If there's a scale of adulthood somewhere, somewhere between "making your own doctor's appointments" and "bringing another human into the world" lies the exasperating process of buying and/or selling a car. As someone who doesn't have children, it's probably one of the experiences to date that most made me feel like an Adult Person Supposedly Having Her Stuff Together. It was miserable! But it did at least do that for me. Going into the process, pretty much everything I knew about cars had come from watching Top Gear. Unfortunately, Top Gear mostly features cars that are way out of my price range/cars that have British branding and I didn't know what their American equivalents were.
I knew I needed something reliable, efficient, ideally less than 10 years old, easily maneuverable, (the car I was selling, a 1997 Grand Mercury Marquis, was only the first of these items), and less than $8k. I knew I needed to get as much cash for the Marquis as possible. Here are the things I learned that helped:
- Do your homework. I determined how much the car I was selling was worth; how much in a down payment and monthly payments I could afford on a new car; researched which cars and brands are most reliable. I quickly determined Honda and Toyota are the most reliable car brands and used a Consumer Reports list of most reliable used cars in the $5-10k range as my guide. Living in SE Michigan and with several friends who work for the Big 3 auto makers I'd have loved to buy a domestic vehicle, but looking at the data, I couldn't justify it.
- Don't make rash decisions. It's okay to come up with an idea of what you're looking for or willing to put up with and pull the trigger, but walking into a car dealership with a malleable mind is bad idea. The salespeople know what they're doing, and if you're not firm up front, you could end up in a predicament that'll hurt you.
- The private market hosts the best bang for your buck. Dealerships exist to make money. The private seller probably wants to make money too, but they may be simply looking for the first reasonable offer that comes along. They may also be unaware of their car's value.
- Ask for help. Frankly, most of the people I asked -- my parents, friends, other family members -- weren't much help. But my grandpa came through with great advice and the Consumer Reports information, and reddit also hosts a wealth of information on buying a new or used car.
- Be judicious with your contact information. Dealerships will use it and abuse it. I'm still getting regular phone calls, texts, and emails from salespeople.
- Take a deep breath. You'll be okay. It's a tough process but you'll get through it. And it turns out they're doing a great job with technology on cars these days! It's been so exciting to discover. The other day my Prius beeped at me because my groceries were sitting in the passenger seat and it thought there was a person without a seatbelt sitting there. THAT IS PRETTY COOL.
Go yonder into adulthood, young padawan, and find some slick new wheels.