Originally, I considered writing a post in order to crowdsource input, advice, and insight regarding car buying.
But then I remembered that there’s exactly one stance espoused by personal finance gurus: Spend a few grand on a car (always pay cash)…or better yet, ride a bike.
Don’t worry. No bikes were purchased in the making of this post. I haven’t ridden a bike since I was in elementary school. I fell off and broke my jaw in three places. It wasn’t for any spectacular reason other than the fact that I decided to break my fall onto the concrete with my face instead of my hands.
So yeah. I’m not riding a bike to work or anywhere for that matter. My health insurance is good, but not that good.
Plus, I already know that’s not the only way to buy a car. Just look at the comments section in this post.
Though I didn’t ask for your input, I do want to share the scoop on the car we bought. I don’t think we did anything special. I’m also not sure that this would fit into anyone else’s lifestyle or finances. But in the interest of sharing the reality behind money advice…we bought a car!
Let me tell you more!
Why We Bought a Car
We have been talking about buying a new car for about a year now, and we’ve been saving up for a new car for years longer.
My husband’s car has well over 100,000 miles on it and is in need of new tires and several hundred dollars worth of work. If you don’t count the body work that also needs to be done. When you add up the work on the exterior and the interior, plus the routine maintenance of a 10-year-old car, we realized we were fast approaching a point where we were going to cut our losses. But we never set a timeline.
Call it serendipity, call it misfortune, call it my sister-in-law who drives worse than my husband.
My SIL totaled her car (again). Then, my in laws asked if my husband if he was still contemplating a new car. If he was, they were wondering if he would consider selling his car to his sister.
That phone call set things in motion quickly.
Thankfully, it wasn’t quick enough. We did not end up selling the car to my in laws. (Nothing against them, everything against selling a car to someone you know.)
Nonetheless, the momentum was there and so was the money. Mr. P was already weeks deep into research and days deep into test drives. It wasn’t the point of no return. It was more like the point of me wanting to rip the Band-Aid off and not do this again for another decade.
Car Buying Then…
Ten years ago, Mr. P bought the car of his dreams. At the time, he had a very charming and intelligent girlfriend who gently suggested that he perhaps consider not buying a brand-new car with a back seat so small you pretty much rode with your chin propped on your knees.
You see, his girlfriend was sensible. Though she definitely never saw herself as a mom back then, she realized very quickly that this car did not have the trunk space or backseat space to hold the dozens of shopping bags that she flitted in and out of malls with every week.
It was me. I was the girlfriend.
After making one gentle suggestion and resigning myself to driving my car to the mall instead, I gritted my teeth and said nothing when he choose the too-small car that ran on V-rated tires ($$$) and premium gas ($$$).
But when we got married, everything changed. I’m not saying that every time he paid $1 more per gallon than me to fill up his tank, I said something. But he’s definitely heard the comment a billion times or so.
That meant when it was time to start looking for another car, we already knew three things that would be on the list:
- More space
- Regular gas
- Regular tires
We also knew that we wanted to find a car that was rated highly for safety and got very good gas mileage.
Then, we had to decide on a car type. Sedan? Sports car? SUV? Crossover? Truck? When my husband gets a little too tuned in to the country station, I know he dreams about a truck. But the other criteria was that the vehicle we bought would have to fit in our garage and I would have to be able to drive somewhat comfortably. Put another way, no truck. But I did give in to the idea of a smaller SUV.
To round out the list, we had to make a very important decision: new or used. As much as I would happily buy another brand new car again to replace mine, my husband has a slightly different driving style than I do. He doesn’t speed, but somehow my little Smash Bandit bounced his car off a landscaping rock not once but twice at my parents’ house. The same rock. This is just one example. There was also the lawn mower incident. So in his case, used would be just fine.
The Runner Up
Eventually, we settled on a Mazda CX-9. There were hundreds in our area, which meant that Mr. P spent about as many hours setting up appointments and doing some preliminary negotiating by email, text, and phone.
I was very happy to sit out of that process.
He was scheduled for back-to-back test drives for a particular day, but then one of the vehicles was mysteriously gone for body work. Still, he loved the one he drove. It was two years old and the dealer agreed to come down in price. While I could see my husband mentally forking over the cash for the car when he described the car to me, it was not to be.
The car had 35,000 miles on it, which is significant for a single-owner, non-fleet car. On top of that, the dealer did not want us to take the car to a mechanic. (Once my husband quietly explained that his wife was the daughter of a former shop owner, the dealer acquiesced.) My dad’s long-time mechanic and friend took a look at the car and found about $1,000 worth of work that needed to be done.
The car had been driven hard. To translate the mechanic speak, the single owner drove the hell out of the car for two years and didn’t do any upkeep on it. That cost combined with the fact that the car was missing some really nice nice-to-have features like navigation, gave me pause.
Then, I saw the car. It was meticulously detailed with just a few minor scratches. It was also candy apple red.
Which is a very nice color…for other drivers anyway.
The One We Bought
For $4,000 dollars more than the out-the-door price of the runner up car, we got a car that is only one year old with 32,000 less miles on it.
It’s also slate gray and comes with all the bells and whistles. Are they essential? Of course not. But they do help with resale value. And–I cannot stress this enough–we wanted them.
The same mechanic checked over this car and called its condition “brilliant”.
It cost $27,000. We paid cash.
What Buying (Another) Car Taught Me
This isn’t a forever car. But this is another decade-plus car. I know that not only because it’s rated highly, but because we made this purchase with our current and future selves in mind.
In regular times, we drive a couple hundred miles a weekend over the summer to visit family. We also hope to continue to road trip to Canada post-pandemic. We like DIY projects and gardening, and I love garbage picking. Though I’m not stuffing cars full of shopping bags anymore, there’s no doubt in my mind that the next time I spot a free toy kitchen on the side of the road, it’s coming home with me. Well, it’s coming home with my husband after I call him and ask him to go pick it up.
There’s no one right way to buy to a car despite what the finance talking heads might say. For us, this car ticked all the boxes in terms of needs and wants–and it makes my husband really happy. That combined with the fact that we’d been saving up to buy a car for years made this purchase make sense for us.
So Tell Me…Have you made any big purchases lately? Do you have any on the horizon?