Need a car but don’t know where to start?

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A guide to buying a car.

Need a car but don’t know where to start?

Overwhelmed, not sure how to move forward? Let’s clear the air together.

You see, I’m in a neighborhood near you. Stuck. Lost. What price can I justify? What features should I prioritize? What size do I need?

This article will be part diary entry and part tips on how to organize your search. My hope is that by putting it all down on paper, I will gain clarity myself and in turn help others.

Every once in a while, the need for an automobile rises up on the priority list. For whatever reason, I have a very difficult time determining what kind of car I need. Over the past ten years, I have returned to this process about five times with breaks in between. Fortunately, I have relatives who have passed down old cars to us in between. In that time, I’ve gone from someone planning to start a family, to someone hauling stuff to festivals on business, to a kid almost out of a booster seat and out of business.

Here are the questions I might ask a person if they mention they need a car?

  • What is your budget?
  • Are you comfortable with a used car?
  • How many people are in your household?
  • Do you have to transport equipment for work, sports, children, etc.?
  • Do you make overnight trips?
  • Do you drive to work?
  • Do you prefer gas, hybrid or electric vehicles?
  • In reality, we may not have clear answers to the above questions. I certainly don’t.

    As a professional organizer, I taught clients to ask the question “Keep, sell, throw away, or donate” as they sorted through their belongings. They were overwhelmed at first, but then I showed them how to solve the problem.

    It all starts with “Discard.” Quickly go through and get rid of all the junk.

    The pile in front of you is now smaller!

    Now separate what’s left into two piles, “Keep” or “Get rid of”. If you are not sure, do not hesitate. Set it aside and move on to the next item. The smaller the pile gets, the more clarity you have for decision making. Next, go back to the problem items. Later, decide whether to sell or discard if you haven’t already.

    Why am I sharing my organization technique in the middle of an article about buying a car? It’s a good question.

    It’s time to apply it to your car buying decision.

    What answers are clear to you?

    For example, if you have a family of 6, a sedan is not right for you.

    Look at the questions above and mark the ones that you have a clear answer to.

    For me, it looks like the following.

    Passage 1: Eliminate the easy stuff.

    What do you know for sure that you can exclude from your search?

    Discard new cars over $50k, used cars over $30k, two-seaters, trucks.

    If you’re already targeting a specific manufacturer – GREAT! If not, discard the most obvious ones.

    Transition 2: Features.

    So, what features fall into one of these two categories.

    Must Have Characteristics that the car MUST have (comfortable seating and reach for my height, safety, good acceleration, thoughtful storage space.

    Preference Characteristics you would really like to have if it fits in the budget. (trunk volume – height/depth, quieter and less bumpy ride, hybrid/good mileage).

    Adequate space for car seats is more important to some, and ease of entry for seniors is more important to others.

    Note: You’ll need to find out later if these additional features are available on cars in your budget.

    Walkthrough 3: Read reviews and/or test drive cars to eliminate more cars from your list.

    Ask your friends.

    I asked my Facebook friends about their recent car purchases. This step not only helped me narrow down my search, but it also allowed me to learn about the problems they might encounter.

    Car Purchase Question:

    If you bought a 2017-2020 model year car, what do you dislike about it and what year, make and model is it? Since it’s not easy to test drive cars right now, I’m reaching out to you for insider information. Thank you!

    Test Drive.

    Test Drive Exit 1: I visited two companies I’m not very familiar with, but have heard good things about them from friends.

    Test drive the newest models? Be sure to ask how they differ from previous years’ models.

    Test drive the model that has the features that were MUST HAVE for you. (LX, EX, Touring, etc.).

    Exit 1: Mazda (CX-5, CX-9) and Subaru (Forester, Outback, Legacy).

    Exit 2: Toyota (Prius, Camry, Rav4).

    Exhausted, still confused about sizes, but was able to sift through a few models.

    Although my husband and I have very different builds, we both noticed discomfort while driving (center console under my elbow was too high and wide causing my shoulders to rise, seats were too firm and sometimes narrow or raised at the edge).

    Next ride: Honda.

    I have mixed feelings about Honda. I had a wonderful experience with my ’99 Accord EX-V6. It served me for 17 years, 185k miles, and hardly ever broke down. Over the last decade, with the advent of hybrids, the trunk volume has been greatly reduced and that put me off. Curiously, I visited our local dealership a few months ago and was treated so rudely that I decided to look at other manufacturers. I will be taking a test drive elsewhere!

    Reviews (written and video).

    I really like reviews that compare models that interest me.

    We all process information differently. It’s time to be clear on what model year/level and what features fit within your budget.

    For Subaru, safety features are standard on 2020 models. Only the lowest level model fits into my budget. The only alternative is to look for used cars that happen to have upgraded features.

    Create a spreadsheet.

    There are times when I memorize details about one car and then when I research others, the details about the first one get blurred. Record also how you feel in the vehicle.

    Find resources online for pricing.

    Can you find a model you like and the features you need within your budget?

    For new cars, this information is usually available on the manufacturer’s website.

    For used cars, check sites like Edmunds and KBB.

    Finding the perfect car.

    Sometimes your local dealership isn’t the best place to go. Do a little research to identify reputable dealerships where you can get the best deals. To find out what’s in stock at a particular location, you can go to the manufacturer’s website or contact the dealership directly. It is best to stay in-state so that the car is ready to meet your state’s emission standards. If the sales tax in your area is very high, consider going to a neighboring region with lower rates.

    Choosing a dealership.

    What incentives do they offer?

    Ask about the warranty?

    Do they offer any long-term maintenance on your car purchase?

    Ask about financing. During Covid-19, many manufacturers offered interest-free financing for 5 years.

    Writing helped me clearly articulate my process and express my Must-Have’s. I hope my approach helps you gain clarity as well. I still want more clarity on what year, make and model will deliver these features within my budget. Do you have a favorite site that would help me understand this question? Share it in the comments!

    Buying a car: Unique factors influence our decision. Don’t forget to test drive a car and experience it for yourself.

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