Buying a Car

January 23rd, 2009 by Potato

A friend from work has decided to buy a car, and since it’s a big purchase and one I haven’t ever made all on my own before, I decided to shoot her a little interview to see what’s going through her mind as she makes the decision:

So, here it is in mid-January 2009 and you are, if I’m up-to-date, at the point where you’re certain you’re going to get a car, and a new one at that, but are still deciding on the make/model, etc.

What made you decide you wanted a car?

It was kind of spontaneous: my parents just said we should go car shopping while I was back in Ottawa. I never thought about it before that. Plus now I can afford it, once I looked at it from the point of view of getting a car I realized I do have the savings to afford one; I’m graduating soon, too, so it should get easier to afford even if it’s a little painful in the short-term. Also, surprise!, I already bought a Matrix! I haven’t picked it up yet, but it’s ordered and done.

Why now? You have, after all, gotten along through most of your PhD without one, why not put it off a few more months until you’re done?

The car will move with me; I can afford it now, and am near the end. I could get more (leather interior, etc) if I waited until I had a “real job”, but I don’t really need that stuff anyway.

What are you looking for in a car? Is it looks, feel, features, price?

Something to take me places with air conditioning. Something comfortable and safe.

What cars have you looked at so far? What was it that struck you most about each model (whether good or bad)?

— Yaris: noisy, unsafe feeling, small… it felt like a toy. It would be find as a second car in the city, but I wouldn’t want it as my only car

— Fit: liked it a lot better, lots of storage, but it was still pretty small.

— Civic: Looking for a hatchback, and the Civic didn’t have one. Other than that liked the civic with 4-doors (hated the 2-door).

— Matrix: Was a hatchback, was larger and felt safer. I liked the feel of it, it felt comfortable to drive, I could picture myself in the car.

At one point, you were considering a mid-sized car such as the Toyota Matrix. At that point I put forth the argument (backed by several spreadsheets) that once you were up to that point, a Prius would make a lot of sense from a financial as well as ecological, larger-backseat, and pure awesomeness standpoint (not only can you sneak up on people, you can also power your house in an ice storm). However, you have not been swayed by my logic yet. Why is that? What concerns linger?

The up-front cost was higher, and I just didn’t have the extra money now. Buying a car is a gamble, and your analysis was looking at gas prices staying the same or going up, what if they go down? Plus I don’t plan on keeping my car for 10 years, so who knows what might happen to the resale value (I know you say that right now the hybrid premium can be passed on in resale, but who knows?). Also I’m not 100% convinced about the long-term reliability. I know you told me about how long it’s supposed to last and the current failure rate and all, but who knows, maybe after 8 years that suddenly takes a dive?
Your spreadsheets didn’t convince me.

:P To quote Jonathan Chevreau, did you read them?

So how long do you plan on keeping your car?

I don’t make long-term plans, I have no idea. Less than 10 years.

If you don’t want to commit to a car for a long-term, why not lease?

I don’t like the idea of having to keep the car to their terms, stick to mileage limits. I can do whatever the hell I want with it.

I know you’ve talked to a few people about this decision, what sorts of advice have you been getting? Anything worth passing on?

–He did try to sell me the extended warranty, it was helpful to know that you can wait until the end of the 3-year factory warranty before you really have to make that decision.
–The recommendation to check out the APA was helpful (just dropping their name helped even though I didn’t sign up).
–Advice about the repair costs of different brands from word-of-mouth helped me see that some of the American cars were not great bargains.
–Some maintenance tips from the guys.
–Financing vs. leasing issues were cleared up by some friends.

Aside from word-of-mouth, what resources have you found helpful?

Magazines; lemonaide at the library; websites for car reviews and feedback.

How are you planning on driving it? (That is, will it be for a daily commute in heavy traffic, or weekend jaunties on the highways and backroads, a combination? Do you have an estimate of how many kilometers per year you’ll rack up? (For reference, I drive just about 20 Mm/year, which is about the national average)

Occasionally on weekends, driving to Toronto and Guelph. No idea if I’ll commute to work when I graduate, but it’s a possibility.

Ok, so I see how not really knowing your driving profile would make filling out my hybrid spreadsheets hard :)

How are you planning on paying for it?

Purchase financing through the dealer (Toyota had promotional interest rates below what I could find at the banks). Large downpayment from my savings.

How are you planning on negotiating? Have you considered a pre-negotiating service such as the APA (

Negotiated by myself with the dealer. Did mention the APA even though I hadn’t done it, that helped bring it down. They had a $500 gas card promotion, which I had them apply to the car right away rather than risk misplacing the gas card. I walked away, telling them I was going to check out another dealer, and I really talked up the Honda Fit while I was negotiating for the Matrix. I came back a few days later after thinking about it; he did offer more when I said I was going to look at the Fit.

Have you got any insurance quotes yet? How did they vary by model and company?

Yes, I called around myself. The best rate was through my alumni association. I called every bank I’m associated with and did an internet search. It helped that I had a history of being an occasional driver on my parents’ car for years.

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Test drive. Get on the highway to see what it’s like with the big trucks blowing by you.

Ok, congrats on the car!

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