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The New Car Hunt
in Blog, Personal Finance, Vehicles

O, Discordia!

It was a cold, icy January day. The wind was howling out of the west and I was just minding my own business driving my 2003 Monte Carlo and listening to NPR (sometimes I wonder if I am a 60 year-old man stuck in a 26 year-old body) as I slowed to enter the parking lot of my place of employment, when suddenly my engine died. I was able to maneuver it into the parking lot as it slowed and finally stopped. I was flabbergasted. I’d never had a major problem with my engine, and this was out of nowhere. Not a sign of trouble beforehand. Before spending a bunch of time contemplating what the potential problem could be, I tried turning the car on, and it kicked right back up! Running just as it had before, like it didn’t have an issue or care in the world. I continued to drive my car, and things were fine for about a month, when I’m driving home from work and the problem happens again! Like last time, I flip the ignition and she starts right back up, and the problem continue to floats at the back of my mind.

The problem happens 3 more times – and the “check engine light” clicked on – through the intervening months until the present. I had to take my car in for a Chevy recall and had them check what the feedback from the system would be to cause that check engine light. When I went to pick the vehicle up, the mechanic told me the check engine light was caused by leaks in the exhaust manifold. Consulting him and my gear-head father-in-law and brother-in-law, it would seem this could be the root cause of my engine randomly dying (and now it sounds something like a tiny motorcycle).

At this point, the trade-in value of my 2003 Monte Carlo, according to Kelley Blue Book, is $1409 on average. So, putting any expensive work into it really doesn’t make much sense. I’ve been driving Red Lightning for approximately six years now, and he has served me well, but the time has come for me to move on. So, this is how I started my journey looking for the new car!

The Criteria

The criteria I have created are as follows:

  • Less Than 100k Miles
    • Really, I want to find something with as low mileage as possible. The higher that odometer is, the greater the chance of encountering problems.
    • In addition, I am commuting approximately 40 miles a day and working about 238 days per year, this results in 9520 miles commuted/year. Let’s say I travel a total of 13,000/year, so an extra 3480 on top of my commute/year. Over ten years this would result in 130k miles traveled, so a car with fewer miles only makes sense.
  • At Least 30 mpg Highway
    • In light of the commute, good gas mileage is a must.
    • If I got 30 mpg highway and those 13k miles are traveled only on the highway, my gas bill would be around $1083/year, but knowing that won’t be the case, the higher mpg the better.
  • Low MSRP
    • I want a low MSRP of the car for a lower monthly payment (and I will detail why I am going to take a loan on the car in another post), and since we are saving up for a house down-payment, and trying to pay as much as possible on our student loans, this is crucial.

Onto the research!

Research

My first course of action when it comes to anything is doing the appropriate amount of research on the topic! Knowing how big of a financial decision purchasing a new car can be, I jumped in with both feet…and landed in a pond of piranhas. Unfortunately, I soon found out how big of a headache buying a new car – and trying to find the best deal possible – can be.

I started my search looking for what are typically touted as the most economic/reliable/all-around best vehicles. Through meticulous work, I narrowed it down to two competitors, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Fit. Both of these cars consistently rank in the top 5 cars in their class, according to U.S. News and World Reports, they have phenomenal gas mileage, are extremely reliable, comfortable, and more! Armed with this information, I started browsing the web to find my new car. I checked Craigslist, I googled for local auto-dealers, I checked eBay, you name it.

2009 Honda Fit

Das Fit!

About 4 days in, I was fuming in front of my computer screen. The results were lackluster to say the least.

2009 Toyota Prius

See how efficient that bad boy looks??

An Aside:

Being the FIREer that I am, I have studied under the tutelage of people like Mr. Money Mustache and learned from the Hive Mind over at Reddit concerning many of these topics. As such, I’ve been attempting to find a decent, used car, which I can hopefully squeeze at least another 6 to 10 years out of, but a car which also makes the most financial sense. As such, I have been looking in the 2008 to 2010 years and trying to keep the mileage under 100k (see above criteria).

Back to the Post:

There were only 10 “local” (within 75 miles) results for Honda Fits in general, and only 3 or 4 that could potentially fit into the classification I am looking for. This either means that people hold onto their Fits for a long time, or there aren’t that many out there. I’m inclined to go with the latter, since according to Wikipedia, the Fit averaged 67,154 sales per year between ’08-’10. This would explain why I found a few more options for the Prius since it averaged 146,400 sales per year over the same period. However, I still had trouble finding a Prius that met my criteria. We didn’t have time after work to drive all the way to Indy, and we sure as hell didn’t have time to drive to Kentucky or Illinois to just look at a car. Part of this is also an indicator of how well the economy is doing; used cars are holding their prices very well. In addition, as soon as a car pops up that is in relatively good condition, it tends to disappear within a week.

That Learning Gal, God love her, seeing the frenzy I was whipping myself into trying to figure out how I was going to find a new car, put a calming hand on my shoulder, and advised that maybe I should try to look outside of the two cars which I had narrowed my view to. As always, I agreed that she made a good point. So, taking that great advice, I opened my options to include the ever popular models of the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic. Both cars tended to rank at the top of their classes relatively consistently. However, this depended largely on the year.

After another two days, I found what could only be described as a crazy deal! A 2015 Hyundai Accent with 36k miles for only $9800! It seemed too good to be true…and you know what they say. It probably is.

Next time on The Hunt, I will detail how happenstance and a willingness to take chances played a big ol’ role in our car making decision, but we never lost our cool heads.

-That Learning Guy




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