December 2, 2007


The only time I have bought a car; I followed my first rule and had someone with me. Admittedly it was my husband, and he had only a little bit more experience than I did. But we were rather desperate, and had no one we could take to hold our hands. Our trusty rusty lemon Honda had died at the side of the road, so we quickly borrowed a classmate’s car to travel to the local dealerships and try to find something in two days. There were about three lots close to us. The first one, Bubba’s Barbeque, was a rundown restaurant with several clunkers out front. Bubba came out in his baggy jeans, suspenders, and white wife beater to offer us a great deal on these sweet lil’ minivan. We were actually tempted. It was close to our price range. But we kept on moving. The big beautiful nice car lot had some sweet black Toyota Tacomas, but with no credit and only a little money in the bank, there was no way. Family friendly Auto Barn loomed on our horizon. We walked past all of the tickets, and saw two cars in our range. There was the fun beautiful shiny red Jeep Cherokee and the teal Minivan with gold rims. Of course there is a catch. The Jeep had a lot of miles. We debated and prayed and decided to take the Jeep for a test drive. We drove it out to school and asked some experienced car buyers. They were all men who thought the Jeep was sweet, but they assured us that Jeeps are like anvils. Their engines are solid. So we went back and decided to buy the impractical car. The owner of the Auto Barn gave us an amazing amount off of the price for our lemon trade-in. We looked around for the evil car dealership puppet masters. But we didn’t see any. We squinted at the paperwork trying to find the fine print or the strings. But again, there wasn’t any. So with beating hearts we took up our pens and signed the paperwork. We’ve now had the car for four years. We’ve neglected it and shut our ears to any clanks and rattles, but surprisingly it has held up and done pretty well. It’s old and overused, and we are starting the process over again. So what can we learn from this story?

First rule: decide if you want to buy new or used. New can last you a long time and come with perks like dealership warranties and such. But it is rare that you as a traveler/student will be able to afford new, and new begins to depreciate as soon as you drive it off the lot. You can buy a mostly new, used car for less and be quite happy with it. I have never done or even contemplated either of those. I buy the older then old used cars, and pray that they still have some get up and go.

Second rule: Consider what type of car you will want; considering your budget, your needs, the fuel efficiency (you probably don’t have enough money to fill it up very often), and so on. Decide if you want to buy through the classifieds section, internet, or from a traditional dealership. I know an MK who successfully bought an Audi SUV off of ebay (or at least that is what I heard from someone, who heard from someone else). Now isn’t that a classic example of our nomadic, technologically minded generation? If you buy through the internet or the classified you will likely get a better deal, but something might seriously be wrong with the car. It is always good to follow the following rules.

Third rule: take someone with you. It is amazing, but all of the behind-the-scenes, expose things they do on car dealerships, seem to show that dealers will give older, adult males a better deal. If your adult male has experience they will see things that you won’t.

Fourth rule: Do your homework. When you have narrowed your choice down, take the car for a test drive. See if you can take it to your mechanic and have them check it out. They’ll find all of the things that the dealership has tried to cover over with wax and Armor All. Look at Kelley Blue Book ( to find out what price similar cars are selling for. Pay for a report to see how many owners the car has had, what accidents it has been in, and so on. When you are ready to sign the papers, says to have “your financing and loan approvals” already figured out. I have no experience with loans, we have always bought things with cash, so you will have to ask someone else about that. Or perhaps someone with experience can write something up for me? How stuff works also says that when you are going through your paperwork, keep an eye out for those strings I told you about up above. The form is “As Is” statement. Many used car dealers will mix that in with the other paperwork you’ll be asked to sign. As with anything that requires a signature, READ BEFORE YOU SIGN. You should have at least 30 days to make sure the car is in good condition. If you sign an “As Is” statement, once you drive the vehicle off the lot, anything that goes wrong is your problem.” Once your paperwork is signed and notarized, grab the keys and go. If you want further advice, go to the How Stuff Works website and search for buying a car. They have great tips on financing, and such other stuff.

That should just about do it.


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