Here are car buying tips to embrace, mistakes to avoid, and how to save thousands on every car purchase. Plus, when do car repairs on an older car no longer make financial sense? How do car safety features affect your buying decision? Get MyWalletWisdom’s 10 best tips on car buying here.
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In this article we’ll share tips on car buying that could save you a fortune. These car buying tips – or secrets – are things car manufacturers hope you won’t discover. But you’ll do your wallet and bank accounts many favors by learning these car buying tips.
Too many people jeopardize their entire financial future by buying new cars when a pre-owned one could save them thousands. And that’s before you factor in the potential interest payments on an auto loan.
On top of that, there’s the savings interest or investment returns they could’ve realized with that car buying savings. Over a lifetime, this could amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
What’s more, an almost-new car you drive for a decade needn’t be a big worry or money suck if you buy smartly on the front end.
Here’s one of my favorite car stories from my own life…
We Lovingly Called This Car The “Green Machine…”
A long time ago, when my twins were toddlers, our old used car burned oil faster than gas. The writing was on the wall. It needed a new engine. Heck, we needed a new car. Or so we thought. Problem was, we were young, living on a single income, and had no money to spare. Even the repair cost of rebuilding the engine was more than we had in spare cash at the time. (This was long before we learned the wisdom of a rainy-day fund.)
We wrestled with the decision of next steps for a long time. We were dying to buy a new car. But we felt nervous about it. Coincidentally, right then the city we lived in added a bus route straight to my husband’s office. He could catch it three blocks from our house… a great interim solution. We hopped a ride to the grocery store with friends on weekends.
Here are some of the car buying tips — aka, secrets — we learned from this car buying experience and other car buying experiences.
Car Buying Secret #1: Make an Extreme Low-Ball Offer
One day a friend told us that his parents hated their car and were ditching it because it’d left them high and dry once. They were “quite done” with it. They were also about to move across the country. We asked him what his parents wanted for it. He said, “Make them an offer.”
So we did… the equivalent of $783 in today’s dollars. Seriously. For a car with under 60,000 miles on it. We already knew we could get about $375 from the salvage yard for our old car, making it about a $400 car after “trade-in.” We thought there was “no way” they’d accept our offer. But they did! It was truly a used car bargain…
During the next five years, we drove that “despised” used car all over the country – much to our friend’s parents’ amazement and chagrin. We put 65,000 more miles on it. We had a few car repairs… but not many. The new car we dreamt of would’ve cost a whopping 12 to 15 times what we paid. Before factoring in financing and other costs.
Call it luck if you want. Or call it a God thing. But one key thing to note… We didn’t rush to the dealer and sign on the dotted line, despite the inconvenience. We waited for the right opportunity.
Car Buying Secret #2: Ask Yourself — Is Your Car for Transportation or Prestige?
You might not call this a car buying tip. But the answer to this question will define all your car buying decisions at a basic level.
A car purchase is probably the second largest financial purchase you’ll ever make. It’s true that you can have anything you want but not everything you want… especially not all at once. Where does the new car versus used car decision fit into your set of values? Ultimately you need to decide if a new car is worth the extra costs, especially if you’re trying to achieve other financial goals at the same time. And even more so, if you’re talking about buying your car with an auto loan.
Car Buying Secret #3: Cash vs. Finance
Sentier Research found that typical income for an American household in December 2019 was $65,666. Meanwhile Kelley Blue Book (KBB) reported that the average cost of a new car in January 2020 was an eye-popping $37,851. That’s nearly 58% of the typical annual salary. Without factoring in financing!
Sure, a car is important, but is it important enough to be in debt for years to come, and rob yourself the opportunity to gain financial freedom in the near (or even far) future? Hyundai and Kia prices rose by an astounding 12% from January 2019 to January 2020. Be a gear-head if that’s your thing and you’re debt free, but think twice before leveraging your entire future for it if you’re not.
Car Buying Secret #4: Find Out: Will Car Repairs Really Kill You?
This is a major point of contention for many who hesitate to consider used vehicles. Sure, there can be a point at which repairs start eating away at your cash, but it’s not as ridiculous as most people fear. It’s one of the key tips on car buying — and it surprises quite a few people.
Forty years ago, a car with 120,000 miles was headed for the salvage yard. Today it’s not unusual to keep modern cars running for 200,000 or more miles.
Let’s say your car hummed along for the past two years. Then this month you got hit with a $785 repair bill. $785 is a lot of money. But let’s put that into perspective…
Today the average monthly car payment for a new vehicle is $550 ($6,600 per year), according to LendingTree.com. Meaning your “huge” repair bill amounted to less than two months of car payments. If you paid cash for the car, your $785 bill isn’t bad. Twenty-four months of no payments (saving you $13,200), then repairs that cost less than two months of payments. Meanwhile if you’ve stashed that non-car-payment away toward your next vehicle, you’ve set yourself up to pay cash the next time around too.
Car Buying Secret #5: How Many Car Repairs Are Too Many?
Here’s another car buying tip…
Don’t be daunted by one big repair bill a year. It’s still far cheaper than a new car with auto financing. Sure, you get the warranty and lower repair costs with a new car, but you also take a major depreciation hit the moment you drive it off the lot. Run the numbers. Depreciation exceeds repair costs, especially in the first several years of car ownership.
When you buy a 2- to 5-year old car, someone else takes the depreciation hit… Which saves you a bundle, because you enter the scene just beyond the steepest part of the depreciation curve. Depreciation removes nearly half the value of a vehicle after just five years. According to data from RepairPal.com, the average 5-year-old car costs its owner just $350 a year in repairs. By the time the car is 10 years old, average repair costs are still under $600 per year – with the exception of European luxury cars.
My son owned a BMW for a few years. He’d attest that though it was fun to drive, the cost of repairs on his BMW was like a king’s ransom. The average BMW costs a whopping $1,300 to keep running at the 10-year point, more than double average repair costs for a 10-year-old car. Mercedes-Benz are even higher, about $1,500 a year. Older Minis ring up more than $1,000 a year.
Your Best Bet…
The best way to buy a used car is to buy the oldest modern car you can find that’s in decent condition. Skip expensive-to-repair European luxury brands. Today’s cars are built to last much longer than they were when you were a baby. Repair costs may seem high, but you may discover your repairs are still just a tiny fraction of what a new car will.
Car Buying Secret #6: Even When It’s Not All About the Money…
Sometimes the decision isn’t solely about money. You may start shopping for another car not to stop the repair bills per se, but to lower the risk of not making it to work or daycare on time. Or from personal safety concerns. Seems reasonable.
But the fact is, modern cars are extremely reliable, even as they age. They’re so reliable that they can be expected to stay trouble-free for years at a time. A 5-year-old car might only encounter a new problem every three years, according to a US News and World Report story citing compiled data from KBB.com, RepairPal.com, and TrueDelta.com.
Even 10-year-old cars average less than one problem per year that requires a repair. And on average, it only happens every 18 to 20 months. What’s more, mobile car repair services are becoming more popular in larger cities, sparing you the hassle of missing work or daycare pickup times over car repairs.
It should be noted that we’re not talking about routine maintenance here… things that need to be done at regular intervals like changing the oil and buying new tires. We’re talking about major problems beyond anticipated routine maintenance.
Whenever I buy a car (which isn’t often because I generally hate the process) I fastidiously study the reliability of the vehicle(s) I’m considering. Some cars have astoundingly horrible maintenance costs. I hate the inconvenience of repairs – and the costs. So to my mind it makes sense to choose models with as few maintenance headaches as possible.
Despite my penchant for loathing repairs, I’ve only bought one new car in my life. And just weeks later, I saw a one-year-old preowned vehicle of the same model that would’ve saved us $3,000 or $4,000. I about kicked myself for buying new when I saw that.
Car Buy Secret #7: Then There Are the Car Safety Features
Older cars can be a great bargain. Great basic transportation. Still, they may lack some of the safety systems that the newest cars offer – such as backup cameras, blind spot monitors, lane departure warnings, and more. If you want the best selection of cars with some of the newer safety features, consider a 2012 or later car model.
https://okvoterportal.okelections.usPost-2012 vehicles often offer features like electronic stability control, side air bags, blind-spot monitoring, and sometimes even backup cameras. (Certain pre-2012 cars may offer some of those features too.) Repairs average just $350 a year, according to a U.S. News article.
Of course, at some point the law of diminishing returns will set in. If your annual repairs average more than the car’s KBB value, it’s probably time to upgrade your car.
Car Buying Secret #8: Finding a Used Car Bargain
If you want a used car bargain, get as old a car as possible, as long as it’s still in good condition and the previous owner can show they provided diligent care. You’ll never beat that kind of used car bargain, versus buying new or even nearly new. If you’re in debt, find basic transportation you can buy for cash till you pay off your debt and stash some cash.
Be sure to check the CarFax report beforehand. Did you know CarFax will give you all the data on the car you’re considering buying? Has it been in accidents? How many owners were there before you? Plus any other dirt you’d want to know before plunking down your hard-earned money. I consider it an indispensable source of information on any vehicle I consider buying. You want an accident-free car with preferably just one previous owner.
I wouldn’t buy a pre-owned car without checking out CarFax, and neither should you. Carfax has helped make me a savvier car shopper – whether buying a used car at a dealership or through a private party. When buying from a dealership, ask them to give you the Carfax… don’t buy it yourself.
Car Buying Secret #9: Drive Your New Car Into the Ground
The best way to make financial sense when buying a new car is to drive it into the ground. In other words, since you took the financial hit of depreciation early on, keep driving it into its geriatric years to compensate for that early hit.
Besides the financial benefit you get from driving it “forever,” you also get the peace of mind of knowing how it operates, what its problems and idiosyncrasies are, and what its repair record is.
We drove our only brand-new vehicle till it had 200,000 miles on it, and then sold it for $1,700. At that point, we’d owned it for 12 years. So despite buying it new we kept it long enough to make it pay for itself.
Car Buying Secret #10: If You Finance Your Car, Pay It Off as Fast as Possible
This is a widely ignored car buying tip. The folks that make money on your interest payments have done a slick job of suckering you into their “easy payment plans.” Don’t be conned.
Cars are a depreciating item. They’re worth less every month. There’s certainly no joy in making payments for something that’s worth less than you paid for it… and continuing that process for years on end.
If you financed your car, do everything in your power to pay off your car early. Make sure all extra payments are applied against the outstanding principle.
We’ve only financed two cars in our entire adult life. Both times, we hustled to pay them off within one year. And were greatly relieved to be out from under the debt, both times. It’s freeing. The absolute best way to own a car is to own it free and clear.
Please don’t “mortgage your future” for transportation. People don’t balk at buying used homes, clothes, boats, RVs and more. Your everyday ride is no different. If you’re debt-free and your car is a high priority item for you, go for it. Otherwise, it’s just not worth going into debt for.