So You’re Buying a Car? What You Need to Know

Hi gals, hope your spring has treated you right! I have found myself caught up in a bit of spring cleaning, including organizing all these wedding invitations and figuring out how I am going to get to both Minnesota and Michigan within a month!  Should I drive, fly, carpool? I bought my little used hybrid last summer and already have put a ton of miles on it from road trips and commuting.  It’s doing great, but I want to preserve it for as long as I can, especially because I did so much research and consideration of my lifestyle before I bought it.

Here are some things to consider when investing in your own car:

  1. New, Used, or Lease – Keep in mind that a new car automatically loses about 1/3 to 1/2 of its value the minute you leave the lot. A used car might have a shady history or smell of fast food and smoke. Or it could be in great condition from a little old man that drove it 3000 miles in 30 years. Leasing a car can be tricky if you put on a lot of miles, as the allotment is written into the agreement. Like cell minutes, if you go over this mileage, you pay BIG TIME. Leases typically run between 1-3 years, though there’s a little wiggle room. Leasing is like paying rent, gas and utilities, and maintenance for a house that isn’t yours to keep.

  2. Where to Buy – Check online (Craigslist, Auto Trader, etc.) or in person at car lots and dealerships. If you don’t know anything about cars (guilty!), take along someone who can lift the hood and make an intelligent scan. Also, negotiation skills are a MUST… rarely should you pay the sticker price.

  3. Know Your Mileage – If you’re buying used, here’s how you know if you’re getting a good deal on mileage. Cars are allotted 12,000 miles/year EXCEPT in Southern California… we get 15,000 miles/year. Take the year of the car and the mileage, dividing to see if the previous owners are hiding an Evil Knievel past.

  4. Budgeting Payments – You’re making a big purchase; it’s an investment. Budget accordingly, and be realistic in your payment options.

  5. Features – If you have children already, an obvious consideration is seating. You can also think about your career and hobbies. If you do construction, do you need a truck? If you go camping, do you need a big trunk? If music is important to you, or you have a daily commute heavy in traffic, it might be a worthy consideration to have an auxiliary outlet for your iPod, a CD player, and/or a good radio.

  6. Hybrid or Not – There are several advantages to getting a hybrid. For example, they are friendly for the environment, and they require no smog checks. However, your oil changes will be double the price, and one of the two batteries will be long-lasting but extremely expensive.

  7. Salvage vs. Clean Title – In general, stay away from salvage titled cars as they can have devastating structural damage invisible to the untrained eye. If you are considering a salvage used car, make sure a GOOD mechanic (or even two) give it a thorough check before you sign anything.

Be smart, honest, and grateful… and you should have a great new set of wheels in no time!