Those Dealership Calculators Lie

…and what you should do instead.

If you’ve spent any time online looking for cars, chances are you’ve seen those online payment calculators; plug in your loan amount,interest rate,down payment, trade-in, and *ping* you get your estimated monthly payment. Pretty cool, huh? Finally, a payment you can live with.


Um, they forgot something. Taxes, title, and registration fees. In most cases, unless you are coming in with a sizeable down payment, you need to calcuate your estimated payment down to the penny (well, as close as an estimated payment can get).

Here is are the same perimeters, this time with taxes, title, and registration fees:


Next, plug in your down payment, if any:


Next, select your loan term and interest rate:


Sure, it adds up to a paltry $17.00 a month difference, but if you’re on a tight budget, $17.00 can mean the difference between some extra veggies/fruits in your shopping cart or skipping them altogether and grabbing some cereal or mac and cheese instead. For many of us, it could mean the difference between being in the hole each month or still being able to pay toward your kid’s lunches.

I learned this the hard way. I’ve been car-shopping. My city is cutting transit service to the bare bones soon and I need to be able to get around. I was fortunate enough to get approved for a car loan at a decent rate, thanks to a pay raise.

I found I car I really liked, crunched some numbers using the dealer’s online calculator, test drove the car, fell in love, called my insurance agent to get a quote, and started picturing what life with a car was going to be like…finally.

Fortunately, I had enough presence of mind to tell the salesman I will be going home to sleep on it. I needed to get my wits about me, get the new-to-me car smell out of my nostrils, and do some deep thinking. And number-crunching.

I had been stalking, er, I mean, reading for awhile now (no affiliation) and headed over to their payment calculator. I plugged in the sales price of the car. Following their screens, I also plugged in taxes and DMV fees (those vary by state).

Big surprise. The difference in payment was enough to rule out getting that particular car. Since it was a no-haggle pricing policy, I was hosed in terms of negotiating a deal.

Lesson learned.

Why I didn’t do that in the very beginning escapes me, but it shouldn’t escape you. Always take into consideration the sales price, your down payment, if any, your trade-in, if any, along with your actual interest rate, selected loan term, and those pesky taxes and DMV fees.

You will save yourself a rude awakening and will be able to budget more accurately and see if the payment will fit into your overall household budget every month. You may even have some additional leverage in negotiating your out-the-door price with the dealer.

Either way, do as I say, not as I do 😉

Should You Take That Older Car?


“It just needs a ‘little work’ but it’s yours!” Minor warning or famous last words?

When a beggar needs to be a chooser

A friend, a grandparent, or  a co-worker’s cousin’s best friend heard that you’re hard up for a car and has offered you their old car for next to nothing. People mean well, they really do. After all, they’ve seen you struggle to get around and they’d like to help.

You’ve known that you need a car to get to and from/work, school, and as a means of picking up a side gig. Besides, you’re sick of bumming rides and/or relying on mass transit.  An old car is better than no car, right? Should you go for it?

Five reasons why you should:

  1. The car is in great shape. Your mechanic checked it over and said “Take this thing and run! It just needs some new brake pads and you’re set!”
  2. You have some pocket money. If you can comfortably shoulder the costs of the needed repairs and ongoing maintenance, go for it.
  3. You have the tools and the time. If you’re lucky enough to have the tools, skills, and space to perform your own maintenance and routine repairs, go forth and get the car.
  4. One of your friends in an automotive genius and has offered to help you with major repairs/maintenance.
  5. You can live with ambiguity. Old cars carry a lot of uncertainty, especially if they need repairs, or if there are no reliable maintenance records on file. If the prospect of the unknown doesn’t faze you, the car might be a good risk after all.

And five reasons why you shouldn’t…

    1. You’re tight on cash. You have just enough left over each month to cover food and other essentials. If a tail light goes out on the car or if the battery dies, you’re hosed.
    2. The car isn’t safe. At the very least, the car should have Electronic Stability Control (ESC), operational air bags, Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) and secure child seat latches if you’re hauling a kiddo around. All the safety features need to be fully operational. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll never have to rely on them at any point in time, because chances are you will someday.
    3. It needs work. Lots of it.  Deferred maintenance and repairs quickly add up, taking the car from a means of transportation to a money pit quickly. Thank the seller or gift-er and move on tactfully.
    4. It would be a nightmare to insure. Some cars, no matter how old they are, can carry a high theft risk (Google 90’s Hondas and you’ll see what I mean). Some older cars may also carry a salvage title. Either scenario means your insurance agent will freak out and hike your rates considerably or drop you altogether.
    5. Parts are scarce or insanely expensive. Search online or call around to see if current or future replacement parts are readily available and affordable. You could be in for a very expensive awakening otherwise.

If you’re offered an older car for nothing or next to nothing, you may be tempted to grab it. Keep a cool head instead and treat it as you would any other used car by asking yourself whether the financial risk and potential repair bills are worth it in the long run.

A car should be a pathway to financial gain, not financial ruin.

Weekly Round-up

In which I source great content so I won’t have to write a post.

I can’t think of a better thing to do than test-drive cars I can’t afford. Ten minutes of pure escapism so wonderful I ignore the yammering salesperson next to me. Seems that a woman in VA had the same idea, except she was a little too eager to peel out of the dealership and took a few extra cars with her. Brings a whole new meaning to “I flip cars as a hobby.” (H/T Autoblog)

A Chevy dealer in Peltier, TX had 48 wheels and tires swiped from their cars this week. Nothing worse than showing up for work and seeing half your inventory up on blocks. Try explaining that shit to management. (H/T Jalopnik)


Photo: Detective Gary King, East Texas Auto Theft Task Force

On the flip side, some lighter fare…

First up, what does your car color say about you? Mine essentially said “I’m broke as hell.” Oh, wait.That was the condition of the paint, not the color itself. If anything, feast your eyes on the excellent cars pics in the article. A little eye candy never hurt anyone.

Rumor has it that any color of BMW says, “I’m an asshole who doesn’t use their blinker,” but your didn’t hear that from me.

Bored at work? Need something to pass the time while on break, lunch or in the fifth meeting of the week? Check out this excellent Tumblr. The older the car, the more amazing it is to see their auto bud.

Holy crap…who would do that to a car?! According to reddit’s Shitty Car Mods forum, a lot of people. Comic relief during a tough week, or a tragic commentary on misplaced priorities. Your call.


H/T litzergl (reddit)

And finally…



Close, But No Car

beggars can't be choosers when it comes to old cars

This  Elantra is pretty damn close to the one I was offered, but in much better shape.

In which my search for safety, economy and reliability come up short

I turned down a car that was offered to me.  If you’ve been hanging out in my ramshackle corner of the Internet for awhile, you’ve known how much I need to get a car.

My neighbor at the end of my street has two college-age sons. They shared the old family car when they were in high school. Now entering their second and third years of college respectively, both kids have decided to pass on car ownership for the time being. The aging Hyundai Elantra GLS has been idle for months.

The kids’ dad  offered it to me last week. I could buy it for next to nothing. “Just get it off my hands. It can’t sit in the drive because we just don’t have the room and I want it gone.”

I wish I could say it was a perfect match. Based on  what I’ve observed over the years, I knew better. They never really took care of their cars. I looked the car over. It had been washed and prepped for sale. The radio didn’t work well, and the window motors were iffy. It squeaked by smog testing earlier this year. Barely.

Service records were scarce. Understandable from a busy family with two kids and not a clue about cars.

This Beggar Needs To Be  a Chooser

Still, I need wheels. Beggars aren’t supposed to be choosers, right?

One of my friends is a tech over at the local Shell station, so I ran the car over there for a pre-sale inspection.  I hovered while he checked it out and rode shotgun while he drove it. Too many knocks, creaks, and squeals for my blood. I knew that from my short drive to the station.

The rear bearings were shot to hell to add insult to injury. I also worried that it would burst into flames just when I needed it most.

“You could go back and counter-offer him about a grand less, because that’s how much you’re looking at to get it really road-worthy.”

NOPE. I’ve been down this road before. No sooner will I sink a grand (which I don’t have in the first place) than I will have to sink yet another grand into the next crisis that pops up. I remember driving an aging car. I lived in crisis mode the last three years of that car’s life.

I can’t and won’t do it again. Call me crazy, because I don’t have a lot of options here,  but I have neither the nerve or the resources to take on another elderly car. I don’t have the tools or the space to fix it myself. I sure as hell don’t have the cash.

It was sold two days later, most likely to someone with the emotional and financial wherewithal to take on an aging car that needs serious work. More power to ’em.

For the sake of my sanity and finances, this beggar is gonna be a chooser.


Five Things You Need To Know About CarMax

When it comes right down to it, CarMax is just like any other used car dealer

A few weeks ago, I headed out to my local CarMax to test drive a 2012 Nissan Leaf. I chose CarMax because of its low-hassle test drive policy and supposed low-pressure sales/business model.I was even thinking of buying from them when the time came. Now, not so much.  Here are a few things I found out during my visit.

Carmax, home of no-haggle pricing


If you place a car on hold via their website, they assume you’re going to buy it no matter what you tell them. Not a huge hassle in the long run, but I no sooner finished reserving the car online than I received a call from a “sales associate” who agreed to meet me the next day.

I emphasized to him that I was in no position to buy, just heading out there to test drive and to either add or delete the Leaf from my short list. Period. “Got it.” he said. “No worries.”

They assumed I was going to buy it anyway, as evidenced by the sales associate’s upbeat attitude and the giant “hold for sale” pricetag on the windshield, and the sales song and dance I got.


Their CA salespeople are on commission, so if you’re a CA shopper and are expecting low-pressure tactics, think again. While the price of the vehicle is in fact their no-haggle take-it-or-leave it price, they will still try to chase a higher commission, which can get old quickly.

Gods know the sales associate tried to talk me out of the Leaf. He tried, he really did. He cited battery life statistics that were inaccurate, downplayed the overall awesomeness of the car, and really pushed the CarMax extended warranty and service plans.

I did my homework in advance and knew he was full of shit.

All in pursuit of a higher commission, no doubt.

They will sell you on their on their MaxCare program. Hard. My opinion? Think long and carefully about this one. You’ll be limited to CarMax service facilities. Based on the local user reviews, I’d run like hell.

If you already have a reliable automotive tech lined up, stick with them.  If you don’t yet have one, get recommendations from friends or by checking on Yelp.

Don’t take CarmMax’s word for it on their “125-point inspection.” CarMax, like any other dealer, is in the sales business, not the servicing business. It’s their goal to move inventory–lots of it–quickly.

The second you sign for your car, take it to an automotive shop that is familiar with the make and model of your car, just like you would with any other used car.

You may end up having to shell out for an outside inspection, but it could save you thousands of dollars if your new-to-you car is a potential money pit. By getting the inspection done soon after buying the car, you have the opportunity to return it within the 5-day trial period.

Despite their no-haggle pricing model, Carmax is in business for the same reason other dealerships are in business: to make money.  Think twice about add-ons such as their MaxCare plan. Obtain your own outside financing or come in with cash. Have your car inspected by your own mechanic during the trial period (5 days in CA).

I’m not sure what all the hype is about since CarMax really is no different from any other used car dealer.

Do your research, know what to expect, think twice about add-ons, and you could drive away in a great car that will be your sidekick for years to come.


2012 Nissan Leaf: A Delightful Mutant Catches My Attention

I’d been researching used cars online for months now, but I hadn’t really narrowed down my list. It’s times like this when I really miss my dad more than I usually do.

“Look. Just ask your dad what kind of car you should get,” a friend told me. She, too, had lost her dad recently and talks with him all the time. “He’ll give you a sign. He really will.”

I no sooner said, “Dad, I’m really hitting the wall on this car thing. Too many to choose from. Could you help me out here?”

Immediately afterward I saw it. A blue Nissan Leaf, parked by itself near one of the local shops. I shit you not. The normally jammed parking strip was nearly empty, save for the car and two others.


2012 Nissan Leaf SV sunning itself in captivity at my local CarMax. Identical to the one I saw on the street immediately after asking my dad for a little sign.

Well played, Dad.

Indeed. I’d been snubbing alt. fuel cars for the past few years. Ugly. Gutless. Too expensive. Driven by smug greenies.

My dad, on the other hand, loved alt-fuel technology, and swore up and down 25 years ago that alt. fuel engines would be the norm.

I headed to my local CarMax pronto for a no-hassle test drive, and walked away a true believer.

In which a jaded car gal eats her words

I got into the Leaf and pressed a button. It clicked, hummed and chimed itself to life. The dashboard was easy to read and provided readouts of battery power, usage, and mph, and mpg equivalent, among other things.

I was surprised at how solid this little car was. High-quality materials, controls within easy reach, and the oddest egg-shaped gear selector I’d ever seen. A push of a button puts it in “Park.” and a nudge puts it in drive.

I put the car through its paces, fully expecting it to be gutless and unenthusiastic. I was dead wrong. While it certainly won’t blow the lane markers off the highway, I was impressed with its power, finesse, and composure.

There was no engine noise, just a quiet whirring sound as the Leaf idled, and a silent, silky smooth ride while driving. I fell in love with this little mutant quickly.

I was impressed with the NHTSA safety ratings, it strong reliability record, and its overall handling.


Take me to your leader…er, garage.

An EV the Rest of Us can afford

The price range for a used 2012 Nissan Leaf SV (the model I tested) hovers around the $9,000-$10,000 range. That’s a fairly steep depreciation from the MSRP of $34,000 new, so that gave me pause.

Time for a little further research.

Still, I could buy a much smaller, cheaply-made car for the price of a used Leaf, and get a lot less car for the buck, and be disappointed in the long run.

The Leaf comes with its own charging kit, and it plugs in to any 120v outlet. Overnight charging takes about 12-17 hours. Battery range varies, depending on the terrain driven, and whether or not I’d run the heat or A/C.

Range anxiety really is a thing, according to a neighbor who drives a Fiat 500e.

I think I can make that adjustment.




Real Life Review: 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS

Used car buyers looking for a roomy people mover could do far worse than the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe

Being without my own car has its perks. I get a chance to borrow and drive various cars from time to time. I had a couple of appointments in the next town and so I scored a neighbor’s 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe. He bought it two years ago from a seller on Craigslist and  he loves it. I can see why.

Hyundai’s popular workhorse

I had to do some serious highway driving, and the 185hp V6 handled it well. Passing and merging were hassle-free.  I was cruising through a major speed trap on the main highway at one point and was horrified to discover I was going 15 mph over the speed limit. The Santa Fe doth protest not nearly enough. I had no idea I was going that fast til I checked the speedometer.

While the Santa Fe has taken no vows of silence by any stretch, the engine gave no indication we were humming along at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone.

The four-speed automatic shifted smoothly for the most part, save for a rough shift out of first. Mind you, this car has over 100,000 miles on it, so all was forgiven.

Like others in its segment, the 2007 Santa Fe has plenty of cargo room: 34 cubic feet with the seats up, and 78.2 w/the rear seats folded down. This is the perfect hauler for a growing family that doesn’t want a minivan or full-size SUV.

Front and rear legroom was more than generous. Same goes for headroom.  The interior cabin is spacious, with a well-organized center stack. I noticed I could adjust the A/C with my eyes still on the road, a big plus in this land of distracted drivers.

Well-executed interior with space to spare

Since this was a 2007 model, it didn’t have the full tech suite that newer cars have, and for that I was grateful. The controls were clearly labeled, within easy reach, and easy to use. No guesswork. Same went for the cruise control. The aftermarket radio/CD/MP3 player left much to be desired, but the car’s owner swore it was easy to use after a steep learning curve.

This model came equipped with cloth interior. My one complaint about the interior: too much plastic.

Like most SUVs, there is plenty of cup holder space, and a generous center storage unit for change and other goodies.

I was disappointed in the mushy handling.  While it scored a 4/5 stars for body roll safety, the Santa Fe felt much less restrained. This SUV felt a little too tippy for my taste. It didn’t feel firm or well-composed.

After all, it is nine years old with some miles on the odometer. However, a Toyota Highlander with similar miles and in the same model year was much more sure and composed when I drove it for comparison.

Family hauling at a bargain price

That being said, if you’re in the market for a used mid-size SUV, you could do far worse than the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe. The Santa Fe has plenty of cargo space, generous head and legroom, and plenty of compartments and cup holders.

The 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe is the perfect car for a growing family on a budget that needs a roomy car that will run strong and look good while doing so. Prices in the metropolitan Southern California area range from the mid-$7000s to $8500.00, depending on condition and trim line.

Available trim lines: GLS, SE, Limited

Model tested: GLS

Miles: 104,400

Drivetrain: Front wheel drive

Seating: Seats 5 comfortably. Third-row seating available on higher trim lines.

Engine/transmission: 2.7l V6 with 4-speed automatic. Available 5-speed manual

MPG: 21/26

Safety: 5- star crash test rating from NHTSA, highest rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).