Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Car Shopping

It's been 5 years since we bought a vehicle. We still own the 1995 Nissan Quest that we purchased used in 2006. We paid $5500 total for our van and it has been a very reliable vehicle. We bought it from a small car dealership, but we are the second owners. It had about 140,000 miles on it when we drove it home. It now has well over 250,000 miles on it (the odometer stopped working about 6 months ago). We've been to Georgia many times, Florida a couple of times, to the beach a handful of times and driven everywhere in North Carolina in that old minivan. I'm not one bit ashamed of it - even with it's dents, dings, scraps, scratches & fading paint. Not once has it broken down on the side of the road. The motor is still as quiet as the motor on a brand new model. The heat will make you sweat if you pump it up to it's highest and the A/C will make your teeth chatter.

My daddy always told me not to look at the outside of a vehicle. He told me to look at it's reliability. Daddy also told me that when your car-shopping NEVER bring it home the same day you test drive it. So, when we went shopping for our little minivan, I took my Daddy's advice. I went back twice to test drive it (and several other vans) before I drove it home.

My husband, Julian hated that van and he argued with me about it everyday for the next few weeks - partly because it would lock automatically when cranked and he locked us out of it everyday for the first week or so after we got it. We test drove other vans, but there was just something about them that didn't set right with me. I would feel a hesitation when I pressed the gas or a little noise coming from the engine. But not with the Quest - it started right up every time and was as quiet as a mouse. Everyday Julian would tell me how the van wasn't going to last a month. He would tell me to be prepared to be without a reliable vehicle again soon. I just said "whatever" with a heavy sigh.

When that first month passed and the van was still running, Julian stopped complaining as often, but he still hated the way it looked. After a year passed, he bragged about what a good van we had gotten. After two years passed and we made the final payment, he told all his friends how car-savvy he and I were. Nowadays, he tells his friends if they want to buy a used car, to take me along to help them pick a reliable one.

I'm no car expert and neither is Julian. My experience came after buying several lemons and getting ripped off by a used car dealer who charged me over $12,000 for a 15 year old vehicle, then (thanks to some fine print in the contract) repossessed the paid-off vehicle when I made the final payment. As I watched them tow away the car that should have rightfully been mine, I vowed to never get scammed again !

This year we are looking to buy another car. With just the three youngest at home, it would be nice to drive a smaller car. My dream vehicle would be a newish Nissan truck, but that's not in our budget. So, Julian and I both have been car shopping online for our perfect newish car. We both want something less than ten years old and less than $8,000. Sounds impossible, but it isn't. We've found plenty to choose from. Now the argument is in the cylinders. Julian doesn't want me to get anything below 6 cylinders. I just want it to be a Nissan, Toyota, Honda or Kia.

As I was browsing Craig's List and local dealer sites, I've encountered some pretty shady car dealers out there. You don't have to even test drive their cars to know you don't want to do business with them at all. One of the worst I found was just last night. This car dealer advertises that they'll finance anyone. I found a few vehicles I liked that claimed $800 down and $95 a week. Okay. Not too bad, but NOW I read the fine print. The fine print in this particular ad reads "financing is for 36 months". Well, let's do some math, shall we. $95 a week, 52 weeks in a year times 3 years equals about $14,820 PLUS the $800 down. That's a whopping $15,620, yall !! On a 2001 model car which (in 3 years) will be a (nearly) 14 year old car !! Scratch that car dealer off my list.

Not all used car dealers are bad. The man I bought my van from is tops on my list. He was always such a nice guy and worked with us when my husband was unemployed and we couldn't make the payments. I felt sorry for the guy. When we made the last payment and went to pick up our title, he told me that (out of over 30 people whom he sold cars to over the last couple of years) WE were the only ones who paid him off and didn't skip town with the car. But so many of these used car dealers are like loan sharks. They cater to people who couldn't otherwise buy a half-way decent car on payments. Nine times out of ten, they end up repossessing the vehicle and reselling it at near to the same price several times over, then repossessing it again. In my opinion, many of them are counting on a buyer not making the payments. The dealer doesn't even have to buy new inventory- they just keep moving the same inventory. The dealer I bought my van from told me that the down payment he (and other dealers) charge is usually the amount they paid for the vehicle, plus tow and maintenance fees. So, they never really lose what they invested.

On the other hand, if we buy a used vehicle at a blown up price and pay it off, that is a benefit for the unscrupulous car dealers, too. Used car dealers quite often don't do routine maintenance or if they do any additional work, the fees for that are added on to the payment costs - which then is often double what the work was really worth.

I'm not making this up. When we bought the 1985 Nissan Pathfinder in 2001 - the one we paid over $12,000 for - I took it to the dealer to have him look at a problem I was having with it. It was the thermostat. I was told to bring it back in a couple of days and they would fix it. I asked how much it would cost to have this done and was told it would be about $500 ! FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS !? To change a thermostat ?! That's the year Julian learned to change a thermostat on an '85 Pathfinder.

I'm not particular about a car's looks - it does have to run good. But this year, we are hoping to find a decent looking car, that's a little newer than the cars we've had in the past and hoping to get it at a fair price, too !

A little older and a little wiser, we go shopping for our newish car this year. I'll probably piss off some used car salesmen, because I don't plan on hearing their double talk. Then again, I may find one very happy used car dealer who's just glad he sold the right car to the right owner.

Wish me luck.

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