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It has been quite a journey for us, this car buying process. And now, at long last, after nearly 5 very looooooong months of arguing, negotiating, web-surfing, test-driving, researching, stonewalling, deciding, changing our minds, arguing some more, negotiating, deciding again, walking away, then coming back to the table, we FINALLY have a 2nd vehicle.
Isn’t she lovely?
In a million years, I never thought I’d be driving a minivan. Even when we first started shopping, a minivan was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted something “cool,” something hip and stylish, something that told the world, “yes, I may be lugging two kids around and spending my days changing diapers and buying groceries, and I may now require a vehicle that has enough seats for a soccer team, but I still have taste.” A nice SUV would be fine, I thought, perhaps a Suburban or a Yukon XL, or maybe even an Escalade. I have been so adamantly opposed to minivans my whole adult life that when, that first day on the car lot many months ago, I suddenly said, “maybe we should look at the minivans,” my husband thought I was joking. I can’t really blame him. Even as I said the words, I couldn’t believe they were coming out of my mouth.
But that was just the beginning. The negotiation had yet to even begin.
You see, early into this car buying process, I fell in love with the 2010 Chrysler Town & Country. Why on earth my husband even suggested looking at new vehicles when up to that point we had only considered used is still a mystery to me. (And believe me, no one regrets that decision more than him!) But look we did. I loved it all–the leather seats, the wood trim, the dual screen entertainment system, the “mommy entertainment system” up front, the roll-up window shades, the “conversation” mirror–but the real clincher for me was the special “purse holder” space between the two front seats. I wanted it. I wanted it BAD. And nothing else would do.
Thus began the first of many, many, many conversations that went something like this:
“Honey, buying a new vehicle is like taking $7,000 and just throwing it out the window.”
“But I love it.”
“I know you love it, but couldn’t you love something that wasn’t brand new?”
“But it’s pretty!”
“I know it’s pretty, but we could get an older vehicle that is pretty too.”
“But I want a purse holder!”
My husband, the financially savvy pragmatist of our household, was not swayed in the least by my need for having a place to put my purse. Though I rationally could see his point, emotionally all I could see was my purse holder. Neither of us would budge.
For months it went on like this, each of us hoping the other would give in first, as we gritted our teeth through every inconvenient moment (and there were many) of sharing a vehicle.
And then, finally, a Labor Day miracle. In a random act of masochistic madness, I decided to check out the used car listings for our area on cars.com to see if, by chance, there were any gently used vehicles nearby that met all my requirements. And lo and behold, a 2008 model that had everything I was looking for, including the color, showed up in Fort Myers, a mere 40 minute drive away. So we piled in the girls for yet another car shopping adventure. They were used to it by now.
We probably would’ve bought it on the spot, had it not been for the very annoying saleslady who knew absolutely nothing about the vehicle she was trying to sell. (A word of advice to those in sales: know your product!) We left annoyed, but impressed with the car.
Another conversation followed:
“Honey, if the brakes go out on this car, YOU are going to be the one to pay to fix it.”
“And if the alignment needs to be adjusted, YOU are going to be the one to bring it in.”
“And you can’t drive it like you drive the Tahoe. It doesn’t have that kind of power. You’ll wreck the engine.”
“And you’re going to have to take some money out of your budget to cover the payments, because it is more than we planned to spend.”
And that was it. The negotiation with the dealer paled in comparison to our internal battle and we finally had our new car. No more rushing around to get both girls out of bed, dressed, and fed 45 minutes early so we can drive daddy to work (25 minutes each way), and then rushing dinner, or worse yet, grabbing fast food, because we have to once again make the drive to go pick him up from work. No more being stuck at home because C. had the car that day. And no more negotiations.
(At least until the i-phone conversation comes up again.)
But I did learn a few things about buying a car along the way, especially about getting the luxury I wanted at a price my husband could live with:
- New cars are pretty (really pretty!), but that prettiness doesn’t last anywhere close to as long as it is going to take to pay off the thousands of dollars you lose the minute you drive that new car off the lot. New cars depreciate very quickly in the first two years, and then the depreciation begins to slow dow. A 2 year old lease return can be just as pretty as a brand-new vehicle. Let someone else take that initial hit!
- Figure out what you really want, what you sort-of want, what you don’t care about, and, realistically, what you can afford. If you plan to make payments, how much can you spend each month without causing a strain on your finances. If what you really want is more than you are willing to pay, decide whether you are willing to give up something else to have it, or whether you can fall in love with a more affordable option.
- Take your time. Research. Test-drive. Walk away. Research some more. Cars aren’t moving all that quickly these days, and the longer a car sits on the lot, the more the dealer will be willing to negotiate. Know the blue book values of the car(s) you are looking at. Do your homework!
- You will pay more if you buy from a dealer. Private parties are generally much more willing to negotiate and ask thousands less. However, there are obviously more risks involved with buying from someone you don’t know, who isn’t subject to state lemon laws. Decide how much of a risk you are willing to take when it comes to your car. Ultimately we went with a dealer because I wanted the extra assurance, service, and cleanliness (aka professional detailing) that came with a dealer.
- Once you have determined what you want, look at all your options. There are dealers everywhere, so shop around, even on Ebay. (My dad swears by Ebay for buying vehicles!) You’d be surprised at the price variations for the same exact vehicle. For my exact vehicle, we saw dealers asking up to $10,000 more than we ended up paying. That is a big difference!
Car shopping freaks a lot of people out but it doesn’t have to be scary. Ultimately, by just taking your time and doing your research, you will be about 10 steps ahead of everyone else.