Lessons from personal car buying experience

By Stew

I did not own my own car until my parents bought me a 1989 Nissan Sentra just before my junior year of college. The car needed some work, but once the engine was overhauled, it reliably hauled me all over. The car had over 100,000 miles when I became the owner and I don’t think that I put more than $1,000 into it in the five years that I had it.

I have not owned a lot of cars in my lifetime. Since that first college car I have personally owned only seven different vehicles. I am not a person who is really interested in cars, but I see them as a necessary part of life. I know almost nothing about how a car works, I can change the oil, barely. I am not impressed by nice cars or fast cars or big cars or cars with good interiors. I am  interested in functionality – does it get me and mine from point A to point B? I am just as excited about a car with good gas mileage, decent exterior, and a solid engine as I am about the latest sports car or SUV. All that I am interested in knowing is how much gas I am going to have to put into it and how often I will have to take it to a mechanic.

Here are a few things that I have learned in my car buying experience:

  1. I will never, ever, ever finance another car. I do not care how good the deal is. I will buy a $400 clunker from a salvage yard before I will go into debt for a car again. I might consider a 0% financing offer, but only on a used car and not too many dealerships are offering 0% APR on used vehicles.
  2. Please do not kill me for this – I have had the most luck with foreign cars. I love the USA, but when it comes to value and functionality, especially with a high-mileage vehicle, I have to lean foreign. Our current car is domestic and I have put more money into it than another vehicle I have ever owned and it has fewer miles than almost any other car that I have owned.
  3. Buy used, but 80,000 miles seems to be the magic number. The next vehicle I purchase will be used and will either have a lot less than 80K or a lot more than 80K miles. This might be just my experience, but between 70 and 80 thousand miles is when cars need routine, but expensive repairs. Major brake work, struts, shocks, major tune ups, transmission tune ups, and more. Once all of these items are taken care of, most cars will go another 80,000 or 100,000 miles without much trouble. If you buy a used car at 60,000 miles, chances are, you will be looking at major repairs very soon.
  4. Don’t discount the side-of-the-road sellers. You can get burned, but you can also do pretty well. Ask to get the car checked out and make them a nice offer. I have purchased two vehicles this way and have been well treated.
  5. Do not get sidetracked by aesthetics. Rust and ripped seats are one thing, but color and coolness factor are irrelevant to the purpose of owning a car.
  6. Do not own a car if you do not need one. Do everything you can to avoid car ownership if you can – walk, use public transportation, ride a bike or get a scooter. Cars are money pits to a far greater degree than a house.

I am sure that many of you  have owned far more cars than I and can probably give some more advice. Let’s hear it!

Article by Stew

Photo by Hugo90


6 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Lessons from personal car buying experience”

  1. Khaleef @ KNS Financial Says:

    I actually agree with your tips! I honestly didn’t consider your 80,000 mile rule – but it’s a good one. I’m not into cars either and will never finance one again!

  2. FinancialBondage.org Says:

    I agree, car payments stink. God willing I wont ever have one ever again.

  3. Dan in Philly Says:

    1) Buy a car 2-3 years old with less than 30K miles on it. The price of the car is less because it’s older, even though 20K is nothing for today’s cars. Plus that car will still have it’s original warrenty.
    2) Buy at a dealership, even if it’s just a bit pricier. They’ll inspect the car nine way to Sunday and only sell quality cars, generally.
    3) Buy a car with your long term needs in mind. In other words, if you are planning children, don’t buy a car you’ll need to sell in 3 years because it’s now too small. Buy a car you expect you’ll be driving in 7 or 8 years.
    4) With #3 in mind, study and buy cars with low annual maintenance costs (you can find this stuff at Edmund’s.com). Don’t buy a new model without a history, go for something you know will be reliable and can last 200,000 miles or more.

    If you follow these tips, your car will last you between 6 and 10 years. While others are wasting their money either leasing or buying a new car every 3, you will be laughing all the way to the bank with the money you’re saving month after month, year after year, in car payments you’re not making, insurance you’re saving since your car is paid off, and lower maintenance costs.

  4. LarryF Says:

    I have to do a lot of driving for work so I couldn’t stick with your high mileage rule. When I was looking to buy recently used cars with under 40k miles on them were almost as expensive as new so after following Dan’s advice and checking edmunds.com I ended up getting a new Civic from http://www.truecar.com

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