Because I Love You

I love my readers here at Soulmobiles. I think you kinda might like me too.  In honor of Valentine’s Day I’m going to give you car-buying advice. Why not advice on particular vehicles?  Because here’s what happens every single time I get asked advice on particular vehicles: You decide it’s time for a new car.  You do some research and then say to yourself, “Hey, I’m going to ask Sara for her opinion.”  But you don’t really want my opinion unless it completely and totally validates a car you’ve already fallen in love with.  No no, it’s true, and it’s okay.  This is a safe place, no judging.  I just want you to know that I’m done with getting in between you and your new love.  I’ve decided instead to advise you on the purchase of your new (or new to you) car.

2011 Chrysler 300c

If you currently own a vehicle, look up your vehicle’s trade-in value and resale value.  When you decide how you’re going to get rid of your old car (trade in, sell independently or donate) these numbers will guide you and help you feel as good as possible about your transactions.  Be honest when assessing your vehicle’s condition and shortcomings.

Next, write down all the features you love about your current car.  Sunroof? Seat heat? Great stereo? Write it down, this will come in handy when shopping around.  When you’re staring at a new car with all kinds of features. It’s easy to think that surely your favorites will be included and that may not be the case. I always tell the story of my friend who needed a new car and bought one in July.  When the first cold day of winter happened in October she went to turn on her seat heater and realized her new car didn’t have one!  You may also want to prioritize these favorite features too, because we rarely get everything we want.  I had to sacrifice memory seats in favor of leather and a wood-trimmed steering wheel.  It happens.

2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV

Now, here’s the hard part.  Create your budget.  No, don’t just write down the amount you’re comfortable spending on the car.  Think about any change in fuel economy and add that in.  Remember you’re going to have to get plates, add that number in.  Oh yeah, insurance changes? Add those in too.  And since we’re talking about money, you should go to your bank to get preapproved for an auto loan.  This will give you a benchmark for your financing and what kind of interest rate you can get.  If you go to a dealership and they offer financing, at least you’ll know whether it’s a good deal.  Use this budget to remind yourself in the heat of the purchasing moment how much you can really spend on your new vehicle.  Numbers get all out of focus and floaty in the presence of new cars.  It’s true.

2011 Volkswagen Touareg

Now consider your new vehicle.  Most of you can determine on your own what your needs are, unless you’re getting a new car because you’re about to have your first baby.  Then I’ll stick my nose in and advise you relentlessly.  As an expecting parent, you will not only suddenly realize that the car seat needs to fit properly and you also learn that car seats are going to be a part of your life for the foreseeable future.  All of a sudden you need to consider more than just horsepower and cost.  Will a stroller fit in the trunk?  Will your kids be able to reach that high handle before age 12?  And what about curtain airbags?  Where is the safest place for the baby? What’s a LATCH anyway?

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon

But I digress… Figure out what your needs are.  Don’t buy a car based on how you think you might use it for 10% of its life.  Meaning, don’t buy a minivan because you have dreams of becoming a drummer and will need to haul your drum kit everywhere when you hit it big (I’m not saying it won’t happen, I’m just telling you to cross that bridge when you get to it).  Think about how you use your car now, and consider realistically how much that may change over the duration of your car ownership.  Key word worth repeating: realistically.

So narrow down your choices in whatever way you need to.  Budget, fuel economy, whatever.  When you’ve narrowed, here’s what you do.  You go to www.consumerreports.org and you get a month-to-month subscription.  It’ll be the best $5.95 you ever spent.  Look up reliability on the makes and models you’ve selected.  I can’t stress it enough: Do this before you go shopping because talking yourself out of a bad purchase is really hard to do when that brand new slice of delicious vehicle is beckoning to you from across the lot.  Consumer Reports will show reliability and satisfaction from actual owners.  That’s some good data right there.  You’ll see trends, like how first model years can be quirky, or how some vehicles have regularly high maintenance costs.  Once upon a time I bought a Saab wagon.  I ignored the data and personal stories of angst.  And I paid dearly.  In one year the Saab was in the shop 12 times.  But she sure was purty.

2012 Mercedes GLK

Wait, did I say maintenance costs?  Quick, put that in your budget!

Okay, next you need to decide where you want to get your car.  Dealership? Broker? Private seller?  If you’re going to a dealership, use your social networking skills and ask friends, family and coworkers if they have a salesperson they have a good relationship with.  Or go online and reach out to the internet sales manager. Send an email and outline what you’re looking for and request a test drive.  Make an appointment, and even email copies of your driver’s license and insurance.  If you have kids, bring their car seats to check their fit, and bring any assorted gear you regularly carry around.  Spend as much time as possible with the vehicle.  See if that dealership will let you keep a car for a couple of hours and drive it where you normally drive.  Maybe even have that mechanic friend of yours give it a look.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

If you’re buying used through the dealership, see if you can find a vehicle that’s got a manufacturer’s certified warranty.  Usually these warranties are offered on lease returns, where the car has low mileage and has mostly been maintained by the dealership.  It’s gonna cost you a little more, but in the event your car has issues, it may be very worth it.  (Remember the Saab I mentioned?  It had a phenomenal manufacturers warranty so everything I took it in for was covered, even rentals for when the car had to be in the shop overnight.  Some friends with a Saab wagon had an aftermarket warranty and didn’t get as much covered.) Also, sometimes you can negotiate in some services.  See what that warranty covers and go from there.

If you use a broker, be sure you have your vehicle choices narrowed down to one.  Typically brokers will get you a car at an auction for a predetermined fee.  In Colorado we have brokers who can work with dealerships.  When using a broker, make sure they have a good reputation and solid history.  Word of mouth is helpful when finding a broker.  This transaction is much simpler and less time consuming than a dealership.  The downside is that you may not get a manufacturer’s warranty on a vehicle, and it’s not likely you can negotiate for services or much else.  Another down side is that you don’t have the variety of choices when it comes to the vehicle you want.  Remember to be flexible.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI

When dealing with a private seller, you’ll want to be sure you have someone you trust look over the vehicle you’re purchasing.  Be sure to ask the seller about any time left on a warranty.  Of course you can do a Car Fax, and that may help you sleep at night.  But seriously, have a trusted mechanic look it over.  Don’t be afraid of buying a car through a private seller, just be smart.  Look at tire wear, listen for anything that doesn’t sound healthy, be aware of alignment issues.  Ask for service records and whether the vehicle’s been in any collisions.  No, they don’t have to be honest, but it’s your job to ask all the questions.  Ask the seller why they’re selling the vehicle, and whether they are the sole owner of the car.

Regardless of where you are purchasing your vehicle, you will now wind up having to pay for it.  This is where your budget comes in handy.  Stick to your guns where you need to and I say this all the time, don’t be afraid to walk away if something about the purchase isn’t right for you.  It sucks when you’ve spent 7 hours at the dealership and have experienced a roller-coaster of emotions to turn your back and leave the car there.  But you will feel infinitely worse when you buy a car you can’t afford or one you didn’t completely check out.  Bring a friend with you if you’re the kind of person who would rather buy a car than hurt a salesperson’s feelings or offend a private seller.  Be strong, be smart, and you will come away with a good experience and a car that will make you happy.

3 comments

  1. Excellent advice! We know we’ll be in the market soon to replace our minivan, and the salesperson that we’ve worked with twice before has left Schomp. Boo, hiss. I appreciated your reminder about checking out consumer reports!

    • Hi Jennifer! I’m so glad you found my article helpful. Can’t wait to hear how your car purchase goes!

  2. Sara,
    What a great article! Smart advices. I am going back to the drawing board… Maybe I will go see them in the middle of the night so I don’t get tempted by a sales person. Better think with my brain rather than my heart… No wait, if thinking with my heart and being selfish, I would have a nice sport car. Opposite pole from the Caravan I currently own… :-)

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