January 2009
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Day January 18, 2009

Cars, confusion and a conclusion

I just recently purchased my first new car.  It’s actually the first car I’ve owned in 10 years.  During this time I’ve lived downtown where it didn’t warrant owning a car and it’s more of a hassle to own one then rent as needed.  When I did drive it was via car rentals, car shares, family, and friends.  So the decision to get a car was a big one all on it’s own. Then came the process of actually buying the car which was a bit nerve racking to say the least.

To start off there were so many options for me to choose between: stick or automatic, 4-door or 5, hatchback or sedan.  Based on my preferences to design, style, price and how well it would work with my 50lbs pooch, Malachi, I had it narrowed down to 7 models from 4 Manufacturers.

From there I began the seemingly endless research.  I hit the manufacturers sites, online magazines, user forums, and various “impartial” reviewers (Consumer Reports, JD Powers, etc). Thanks to my buddy and Lexus Nexus I had all the Consumer Reports reviews from last two years. I went through all of them, cross referenced them, ran the numbers. I was overloaded with numbers and statistics.

Then it was off to the dealers.  With all the horror stories about car dealers I assume this is probably a point of great discomfort to most car buyers.  For me it turned out to be not too bad.  Could be because I never got the stereotypical car salesman, or that I mentioned early on that I had a number of other models on my list.  Still, as expected, after doing the test drive they’d want to start talking numbers and close the deal.  Somewhat surprisingly at this point after reminding them of my need to compare they backed off on the direct sell.  The more subtle sell was still there but since none of my initial test drives wowed me I was far from ready to talk numbers.

For each of the initial models I tried I wasn’t able to find a comfortable position.  My right knee would inevitably and uncomfortably rest upon the hard edge of the center console.  Maybe it’s that I’m 6’2″ with long legs making me an edge case in regards to a vehicle’s ergonomics but I was still surprised about the cramped quarters.  Ironically the smallest of the cars I tried, the Honda Fit, I had ample leg room.  This discomfort knocked off one of the models with some of the best numbers (price, resale, performance, MPG, safety).  Others the comfort was less of an issue but still lingered as a strike against.

On to car 6 & 7.  With number six I actually talked numbers.  I liked how it drove.  Peppy and nimble.  Stats wise it was on par with the other contenders so the enjoyment factor tipped the scale here.  Still I prefaced the sale with the fact that there was one more on my list to test drive.  If number 7 failed to impress, number 6 would be ready to drive away within the next 48hrs.  I had previously driven number 7 early on in the hunt but only as a stick shift and after being stuck in 4.5 hours of stop & go traffic I reconsidered.

I had high hopes for number 7, enough to put number 6 in a waiting pattern.  Next day was seven’s potentially big day.  Took it for a spin.  Just about as peppy and nimble.  Solid too.  Can’t explain exactly what defines solid, but it was the scale tipper.  Then it was back to talking numbers.

Even though I thoroughly researched the prices of the car, accessories etc. there is so much to keep track of to make sure there are no surprises in the end.  I definitely suggest not going alone.  I was there for hours, partially because they were having computer problems, still be prepared to spend the day.  Also, be prepared your total cost will be a few thousand over the price of the car due to taxes, title, registration and any extras you may want (warranty, alarm system and other add-ons).  After running through numbers for hours, all the initial papers were signed and I could pick up my new car in two days.

Of course before driving out there were a few more papers to sign.   After all the time spent researching, trying, running numbers I was now the owner of my own car.  Now the big moment was upon me.  I was excited but worn out and a bit nervous as well.  So far so good.  I’m enjoying the added freedom and flexibility, and I’m still on my second tank of gas.