Author Topic: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!  (Read 2365 times)

mustachemountain

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car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« on: December 26, 2017, 08:05:00 AM »
I've been car free for a looong time. (my last "car" was a 1975 ford econoline van that was already old when i lived in it for six months while meandering cross country c.1990).

life circumstances have changed and i find myself in need of an enclosed vehicle, at least for the winter months. or maybe i should say, emphatically ONLY for the winter months.  (ever try renovating an extreme fixer upper, in the woods, in the winter, with a tropical-born wife, with no car? that's why)

so i go to Craigslist and look at used cars, and i have no clue because for least 2 decades my main interest in cars had been to not get run over by them. they all look the same to me. i have no idea how much they cost, how much a used car should cost, and basically any other criteria for looking. additionally, some listings give the Vin, the title status, and some identifier that you can look up to see if a car has been crashed or not... every one of these is a revelation to me, and I'm worried about what else i don't know about buying a car that could bite me in the arse.

back in the day, i personally pulled the engines in my old VW bug. but today's cars, I've no clue what to examine to determine their roadworthiness.

so: what advice would you give to a space alien who wanted to buy a car?

and: I've considered renting a car for the month i really need it, $650, unlimited miles, i don't have to pay insurance, title transfer or sales taxes, no maintenence to worry about, and no wasted time car shopping (without a car in a rural area) and most of all no time wasted doing the vast amount of research i seem to need to do to even start shopping for said car. and then write off the $650 as stupid tax and i have 9 months to come up with a better solution for next winter.
thoughts??

mustachemountain

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2017, 09:52:30 AM »
thanks for the suggestion craiglepaige, but no thanks.
my interests in a car are 1) reliability 2) ability to haul stuff
a 50 yr old rust bucket fails miserably at both.


Carrie

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2017, 09:57:00 AM »
A used minivan may be a good option since you can haul a lot in those plus they're cheap to insure & easy to drive.  I like my Honda, but really any make would probably be fine.

mustachemountain

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2017, 10:23:03 AM »
maybe i need to clarify what advice i'm looking for
i'm not looking to buy a collectors car for $27,000 that i cant even use
i'm not even really looking for specific brands/types of cars
i'm looking for advice on how to shop for cars,
or even advice on where to look for advice on how to shop for cars
and advice on alternatives to buying a car since i only want one for the winter months.

i asked this forum because i'm frugal, unconventional, and on something of a path to early retirement. there are a great many people here who are far more knowledgeable about cars and the market for cars than i am and are able to think outside the box and offer unconventional advice (ie, not "just lease one dude!") that i might get at a "car buying" webforum.

thanks in advance for your time!

neo von retorch

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2017, 10:33:13 AM »
Tools to use to gather information:

+ truedelta.com (reliability)
+ craigslist.org (used car pricing - regional)
+ cars.com (high volume used car pricing)

In the time you have to come up with a plan, you can compare vehicle prices for a specific model based on age and mileage. You'll see most cars more than 5 years old won't have massive variance in price. In other words, you could buy it, drive it for a few months, sell it for nearly the same price, and just be out insurance and transaction costs. It almost doesn't matter which car you buy, but since you'll be putting gas in it, and you want it to be practical, get a 4-cylinder hatchback. If it's built in the last 15 years, and it's still running with 100-180K miles on it, it's probably reliable enough to get you through a few months of driving. Like almost certainly. Car problems happen, but they aren't wildly pervasive.

Carrie

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2017, 12:16:09 PM »
Gotcha.
I would look through cars.com.  I like the idea of buying very used, using for the months you need it, then selling for roughly the same price, as pp said.

If you don't need it for daily commuting then reliability and low miles don't matter as much. It sounds like you just need to determine your budget then start shopping. When you've found something that appeals, take it to a mechanic for a look before sealing the deal.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2017, 12:43:19 PM by Carrie »

lbmustache

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #6 on: December 26, 2017, 12:16:25 PM »


Most of the stuff is relatively the same. Working brakes, no check engine light, oil leaking, rust etc.

A price range would help - for this purpose I am going to go with <$10k.

A ~$10k car should be in good condition and not falling apart unless it is a newer model year or an SUV (which tend to command high resale prices).

Definitely want the VIN to be able to pull a Carfax report. A Carfax report can tell you if a car was in an accident or not, amongst other things. An accident itself is not a deal breaker, because AFAIK Carfax does not distinguish between a fender bender that was reported to insurance vs a larger repair. However, if it is a major repair the car may receive a salvage title. I would personally avoid salvage title vehicles and you can google to see the specifics of what a salvage title entails.

HOWEVER, some accidents are not reported to Carfax because either insurance didn't do it, or the person didn't report the accident to the insurance company. So always good to have a trusted mechanic to check it out.

Where do you live? Are there options like ZipCar, Turo, etc.? (These are all car rental alternatives to the standard Enterprise, etc.)

Edmunds, truedelta, etc. will have info. You can literally google "used car tips" "used car buying guide" "what to look for when..." and you will get pertinent results.

Clean Shaven

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2017, 12:17:37 PM »
Do you have a local friend who is "that car guy" who can help you in person?

gaja

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2017, 01:42:18 PM »
What distance are you driving, how often, and how many/much are you hauling?

mustachemountain

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2017, 05:55:53 AM »
thanks for the awesome information!
i fear i have become one of those old geezers who are completely out of touch with the modern world in terms of prices and consumer expectations. thanks to everyone for helping to drag me into the future!

to fill out the picture a little more: i live in the city and have 2 houses in the country. the house is both a vital refuge from the city i once loved but now hate; and a failing money pit real estate investment. both, at the same time! i need to make one house rentable- its currently a money leak that is consuming 10+% of my post tax income. facepunch! i need to both make things easier and to work more efficiently or i'll be eternally miserable and never get out of this hole.

i go up there on the bus and then get around locally by bicycle. i dont mind hooking up my bike trailer and riding 25 mi round trip to the home improvement store to pick up 100# of material home during the pleasant months, but in the freezing cold and ice and snow? i think i'm also getting too old to put myself through that. previous years i've closed up the house and taken 3 months early retirement, riding my bicycle in warmer and cheaper countries. during those bouts i met a lovely woman who agreed to leave her life and family and lovely warm country to come live in the usa with me. she participates in my frugal car-free life and ride bikes with me in the woods in the summer to go grocery shopping (i'm probably the luckiest man alive!). but now when we walk 1km from the house out to the road where the bus stops and she's shivering in the freezing wind and we wait 45 minutes because the bus is late, i have to say that i'm really over this lifestyle! but i feel doubly bad because i brought her here from her warm sunny country to this miserable cold place and i should be taking better care of her than this.

so yeah, i'm looking to buy a car to drive to town where there is a heated waiting room for the bus. facepunch! and i guess to buy beer and groceries or like that one nail or whatever that i need in order to finish the house project i'm working on. facepunch again! i'm in a bit in sticker shock- $10000 for a 5+ year old car with 100000+ miles? wow. i didnt know that cars with over 100000 miles even had resale value, those were $300 "drive it to the junkyard cars" 30 years ago. i guess i was hoping for some magic mustachian work-around for the car, but what it really seems like i need is better, more strategic planning.

no matter what i do this winter i'm going to have to pay an awful lot of stupid tax.

sorry for the tl;dr, and thanks everyone for your insights

gaja

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2017, 06:47:42 AM »
Have you looked at electric cars? They might cost a bit more upfront, but are really cheap to run and maintain. Our car related costs in 2017 were $1830, and that includes $250 in hospital related parking fees.

If the maximum distance you need it for is 25 miles, you should be able to find some old 1gen Nissan leaf with a slightly degraded battery, for a very nice price.

mustachemountain

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #11 on: December 27, 2017, 08:52:43 AM »
i love the idea of an electric car, especially if i had solar panels.
but the capital outlay, for apparently any car, far exceeds my savings "pad" (insurance alone will be ~$2000/yr in my EHCOL area, from a casual polling of acquaintances), and i'm not drawing on emergency funds for a non-emergency expense. (just because i didnt budget for it doesn't make it an emergency!)
next year, i can plan ahead and allocate money for a 3-4 month car; this year i'll have to rent for a few weeks and possibly borrow my parents car for a few weeks (i'm almost a senior citizen myself and i'm still sponging off my parents...facepunch!!)

Rural

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2017, 05:21:35 PM »
You can get a good sense of regional fair prices from Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com). I think I remember using them for car shopping 30 years ago, though at the time it was an actual book.


Frankly, though, I don't think the $650 car rental idea is a bad one for you. Don't think of it as a stupid tax; think of it as buying yourself ~9 months to get back up to speed on this car thing. And you'r actually pretty likely to save close to $650 in insurance costs you'd have to pay if you owned for those 9 months.


ETA: cars now commonly go close to 200K miles, and there are some models that often go twice that or more, so that's a help. I would not hesitate to buy something with 150K (just did, in fact, though it was a diesel, which should last longer). I paid $5500, but I'm in a very LCOL area. You might consider a trip next fall to buy a car from somewhere warm and cheap to live, in fact. Fly or bus down, both shop and vacation while you're there, drive back.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2017, 05:26:54 PM by Rural »

Clean Shaven

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2017, 09:46:28 AM »
Do you have a local friend who is "that car guy" who can help you in person?
So, how about this?

ChpBstrd

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2017, 10:06:28 AM »
I also think the $650 rental may be your cheapest realistic option. It appears to meet all your minimum needs. Plus it won't sit around depreciating with the gas going stale 9 months out of the year. Nor will it tempt you to give up the exercise routine that keeps you in shape. There's nothing "stupid" about these benefits.

You MIGHT get out for less by car flipping - buying and selling cheap cars for a short period of time for zero net loss. However, there are risks to this approach that you might be unprepared to deal with, such as when the MAS gets dirty or the O2 sensor throws a code. You could remedy your lack of knowledge on these subjects at the library (e.g. Clymer repair manuals). However, you have some remodelling to do before you take up your next hobby as a mechanic and car flipper. The rental enables you to focus on the rapid resolution of your money pit problem.

If you do want to buy, check out the edmunds.com TCO (true cost of ownership) calculator. Manually subtract the financing costs if you are paying cash. A few-years-old economy car will cost ~$5,500/year in most locales. For bigger cars, trucks, or SUVs, costs escalate quickly. They can't calculate the costs beyond some age range (I forget), presumably because it gets very variable. So these are only anchor points to consider the TCO of the beaters you are looking for.

Spoiler: The rental will win.

ysette9

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #15 on: December 28, 2017, 11:34:16 AM »
If you end up buying and want to know how to do it, I recommend first by starting your research j with Consumer Reports. You can read reviews o what the cars were like when new and look up reliability ratings for almost every used car out there. That should help you narrow down what to look for. Then go to Craigslist or cars.com or whatever your local area uses to sell and see what is available. Once you have a contender, find a local mechanic and ask him/her to do a prepurchase safety inspection. This should cost you $100-200 or so and will have all of the major systems inspected to let you know if there are any red flags. Then you can test drive and see what you think.

When I was buying my current car I got saved from buying a heap of upcoming problems by shelling out for a prepurchase check at a mechanic. The car I did get checked out beautifully so I felt confident buying it.

affordablehousing

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #16 on: December 28, 2017, 12:32:29 PM »
Just buy a car and don't overthink it, or don't. Get a used Honda or Toyota on Craigslist, and if some unusual long tail issue comes up, resell the car to someone else. There's always someone looking for a project combing Craigslist. Or, why stress the $650 if you're buying materials at a home center? I would assume you'd be pulling materials out of dumpsters. Renting seems a pretty low stress way to go. I don't think car buying has really gotten more difficult than you remember, you just aren't sure you want/need a car. If you want/need a car, google it, then try to find the best price/condition you can find. You can always have a mechanic look it over before you pull the trigger with a craigslist buy. A car isn't a sunk cost, you're just renting it, even if you buy it, paying depreciation and maintenance, until you sell it to the next guy. Good luck.

mustachemountain

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2017, 09:02:19 AM »
thanks to everyone for the wealth of advice and resources.
clearly, i haven't budgeted for a car this year and it's a bit too big an outlay from "petty cash", especially this time of year when I'm not working for money as much as usual.

the explosion of Uber/lyfy/via/et al have made bicycling in my city miserable and unnecessarily dangerous. it kinda never occurred to me i could have anything other than an adversarial relationship with them, but they are available up here and in terms of total cost seem the cheapest way to go, given my needs. cost per ride is much higher but i foresee a rental car getting unused for days at a time (while I'm working in the city). then I'll borrow my parent's car in late Jan for a couple weeks, and then in Feb the family is off to the warmer and cheaper country for 3 weeks. and then i start budgeting for next winter.

it is absolutely true that i do *not* need another project. the car needs to work when i need it, and not be an issue when I'm not using it. maybe when I've fixed and flipped the 27 bicycle carcasses i have here I'll be ready to become a car flipper too, but right now, no.

there *is* a local car guy, i hadn't thought of him until i ran into him yesterday at the grocery store (i was out on my bike/local buses paying my property tax before year end in 10f weather- not doing that again), he gave me a ride home in his shiny pickup that cost him under $5000.
hey, can you find me one?!?

thank again everyone!

mustachemountain

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Re: car shopping for the first time in 3 decades: help!
« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2017, 09:03:19 AM »
thanks to everyone for the wealth of advice and resources.
clearly, i haven't budgeted for a car this year and it's a bit too big an outlay from "petty cash", especially this time of year when I'm not working for money as much as usual.

the explosion of Uber/lyfy/via/et al have made bicycling in my city miserable and unnecessarily dangerous. it kinda never occurred to me i could have anything other than an adversarial relationship with them, but they are available up here and in terms of total cost seem the cheapest way to go, given my needs. cost per ride is much higher but i foresee a rental car getting unused for days at a time (while I'm working in the city). then I'll borrow my parent's car in late Jan for a couple weeks, and then in Feb the family is off to the warmer and cheaper country for 3 weeks. and then i start budgeting for next winter.

it is absolutely true that i do *not* need another project. the car needs to work when i need it, and not be an issue when I'm not using it. maybe when I've fixed and flipped the 27 bicycle carcasses i have here I'll be ready to become a car flipper too, but right now, no.

there *is* a local car guy, i hadn't thought of him until i ran into him yesterday at the grocery store (i was out on my bike/local buses paying my property tax before year end in 10f weather- not doing that again), he gave me a ride home in his shiny pickup that cost him under $5000.
hey, can you find me one?!?

thank again everyone!