Notes From A Car Shopper

In which I learn to shut up and take my own advice

First and foremost, don’t price-shop first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

The last time I financed a brand-new car it was 1997 and the Internet was something to access only if you had the patience to ride out the “bzzzzz..eeee…BLAAAT” process of booting up your internet modem through AOL.

Forget about online car-shopping back then.  I had to take time off work, go to the credit union in person, get pre-approved, and then go to a dealership and waste half a day with their nonsense.

My two subsequent cars since then were purchased with cash. I wanted to go the older-car-for-cash route.

Damn,  how times have changed. Although I’ve been keeping abreast of Internet car shopping over the years as a lookie-loo/sometime automotive writer and while helping friends car-shop, it’s a different world when doing it on my own behalf.

Since when did dealers and lenders think it was a good idea to finance a 7-year old car with a six-year loan term? Did they learn nothing from the real estate crash when millions found themselves upside down on their mortgages? WTF?

For those of us shut out of the homebuying market, a car is the single most important big-ticket purchase we’re going to make. I don’t know about anyone else, but there’s already a low enough return on investment without getting shackled to a mega-loan.

Car prices today are similar to  prices that most of my generation’s parents paid for a home. The difference is people dropping 35-40K on a car won’t get the real-estate tax write-offs like our parents did.

My price range is nowhere near that anyway.

I’ve explored Beepi, Carvana, CarMax and TrueCar (no affiliation) and have bookmarked cars that interest me. My virtual garage is bursting. I’m armed with an excellent credit score and my  eyes are bigger than my wallet.

I’m also scared to death of making a huge financial commitment in this day and age where jobs are guaranteed for yesterday but not for today or beyond.

If I stick with a car that is well within my means, it will be too small, too old, and not safe enough. If I stretch a bit, I can possibly get into something a bit more substantial and to my liking. Both options give me sweaty palms and churning stomach.

Financing a car will be a leap of faith for me in the wake of two job losses in seven years in this New Economy.

And do it goes. I know I have plenty of company on all fronts.

I’ve been shelling out car-buying advice to friends and family for ages. Now it’s time I take my own advice.

Stay tuned.

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