Shopping for a Car: The Unnecessary Saga

*edited to add: the reason I am considering such an old car model is that for the next 2 years I have the remainder of my DUI sentence with increased insurance premiums. I am paying $120 per month right now for very basic, no comprehensive insurance due to the DUI. The punishment was deserved, but I do not see myself buying a nice car which requires comprehensive insurance. My original plan was to keep my old car around until the end of the sentence so I wouldn’t have to worry about comprehensive insurance, but it’s pretty much dead now. So I’m trying to buy a car that will get me through the next 2-3 years that won’t require even more expensive insurance. I forgot to mention this.

There seem to be as many models of cars as there are people in the world. Big ones, small ones, fancy ones, simple ones, Japanese ones, American ones, European ones, new ones, old ones, really old ones with expensive surgery to make them look like younger ones, et al. And today, with my poor, destroyed ’99 Toyota parked silently in a carport space waiting for its end of days, I know it’s time to get a new(er) car. It’s been time for a while. Since, in 2011, when it was hit and had the front bumper ripped off. A year later, the insurance company finally agreed with me that the accident wasn’t my fault and send me the remainder of a $2000 check. But, the car, worth less than this with 200k miles and a leaky engine, wasn’t worth repairing. I started to hunt for a new car. Yes, in 2011.

It’s getting a little (extremely) ridiculous that I haven’t purchased a car yet. The two issues at hand are 1, determining which car to get, and 2, figuring out how to pay for the car.

When I bought my last car, I went about it in my typical anxiety-ridden way. While I was curious about the plethora of choices out there, I quickly limited my  choices but determining I should get a  Toyota or Honda. I didn’t like the Honda logo or body styles (superficial, yes, but I am) so a Toyota was the winner. I didn’t want a Corolla because they were, well, ugly (I had no idea about performance comparisons at that time.) Prior to deciding on a Toyota I nearly bought a used Chevy Aveo or a used Saab hatchback from two different dealers. Those were the only two cars I tested out before deciding on the Solara.

It seemed perfect. It was sexy enough, sleep in its two-door model, in my price point in the six-year-old range, and there was a man selling the two-door car for a good reason (baby required an upgrade to four doors.) I met him one day, test drove the car nervously, had it checked out in a shop, and despite worrying about its 113k odometer reading I made the purchase. With cash. I had about $12k from a lawsuit my parents won for me as a kid, and I didn’t want to spend all of it, or deal with financing. And there I was, with my first car. I was thrilled.

Over the last  seven years the car has treated me very well. It’s gotten me safely through one scary accident and a few other less scary bumps (such as my entire right-side door imploding, but I’ll save that story for another time.) I haven’t had a lot of issues with it beyond that it seems to be a target for break ins (maybe due to the darker windows in the back?) I’ve grown used to the V6 engine which so smoothly transitions from slow to fast. I’ve driven her upwards of 100mph, once, by accident, and barely noticed I had gone over 65.

In any case, it’s time to move on. She’s treated me well, but she’s now a bit of a wreck. Besides the front bumper being swiped off in that accident that wasn’t my fault, the rest of the car is dinged up from hitting inanimate objects (that was my fault) and at the moment some strange leak in the drunk has caused a bit of a pool to well up in the spare tire compartment, causing the trunk to mold. At 200k miles, she’s dying a slow, painful death. Granted, had I treated her a bit better, she probably could have lasted to 250k miles at least. But I think I’ve done well with my first car that costed $8k and having her last about eight years.

But now my life is very different from when I purchased my first car. I bought the Solara with $12k in the bank and an unpaid internship and rent to pay. Today, I make $100k (though who knows how long I will keep my job), and some people may say I can afford something nicer. Not even “nicer” in the sense of a luxury model, but I don’t need to buy an $8000 car (hey, $8k won’t even get me a 6 year old v6 camry today.) So I’ve been on a mission to determine what kind of car I want. Did I mention I’m picky? 🙂 I’ve been on quite a few test drives now, and nothing is perfect. I don’t even like the fancier models to date. I really just want another Solara from 1998-2003 because those were the years they made the model I have. I’m not the fondest of change. I could use a four door but I’d be fine continuing with the two door until I have kids.

Cars I’ve Tested so Far:

Volkswagen CC:  love this car @ 2010 model. But it’s about $20k used and, worse yet, the sunroof doesn’t open more than an inch. What’s up with that? It may have been my dream car otherwise. I love the design inside and out. But four seats also seem a little impractical, especially if getting a four door.

Volkswagen Passat: Probably the most practical for the long term, one that I could have a family in, the Passat models only became decent in 2012. But the 2012 models are pricey, over $24k for the models I’d want. It doesn’t make sense to spend $24k on a car right now. I can get something cheaper today, and buy the 2012 model used when I have kids in 3-5 years.

Volkswagen Jetta: Nice car, but same issue with the Passat, I only like the 2012 or newer models. They end up costing around $20k with the sunroof. It doesn’t make sense to buy a basic Jetta for $20k used. I could get something much nicer, a little older, at that price point.

Camry Hybrid: Didn’t like how the hybrid drove. The car felt heavy.

Camry: There’s a sweet spot around 2007 where the design was decent. I like the v6 models, fabric seats. They are hard to find. Probably at the $14k – $16k price point. Still more than I’d like to spend, but this seems reasonable.

Acura TSX: the car felt heavy, did not have the pep i wanted. I was generally unimpressed with the 2008 model.

Corolla S: with only a v4 engine, I really did not enjoy driving this car. The solara has spoiled me.

Infiniti G35: surprisingly liked the drive feel of the 2003 model over 2007, even though the body style of the 2007 is much approved. The 2003 is fugly. The 2003, however, was $12k at the dealership. The cost is definitely reasonable for a model that old. But could I trade style for a nicer car that has pep? And if I’m going for a 2003, why not just get the 2003 Solara for less cash?

Nissan Altima: only tried the 2.5L, so maybe I need to get a test drive in the 3.5L, but I was unimpressed. It just didn’t feel as smooth in accelerating compared to my Toyota.

Mini Cooper: cute car. Just have read such horror stories about the cost of fixing this thing as it breaks often that I don’t want to take the risk. Plus my 6’2 boyfriend looks a little funny in it. And the back seat is so tiny.

So… I’m still perplexed over which car to get. I’m assuming I’ll settle on one in the $15k price point. I’m starting to get my assets together so I can have enough liquid when the right car comes along. It hurts me to know that spending this $15k right now will really make it impossible to hit my $250k networth goal this quarter. But I do need a car. Maybe I can just get extremely frugal for the remainder of the year and somehow make it anyway.

Cash Today: $8000
Selling 26.8 shares HYG @ loss: $2476
Selling 10 shares AAPL @ gain: $4493
Total Purchase Power: $15k

I should have that available liquid shortly. Then I can move forward to actually purchase a car. I’ll need to figure out taxes as well of course, so I’ll have to sell a few more shares of something to cover that. Or I just need to buy a $12k car. Which is what I really should do.

Some options I see in that price point, private party..

2006 Honda Ex-L @ 110k miles ($11.5k)
2007 Mini Cooper @ 42k miles ($12k)
2009 VW Jetta SE @ 80k miles ($11.5k)
2006 Acura TL @ 96k miles ($13k)
2005 Jetta @ 22k miles ($10.5k)

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3 thoughts on “Shopping for a Car: The Unnecessary Saga”

  1. I had a Mini Cooper and I warn people against them now. Everything just started falling apart around 80K miles and the last 18 months of owning that car were incredibly costly. But they are adorable!

    After getting burned by the mini, shopping for a new car was hard, but I’m pretty happy with where we ended up. A 4 year old miata with 29k miles was about $13.5 (under kbb) and had held up pretty well over the last 3 years. Certainly less costly than the mini and at least as much fun.

  2. Why are you considering cars that are so old? Just suck it up and by a car that’s max 3-4 years old. Although it may cost more now, It will easily last another 10+ years and will certainly work out better than a 7-10 year old car that you will have to replace in another 5-7 years. It is clearly a stresser for you, so the newer the car, the longer it will be until you have to face this stress again. If I were you, I would get the CC or the Passat. You have to drive your car every day, make it enjoyable and if you’re planning on kids in 3-5 years, you absolutely should be looking at 4 doors now so that you aren’t faced with this again in 3-5 years just because your car is too small.

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