My experience buying a car last weekend

I haven’t posted in a few days, because we were busy buying a car!  It took the whole weekend.  I want to post about my experience, in case it’s useful for someone else.

Deciding to buy a new car

I have never owned a brand new car before.  I have only had one car, which I was given by my mom.  She didn’t drive it much since her commute to work was only a few miles.  I didn’t drive it much, since I didn’t use it to commute to work.  The end result is that the car was thirteen years old, in very good condition, with barely 26,500 miles on it.  To me that seems normal, but apparently to normal people that seems weird. 🙂

My mom said “it’s a lucky person who’s going to get that car!”  It’s true; she and I both serviced it religiously, there isn’t even a nick or ding on it, it ran regularly every day (just not very far) and I feel like it could probably run fine another ten years.  I wouldn’t even have bothered replacing it for another few years except that we have a baby on the way, and a lot of new safety features have become available since 2000:  side air bags, collision detection and avoidance systems, etc.

Plus my old car still had a cassette player. 🙂

Choosing a make and model

With a baby on the way, my priority was safety.  I looked at IIHS ratings, Consumer Reports, and other sources.  Two or three cars seemed to stand out:  the Honda Odyssey (mini-van), the Subaru Outback (wagon) and Forester (SUV), and the Honda Accord (sedan).  My husband also wanted me to try the Honda Fit since hatchbacks, he said, offer better visibility to the driver.

With only one kid in the foreseeable future, I wondered if I really needed anything bigger than a sedan.  But my friends uniformly told me that with a baby, you have to haul a lot of stuff:  Stroller, diaper bag, car seat, and let’s not forget the baby herself.  You want a car that lets the baby see out the windows, and one that is easy to get her in and out of.  And apparently once you have a kid, it’s common to carpool.  So even some of my one-child friends have mini-vans and say they are great.

Test driving

Despite my friends and relatives raving about the Honda Odyssey, it was just too big for us; we got in and didn’t even bother doing a test drive.  The Honda Fit, on the opposite extreme, was way too small.  It didn’t feel safe, it didn’t have safety ratings as high as the bigger cars, and since we had just test driven the Accord it also felt pretty bare-bones by comparison.

The Honda Accord was a beautiful car.  In addition to the backup camera, the model we drove (EX Limited) had a blind spot camera, so as soon as you signaled right, the camera would show the right side of the car.  There was a collision detection system and a system that told you if you were out of your lane.

But again, my friends advised me to get something a little bigger.  We settled on the Subaru Outback Limited, and I put in an order with a local car buying service that took about three weeks.  The Outback had similar features to  the Accord, minus the blind spot camera.  It was a behemoth of a car for me after driving sedans, but I figured I’d get used to it.

Trading in

On my first round at the dealer to take a test drive, they offered to look my old car over.  They appraised it at $3500.  I looked the car up in Kelly Blue Book (KBB), and for a car like mine in good condition the Blue Book valued it between $3900 (if I sold to a dealer) and $4700 (private sale).  The dealer offer therefore seemed really low.

I debated having the car detailed before going to CarMax, but instead I just went to a car wash ($16) and had an interior vacuum and a basic wash.  Then I took the car to CarMax who offered $4000, and then back to the dealer who agreed to match CarMax.  I wonder what they will be able to sell it for.  Probably somewhat more than the price they offered me.  I’ve heard that this high-volume dealership makes its money on the buying side, by lowballing trade-ins.  At the same time, $4000 was within the KBB range so it’s hard to imagine that I got totally ripped off.

As luck would have it, the CarMax person was a former employee of the car dealership where I was going to buy the new car.  He was very sweet and when finding I was going to buy a new car (therefore, not from CarMax which only sells used cars), took the time to give me a few tips:

  1. Go on the last day of the month–a weekday–and go around 7 p.m. when they have two hours till closing.
  2. This particular chain of dealers offered a service protection plan (different from the extended warranty) which might actually be worth it if I planned to keep the car ten years or so.  If I offered to buy this plan, the dealer’s motivation to sell me the car would go way up, because I would have to keep going back to them for service.  So he suggested to me to offer to buy the plan if they discounted the price of the car by an equivalent amount.

These were great suggestions.  I really appreciated his taking the time to talk to me!

As it turned out though, I’d already used a local car buying service, which charges $170 to do the negotiating for you.

Using a car buying service

My family and I have used a local car buying service three times.  The first two times it was really helpful, but this time I wanted a 2013 car, which dealerships–if they still had–were already trying to unload below invoice.  We also live near a local high-volume dealership that makes their money by selling a lot of cars cheaply, rather than trying to sell individual cars at high prices.  So the car buying service ultimately got a price that was only about $200 less than I’d been able to get on my own.  In the end, we wasted about three weeks and saved only $30 over the initial price quote we received.

I simultaneously tried AAA’s car buying service.  I did not have a good experience.  For one thing, it was not clear to me that my phone number would be sent to every dealer who was willing to provide a quote.  Car dealers are aggressive.  My phone rang a lot.  It was annoying.  And none of the dealers had anything close to the car I wanted, though many were willing to trade for it.

The car

is awesome.  ‘Nuff said.  And because my old car is 13 years old, it’s also a huge upgrade.

I feel a little bad driving a car with a moonroof (I didn’t want the moonroof but it came bundled with the safety options that I insisted on).  I feel almost like I don’t deserve a car this new and this fancy.

But you know, I have it now, so I will enjoy. 🙂


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