Happy Name Your Car Day!

filmore

“Dude. The name’s Filmore. How’s it goin’?”

 

Leave it to social media to create holidays. (Siblings Day, anyone?) Today is a “holiday” I can relate to: Name Your Car Day! My social media feeds are lit up with car names that range from the endearing to the downright weird. Here are the cars who have graced my driveway at one point in time or another:

Raspberry: A 1992 Ford Escort LX that I bought with my own money. Loved the purr of the Mazda engine under the hood! I drove that poor car into the ground. Those were my serious road-tripping years.

Vanilla Bean: A white 1997 Ford Escort Sport. Raspberry’s successor. Vanilla Bean rose from the dead, but not in my driveway, unfortunately. More to follow on that one.

Kismet: A 1996 Volvo 850 GLT wagon that I bought in 2007 after Vanilla Bean’s demise. Kismet was totaled a few short months later by a girl yakking on her cell as she plowed into me. You could say Kismet died protecting me, like a true Volvo. I walked away without a scratch.

Nigel: A 1991 Volvo 750 base and Kismet’s successor. I bought him just as the recession was beginning to gather steam and most of us (me included) were packing up our desks and heading toward the door. Nigel was my side-kick during a fruitless job search and my eventual return to school. I miss him every day.

???: My next car. I think they name themselves. I have no idea what the future will hold or who will land in my driveway next, but you can be sure they’ll have a name.

 

When Wheels Become Wings

 

wings

zazzle.co.nz

In the little over a year I’ve been without a car, I’ve lost a lot of my independence. Forget about spontaneous runs to the grocery store for one last ingredient for dinner, to hell with meeting up with friends the next town over, and doctor’s and vet appointments need to be planned well in advance so I can borrow a car or beg a ride.

I’ve had my wings clipped to be sure.

Waking up sick or waking up to a sick pet? Nope. Can’t happen. Not in the schedule. Buses don’t run at 3AM and most cab companies around here don’t transport pets anyway.

My dream of owning a car again was torpedoed by a recent emergency vet appointment that drained my down payment funds. Money well spent to be sure, but a major setback nonetheless.

BFF to the rescue

My BFF texted me recently. I can use her car while she and her daughter are out of town.

Sweet.

My houseguest for the next few days will be a 2007 Scion Xb. I remember this car when it was brand-new, a mere baby with paper license plates and new car smell;  it now sports over 236,000 well-loved miles on the odometer.

Enough about that.

For the next few days, I will have some spontaneity back in my life. Instead of scheduling my entire life around either the bus schedule or the availability of a hastily borrowed car, I can relax for a change.

Getting my life back…if even for a week

I was bored, running low on TP and needed a Target run. I grabbed the key, hopped in, and away I went. For the first time I can remember, I wandered the aisles forever. Afterward, I drifted around the other stores in the mall.

I didn’t have to worry about delaying the neighbor from whom I bummed a ride, and I didn’t have to worry about getting a car back  at the precise moment I promised. I could breathe.

A co-worker sweetly offered me a ride home yesterday. It felt good to say “Cool. Thank you, but I have a car this week!” She was happy not because she was no longer tied to giving me a lift home, but because I was happy. She’s been in my shoes.

I’ve already made runs to the local market and to the drug store just because I can. I have my pet’s follow-up appointment scheduled. I’m making plans to meet up with friends who I’ve not seen in ages.

I  felt the tension leave my entire body when I realized that although I was running five minutes late, I didn’t have to worry about missing the bus. There is a car in my carport. I can get to work unhurried and unsullied by rapid transit funk.

If I need to run to the store, I can do so. If I need to run to the vet’s office, I can be there in five minutes. If a friend wants to meet up, done and done.

If I get stressed out and need to hit the local roads, I can. Driving along the local coast was my go-to stress relief in my car-owning days. Screw yoga. I want to drive. And now I can, even if for a week. I will take what I can get.

Here’s the car!” my friend said. Nope. Here are my wings.

 

 

 

 

Beware Of The Puppy Dog

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Most of us as kids have brought home a puppy at one point in time and begged “Can I keep it? Please?!”

Car dealers are hoping you’ll do the same thing. They know cars, like puppies, are  easy to fall in love with, hard to resist, and even harder to relinquish.

How it works

Buyer meets car and falls in love. Everything is there: options, color, make and model. Everything except for the financing, which is “conditional” or “contingent” on loan closing. The dealer assures you they can lock in that sweet rate you both discussed. No problem, they say.

You’re free to take the car home while the dealer hammers out the financing details. Kids chase you down the street. Neighbors swoon. Co-workers beg for rides during lunch hour. You are hooked. You love the car. It’s everything you ever wanted on four wheels. What’s not to love?

See where this is going?

The dealer then calls or emails you with the bad news: that hot interest rate or loan term either doesn’t apply to your particular make or model, or there was another issue that prevented you from qualifying for the initial financing terms.

Chances are, the dealer knew this already. Dealers eager to move inventory will let you “puppy dog” the car: take it home for a few days, show it off to your friends, and fall in love with it.

The dealer hopes you either won’t notice the higher rate or won’t mind because there is no way in hell you’re returning the car. You’re smitten.

No matter how besotted you are with your shiny new-to-you toy, be firm.

What you can do

California drivers are in luck, as there are  buyer protections in place to soften the blow of attempted puppy-dogging involving used cars priced at $40,000 or less:

  • The dealer must offer you a two-day contract cancellation agreement. You’ll be charged a nominal fee based on the price of the vehicle.
  • While the dealer will charge you a re-stocking fee if you return the car, it must be offset against the contract cancellation agreement fee.
  • If the dealer already sold or transferred the title to  your trade-in vehicle, they must pay you the greater of either the Fair Market Value of your trade-in or the value stated in your contract with the dealer.
  • New cars are exempt from these rules, however.

Puppy-dogging prevention

Assuming you haven’t yet set foot in a dealership, there are options to help you avoid the puppy-dogging trap:

  • Get pre-approved for financing through your bank or credit union. You’ll know exactly which rate, term and loan amount you’ll be getting.
  • Utilize the car-buying service through Triple A, your credit union or CostCo. They do the legwork and haggling for you.

Very few of us can resist a sweet new or new-to-us car that is just begging to come home with us. Before you ask, “Can I keep it..please?!” know your rights as a car buyer in your state and understand your financing options before you head out to a dealership.

Learning to spot the puppy-dogging game ahead of time will give you the power to issue a swift “No!” and to walk away. Rolled-up newspaper is optional.

 

 

 

 

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.

Real-life Review: 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

  • Power train: 3.3 liter V6 DOHC hybrid engine, 288 v-nickel metal hydride battery.
  • MPG:32/27
  • Mileage at test drive: 110,000
  • NHTSA rating: 5/5 stars
2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

A rare 2007 Toyota Highlander hybrid suns itself in captivity.

Something that quiet can’t be up to much good, right?

I used to think hybrids were the sissies of the car world. Ungainly, ugly, and ill-mannered. Too quiet for my taste. I like to know what my cars are up to at all times. Won’t catch me dead driving one of those greenie cars. No way.

Get off my lawn and all that.

Naturally, I got my ego handed to me when one of my long-time neighbors flipped me the keys to her 2007 Toyota Highlander before going on vacation.

I honestly didn’t want to give the car back four days later. I also wanted to run back over to her house screaming “TAKE ALL MY MONEY!” Here’s why:

The 3.3 liter 268 HP engine delivered plenty of punch on the main highway, which is more like Death Race 2000 in this corner of the world. Coupled with firm, nimble handling, this car was a sweetheart.

It’s quiet, well-composed, responsive, and eager to run despite its relatively advanced age of 9. That alone is a testament to Toyota’s long-term staying power and my neighbor’s near-obsessive attention to the car’s maintenance schedule.

Unlike the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe I tested, the Highlander featured better fit and finish, higher quality materials throughout, and a firmer less, tippy ride.

The Highlander’s party line over the four days I had it was, “What? That’s all ya got? Sissy!” as I tip-toed it around town. Well, okay then.  Cornering in the Highlander was a delight and it handled the hilly coastal roads with a sure-footedness and power I wasn’t expecting.

It accelerated smoothly and without complaint. Despite its age, there were no mysterious rattles that sometimes plague older cars. Passing and merging were a breeze. The CVT was smooth and seamless.

The instrument cluster was well-laid out and easy to read. While it lacked the excitement and jet-engine feel of newer cars, fans of the “less is more” aesthetic will appreciate the 2007 Highlander’s no-nonsense approach.

The center stack was similarly well-organized, with buttons and controls within easy reach. The center console featured two storage compartments with integrated cupholders in the larger compartment.

Center stack 2007 Toyota Highlander hybrid

Sound quality from the 6-speaker sound system was excellent. Strauss never sounded so good!

Front headroom and legroom were generous at 40.1 and 42.9 inches respectively. Cargo space with seats up is 39.7 cubic feet, more than adequate for a busy family or active driver hauling people and cargo.

Whooping this mid-size SUV around town was a delight. Noise dampening was outstanding for a car of this vintage.

They said it wouldn’t last

Back in 2007 (the Pleistocene era in car years) hybrid technology was a  question mark in terms of battery life. There was much pearl-clutching and speculation that hybrid cars would bite the dust anywhere between 60-100,000 miles.

Based on the herd of Prii in my area and this Highlander, the earlier pearl-clutching was for naught. Everyone is alive and well, complete with their original batteries. Of course, these are spoiled, well-tended cars. Checking out maintenance records is key when buying a used car, but even more so with a hybrid.

The Highlander earned a 5/5 star rating from the NHTSA.

It’s a sturdy, likable vehicle with clean, sculpted lines and an eager to please demeanor. Featuring an assortment of standard goodies with few extras, the 2007 Toyota Highlander hybrid base is a smart choice for used car buyers looking for a lean, reliable used SUV.

 

Good News Garage: Changing Lives

Good News Garage provides the keys to a better life.

Someone’s cast-off car becomes someone else’s gateway to success through Good News Garage

(Note: I’m not affiliated with Good News Garage in any way)

Imagine needing to safely get to and from work , drop off/pick  up the kids from childcare, come home, go to night school, come back home and do it again the next day. Throw in a doctor’s appointment or other errand and you will have pulled off what just about every other busy American does on a given day.

Imagine doing that without a car of your own and very few transportation options.

Enter Good News Garage. Since its inception in 1996, the agency has donated refurbished cars to 4400 clients and counting. The Vermont-based agency relies on donations of used vehicles from CT, MA, NH, VT, RI, and ME. To say this program changes lives is an understatement. I think their most recent statistics tell the story much better than I ever could:

  • 89% of recipients reported greater economic opportunities
  • 86% reported better quality of life since receiving their vehicle
  • 83% consider their cars to be safe and reliable 12 months later

Check out some of their additional statistics and annual report. Minds blown and lives changed.

Transportation Deserts

This program is a boon to those in the New England area who lack access to regular public transit or whose circumstances make public transit impractical (distance, location,  multiple jobs, medical needs, child care needs) A safe and reliable car is the difference between economic mobility and economic hardship for low-income working people.

Mass transit is an inefficient and expensive afterthought in many parts of the country, and I’m glad that GNG has recognized this and taken action. With the recent shift of poverty from the city to the suburbs, hopping the bus to work is no longer a viable option.Suburban areas have little to no reliable mass transit.

Furthermore, a low-wage worker who spends hours on mass transit to and from work every day stands less of a chance of continuing their education, seeking supplemental employment, or attending job training/school.

GNG’s goal is to close that gap and provide their clients with equal footing in the process.

Humble gifts

Once a GNG client completes the application and vetting process, they’re matched with a vehicle that suits their needs and family size. All donated vehicles receive a 72-point inspection and are refurbished.

Something as simple as a donated car has the power to  change lives. As someone who dabbles in the automotive industry (I have a “day job” and a part-time business to keep the lights on and a roof over my head) it’s easy to get seduced by the many shiny toys that grace my social media feeds.

That’s not realistic for me, however.

And so it is for GNG clients as well. Something as humble as well-tended low-mileage  used car can be a catalyst for better employment opportunities, access to childcare, health care, and less time spent in transit. For someone without a car, a donated early-2000s model might as well be a sparkling 2016 model.

Why there isn’t a program like this in every state escapes me. If you’d like to find out more about Good News Garage and the various programs they offer, visit their website.

Better yet, if you’re a New England resident with a well-maintained used car, consider donating it to GNG. Your old car can become someone’s ticket to economic stability and better quality of life. Your act of kindness can change the course of someone’s life for the better.

How To Lend Your Car Without Losing Your Mind

dog

Would you lend your car to this guy?

Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls of lending your car to someone while keeping your sanity intact

As anyone with a pick-up can tell you, lending your vehicle is a tough call to make. Can you trust the person borrowing your car or truck not to thrash it? What about liability? What if their pet  yaks all over the back seat?

You’d still like to help just the same. Here’s how to lend your car without losing your mind or the relationship.

If in doubt, don’t do it. Simple. It’s hard to say no to a friend or family member, but if you’re in doubt about lending your car to someone, don’t do it. No explanation needed.

Set limits. It’s your car, so you call the shots. If the thought of kids in your ride gives you pause, put your foot down. Same goes for pets or even any additional passengers. Personally, I had no problem lending out my car to anyone, but I drew the line at having fast food or small kids in my car.

What about liability? Since insurance laws vary by state and carrier, it’s best to give your insurance agent a call. Clear this in advance so there will be no nasty surprises should there be an accident. Insurance laws vary by state.

If the driver carries their own insurance, you could be off the hook if the driver is involved in an accident. All the better reason to have a heart-to-heart with your insurance company.

What about the driver? You don’t want to lend your car to anyone who has a revoked or suspended license for any reason. End of story. Same goes for moving violations or accidents.

Give the driver a walk-around. Show them where you stash the registration and insurance information, owner’s manual, roadside assistance number and other essential information about the car.

Explain any quirks the car may have. My old Volvo had a rogue “check engine” light that would randomly come on for no good reason. Whenever I lent the car to anyone, I’d make it point to tell them that.

Better yet, offer to ride shotgun while the lendee takes the car for a quick “get acquainted” spin.

Get it in writing. Depending on your relationship with the other person, putting things in writing is a big help. You’ll eliminate any miscommunication regarding the use of your car. I had no problem lending my car to friends, but I was clear on two things: no fast food in the car, no small children (I had a friend’s carsick kiddo yak all over my backseat. Lesson learned).

Lending your car to someone you know can get them out of a jam, especially if they’re tight on cash. Ride-hailing and car-sharing apps can be expensive or non-existent in some parts of the country.

Before you agree to lend your car to someone, save your sanity by checking with your insurance company, vetting the driver, performing a walk-around and putting everything in writing. You’ll keep the relationship intact as well as your peace of mind.

How To Borrow a Car Without Borrowing Trouble

There are times when mass transit or hoofing it just won’t do. Here’s how to borrow a car and save everyone’s sanity.

car-key-842107_1280Let’s face it. Services such as Uber and ZipCar are expensive or non-existent in some communities. If you’re staring down the barrel of a job interview or an important appointment, borrowing a car can help you arrive in style and on time with very little cash outlay.

Here’s how to borrow a car and keep everyone’s sanity intact:

Choose wisely: You stand a much better chance of scoring a borrowed car from someone who knows you well.

Be specific: Instead of “May I borrow the car on Tuesday?” try “May I borrow the car on Tuesday for a 2:30 job interview?” That demonstrates you respect the other person’s time and gives them an idea as to how long you’ll have the car.

Don’t be funky: Don’t eat or drink in the car. Some food smells can nauseate people. Same goes for strong fragrances or colognes. Leave them at home.

Offer to do a walk-around: Make note of any paint damage or windshield cracks. Ask about use of the audio system and ask for a quick demo of any tech suites you’re not familiar with.

Better yet, put things in writing.

Be polite: Be on your best driving behavior. If you’ve been without a car for a long period of time, it’s tempting to wring that car out for all it’s worth. Don’t do it. It’s not worth the possible ticket and bad blood later on.

Drive the car around the block to get used to its handling and brakes before hitting the open road.

Offer something in return: Offer cash for gas or replace the fuel you used.

Offer to dog-walk or babysit for the car owner in exchange if money is an issue. Agree on this up front before you use the car.

Leave it better than you found it: The old camping rule applies to cars as well as the Great Outdoors. Leave no trace.

Even if you’re borrowing a car from a family member or your best friend, treat the car like gold  even if it’s a beater.  Pick up after yourself and discard any wrappers, cups or other detritus before you return the car.

The other aspects of your relationship may be more fun and  relaxed, but borrowing someone’s car is a business transaction.

If you’re transporting a sick person or pet, make sure you get permission to do so. “Abby yakked all over the back seat..sorry!” is something no one wants to hear.

Borrowing a car for a key appointment is a sure bet for arriving stress-free and on time. Borrowing a car and treating it like a professional transaction will preserve your relationship with the car’s owner.

Who knows? You may be able to use the car again in the future. Sure beats transit or hoofing it.

 

We Interrupt Our Regular Broadcast…

To bring you some great news! Broke Girl’s Guide to Cars has been nominated for the Liebster Award, which is given to new bloggers like myself. Whoo Hoo! Can’t believe my humble little corner of the blogosphere has been recognized. I was nominated by Uma over at Simple Sumptuous Cooking. If you like to cook, check out her blog. She’s got some delicious, fast and budget-friendly recipes that you’ll love.

Here are some questions Uma asked in order to get to know me better.

Sum up the target audience for your blog in one sentence: My target audience is consumers and car nuts who are looking for informative real-world content.

What is your primary reason for starting the blog, and do you have a roadmap for monetizing your blog? I wanted to start a blog in this niche because I love to write, I love cars, and I’m a gal on a budget.

Screen shot 2016-02-21 at 4.56.36 PM

Since my blog is so new, I haven’t yet devised a road map for monetization; that will come when there are more followers and if I feel I can offer something of value to my readers. It’s still too early to tell if monetization is the way for me to go.

How often do you post content on your blog? 2-3 times a week.

Are pictures/video important to your blog? Only if they have something of value to offer. I use pictures to illustrate the entry and to add another visual component. No video so far, but if I feel it would be of value to the blog, I’ll add video as needed.

Do you hire people for writing content/creating photography and videos? Nope. I plan on keeping my little corner of the internet fully home-grown and self-produced. My most immediate goal is to purchase a DSLR camera so I can produce my own photographic and video content. There may be a guest post or two in the future, but I have no plans to hire anyone.

Do you have a YouTube channel?  Not yet. Still deciding if it’s a good use of my time and resources.

Do you also take advantage of social media such as Pinterest, Instagram, etc? I do social media management as a side gig, so I’ve learned over time that less is more. My readers tend to hang out mostly on Facebook and Twitter, so that’s where I share content. Readers tend to lose interest if they have to follow someone across multiple channels.

What is your blog’s biggest success? I wrote a post on the pitfalls and ripoffs of Buy Here Pay Here dealerships, which disproportionately target low-income consumers( especially women) and those with little or no credit. I got an email from a reader who was considering that type of dealership until she read my post. She thanked me for the post and decided against a Buy Here Pay Here dealership.

What motivates you to continue blogging? I blog for the love of it. I don’t obsess over comments, number of readers or monetization. I’ll keep going as long as I can produce quality content.

Where do you see your blog in the next 2-5 years? That’s a tough one to answer, since the blogosphere is so dynamic. This blog is also brand-new, so I have a more immediate outlook for the next 2-5 months: buy the domain name, upgrade my site to include additional plug-ins, and anything else I think will be useful in the near future. At this stage it’s very hard for me to see beyond the next several months.

I blog because I love it and I love the subject matter 🙂

 

 

 

10 Under $10,000…Part 1

Here is my fully subjective list of used cars under $10,000. If you’re looking for a daily commuter or a first car, there are bargains to be had for $10,000 or less.

On to the list in no particular order:

zombdrive.com2008 Mazda3: This is a perennial favorite. Mazda makes a helluva car, and the 3 is a popular choice for a stylish, fuel-efficient daily driver. It has enough safety features to make it a good choice for a first car, too. Look for one that has been well-maintained with low miles, and you’ll have a great car for years to come. Available as a sedan or hatchback.

MPG: 24/32  Drive train: 2.4 liter 4 cylinder, 5-speed manual, available 4-speed automatic

23355590001_large

2003-2011 Ford Crown Victoria: OK, so this boat-like sedan isn’t exactly fuel-efficient, but it’s spacious, reliable, and comes equipped with a 4.6 liter V8 mated to a 4-speed automatic. No wonder law enforcement folk love  these cars. Add a vertical bars to the front grille and scare the hell out of people as you pull up behind them. MPG: 16/23

www.cargurus.com2006-2006 Infiniti G35: This is a winner if you have more refined taste. These cars come equipped with Bluetooth, leather upholstery, navigation system, keyless ignition and a host of other treats. A great way to indulge your champagne taste while honoring your beer budget. The 3.5L V6 offers more sass than other cars at this price point, and you have your choice of a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. MPG: 17/24

thedetroitbureau.com2007-2012 Nissan Versa: This one leaves me completely underwhelmed, but it’s a good point A to point B car. If bare bones practicality is your selling point, the Versa is for you. I’ve driven one on several occasions and the seats have all the comfort of a bus stop bench. Just warning you. The Versa is available as either a sedan or hatchback with either a 1.6L CVT automatic or a 6-speed manual.  MPG: 30/38

zomdrive.com2001-2005 Honda Civic: What is a cheapie car list without the Civic? Available in DX, LX, EX, and Si trim lines, the Civic offers a lot of features for the money.   Great MPG, Honda reliability, and simple architecture/layout make this a favorite. Make sure the timing belt was changed at the proper interval and beware of transmission issues. The Civic is available as a sedan, coupe, or hatchback. Comes with your choice of a gas or hybrid engine. MPG: 27/34

Budget cars can be great cars

Despite what your well-heeled friends may have told you, budget cars don’t have to suck. By doing your research, exercising caution (the seller is full of BS until proven otherwise), and getting a look at maintenance records, you can snag a great deal.

As with any used car purchase, have an automotive tech familiar with the brand perform a pre-sale inspection.

Buying used also means cheaper insurance, less sales tax, and lower registration fees. If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced ride, one of these cars could be your ticket out of public transit or bumming rides from friends.

Wednesday: Part 2 of 10 under $10,000.