Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
So, you want to buy a car?
My old car, Rosebud, a Honda Civic CX hatchback that I bought new in 1991, finally retired this past Christmas with 406,000 kms. It was sad to see her go. She had so many good memories attached to her, and I really wanted to push her to 500,000 kms or 25 years, whichever came first. Unfortunately, she had a small accident and to replace the fender, straighten the hood and readjust the light would have cost almost $2000.00. She needed other work too: the left front CV needed replacing and there were patches along the running boards where the classic Honda rusting had eaten through resulting in leaks. Considering she was 22 years old, even that was minor compared to my previous car, a ’78 Honda Civic that I bought used and leaking in ’88. That car was hilarious. It leaked so bad that, I’m not making this up, the water would splash over the lump where the gear shift is like a tidal wave washing over a rock. It would sploosh back and forth like that in hard turns. Sometimes I’d turn extra hard just for fun to make the water splash. During the rainy season, I’d have to drive in boots and bring my shoes with me separately.
Now I have a new-to-me car – a 2008 Honda Fit. It’s standard transmission, but has power windows and A/C. I still get confused as to which button to push when rolling down the windows when I’m not reaching forward trying to crank the window down. You can lock it remotely too. Fancy!
I was asked by my friend Melissa about my car buying adventures and if I could share any tips. Well, I thought maybe others might benefit from the answer too, so I’ve written them up to share.
I was really proud of myself because I bought the car all by my lonesome without Neil there, or some car-type friend. I took my time, talked to my mechanic, read a lot and figured it out on my own.
I’m not an expert, but I really enjoyed the experience. There’s a very interesting world out there in Automotive Land!
Here’s some stuff I learned while shopping for a used (or new-to-me) car:
1) Take your time.
There are lots of cars out there. LOTS. If you fall in love with one car and it doesn’t work out, don’t worry, there will always be another one you’ll fall in love with.
After talking to my mechanic and doing some research, I narrowed down that the best cars for me were Honda, Toyota & VW. They are consistently rated high for reliability. Then I narrowed it down further & looked at the cost of maintenance and repairs and fuel consumption. Of the three vehicles I was most interested in, Honda had the best fuel economy. Toyota was slightly worse followed by VW. As for maintenance & repairs, Honda and Toyota were about on par, while VW was more expensive. Surprisingly, a 2008 Saturn Astra I found had excellent fuel consumption, better even than the Honda or Toyota. I didn’t test drive it though, because I didn’t like the cargo area. But it looked like an excellent car. Entirely engineered and built in Germany too.
3) Decide what you need and what you don’t need.
If you know what’s essential that you have, it makes narrowing down your choices much easier. Automatic or standard? Hatchback or sedan? Fuel economy or performance? Commuter or touring? Make a list and keep it with you when you test drive the cars you’re interested in. That way you can figure out what you’re willing to sacrifice.
There’s an organization that oversees and licenses professional new and used car sales people in BC, the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority – http://www.mvsabc.com/ They have a lot of good information on their website, and you can look up the license number of anyone if you’re not sure if they’re legit. You can also report a problem to them if necessary.
I made a spread sheet of the cars I was interested in, researched them online on various sites such as: http://www.autos.ca/, http://www.caranddriver.com/, http://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/ and http://autos.ca.msn.com/ I made notes about the mileage, fuel consumption, maintenance & repair costs, cargo, good things, bad things, does auto windows come standard, for instance, etc. UPDATE, Feb. 12, 2014: To find out if you’re paying a respectable price for the car, go to the Canadian Black Book to find out its value – http://www.canadianblackbook.com/black-book-values. For instance, if it’s a trade-in, you’ll be able to figure out what the dealer paid for it and what the mark-up might be and negotiate from there.
6) Carfax or Carproof.
These are sites that you pay a fee to, put in the VIN of the vehicle and get the known information about it – is there a lien on the vehicle, is it a rebuild, was it in an accident, was it a lease, etc. You can find very basic vehicle history reports for free through ICBC, http://www.icbc.com/registration-licensing/buy-vehicle/buy-used/vehicle-history, but you’ll only see if it’s “normal” or a rebuild. Most reputable dealerships will provide you with the Carfax or Carproof docs. Carfax: http://www.carfax.com/entry.cfx, Carproof: https://www.carproof.com/
7) Dealer or private sale.
I recommend buying through a dealer, unless you are very savvy with cars. A reputable dealer (that’s important) will probably give you a 3 or 6 month warranty, and if you have any problem you can always go back to them and see what they can do for you. If you are confident that you know what you’re looking at and understand cars, then you might be able to get a better deal through a private sale.
8) Mechanical inspection.
Regardless of whether you’re getting the car through a dealer or a private sale, bring your car to a mechanic for a full inspection, or call BCAA and have them do it for you on location. It’s worth the roughly $150.00 to have it done. They’ll flag things for you. Let’s say the tires are older than you think. New tires are expensive so you can factor that in when you negotiate your final price. Don’t agree to any price before you get the inspection done. Don’t shake hands or sign a contract. Wait until the inspection is done, then start negotiating.
9) Cash or credit.
You’ll have more leverage in negotiating with a dealer if you’re using cold, hard cash than if you use their buy on credit programs.
10) Extra costs.
If you go through a dealer, be prepared to pay a “documentation fee.” I’m not entirely sure what this is for, other than it covers things like gas, the Carfax or Carproof reports, inspections, repairs, etc. I have some problem with this fee, and that was a sticking point when I was negotiating the price of my car. I simply didn’t want to pay it. In the end, they took it off the price of the car, and I got them to drop the price an extra $200. I liked the car, but I knew that there were lots of other cars out there, so I didn’t feel pressured to buy this one. I think that worked to my advantage. Ask lots of questions. Be open and non-adversarial. You’ll get farther. Walk away if you don’t like the tone of the dealer. Remember, there are lots of cars and lots of dealers. You’ve got the advantage.
11) How much is the car actually worth.
What is the trade-in value of the car? How much is the retail value of it? Knowing these numbers ahead of time helps because if you’re talking to a dealer, you can figure out how low you could push them so they still make money off the deal, but you save money. If a car is valued at $4000.00 trade-in, and they’re selling it for $8000.00 plus a bunch of added costs, then how low can you go with that vehicle? $7000.00? $6000.00? They costs will remain the same, but you can shave them off the price of the car. Or they might not budge on the car, but will drop the added costs. You’ll get what you want eventually.
12) Test drive lots of cars and talk to dealers.
The more you drive the cars you’re interested in, the better. The more dealers you talk to, the better. Don’t commit until you’re ready. They’ll try to get you to, but you can just be friendly and secure in knowing what you’re doing.
13) Look everywhere.
I was very picky and wanted manual transmission, low kms, excellent fuel economy, import, front wheel drive, as new as possible given my budget, power windows, lots of cargo room, and a responsive car. Here are the sites I looked at: http://www.repo.com/, Craigslist, Autotrader (their iPhone app is pretty good), Kijiji, Budget Car Sales http://www.budgetcarsales.ca/index.htm and whatever else hit my radar.
14) KMs count.
Look for something less than 200,000 kms. At 200,000 things start going, and your repair costs go up. Average vehicle mileage per year ranges between 15,000 kms – 20,000 kms. Try to find something less than that if you can.
15) Once again, take your time.
There are lots and lots of cars on the market, and if you don’t need one immediately, then you have the edge. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat.
Here are pictures of Rosebud on the day I passed her off to ICBC. Good bye, Rosebud, thank you for being such a good, dependable car.