We Pulled The Trigger On a Used Car: Here is What We Learned

We posted not too long ago that we are in the market for a car as our family is quickly growing and my seemingly tiny Corolla can no longer handle the load. We have actually been saving and looking for almost a year now, and this past weekend, we finally pulled the trigger on something.

Those of you that have been around here for a while know that I am not spontaneous by any means. I over analyze everything and will spend years researching and shopping for that perfect price on a mattress. Well, this time around was not too much different though I have learned a few things by our mattress buying experience.

The most important thing we learned from that experience is that you should never put things off if they are important. My health was being effected by our bad mattress and switching mattresses has had a huge impact on my life. I get better sleep, feel better during the day, I get more done because I am not in pain and am enjoying life that much more.

With our car buying needs, we don’t actually need the car until the new baby arrives next February, but we wanted to get something before Winter for several reasons, primarily because I don’t want my very pregnant wife walking my daughter to her new dance class a couple blocks away in a few feet of snow in the coming months.

So on with the tale. We have been looking at classified ads for months and month. We earmarked several used vans, looked and compared new van features and even scoured eBay to see what we could find in the restored department. Finally we narrowed our choices down to a couple makes, models and years. We found a few that fit our criteria in the local classified and set out to look at them.

Our first test drive was a huge dud. The car looked more beat up than the ad showed, and it was in a very crappy car lot that was attached to another business. I instantly had no faith in this dealership if you want to call it that.

We got in the van, and started testing out the things that we care about, primarily Air Conditioning because if the car doesn’t have good Air Conditioning, I know my wife won’t be happy with it. We turned on the air and there is a really loud whining sound. Uh oh..so we turn off the air and drive down the road a bit. We turned the air back on, the whining instantly returns and now there is smoke coming from the van. Off goes the air, and we quickly drove back to the dealership. No thanks.

Those of you that know anything about cars are probably thinking that it is just a bad belt; you are correct, but first impressions are important and we were already turned off.

The next van was a year newer, 40,000 miles lighter and $200 more expensive, but also about sixty miles away so we would have to plan the trip for a weekend. Though we didn’t know it at the time, this was the van we were looking for.

We planned to trek down to see this van one Saturday. I arranged things with the owner, a private party, and set a time to be there. I also found any other vans in the area that were of interest so that we could hit all of them while we were there in case there was a great deal.

We looked at the van we thought was really promising first and everything checked out. No whining with the AC, no noises whatsoever from the van, and aside from the van being cosmetically worse off than we could see from the pictures, mechanically it seemed perfect.

Here are all the things I learned along the journey to dual car ownership

Do your research and have a plan beforehand

If we hadn’t researched for so long, we would have tried to negotiate but accepted the first rebuttal because I’m not a keen negotiator. By using a bunch of tools that you guys suggested, as well as tips from the Car Coach, I knew that even if this van was in mint condition, it was well overpriced.

I got an appraisal from Kelly Blue Book, and the True Market Value report from Edmunds.com and found what this van should really be priced at. By using the information we prepared beforehand, I was able to negotiate the seller down $1200.

Don’t put yourself in a situation of urgency

By shopping so early for the car, I knew that we didn’t have to buy anything that we weren’t 100% happy with. We could shop around, test drive as many cars as we wanted and really just take our time. We didn’t need to purchase a van today and that gave us the freedom to be as picky as we wanted.

Even though we were happy with the van and negotiated the price down to what we were happy to pay, we told the seller we would not be able to move money around till the next week, so we scheduled to come back down with a check pending everything checked out.

Know what you want and what is and is not important to you

This van was under our budget, ran great and everything checked out. We drove the van out of sight of the seller and parked to do a thorough check. We checked everything that was important to us; we verified the mileage, checked under the hood, looked at the tire wear, moved some of the seats around, popped the trunk, rolled down the windows, activated the lights and ran the AC some more. I also wanted to make sure my wife felt OK driving this van, so she took it for a little spin.

We were satisfied. This van was in great shape and well taken care of.

After we got it home, we started to notice a couple little about the van that we hadn’t noticed before; it didn’t have key less entry, some of the internal lights didn’t turn on, there were a few more dents and scratches on the outside than we remembered from the test drive and we never actually liked the color.

These little things didn’t make us think twice about our purchase though because we knew what was important to us going in. Just like when you customize a new car with all the options, you can pick and choose what you want. We simply didn’t choose those options as criteria when buying a used car, so we didn’t make sure to get them or worry about them whatsoever. We can always add those options later, but they aren’t important to us now.

Prepare for the unknown charges

We were well under budget on this van after negotiating the car price down, and we were really excited. We had saved up enough to not even have to touch any of our other savings when making the purchase. Too bad we forgot a couple things..

Title, registration and sales tax.

Did you know that you have to pay sales tax on used car purchases? Well, needless to say I was shocked at this and hadn’t even thought about what we would do after buying the car. All the fees we ended up paying brought us right up to our budget for this car purchase. This makes me even more happy that we were able to find something so far under budget.

Complete Detailing

My wife mentioned that the carpet in the van, and all the upholstery would need cleaning when we were test-driving. I hadn’t thought twice about it because I actually thought it looked pretty good inside and figured if it needed cleaning we would do it ourselves or hire a poor college kid to clean it for $10.

My wife insisted on getting a complete detailing as she didn’t want to ride around in some other families filth. This van purchase was for her and I wanted her to be happy with it because I know that if she’s not happy with it, she may be unsatisfied, want to sell it and start the whole process over again. I didn’t want that, so we called and got an appointment at a fancy detailing place close to home. That cost us $100 (In the end this was a mistake we won’t be making again. The detailing was pathetic and definitely not worth $100)

Wheel Alignment

I noticed during the first test drive that the alignment on the van was in poor shape; it pulled drastically to one side. I know on my Corolla, alignment had to be done at the dealer and cost about $90 so that would be tacked on to our bottom eventually. I also know that poor tire pressure can create the illusion that alignment needs to be done so I didn’t worry too much about it as the tires did look a little low on one side.

After the test drive I called my mechanic and found out that the alignment on this would cost $60 so I used that fact to negotiate an additional $50 cash from the seller when we picked up the van. As it turns out though, after correcting the tire pressure, the van no longer pulls much and shouldn’t need an alignment adjustment for some time.

Pre-purchase Mechanical Check

Quite possibly the worst mistake we have made during this transaction is that we never got the vehicle checked out by a mechanic we bought it. I’m an optimistic, trusting guy to a fault and this may come back to bite us, but I have had several mechanically experienced friends that I trust check it out and they are as surprised as I was over how well everything looks and how well it runs.

This mistake may end up costing us big time, but for now everything is golden and we are the proud owners of a 2005 Kia Sedona with only 50,000 miles. This should serve our family well and if everything goes as planned, last at least five years.

Overall, our transaction and experience was smooth and enjoyable when buying our first used car. What do you think, did we do alright here or am I missing something?

Image by Thomas Hawk

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12 People have left comments on this post

» Car CoachNo Gravatar said: { Oct 5, 2010 - 11:10:44 }

Hey Jesse, Glad it worked out for you! You definitely hit on some key points: know the value of the car beforehand, get the car checked out in advance, and remember the sales tax.

Really happy to hear you got $1200 knocked off the price!

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Your advice and help throughout the whole process was invaluable my friend, thank you!

» KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Oct 5, 2010 - 11:10:32 }

Sounds like you made out pretty well. Knowing what the car was really worth was probably the most important thing that you did!
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Thanks! I agree, that was a huge benefit. The car was so over priced that negotiating down as much as I did would have seemed almost rude/extreme lowball if the car was really worth that it was listed at.

» WojoNo Gravatar said: { Oct 5, 2010 - 06:10:11 }

I have no idea how I convinced my wife that buying used was the way to go, but she finally fell for it. 🙂 Not only that, we ended up buying a used RENTAL car. Crazy.
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» WojoNo Gravatar said: { Oct 5, 2010 - 06:10:27 }

Apparently the latter half of my comment got cut off lol.

What I meant to say was…I don't think we'll ever look at buying new again. It's just not worth the premium.

Unless, of course, I can afford that new Corvette. 😉
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Ya it took some time to convince my wife as well 🙂 especially because I bought a brand new car, and we have loved it from day 1. This van was actually originally a shuttle vehicle, so the guy before us got a deal on it too.

{ Oct 8, 2010 - 04:10:18 } Friday Night Likes — Financially Poor

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