I had hoped to make it until next summer but it was not to be. In 10/2011, my Ford Explorer would have been 10 years old and likely had 155,000 miles. That was my goal for that vehicle.
Last summer I spent about $3000 in repairs. That was not totally unexpected. But then this year the transmission went on me. That was another $2000 (for a used transmission no less.) I was seriously thinking of moving up the schedule by this point and even had selected my favorite models. Then I had a differential fluid leak and decided the time is now.
guess what problem my car had this year? (from carcomplaints.com)
The car I liked the best this time is the Subaru Outback. OK, the Outback is no Audi TT but then my surfboard is not going to fit in a TT. The Outback is named after the desert but popular in the mountains which is cognitive dissonance that I can enjoy! My favorite features of the Outback include comfortable seats, the amount of interior space, the fuel economy and the record of reliability. My least favorites are dropping from a V8 to a 4 cylinder and the loss of a keypad entry (handy when exercising). BTW it comes in red which any Buckeye could appreciate.
What follows are my stories of car shopping in the internet age.
A red Outback that is not mine
I had an old-school dialog open with one local dealer but I wasn't loving the deals I was getting there. So I decided to try the costco auto program. I know several people who've done really well with that. Basically, you spec out the car you want, Costco hooks you up with a dealer who offers a "costco price" which is likely lower than you could negotiate. With that in hand you head to the dealership where you are whisked into a back room and the deal closes quickly. Well it didn't work that way for me.
I got a call and an email from the dealership in El Cajon stating they had the car I wanted on the lot and please call and come in. I called and confirmed we were ready to get it done with an in-stock vehicle and drove down. About the first thing out of her mouth when we arrived was, umm, this car has the Navigation system ($1100 extra that I didn't ask for). I said ok, we'll look. I liked the Nav system but it's pretty expensive.
After some curious figures floating around, we came to realize the car had about $5000 in options that we did not want. I think she was hoping we were clueless and believed the "Costco price" would be the best one. We assured her she was off base. She then tried to sell us another car that was closer but still had $600 in purely fluff options that we didn't want. Even without that junk, her "costco price" ($500 over invoice) was nothing special. So we left, two hours down the drain. We did make the trip fruitful, but that will be a future blog post.
One other place I did research was truecar.com. It works a lot like Costco's program but is free to everyone. If you are a consumer reports member, the pricing engine there is the exact same one. That site gave me a really great quote from there but I was wondering if there was a catch. Plus the dealership giving the quote was in Bakersfield, 200 miles away. After my bad experiences locally I decided to give them a call.
And it was beautiful. The sales guy was very upfront and explained how the process would work clearly. The quote was $535 under invoice ($430 over dealer cost). In other words $1000 better than my best local offer. And they would deliver the car to my door for free. I made the order today. (The car was ordered from the manufacturer today and I must wait about 8 weeks yet.) I can't say truecar will work as well for you. But I have loved it so far. Knock on wood, right?
Let's talk about used cars for a minute. I considered buying used even though the Outback was significantly smaller before 2010. Too small? I'm still not sure, I never tried to get my keyboard case in one. Used Subarus are not that plentiful. I guess in the cult of Subaru you keep your car for a long time. The best one I found was at Carmax. But upon running the numbers I found I would be on the wrong side of the depreciation curve with this model. (Email me if you don't know what I mean.) Basically, though it was cheaper than new, it wasn't nearly cheap enough considering it was not new. Also, it's not a foregone conclusion that a used car saves you money.
Are you thinking of getting a car soon? Aside from truecar, here are a couple of other articles you should use to prepare yourself. And feel free to ask me if you want to know more about the purchase or research phases.