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I Hate Buying Cars

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been in the market for a new (used) car for a while… the old family car we had had been rear ended and was getting a little long in the tooth anyway, so getting something newer for my oldest to drive was the first project. After that I started looking for something for my youngest who will be 16 soon, and now we are looking for a replacement for my oldest due to an accident. So, it is not an exaggeration to say I’ve been at least casually looking at used cars for a few years.

Looking can be fun and a huge time sink, but the actual buying process is miserable. I can usually tell how much I’m going to hate the dealer in the first 2 minutes after a salesperson starts talking to me. Part of the problem is my personality – I hate negotiating, and I really really hate lack of transparency. A few gems that have happened to me:

  • A dealer added $1-2k to the advertised price of the car because “they installed an anti theft system on all of their used cars.” I’m sure the actual system was cheap crap but they used it to inflate their initial position in the bargaining process. I walked out.
  • A salesperson told me the price of the car wasn’t negotiable. I told them I thought it was too high based on KBB and got up to leave. The salesperson asked why I wasn’t even “going to give him a number?” So, apparently it may have been negotiable, and he was fine just lying to my face. I walked out.
  • Another dealer I asked for the “best price” he could give me. He wrote down an offer, I said no. He took his paper back and tore it up and asked me to give him a number. I walked out, went home, emailed another dealer and asked for their best price, agreed to it and bought the same vehicle from them the next day.
  • In one case for a car I actually bought they tried to add $1500 or something for a “protection package” which I assume meant they waxed the outside and put some fabric protector on the seats. I told the salesperson I wouldn’t pay for it, and they agreed. I bet they didn’t succeed in sales, but I appreciated it at the time.

I could go on. I kind of appreciate the dealers that have adopted no haggle pricing – “here is what it costs, take it or leave it.” You MIGHT be able to get a better deal elsewhere, but knowing what you are in for and not walking out mad even if you buy the car is worth something. FWIW I have had ok buying experiences at Heuberger Subaru, Bob Penkhus Mazda, and Larry H Miller Toyota (none of these dealers provided anything in exchange for a mention here). In all cases the negotiation process was swift (or unnecessary because the price was reasonable out of the gate) and I didn’t feel like I needed a shower afterwards.

Addendum: here are all the vehicles I’ve owned/purchased over the years

  • 1987 Toyota Tercel 2-Door (my parents gave me this one, I didn’t buy it). Gutless basic transportation, but reliable. Sold when I graduated college, complete with dented hood and permanent deer blood stains from a run-in with Bambi.
  • 1996 Chevy S-10 2WD Extended Cab. Having a truck seemed like a good idea, until it didn’t. Only kept it 2 years. It had the 4 cylinder engine. Lesson: if you want a truck, buy a truck.
  • 1997 (?) Yamaha Seca II motorcycle. 600cc seemed sufficient, until it didn’t. Upsized after roughly a year of riding. Make sure you take the motorcycle safety foundation course if you buy anything with two wheels.
  • 1996 VW GTI VR6. Super fun to drive… at sea level. A few reliability issues, and premature paint fade.
  • 1998 (?) Suzuki Bandit 1200 motorcycle. 1200cc was a lot. Hard to keep the front end on the ground under hard acceleration.
  • 1996 Toyota Corolla 4 door. Gutless basic transportation (at least it had a radio and A/C), but reliable. Inherited from my wife when we had our second baby and we bought her something new (and sold my GTI. Sniff.).
  • 2006 Mazda5. Mostly my wife’s car. A true “mini” van and was enormously practical for us. Also the worst snow car I’ve ever owned.
  • 2007 Subaru Outback. Few complaints – great Colorado car. Maintenance was more than I expected.
  • 2018 Toyota 4Runner. My current ride. See my other post. It’s great.
  • 2019 Honda CR-V. My wife’s current ride. Love it – improbably roomy interior and lots of safety features for the $.
  • 2008 Suzuki SX4. Recently purchased as a commuter for offspring. Not fast, but still weirdly fun to drive. Also surprisingly capable with part time AWD and locking center diff.

2 thoughts on “I Hate Buying Cars”

  1. I have the same feelings about having to talk to dealers, I hate to negotiate. I can’t understand how their business model survives in a world where so much data is available to consumers. I am a huge fan of my current car, 2017 Mazda 3 hatchback, economical to own, relatively cheap to purchase at the time, and as fun to drive as a car with only 155 horsepower could be expected to be. Not sure how it would fare in Colorado though.

    1. Our Mazda 5 was based on the same platform as that generation Mazda 3. Overall it was a great car except when it snowed, but then again a decent set of snow tires might have fixed that problem. It was definitely pretty cheap to own. I think the only reason we didn’t buy another Mazda for Beaty was the back seat of a CX-5 was a little small compared to the CR-V.

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