What Every Other Used Car Buying Guide Won’t Tell You: Part I

What Every Other Used Car Buying Guide Won’t Tell You: Part I

I recently bought a used car. It took quite awhile and was a drawn out experience. Just ask my girlfriend, she suffered through it. If you don’t already know, I’m the type of person that researches everything before I buy. It’s not only to just compare prices, but also to know what I’m getting is exactly what I want. This means that its good quality, fits my needs, and fits my tastes. I won’t even buy a water bottle unless I know it’s good. So you can imagine the process of buying a car.

I Googled and read quite a few “Used Car Buying Guides”, most of them all said the same thing. They all pretty much dealt with negotiating the final price. I had apprehensions about this, I don’t consider myself a good negotiator. I was worried I’d break under the pressure against a high brow salesmen, who just as easily tacks on an extra $1,000 to the price tag as he’d take a sip of coffee. In the end, negotiating the price on my 2007 Subaru Impreza was the EASIEST part of the entire car buying process. It took less than 3 minutes. It took me nearly 3 months to get there.

Luckily for you, I read all the guides, waded through all the bullshit, and dealt with every type of dealer on the spectrum. So I’m going to let you in on a few secrets I, for what it’s worth, learned the hard way. These are things I experienced, so they might not very well be the same things YOU experience, but these are definitely things you don’t read about everyday. Throughout this multi-part guide, I’m going to introduce you to the mindset I took on when looking for a car, the importance of deciding on a type of car, experiences with dealerships, negotiating, and experiences after you purchase you car. So stay tuned!

Tip #1: Decide to Buy Before You Need to Buy
This one sounds easy, right? You wouldn’t believe how many people I know that are in cars that they bought because the had to. That is to say, their current car broke down or just got too awful to ride (awful being a matter of personal opinion) here. When you have to do something, you’re not in the best position to make an honest, logical, rational purchase. You’re bound on both sides by situational constraints (like if you NEED a car to get to work), financial constraints (you may not have the money saved on hand), and emotional constraints (you’re purchasing on a whim because you want a new car).

If you car is on the verge of death or just becoming too costly to maintain, like my 1997 BMW 318ti was, look a few months before you think you will want to get rid of your car. For me, my car was running fine but it started to need more and more costly maintenance repairs. Tires, brakes, alignment, wheel bearings. It had a strong engine and new a catalytic converter, alternator, and fuel pump. These were all unexpected costly repairs that I had to pay into because I just didn’t have the money for a new car. Because i had put costly repairs into that won’t need replacing before the car dies for good, I decided that I’d like to sell it to someone who wants to put in the maintenance work for a high MPG car, and find myself a new one.

#2 Decide what you need versus what you want
Can you tell this is already turning into an internal struggle of wants versus needs? Cars are emotional things. They are designed that way. Auto manufactures design car bodies styles and interiors to elicit desire responses, they want you to want them. Be a Jedi here. Do not give in to the emotionally charged dark side. Here is the situation I was in..

I had to decide what I needed against what I wanted.. For me, I really wanted a truck. Either a Nissan Frontier NISMO or a Toyota Tacoma TRD, some big (but not too big) truck that I could load up with mountain bikes, fishing gear, or a pile of lumber and bomb out. This was partly because it fits my lifestyle and also partly because I was sick of trying to fit stuff into my little BMW hatchback. I have fit a lot into it and it suited me nicely during college. But lately, it just wasn’t cutting it. If I needed to do a project at home, like build a work bench, I needed to borrow my mother’s minivan because even 2×4”s are too long for my car. I figured a light duty pickup would be just the ticket.
However, invariably, my weekend projects and excursions are greatly overshadowed by the fact that I commute 70 miles round trip to work. 70 miles in a truck getting sub-20mpg (don’t let manufacturer MPG statistics fool you) plus miles from driving around doing post-work errands… I’d be paying more in gas than my monthly loan payment.

So ,at this point in my life, a truck wasn’t a viable option. I can only afford one car, I need to sell my other car to help pay off my new one, and I could always get a truck if I moved closer to work or got a raise. So the bad ass truck dream is set aside. QQ.  What else could I drive? Well, since cargo space is a primary concern, whats the next size down? An SUV? Most of them get just as poor gas mileage as a truck. How about a cross-over?

Well, they do get better mileage, but they sometimes feel very emasculating. After all, every cross-over driver I know is a girl, including my girlfriend and her Rav 4. Call me insecure, go ahead! But I do know I’ve always liked Subaru’s. They have an aggressive, youthful styling, and gave birth to the “sport wagon” concept. An minorly off-road capable, all-wheel drive wagon aimed at the active lifestyle-subscribing, outdoor enthusiast.  definitely not emasculating. Combine that  with the space provided with their wagons, all-wheel drive, and great mpg with some bite in the 4-cylinder engines.. It was a good fit.
Some people said the wagons are girly. It is a station wagon after all. But, at that point, the benefits of a Subaru wagon outweighed what other people said. I didn’t think it was girly at all, in contrast to that I thought cross overs were girly. Yes, I know it seems contradictory, for which I don’t know why. Maybe its because I have always had some resentment of crossovers and what they stand for. Wanting the look and space of an SUV, but with the cushy ride of a sedan with none of the off-road capability. At least a Subaru Impreza/Outback wagon isn’t a cushy ride, and has got some zip. Luckily, most soccer mom’s have convinced their husbands to buy them Highlanders, 4Runners, and Pilots, relinquishing their hold on sport wagons!

So that hat was my thought process leading up to and deciding I wanted a Subaru wagon. It was a balance of pro’s and con’s, as you can see. I must again remind you to try to keep emotion out of it as much as possible, but will admit that it’s not completely possible. There will always be some that gets let in at the end. Because in the end, you have to really want to drive the car for the next several years. If I had to peg it at a ratio, atleast have it be 2:1 logical to emotional reasons for choosing that one. Make a list if you have to, talk about it with your significant other. Try not to talk about it with your buds though, guys have more opinions about cars than girls do shoes. This is going to be your car and your decision. Not your buddies. If they hate it, its less of a reason to be “it” for driving up to the ski mountain. But  most likely, its going to be your significant riding shotgun the majority of time, so make sure he/she likes it too.

So, to conclude Part I, start looking before situation dictates or emotion dictates that you “need” a car, and then decide what you need versus what you want. Do you need a big engine to haul a boat or a gas efficient commuter? Do you need something that can handle itself at highway speeds easily or do you want something with balls even at 6th gear?

In the end, it’s all going to vary from person to person. There’s no way I can write a guide that can determine what car suits each type of person best, the answer relies on you and your situation!