Saturday, July 9, 2011

Time for Car Shopping!

The car saga continues.

What started at the end of May as a month without a car stretched into Mike being on orders through July.

Now we've learned he'll be out there until September.


Just last weekend, I went and got a rental car.  I'm now back into my summer teaching schedule and not only can I not bike home to arrive to class on time, but I also have one class an hour away.  

We knew by July 4th we were going to have to figure out the car situation.  We didn't know that because orders keep getting extended, that our plans to actually purchase a second car were going to be greatly accelerated.

Yes, that's right, we're now in the market for a car.

I had so been hoping to make one car work, but as long as the two of us are in different cities, it's just undoable. 

I had also been planning to not buy a second car until we could do so in full, no loans, all in one chunk.  Or at least had a really awesome downpayment. 

<shakes head>  Busted.

So we're off to do the next best thing: buy a used car.  No lemons please, but a real previously owned vehicle.

Here's the budget lowdown:
Price range - $4-8,000
Year - circa '05/06
Brand - Honda, Volkswagen, maybe Chevy
Type - compact, 4 doors, mpg in the high 20s, air conditioning
Downpayment - $0 (I know, I know, not ideal in the least...)

I don't want another patch car.  I want to be smart with our money and get something that isn't going to nickel and dime us to death with repairs and that will last for a good number of years.

Since Mike has the truck, this will be "my" car.  The one I take to work when I can't bike, the one we use to go grocery and Walmart shopping, the one we take to go on trips. 

It will also be the first time I've actually bought a car from a dealer. 

Yep, that's right, 27 and never really bought a car.  I had a family one during high school (a station wagon, no less, which I loved), nothing for the first 3 years of college, and then Mike's car when he was overseas.  After that was a Cadillac we purchased together through a family friend that had repair after repair.  The only vehicle I technically bought was this yellow 83 Silverado that we named Gertie for $600.

Gertie and I epically did not get along.  She was the bane of my existence but was all smooth sailing for Mike.  She had her loyalties, harumf.  Should have named her Christine (that's a Stephen King reference, if you missed it).  As an older vehicle though, she had mounting problems and wasn't good for highway travel.

At any rate, we have a proven track record with older used cars eating more money than they're worth within the first year.  Hence I find it reasonable to want to get more bang for my buck.

Yesterday, I stopped by our credit union (Veridian) and talked with a loan officer about what we could do with them.  A combination of varying credit scores and Mike's unusual salary led us to a preapproved loan for the top of our price range, 8K:

Period: 5 years
Interest: 6.49% (includes payment protection, which is optional)
Car year: 2005-2006
Monthly payment: $180

I think that's a decent starting point.  $8,000 is the absolutely max and I certainly don't want to go that high if we can find other options.  The monthly payment is of more concern to me than the interest rate and $180 was also the top of what I would want to pay.

Our next step is to start researching dealers in the area and know what's on the lot.  I have no idea what Cedar Rapids has to offer for used cars so I've got a little work ahead of me.

Mike will be coming home in a week or so for a short break before heading up to the flood front.  At that time, we'll return the rental car and add a permanent second!

What's your advice for car shopping? 


  1. Take it to a mechanic you trust to have it checked over before you buy it.

    Jan Gallagher

  2. I second the mechanic comment. A friend of mine worked at a dealership that sold used cars. He said all the sellers would do would be literally look at the car, sometimes not even glance at the engine or give it a test drive, and then they would say it had been "inspected" because they had looked at it. He then said they usually set the price according to what the car looked like and not the actual condition it was in. So DEFINITELY have a trusted mechanic check out whatever car you are considering, and don't necessarily knock the ones that don't "look" the nicest. Some of them have engines that run fine, but a little rust on the outside. :) Good luck!

  3. Great advice! My question is though, how do you convince a dealer to let you take the car long enough to have a mechanic check it out?

  4. If you can, bring your trusted mechanic with you when you are car shopping that way you cut out trying to take the car to him/her before you buy it.

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