There’s a popular saying about cars… One that reaches a level of truth that bares repeating here.
“Once you go hatchback, you never go back.”
I certainly tried for 13 years to drive a small sedan. I tried. I really did! But the siren son of ‘the hatch’ and those acres of storage space eventually called to me in a deeply practical way. Yep, it’s true! I finally bought a new car!
Well, new to me anyway… and it’s of the ‘family-sized’ hatchback variety!
The New Car Hunt
As some of you know, I started looking for a new car this last summer. While I don’t drive a lot these days, I certainly do need to haul my kids around and run the occasional errand. My little old 2006 Honda Civic just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The kids were starting to complaining they didn’t have enough space, and we really didn’t have enough room for bikes or other paraphernalia.
At first, I test drove a bunch of different models trying to find one that might fit our needs. Initially I tried smaller hatchbacks like the Honda Fit and the Volkswagen Golf, but they were just too damn small.
Eventually I settled on one of these popular ‘crossover’ vehicles (sometimes called a ‘compact SUV’). I like to think of it as a “family-sized” hatchback.
I decided it was the kind of car we needed because it could:
- Seat 4 people comfortably. The car needs to seat myself, Mrs. Tako and my two growing kids comfortably.
- Be affordable (common enough that it’s inexpensive). We already have one good car, so I wasn’t looking for anything fancy. Used is just fine.
- Have room for a decent amount of cargo. I routinely carry bikes, wood from the hardware store, and odd shaped cargo like furniture.
- Be reliable. Nobody wants a car that’s in the shop all the time!
- Be reasonably efficient. I don’t put a lot of miles on my car, so efficiency is not my primary concern. I don’t want it to suck either.
In the end, I purchased a 2011 Honda CR-V EX-L from a private party for $10,400. (That’s roughly blue-book price if you’re curious.)
Here’s a beauty shot of the new car:
It might be just another one of those extremely popular SUV’s on the market, but I certainly like it!
And then there’s that lovely hatch with all that ample cargo space in the back… Oh yeah baby! She’s got back!
Are the kids happier now? Yes indeed! Tako Jr. #1 gives his seal of approval with all that extra leg room.
Why Did It Take So Long?
When most people go car shopping, they typically find and buy the car they want within a week or two. This is usually done by plopping down giant piles of money in front of a car salesman.
That’s not exactly how I do things. I approach buying a car a lot like making an investment — I wait until I see a really fat pitch before I swing.
In my case it took 5 months before I found a meticulously cared for Honda CR-V. This ‘new-t0-me car’ is one of those proverbial “little old lady” cars that’s been well taken care of — parked in a garage every night, regular oil changes, never commuted with, and only seen highway miles during it’s lifetime.
Instead of spending $35k on a brand new CR-V, I bought a very good used car for $10k. That’s what I call a fat pitch in a used car.
Now technically the little old lady happened to be dead at the time of sale. It’s certainly never ideal when the seller is deceased, but it ultimately only added a little extra complexity to the transaction. (The car needed to be purchased from the individual’s estate) But the good folks at the DMV helped us sort it all out.
Did I learn anything from buying this used car? Absolutely!
For one, don’t be in a hurry to buy. Eventually the right car does come along… even if it’s a corpse selling it. Having patience and waiting for that fat pitch is key.
Second, if you decide to buy used, only buy from a private-party NOT a dealer. Used car dealers are really good at putting lipstick on pigs and charging a high price for it. You won’t find good deals in a used car lot.
It does take time to find really good used cars… and I was certainly picky.
I wanted a one-owner car with no accidents, a verifiable service history, and less than 110,000 miles. That’s harder to find than you might think! I also restricted my searches to the last two model years of the Gen3 CR-V, primarily because of some refinements to the famously reliable Honda K-series engine in those years. This meant I was restricting my searches to only a 2010 or 2011 model.
It’s Not Perfect
To be fair, it’s not a perfect car. I wasn’t looking for perfect either. In my price range I was expecting plenty of wear and tear. That means dents, scratches, and marks.
Yep, there are plenty of “little old lady” marks on my the car, and it doesn’t bother me. I’m not looking to impress, and I don’t need a perfectly polished-up car. I just need something that can drive me and the kids around reliably.
The new car has plenty of scratches!
There’s even a dent in one bumper piece of plastic!
I’m not going to win any beauty contests with this car!
In a way though, a few nicks and scratches were exactly what I wanted. I’m going to be hauling my kids around after-all! If the door gets dinged or it collects another scratch from childhood mishaps, I don’t need to freak out about it. It just adds to the patina.
And we can’t forget the importance of Stealth Wealth! Not looking like the richest guy in the room is how you win the Stealth Wealth game! Dents and scratches are excellent camouflage from the gold-diggers!
The Timeless Debate: New vs. Used
I would be remiss as a personal finance blogger if I didn’t take this opportunity to address the timeless debate of new vs. used cars. For example, Jim Collins recently bought a new car (a Subaru Forester), and he had plenty to say about the reason he purchased new.
Basically, Jim had more than enough money to buy new! What perhaps went unsaid is that buying new is probably easier, and Jim didn’t want to worry about maintenance issues with his car. (He doesn’t really seem like a ‘car guy’)
That’s my interpretation of course.
To be perfectly fair, all cars have issues and need maintenance. When a newly redesigned car is released, there’s loads of recalls and issues the first couple of years while car makers work out the bugs. Then there’s manufacturing issues and various small things that break in the first three years.
Simply put, you’re still going to be bringing the car into the dealer to get issues fixed, even when the car is new. It’s not really a time saver to buy new.
The only difference is that you won’t pay for that warranty work in the first three years — You already paid for it in the up-front high cost of a new car.
With used cars, stuff wears out and it’s a fact of life. We expect to be fixing things and taking it into the shop occasionally. No matter what kind of car you own.
Historically people have always sworn by Toyota’s and Honda’s for being long-lived vehicles, but recent data seems to indicate all manufacturers have gotten A LOT more reliable in recent years. I think it’s fair to say that most car brands can now achieve well over 100,000 miles (161,000 kilometers) without major problems.
That said, there’s always the possibility a used car might leave you stranded on the side of the road. If you’re the type of person that worries about that kind of thing, then paying $35k for a new car offers peace-of-mind.
If you ask me, the financial choice seems obvious — Used cars are cheaper even if we take into account higher maintenance costs. We also shouldn’t forget to compound that $25k we saved by not buying new! Compounding can go a long ways to making those repairs!
When it comes to cars however, rarely is personal finance at the fore-front of the decision making neurons. Ego and the societal belief that a car is a representation of status seem to drive the decision-making wheel.
It comes down to a deeply personal choice about what matters to you.
Happy driving everybody!