First of all, are you sure you really want to buy a car? A car is exactly like a big, metal pet. You have to budget time and money to feed it fuel, take it to the doctor and allow it to disappoint you with a big pile of trouble from time to time.
Pandemically speaking, I have realized that I do, in fact, want a car after all. Drive thru testing is not possible on foot, drive thru breakfast is also shut to me without a car, and when they announced the drive-in movie theater was opening up, I felt a huge pang for all my fellow car-free neighbors and myself as we pouted from the outside of the drive in with no drive. On top of all that, it’s not possible to honk at people without a car, well, I suppose technically, it’s still possible–if you have a pretty good goose imitation, which alas, I have not.
Full disclosure, I have not been car-free for the entire episode. My lovely friends loaned me a spare car, because like many of us, they have had zero reasons to drive it for a couple of months.
It has been very good for my sanity, I bet. I can drive to a new place to walk if nothing else. Looking at the same trees every day can do terrible things to your mental health. Just look at Thoreau. Pretty soon I would have started naming the trees and giving them biographies and their own mental health problems. This way is much better.
Anyway if you want a car, and it’s okay to want one for any reason, I guess, do not buy a new car unless you want to set a pile of money on fire. If you do have so much cash that it doesn’t matter to you, lease a new car first. Before you commit to pay a huge sum for this metal pet, you want to be sure it’s compatible with you and your needs.
Imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars on a device that is too small for your feet. If trees piss you off, this will be really intolerable.
Do not buy the first model year. I know, you love to discover new things, but you do not want to be the first person to discover a hidden design flaw. Let the manufacturers have an extra year to work out the kinks for you.
Choose a car you like that will fit your lifestyle. Much like husbands, you want to start off liking your car because it rarely gets better from there. If you have a bulky hobby, like bicycling, make sure you have a car that can hold a bike, even in a whimsical fashion. Have you ever seen a carpet van? Imagine trying to deliver carpet in a Volkswagen Beetle, and you will really grasp the concept of how poorly one can choose a vehicle.
A convertible is fun, until it isn’t. Consider your passengers, too. You can’t put a bunch of kids in the bed of your pickup truck and head for the beach. It’s not like the “good old days,” when they could hand you beers through the little slide window so that you didn’t have to stop on the highway.
If you can’t just buy it with your money pile, work out your financing before you ever step into a dealership. Let’s say you figure you have $300 in your monthly budget for a car. Great, but that doesn’t mean you have $300 car payment money. Gas isn’t free yet, and you’ll need to set aside a few bucks for maintenance, not to mention insurance. On top of all that, remember you agreed to pay for my medicine when I get into the elderly zone, and it could happen any minute!
Get an insurance quote for the most expensive car on your wish list. If you have had any accidents, or are shopping for a car that tends to be involved in trouble, I’m sorry, this step may be rough. Maybe back off from the car that gets pressured into drag races by crime bosses from Tokyo. Maybe a bimbo box will garner a better rate.
Understand financing a bit more than you already do. Some places that sell cars will harp on the monthly payment as if that is all that matters. If you are paying only $100 each month, but it’s for the rest of your life, it’s not a good deal. The average life has more than 800 months, enough for $80,000 in car payments, if you follow this method. Do not, however, follow this method.
Interest rates are like pets that shed fur, you want the rates to be as low as possible. The costs build up, exactly like fur. If you pay 5% interest, it’s not just 5 dollars out of every 100 dollars one time, it’s 5/100 every year of the loan. Time matters too. Don’t stress too much if the numbers bother you, just remember: less fur and less time is better for you, or something.
Do your homework. Research the safety and maintenance records for the type of car you are interested in purchasing. Find out if it will handle your local weather. We had an old Jaguar that went sideways in the tiniest amount of rain. The Jaguar in this story is a car, by the way, not a cranky cat. Going suddenly sideways is not a good way to cope with water for any kind of creature.
Be aware that every extra feature makes your metal pet more temperamental. if it has 85 computer brains, it’s going to have 7785 ways to malfunction. The servo motors that adjust your mirrors or your headrest are also poised to kill you if you hit the wrong button. That’s an exaggeration, maybe, but what are you going to do if the motor that is the only way to close your car door decides not to operate?
If you decide to buy a used car, take even more time making your decision. Do not let a salesman steer your toward a hunk of junk. Pick out your own junk. The internet listings make this pretty effortless, but don’t be too quick to click. Some cars that come up on local searches are not, strictly speaking, local. They may be on the other side of the continent and incur a delivery fee that could cover a great many pizzas.
Tons of data are available for an older car. You can get information on its accidents, maintenance, and if it was part of a fleet of clown cars. They never list how many cigarettes were smoked in the cars, but these days the rate of that, like fur, is lower. Did someone strap a dead animal to the hood or have a dreadful encounter with a skunk? Maybe! The databases do not have fields for everything. You will still need to do an inspection with your own senses to be sure.
Expect a guarantee of some sort. Depending on where you live, the laws may favor dealers who make bad deals. Caveat emptor is a lesson you can learn for a lot less money. If they won’t allow you to return the car for a period of time or won’t guarantee that the hood won’t fly open on the highway, seek another vendor. Shopping closer to home will improve your chances of getting a more reliable hunk of junk. It also makes it more convenient if you have to show up and yell.
Last of all, be ready to walk away. If the offer changes during conversation or you get the sense that the salesperson is toying with you, just leave. There are plenty of places you can buy a car, and being treated like a rube isn’t required any more. Some sales people will try to leverage your sense of sunk costs to their advantage. Pay attention if you begin to feel the deal is done before it really is done. In that case, they may be helping you to fool yourself.
Yersis suggested I take a man with me for my next car purchase exercise, but screw that, I say. If they don’t look at me when answering my questions, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the car, it just means they aren’t good at people yet. I can teach them how to sell to moms, I bet.
If you’d like to read what actual car experts recommend, you can do that too. I don’t mind!!
Don’t worry if it takes time to work it all out. Buses exist.
Defective Pets, Inc.
Creatures who cannot entertain themselves, who yell at water and manage to smell terrible all at the same time--these are not fictional fur balls but entities that wait patiently in my home. They wait for something to happen. Something they can scoff at. They don't have jobs, but they have expensive problems even before we sign up for therapy.