MML Alex: Buying my first car was... a long process

Written by
Alex Eaton
MML- Alex

The story of how I ended up with my car is a long one. Probably longer than it should’ve been. Scratch that, definitely longer than it should’ve been. I was extremely discerning in my process. So much so that by the time I bought my Escape, I had almost bought two other cars before it and either lost out or backed off.

It could’ve been avoided if I had spent more time figuring out exactly what I wanted before diving in. In the beginning of my search I was looking for the cheapest car I could get under certain constraints. My main constraints were a reliable brand, good gas mileage, and cheap maintenance costs. Pretty plain, right?

Well, as I continued the search I really didn’t find a car I loved. I got close to buying two, but it was more because there wasn’t much wrong with them. It was at this point that I took a step back to figure out what I was really looking for in a car. I decided to think more long-term instead of short-term.

Previously, I was thinking about getting the cheapest car possible and driving it into the ground. I didn’t care if I enjoyed driving it, I thought it was just a place to get from point A to point B. When I began thinking long-term, it forced me to think more about what I wanted out of a car. Not just in the present either, but looking years in the future what did I want to be able to do with it?

A few points were added to my list. I really enjoy road trips and camping, which requires a lot more storage space. I also started looking for 4-wheel drive vehicles to handle weather and the outdoors with ease. “Must-have” and “nice-to-have” lists are really helpful in this situation. It helped prioritize which features and aspects of a car were necessary or just cool.

With all of this new information in mind, my search expanded to the crossover and small SUV market. I tried out different models in this range and weighed my options. As you can imagine, with this change in requirements came a change in budget. I did NOT like the idea of continually increasing my budget as I kept looking. I felt like the classic car buyer that just keeps getting sucked into a higher budget range until they are in all sorts of debt with a car they don’t need.

Knowing what I wanted, why I wanted it, and researching beforehand really influenced my car decision. Knowing this ahead of time, and having set constraints on budget and features will make things a lot easier. I walked into dealerships with a list of 5 or 6 requirements, and if they didn’t fit then I walked away without even looking at a car. Here are a few of my requirements for the curious:

  1. $15,000 list price or lower
  1. 2009 or newer
  1. 80,000 miles or less
  1. 4-wheel drive
  1. Clean CARFAX, no accidents
  1. Clean title (No rebuilt titles)

I did all my car searching online and only went into a dealership if I had a car I wanted to look at. Usually they tried to get me to try a few others, but I already knew why I didn’t want whichever one they recommended because I had already taken a look. Research is worth the time and will save you a lot of stress.

Are you tired? Does reading all this make it seem like a lot of work? Or not too bad? I’m willing to bet it depends on whether you’ve bought a car or not. The point of laying out this process to you is to help you realize how you can lower the stress and shorten the process.

If I would’ve taken more time to think about what I wanted before diving into test drives it would have saved me many hours I ended up wasting. The online research time was completely worth it. Financially it will give you an idea of how plausible your expectations are based on your budget, allowing you to adjust accordingly and avoid getting pressured into spending more at the dealership.

This is part two of my Buying My First Car series. Check out part one if you haven’t already. I’ll be discussing the process of buying a car specifically around how it relates to your finances.

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