How Did You Decide You Were Ready to Buy a Car?

A long time ago, someone gave me this advice: The best time to buy a car is when you don’t need to buy a car.

The idea is that when you aren’t in urgent need of transportation, you have more flexibility and negotiation power than when you need to buy a car now. 

Yesterday I wrote about my experience driving in a fancy rental car. After I posted it, on whim I looked around online to see if what types of nice used cars were available in my area. To my surprise, I not only found a nice car that appealed to me (a 2012 Camry), but I actually had the thought: I could buy that car!

But here’s the thing: I like my current car (a 2003 Camry), it’s fully paid for, and I only drive a few times a week. My car is not a big part of my life.

It’s also held up quite well. Even though it’s 13 years old, it hasn’t gotten to the point when it requires big repairs every few months.

So I’m curious: Has there ever been a time in your life when you didn’t urgently need a car, but you bought one anyway? If so, what were the factors that played into that decision?


16 Responses to “How Did You Decide You Were Ready to Buy a Car?”

  1. Sean says:

    I bought a car 4 years ago, a 94 Pontiac Grad Prix from an estate. It just hit 100,000 miles this year. it’s still running OK, but not great. I’ve been looking into either getting a car or doing public transportation or both next year. I’m still making the tough decision of what of two job offers to accept, and I’m not sure my car will survive another two years. I’d be interested in hearing more about your decision process if you start looking around for cars.

  2. Adhil Patel says:

    I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

    Maybe I’m just being slow, but why would it be the best time to buy a car when you don’t need one? (I guess I’m asking what makes it the ‘best’ time)

    I would suggest that this analogy (if you’re making a parallel to boardgames) doesn’t hold up partly because board games are a leisure item, and a luxury. They’re not getting me to work.

    Perhaps your premise here is people that already have a car (as in your example), so ‘need’ here is actually more like ‘want’? In that case, I think we are closer to the board game situation.

    But, I still don’t get it. If I don’t need/ want another board game, why is that the best time to buy one? Are you suggesting that if I have a big collection already, I’m better able to evaluate a game on its merits?

    I don’t think your analogy allows for the sheer acquisition disorder and set collection mentality of most board gamers…

    • T-Mac says:

      I think what Jamey’s referring to relates to the car-buying experience. If your current car is absolutely dead and you desperately need one, you’re more likely to take whatever you can get and not get the best deal. Buying a car when you feel ok about walking out of the dealership without a car helps put you in the driver’s seat (see what I did there?) during negotiations and allows for a comfortable shopping time frame.

  3. Sara says:

    T-Mac is correct. When your need:want ratio is too high, you’re more likely to buy than not. I mean… you’re there already, and salesmen can smell desperation on us like we can smell it on them.

    1. Do not buy from someone who tries to get you to start talking about what color you want or what kind of payments you want to make. I warn them ahead of time that I don’t need or want to be sold on any car. I want answers to my questions; I tell them all the ways I expect to use the car, and they tell me if this particular model will fall short of my expectations somehow. If the salesperson starts to bullshit me or becomes condescending in any way, I thank him for his time and say I’m not going to have further need of his services. A dealer’s Yelp reviews will also help I look through the actual comments and see if a particular guy keeps getting the kudos. I make sure I get him when I visit the dealer.

    2. See if your insurance or your credit union has a car buying service. I did all my own legwork (knowing I wanted a Corolla), but ran the car’s details through their system right from my phone and got a quote from a different dealer that was $3k less than I was currently looking at. The salesman wasn’t happy, but his manager told him to match the price. The other offer was for a dealer that was just a 20 minute drive away.

    3. Toyota (at least around the SF bay area) offers zero percent financing on 11 models, including camry and corolla. Make sure you try for that, assuming your credit is good. Seriously – you can’t beat that kind of financing.

    4. If you’re buying used, make sure you get whatever extended service warranty goes with it. That’s gold when you find out that the previous owner drove over boulders or whatnot (that’s invariably what the mechanic’s accusation will be) and you’re left holding the bag because they think you did it. That warranty will cause you to pay about $50-75 for the repair. I got a rear differential replaced on my Chevy Tahoe because of that once (look it up – that’s a major and expensive repair).

    5. Please make sure to post pictures of said vehicle choice(s) so we can choose your color for you 🙂

  4. Once I bought a Lexus IS 350 convertible because I loved the hard-top convertible. Folding the top up and down is easily the most entertainment any car has ever given me. The car was a beautiful shade of dark red. The handling was a dream and it had way more power than it needed to just get out of the driveway. It was my first experience of having a car that was fun to drive.

    Of course, life happens. I found out that I didn’t like driving with the top down because my hair blew in my face and obscured my vision. Not a great safety feature. I also found myself living alone and needing trips to the lumber supply store. A convertible with a hard top in the trunk has very little carrying capacity. Two people and a briefcase is about the limit. Well, okay, you can carry two briefcases and a small bag of groceries if you’re careful.

    In the end, I sold my beloved convertible and bought an SUV. Even that got traded in later in favor of the paid-for, well-traveled sedan that I am still driving now.

    Guess pragmatism won in the end. And the moral of the story is that a car is just a tool to help me get from point A to point B.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Carlie: Thank you for sharing your story! It’s interesting to hear that what you thought you wanted wasn’t quite what you needed, but it sounds like you don’t have any qualms about the time you spent with the Lexus. That’s good to hear.

  5. Katy says:

    When I was in college, I traded in my trusty and very useful Nissan Sentra for a shiny Mazda Miata, just because I had always wanted to own a convertible and there was a good deal on a used Miata with very low miles at a car dealership owned by a family friend. At that time in my life, I definitely didn’t need a shiny 2-seater convertible, and learned after about 2 years that the lack of a backseat was something I should have taken into consideration before purchasing the car. I loved driving that little car and don’t regret the purchase, since I learned some valuable lessons while driving it– mainly, I learned how to drive a manual transmission (something I maybe should have learned before signing my name on the line for that car).

    I think I owned that car for a total of 2 St. Louis winters before deciding I should have something more practical (being unable to drive on icy/snowy roads and having to leave my car stranded in parking lots multiple times during winter weather helped me see the error of my ways). Once I made the decision to get a practical car it was spring again so I had plenty of time to enjoy my car for one more summer, and I spent several months shopping around to find the car with the features I wanted and for the best deal (which happens to be the car I still drive today).

    Based on my experiences, I agree that the right time to start shopping for a new car is when you don’t actually need it, so you would have plenty of time to weigh out the options of the available cars and not feel pressured to purchase the first thing that is in your budget because you are in dire need of a new vehicle.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Katy: Your story sounds similar to Carlie’s! It’s interesting that both of you had fun with a “fun” car for a while before moving on to a more practical car. I can’t say I’ve ever done that, but maybe I should! 🙂

      • Katy says:

        Since the 2003 Camry is working fine and paid off, what about a “fun” car as a second vehicle? Although that would be even more impractical since you’d then have to figure out parking for the extra car. Maybe you try out a fun car by renting one for a weekend sometime? (If your idea of a fun car is a convertible, I suggest holding off until the summer months to feel the wind blowing though your hair with the top down 🙂 )

  6. Curtis Cushman says:

    I have been a strong advocate for biking and using public transportation my whole life. I have a drivers liscense and use it when a friend wants me to drive their car for a day trip or whatnot. I don’t own a car and still have very little interest in getting one (I’m 27). I have the money to buy a car, but I get to work without ever having to worry about it and I love biking waaay too much to consider purchasing one, still. However, there is growing interest in getting one either this year or next year for the sole purpose of being able to jump in and go on a road trip. I live in Utah and there are countless national parks to explore, friends in nearby states, and canyons to drive through. The desire to get up and go on a whim, either by myself or with a few friends, is starting to itch passed the point of brushing it off another year or so. If I do end up taking the plunge, the first thing I want to do is drive it straight “off the lot” and head for one of the stunning, jaw dropping sites within a 6 hour radius and sleep in my new car.

    • T-Mac says:

      If you live in Utah, you should absolutely go for it! I agree that Utah (and surrounding states) are just too beautiful for staying home. If I were a single person in my late twenties living in Utah, I’d be visiting one of those places at least one weekend a month! While it’s nice to say you’ve never owned a car, the memories of sunrise at Bryce Canyon or a trek through the narrows of Zion would be far better!

  7. foodcravejas says:

    After reading the comments, I think you should go try out some cars. Pick your top three, after detail research on them, and go try them. These next couple of days are going to be warm, so you definitely have an option of trying a convertible with a top down. You can totally sport a wig for the full effect of feeling the wind in your hair with no one care since Halloween is here and everyone’s having some kind of gathering.

    One of these days, I’m getting myself a “fun” car. A Fiat 500, a Mini Cooper, or Nissan Rogue.

  8. My wife and I just bought a car last week. We knew we were ready to get one because both of our cars are getting to the point where the creaks and cracks are starting to get more regular. I drive 2 miles to work so if something happens to my car, not a big deal. But I also don’t trust my car to drive long distances. Her car is sounding worse and she drives 45 minutes one way to work. Because our families live hours away, when we go visit them we rent cars. But with two trips this month and next we decided now was the time to get a car. Because those two rentals could be between 2-5 payments depending on the numbers. We looked around, found a model in town that we had rented before and really enjoyed. The price was right, had nice extra features, and we could visit it after work easily. We went down and drove it, looked it over, and bought it that night. It’s our first time having a car payment, which is a little nerve wracking, but it’s a number we can manage and we have a car we can trust to get us where we’re going outside our town.

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