Long story short, I had to buy a new car. Along with that came a new level of independence that I was only moderately ready for.
While there are certainly some exciting things that come with buying a new car (new car smell, no dog hair on the seats, no drool on the windows….from dogs), there were questions that made me pull my hair out. No matter how many times I went over the budget to figure out what our family could afford, every time I thought of that monthly price tag along with the cost of insurance, which was being covered by my parents up until last week, I had a minor freak out. I still kinda do, but the papers are signed and there’s no going back now.
Speaking of papers, it seemed like an endless trail of sign this, yellow copy that, sign this, yellow copy that. Warranties. Title application. Credit application. You live here so we can collect payments from you. I don’t think I’ve signed my name that many times in one sitting before.
But after all of that is said and done, I have a few things about buying a new car that I want to share, specifically about what I learned in the process.
1. I had to think far into my future
The plan was to buy a car, pay it off, and drive it forever. I’m not in a position to drive a car for three years and then trade it in for something else. So what will I need over the next 10 years? Will I have children? Will I travel? This car needed to have room for those things even though I have no plan for children in the future as of this moment. But if I did, I didn’t want a smaller car that wouldn’t have room for a car seat, diaper bag and all that jazz. I also need room for the dogs in case we take a long trip with them. This was exciting but also confusing at the same time, making me wonder if the right decision was even possible.
2. Patience, because this shit takes time.
My goodness does this process take time. Even test driving one vehicle and talking to a dealer could take all afternoon. Then, once you decide on a car, the negotiation process takes time. The WAITING FOR IT TO ARRIVE process takes time if the car you’re buying isn’t sitting on the lot (mine wasn’t). And then, oddly enough, letting yourself feel OK with your decision takes time.
3. People did not tell me important things.
This mostly related to the negotiation process. I had to learn how to apply my money in the right places. Was it on the warranty? What about the trade in value of my car? How much of a down payment should I put on it? It took me a while to figure out what areas I should negotiate on to get the price down to something that was affordable for me. But it always seemed like pieces of this information came through to me.
One day I learned about how much my license plates would cost.
Then I learned about how much my car insurance would cost (because my parents were paying it up until now).
And THEN I learned about how much the maintenance on the car would cost. All of these pieces to the puzzle happened over time.
4. YOUTUBE slash THE INTERNET is awesome.
People make a living off of reviewing cars on YouTube and through blogs. I’m sure that if I bought a car five years ago the process would be totally different. I was able to find in-depth videos of what potential cars looked like on the inside, outside, how well they drove, what 857 people thought about it and so on. I could also compare specs through Edmunds and see how a Toyota RAV4 compared to a Kia Sportage, for example. This not only kept me from having to ask a car dealer these questions, but it also taught me a lot about how to determine what questions to ask and learn what I wanted out of a car.
5. So many cars, so little time.
Mazda. Fiat. Nissan. Scion. Subaru. These were the cars I focused on researching, but when I first realized that I needed a new car, I was overwhelmed with thinking about all of the different car manufacturers out there and then what models they offered. I knew what was completely out of my budget (BMW, Land Rover, you get the picture), but within each brand were so many options that I spent hours online looking at cars so that I now feel like an expert on the small SUV area. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend the next three months driving and reviewing every single car. Narrowing down my decision to three different manufacturers made it easier for me to figure out what I wanted.
6. Options, options, options. (aka MOONROOF)
All car models come in different packages. Base model, premium, limited, touring, blah blah blah.
Did I need heated seats?
Did I want a moonroof? (Of course, but could I afford it?)
If I got this, then I lose that. If I lose that, then I may lose this. It was a game. Scion was the only manufacturer that has a la carte options where you really can select the base model car and then add one or 12 items to it at your leisure (like an arm rest, spoiler, mud flaps, all weather mats, etc). With the Fiat 500L, I didn’t want Beats Audio, but if I took that option off, I lost a few other things I wanted. If I wanted to build the car myself, it would be January or later before it would arrive and I didn’t have that kind of time.
And with those options, once you know what is available, it’s hard to imagine your car without those things. I almost bought the base model of a car, but then I really regretted not having some of those features on the next level up. Did I want to regret that while driving the car for the next 10 years? No, I did not.
7. Safety vs Cuteness vs Practicality
The Fiat is CUTE. It stands out. That is what I wanted. I stand out, so my car should, too. But the Fiat’s 2 doors were the worst in crash tests (the 4 door hadn’t been crash tested yet since it is brand new for 2014 but I figured it would be similar) and so I really had to put that idea away and pick it up again if I won the lottery…. or retired.
The Scion was great in crash tests AND pretty sporty and cute, but overall it didn’t have the space I needed.
Subaru was the best in safety, but it lacked the cuteness factor of the Fiat and Scion. Yet it drove the best out of all of them.
So what wins? Ultimately I think it depends on what your needs are. I needed a car that would last me as long as humanly possible, one that I could pay off and keep driving for years without a car payment. But if you are wanting a travel car, a summer car, a sporty car… those things may sway your decision.
8. Miss Independent
Like I said in my intro, this was the last thing that tied me to my parents. My dad was paying my car insurance up until now. My car had no car payment, but my parents did buy it for me. Now, I not only bought my car on my own, I am taking care of the insurance for it, too.
It’s uplifting to know that you are surviving 100% on your own. Well, sort of. I wouldn’t be able to do it without John. Our monies go into the same pot, and without our combined incomes this kind of purchase wouldn’t be able to happen. It’s our family that is independent and moving towards life on our own, without help from others. He is also financially independent from his parents. But I have to say that the many phone calls and emails back and forth between them helped me with this process. My mom came up one afternoon to test drive cars with me and she asked questions I would have never thought to ask.
Oh good lord, the B-Word. We’re always on top of our spending, but only to the point of making sure the bills get paid and food is on the table. The rest of the money had been splurged on this and that, leaving us with a nice cushion that we weren’t saving. Once we figured out that cushion existed, we budgeted for a car payment and insurance payments and still had money left to not feel completely squeezed for the next several years. Now we’re entering bills and what not into a spreadsheet so we can track things better. I won’t make my first official payment for a while yet, so I’m still a little nervous about what that first month of bills will look like, but on paper everything looks A-OK.
10. In the end, get what you want.
IT’S MY CAR, damn it. I’m the one having to drive it every day. I have to sit in it. I have to look at it. So get what you want. Family and friends will try to sway you, saying whatever they have is the best/worst car ever, and that you need to get this because it has a great warranty or you need this because it’s built like a champ or whatever. Opinions are important and may help you find what you want, but remember – it is YOUR car and YOU are making the payments on it. Don’t regret one of the biggest purchasing decisions of your life.
And I haven’t. Now you’re dying for me to tell you what I got, right?
It’s a 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium in Venetian Red Pearl. Yup, I told you I know all the fancy car lingo now. I purchased it at Tom Wood Subaru on 96th and Keystone in Carmel, Indiana. Ask for Jerremy.
Features? Well, it has the MOONROOF, which was essential, but also heated seats, all weather mats, heated windshield wipers, heated side mirrors, bluetooth connection for my phone, power driver’s seat, and ample room. I LOVE everything about it. All I want to do is drive it around EVERYWHERE. It had 10 miles on it to begin with. Dollar and Brandy will be excited for their first trip in the new car.
I hope that this blog has you looking at your next car purchase with high hopes, because you as a consumer have so many tools at your hands to help you find the car that is right for you.