“Not a Purchase Option,” Tony Webster/Flickr , CC BY 2.0.

Diary Random Car Advice

Tagged as: Bad Advice

Reading time: 3 minutes.

As I am occasionally asked, here is my random “I want to buy a new car” advice.

When it comes to buying cars, I have a few basic rules:

  1. Vehicle must be at least three years old.
  2. Vehicle should not be in the first two years of a generation bump. During the first two years, kinks in the design are worked out by manufacturers. Think of them as Alpha and Beta software releases.
  3. Vehicle should have fewer than 12,000 miles per year of age.
  4. Vehicles should have fewer than 100,000 miles. Generally, that’s younger than eight years old.
  5. When shopping, look nationwide, not locally. There are buyers and sellers markets locally and regionally. If you could save $2,000 on price, would you be willing to spend $500 to travel and return it across country?
  6. Always see the title report.

Example. You’re shopping for a Nissan Altima in 2016. 1) The car should be 2014 or older. 2) The Altima entered its Fifth generation in 2013, so 2013-2014 cars are excluded. Therefore, the Altima ideal model years eligible are: 2009-2012. If you shop AutoTrader.com, you should be able to find a suitable car that fits your criteria.

It helps to do some research in the car to see what issues you might encounter. The reason to avoid the first to generation years is these are the years when the most problems arise. However, your research may identify a problem generation (e.g. The 2002 Altima oil consumption issue).

How to Find the Right Car? When I sent car shopping, I had a couple basic requirements in terms of power, transmission, and a range of manufacturers. My wife added an additional requirement. When I identified the model year range for each, I went to several local dealers and test drove sample vehicles. Once I knew what I preferred, then I turned to the Hunt.

How should you buy safely online? Once you have identified your target model and years, do your search. Identify a few cars, 3-5, that are in your price range. This may take a few weeks. Then, call each dealer and ask for the “off the lot price.” They should be able to give you the price from AutoTrader, plus a reasonable administrative fee. If they give you random numbers or jerk you around, then drop the call. When in doubt, drop the call.

When buying online, there is generally some earnest money that is required up front. I remember paying $1000, which should lock in the terms of the agreement.

When I went this path, I found a car that was $1,500 less than anything local…after travel and administrative fee. It was under the original warranty, so very young. It was a personal lease, so low miles and well-tended after. The dealer reported a possible clutch issue, but four years on I am still driving it without a problem.