SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks

{December 23, 2012}   To Err is Human: Purchasing a Car

I am definitely human.  I err on a daily basis.  Most times, my errs are small, like putting the wrong GLE on my daily objectives, or making taco soup when the menu plan says chicken and dumplings.  Occasionally though, I make a big mistake.  Like the blue lemon.

Back in 2010, I started having major drama from my car.  It had been hit one Thanksgiving, backed into that following spring, and the engine started misbehaving around Mardi Gras in 2010.  The Chevrolet Cavalier had a reputation for being a disposable car, but I was brought up to drive a vehicle until the wheels fall off.  My first Cavalier had 140,000 miles on it and my husband talked me into selling it because it needed the air conditioner replaced (and it was a 2-door), which would cost more than the car was worth.  We sold it to a neighbor for $800 and the man’s daughter still drives it, 7 years later.  But the next Cavalier went cuckoo crazy at 60,000 miles, and I was a little cuckoo crazy at the time, so I went and traded my car for a Toyota.

I love to car shop and price haggle and test drive.  I take my time to make decisions.  But that Saturday in 2010, the day before Easter, I had my mind made up as I pulled into the lot that I would not be leaving in my (completely paid for) Cavalier.  That night, I left the Toyota dealer in a 2007 Camry with 69,000 miles on it and had signed my life away until that $18,000 plus interest was paid off.

This is not the way to buy a car.

There were issues from the start, with the financing, and the nonexistent spare key, and the owner’s manual.  Within four months (I had driven less than 1,000 miles) the check engine light was coming on all of the time.  It went to the service department four times before they decided I had cracked head gaskets.  Thank goodness it was one of those certified vehicles, with the extended warranty that they work into the price of the car.

Twenty months later (and less than 15,000 miles) I’m losing oil between oil changes.  When the booger light comes on, the levels are lower than they should be.  That one still has no explanation.

Two weeks ago, there was a horrible whining from the engine and I was really noticing acceleration issues.  $400+ later, my alternator had been replaced.

This Wednesday night, I was having more acceleration trouble but no warning lights.  Grizzly took it around the block to see if he noticed anything and almost got killed when it died in the middle of traffic.  Twice.  We had it towed to the dealer, and they loaned me a little eggroll to drive that afternoon. My last conversation with the service guy indicated that there had been some kind of rodent in my air intake tube.  It escaped when they tore my car apart.

Important to note:

Nothing that is going wrong is under warranty.

My warranty will run out in August.

I still owe over $11,000 on the car.

Kelley Blue Book values it at $8500.

My husband sees a blue money pit in our driveway.

We all make mistakes.

Following are some things I have learned about cars and car-buying:

  • Educate yourself ahead of time.
  • Get pre-approved if you can.  It really increases your bargaining power. And saves you from potential embarrassment.
  • Shop around!  Do not plan to go home with something that day.  Look at different dealerships and test drive a variety of cars in the size and price range you want/need.  I love a Camry but I won’t rule out an Altima or Malibu if I can find a better price and the car is comfy for a household of Sasquatches.  I might even extend my search to a small SUV (um, no, not really!), but I really like the gas mileage in a car.
  • Find a salesman who isn’t a jackhole.  You don’t have to be their best friend, but you will be dealing with him/her for at least a few hours, and that time should be tolerable.  When we were on our GM streak, I dealt with one salesman.  I would haggle him to death, but we both came out winners every time.  The blue lemon?  Not so much.
  • Ask for a lot more than you want for your trade.  It doesn’t always work, but I ended up with $1,850 for an ’87 Bronco II that had a bad transmission one time.  I had expected about $3-500.  Be sure to find the Blue Book value of your trade before you go shopping.
  • Try to have some kind of down payment.  It needn’t be much, but more companies are willing to finance your loan if you’re actually putting down some cash. When I bought the blue lemon, I had about 2 years left on my note for Grizzly’s truck.  That note was paid on time, with extra, every month, but that company that held the lien on the truck would not finance the lemon without a down payment.
  • If you’re buying used, look at the extended warranty that is offered.  I’ve never believed in them, or even needed them, until this car.  You definitely want to have something in place at least while you’re paying the note on the car.  Apart from the Bronco, this is the only used vehicle that has given me so much trouble.
  • Check out the service department.  Talk to people who have used the service department.  One set of my parental units purchases their vehicles at one Toyota dealer and goes to another across town for parts and service.  I like the guy with whom I deal at my dealership, even though I am often frustrated with the service.  He’s given me enough breaks that I’ll continue our business relationship a little longer.

I’m sure there are plenty of tips I’m leaving out, but my brain is pretty fried this week. I’ll make some notes and maybe add to the list later – I’ll be car shopping starting Wednesday.

Do you have ideas that you’d like to share?


UPDATE 12/26/2012

So I went to pick up the blue lemon today and test drive another Camry.

It was a nice car.  Like I thought mine was.

It drove well.  Like mine does sometimes.

No rough idle like mine has.  That was a plus.

It was a weird green I bet nobody would steal.

HOWEVER:  the numbers didn’t work.  Thankfully, I went in there knowing there was a chance of this.  And I was perfectly comfortable shaking hands and walking away.

Could I have found a way to make those numbers work?  Maybe.  I imagine I could have found a way to come up with a down payment that would have reduced the monthly note somewhat.  But should I take that risk when I really don’t want to?  My note is already a little out of my comfort zone.  So I think walking away was the right thing to do today.

Maybe my car will break down again tomorrow.  There is actually a great chance of that, sorry to say.  But John Harvey Toyota obviously doesn’t have faith in the cars they sell (the trade offer was for ROUGH condition – and I barely drive it!),  I overpaid in the first place, and I will simply have to live with that mistake a  little longer.  I won’t settle for something just because I’m being pushed.

UPDATE 01/04/2013

I received a text today from the sales guy.  They have a car that meets my needs!

It’s an Avalon.  Which means it’s a V-6.  Which means it drinks gas.  And they come pretty standard with a “power sunroof”, which is one more mechanical thing to go wrong.

It’s an ’06.  Which makes it a year older than my car.  And too old to be Certified Pre-Owned.  Which means no extended warranty.  And too old to be financed by most banks.

The price is $11,995.  My note would go up $32 a month for the next 48 months.  I only owe 40 months on my current loan.

It has 79,000 miles on it.  My car has close to 82,000.

So let’s recap:  The sales guy at John Harvey Toyota offered to sell me a car for more money than I’m paying now, for a longer time, with almost as many miles as I already have just on an older car with no warranty and worse gas mileage.

Sounds like a steal of a deal, huh?

Sometimes I forget I have “STUPID” in big bold print across my forehead.

Now I’m just getting angry and feel like they are wasting my time.


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