim parts can be found (but I have lost the catalogues of the two suppliers I know of, please e-mail me if you know of anybody) and you can actually repaint the car your favourite colour, or the colour of a real car (yours or a famous racing car) if you want to get rid of any marks.

Front of Rover SD1 missing bumper
Repainted Shadow UOP

Likewise the previous owner may already have repainted the car. This will reduce its value but it may be disguising scratches etc. If you don't like the new paint job, it may be possible to remove the paint with Domestos. I used this to remove paint from plastic figures, see Scenery for details. I have also used it on my own repaint that went wrong.

You may be able to replace smashed glazing (from one of the two companies I have forgotten the names of!) or you can just remove it. If you are concerned the resulting car is not accurate, paint it like a banger car.

Mini with smashed glazing
Enlarged wheel arch on Ford Escort

You should also check if the wheel arches have been enlarged. It can spoil the line of the car even if it is done well. If the extra material has just been hacked off, it can look horrible.

Having made all the checks you should decide how much you are willing to pay and how this compares to the marked price. You should decide whether to buy the car straight away, come back later or avoid it. You will have to develop your own negotiating techniques, but if the dealer gives you a good price to start with, take the offer and don't insult them by haggling.

You may of course want to buy any of the cars I have said discard because you like the body so much or want the chassis for your own project etc. You should decide what you think is an acceptable price and start negotiating as above, but explain to the vendor what you think is wrong with it. They might not have realised and may drop the price for you. You can then discard the broken bits, build your own chassis or mount your own body etc.

Once you have got home, having spent the journey contemplating your purchases, you can think about doing up your car(s). So coming Soon, How to Prepare a Second Hand Car.

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