Words, Weights, Whatever

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

***Everything I learned from (trying) to buy a car***

NOTE: The following are more notes than a post on my car buying experience. I'm posting it on-line as an aid when I start to look for a new car next year around this time.

The 100k limit.
I will not drive any car (new or used) significantly beyond 100k again (or the extended warranty, whichever comes first.) Becomes too risky and, more importantly, too expensive for additional repairs. If it's within our means, I plan to buy a replacement once 100k is met or surpassed. This means a new car every 4-5 years at my current rate of driving at 20k+ yearly.

Determine what I want in a new (or used) vehicle.
*Do I want the viewing height provided by a compact SUV (or one of those upcoming crossovers)? Or the zip and acceleration of a regular car? SUVs and cars are distinctly different animals and don't directly compare. I'll definitely have to balance the pros and cons of each in our lives.

*Do I like the look of the car? Appearance, I'm sorry to admit, does play a role to me in determining what car to drive. While the Honda Accords get high rating in reliability, quality, and "fit and finish", I find them quite generic when compared to Altimas or Galants. And while I like black, the upkeep is a pain. Silver is nice; red is a bullseye for the police (though what a pretty bullseye).

Charcoal? The Spouse likes; personally, I think it doesn't stand out.

*What are the standard and optional features of the car?
Here's the questions on the horsepower, torque, etc. As for options, The Spouse spoiled me with sunroofs, leather seating, and CD players. And height adjustable seating is a must due to the way I sit while driving if the vehicle has a sunroof. (Non-applicable with SUVs.) Unless the car has a higher than usually roof (e.g., Galant.)

I like those new rearview mirrors that adjust to light found in the Altima and many other cars. And the remote start function found in most GM cars like the Pontiac G6. But Onstar? Superchargers cars? Chrome wheels? Uh....

*Do I fit in the car?
A surprising quantifier while car shopping. I sit nearly straight up while driving, a legacy from my old Mitsubishi Mighty Max and its non-adjustable (and how!) seats. Because of this, I discovered I can't fit most cars (my head grazes the roof) unless I lose the sunroof. And why should I do that?

Look for eight-way power seats for the driver.

*How much will the car cost?
I'm not concerned about the cost of the car unless it gets a bit outrageous. Our limit--at the moment--is around the high twenties and low thirties total. Besides, there's always used versions, rebates (especially around the end of the month or year), and--ugh--negotiation.

*Hidden costs
Sales tax, fees, etc. And what kind of warranties does the car have? There are extended warranties, for example, that activate after the basic bumper to bumper warranties expire instead of the more common concurrent ones.

While I do have a lot of questions, I've learned some definite answers:
No leasing, for example. I average around 20k yearly.

A/C! (Mostly for my asthma.)

At least six cylinders unless four generate more than 200 horsepower. Best test: turn on the air-conditioner full blast while either going up a hill or weaving through the freeway.

CD player as standard. You'd be amazed how many cars come with players as optional.

Runs on regular gasoline unless there's a very good reason to use the more expensive brands (i.e., huge gas tank, luxury car with good mileage, etc.)

No white or beige as the exterior color. Blah.

The red backlight in the dark interior of the G6 while driving at night is so cool!

No purchasing from private sellers. Nothing personal against them. They just can't provide the necessary extended warranties.

Research, research, research.
I surfed the Internet constantly and found several choice sites not only on cars, but warranty info as well. (See shortcuts.)

Ask people. It's amazing how people open up about cars when asked. Several folks even opened up their cars and allowed me to sit in them to see how I fit. And then there are the "car-o-philes" whose every waking hour is consumed by cars (e.g., Michael P.) Definitely talk to them at length.

Check out material how common (and not so common) salesfolks tactics. Knowledge will (hopefully) keep you calm as you face the salesfolks.

The benefits of used vehicles.
Learned that used cars are good to consider if:

*Wanting to get a high-end car at an affordable price. Look, for example, at used Infiniti G35's, Nissan Maxima's, or a well-loaded Buick LaCrosse CSX. Forget Toyota's or Honda's, though. No deals there. They hold their values too well.

*Want a well-stocked lower end car for a very low, low, price.
I've always liked the Ford Taurus and was sad to hear it's to be replaced by the Five Hundred. I could easily save 8-10k (or more) by purchasing such a car which I can then run into the ground within 4-5 years (or less) depending on its mileage.

*Between the latest and greatest.
One idea I batted around was to purchase a used car with significant mileage (50k and over) at a very low price (7k or less.) Keep it as an interrum car for a year or two while waiting for a new vehicle that I really want (like a possible Nissan Maxima hybrid or--gulp--a hybrid Infiniti G35. Looks and mileage! Yum! So what if it takes premium gas?)

Remember that most--if not all--new dealerships carry used cars (which I barely checked out) as well as well-known used car dealers as Enterprise and CarMax.

Find a nice dealer
While I accumulated a lot of cards, the turnover of salesfolks is rapid and I don't expect any of them to be at the visited dealerships at the end of next year. Thus, I'll ask friends and family again for recommendations. Same with any co-workers. I'll ask strangers, too.

Personal experience showed that Saturn and Enterprise dealers are nice. Though we only spoke on the phone, the Hertz rep was pleasant, too. Don't know yet about Budge Car Sales but I don't expect them to be significantly different. Regardless, I believe their pleasantness is partially based on how they're paid, drawing a regular salary and only receiving a commission when they sold a car.

Several regular dealerships are known for non-haggling. Keys of Van Nuys, for example.

NOTE: Watch out for Toyota dealers! The worse salesfolks were from the Toyota lots. Pushy. Slick. I don't react very well to either characteristic and especially both. Even if I find a car I like, I'll put Toyota at the last on my list and won't visit them without The Spouse (who's there primarily to prevent justified homicide.)

NOTE: Using the Internet to purchase a car.
Triple A offers to find and obtain bids on new cars as well as sell used cars. And several friends have had positive experiences purchasing their vehicles vias such brokers. I'll definitely keep them in consideration after verifying the car live (see below).

I'm not so sure, though, about bidding for a car via on-line auctions such as ebay motors. The Spouse is totally against the idea. Hmmm. But to win a G35 for 20k....

Do I fit?
Once I've obtained all my info, time to go to the dealerships to see if I can fit in the damned vehicles (with the exception of SUVs).

I'll first want to find those dealerships and salefolks recommended by family and friends. Since I tend to hit several dealerships in a day, I want to find those that are clustered together, preferrably in the same car mall like Tustin Buick or Hardin Honda. There, I can walk to each dealership.

NOTE: Seriously consider bringing a binder (the thicker the better) with all the necessary info. Several salesfolks were taken aback by the amount of information I knew about their cars including the VIN numbers, what cars were suppose to be on their lot, etc.

Once there, I'm going to ask to just sit in a car. If they insist on a test drive, I'll tell them, no. If they persist, I'll leave. Again, there are other dealerships.

Focus only on the fit. Make comments to The Spouse and write them down. If need some help (e.g., the memory seats on the G35), ask.

When finished, ask for a card, then leave. If the salesperson starts talking more about the car, politely stop him and emphasize the fit and you'll get back to him if you decide on this car. Point out you have other cars to check out and you'll schedule test drives in a week or so.

NOTE: Discuss with TS on strategies. One of the tricks salesfolks use is to walk towards cars when you're about to leave, delaying you. Natural human tendency is to follow them.

Don't. Have spouse grab you if necessary. Remember all those tricks. And deep breaths. Again, you're the customer and--while it's rude (which is practically a mortal offense for Asians)--just walk out.

Almost at the finish line....

Once you've figured out which cars you'll fit, schedule for a test drive the following week or so and all on the same day. If the salesfolks for the dealerships were nice, go back to them. Otherwise, go to other dealerships.

Again, same strategies with the salesfolks. Tell them that, honestly, you're just here to do a test drive and, if the car passes, you'll contact them to negotiate price. If they persist, walk out. No good byes or anything. Just turn to TS and say "I think we've learned what I wanted" and just walk out. Deep breaths. Again, there are other dealers.

Decisions, decisions. Oh, just give me the car for free....

Determine the top three cars with all the necessary options and number them from the most desired to the one that's still good (e.g., Altima, G6, and Galant.)

Research the prices for the cars starting with Kelley Blue Book to get the invoice price. Check the manufacturers' home pages for any specials. Remember any specials at the dealership (e.g., the Red Tag Sale by GM for all their cars.) Check the local papers for specials. American cars, especially, are constantly having sales. Discuss with TS on what items to haggle the prices even further. Don't forget that warranties can be haggled, too.

Clear out the car for trade-in.

Finally, prepare to go to the dealership. Give them a call and schedule a time and date. Dress nice. Eat a light meal. (Don't want any hypglycemic crashes.) Remember the process takes between 2-3 hours. And hopefully, when it's all ended, you'll be driving a nice new vehicle.



  • Whew indeed! You have far more patience than I do!

    I'm admittedly stupid about car buying: I usually know what I want when I walk in, thus throwing out any negotiating power by trying to play coy. Though with Hondas around here up until recently, if I didn't pay it, someone else walking in after me would.

    By Blogger TK, at 5:21 PM  

  • whew, indeed. makes me glad that I don't drive.

    --aka EnviroBoi

    By Blogger EnviroWonk, at 10:33 AM  

  • super happy holidays!!!

    By Blogger joe, at 8:06 AM  

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