Those who know me, know that I'm not a car person. I accept that some people need them for their day-to-day lives, and that, in our current situation, TBWITWW is one of those people. But I also think that a car is merely a tool to get yourself, your passengers and your cargo from point A to point B. I don't understand the kind of people (like my brother) who think of cars as fun. But then, he doesn't understand my facination with other stuff.
I've owned one car in my life. It was given to me by my parents when they replaced it with something newer. I drove it, but didn't maintain it well. And then, when it died. I left it by the side of the road. Dumb? Yes. But not something that really bothered me all that much. When we got married, TBWITWW brought her car into the family. I accepted that it was useful to have. Now that her commute is insane, it's good that we have it. But it's 11 years old and has almost 175,000 miles on it. Most of them city miles. The AC is leaky, the horn doesn't work, the windows don't all go down... All of which we'e be willing to put up with if it weren't for the baby. Somehow I don't think it's a good idea to have a baby in a car that won't be easily cooled to below 90 degrees. So, we're going to replace the car. (Anyone want to buy a '97 Buick Skylark? It runs great.)
After talking to people and doing some research we concluded that given our lack of general car knowledge, and complete inability to negotiate, we were best off going somewhere like CarMax. So, we went to CarMax yesterday. We liked the idea of knowing up-front what the cost of the car was. We expected some level of pressure to buy "extras" or to "upgrade" but were pleasantly surprised. When we walked in the door we were greeted by a salesperson (Greg) who told us how CarMax does things and explained the process. They would appraise our car for trade in while we looked at the cars they had available. The appraisal was handled by a completely different department that they said does no selling, only purchasing. Meanwhile Greg asked us what we were looking for in a car. We said we wanted an 4-door import sedan, less than 40,000 miles and under $20,000. We wanted good gas mileage, and nothing older than 2004-2005. We mentioned some specific cars that we'd checked on the website. and he took us right to them. He was knowledgeable about the cars, but (as they apparently work on a flat commission) put no pressure on us to choose any car over any other. He answered all the questions we had, and sat quietly in the back seat on the test drives. 4 drives later we'd narrowed it down to a 2005 Honda Accord and a 2007 Hyundai Sonata. Both had pros and cons. The Honda was older, but had only about 3000 more miles on it. It cost a little more, but was more comfortable. Also, the long-term reliability of the Accord is a known quantity, and it's known to be fantastic. The Hyundai was less expensive and had a V6 engine, but Hyundai has undergone some major changes for the better lately, so it's long-term performance is an unknown.
We decided to have them run an application for financing. We chose to have them run the numbers in a "worst-case" scenario. No trade-in (they only offered $250 for our car, which is about what we expected), the older and more expensive car, and using only one of our incomes. After we filled out the application (the hardest part was listing a reference, as we don't know the addresses of anyone and it took 4 phone calls to find someone who answered), they took us on a short tour of their facility while we waited for the application to process. They have a very nice shop area. We got two offers for loans. Not at great rates, but not terrible either. At this point we decided that we wanted to explore some other options in terms of financing and doing further research on the cars, as well as the warranty options they presented.
We've decided that the Sonata is a better choice, so this afternoon TBWITWW is headed to the bank to see what we can get in terms of financing there. So, by the end of the week, we'll likely have a new car. This experience was quite a bit less painful than I expected. The people at CarMax were great, and although the newly-financially-aware part of me is twitchy at taking on new debt, I'm not nearly as twitchy as I thought I'd be at this stage. Once we have the car, I'll post a recap of the financing process, an overview of our plans for paying it off, and some pictures. We're also planning to keep meticulous records for this car to see what it's really costing us in the long run.