Buying a car is fucking terrifying. Especially if you’re a twenty-something retail employee who, instead of building a savings account, spent $500 this month on beer, cigarettes, brunch, and some molly (hey, it was your birthday!) There are countless stress-inducing factors that require your attention before (and, usually during) car ownership — including, but not limited to: down-payment, enduring the stereotypical pushy salesman, vehicular body-repair (because let’s face it…living in a big city like ice-princess Chicago or hilly-ass San Francisco entitles you to dings and dents no matter how careful you are), and so on.
While we cannot control outside elements, we can control ourselves by racing ahead of and popping the zits of car ownership before they produce a nasty bubble…of anxiety! Here are nine tips to get you ghost-riding the whip in no time:
1• Get loan approval from a bank before going to the dealership
Salesman know how to fuck you. They know you’re “just looking”. They know they can coerce you into buying if they try hard enough. If you don’t say “I’m pre-approved for a loan”, they will try even harder to win you over so you finance within the dealership — which typically yields a much higher interest rate than your bank. My current interest rate is 4.64% — which isn’t horrible, but it sure isn’t flawless. For perspective, if I had done some research and applied for a loan through Capital One and taken that offer to the dealership, I would be saving about $500 a year on interest (a month’s worth of molly and alcohol!)
2• Consider hybrid, diesel, or conventional gas powertrains based on your lifestyle
I’ve always been intrigued by diesel engines. They offer more torque (from-a-stop power) than similar-sized conventional gas engines, and tend to beat the EPA fuel-economy ratings. For example, my car is rated at 31-city/43-highway miles per gallon (which is fucking amaze-balls). If I’m in a suburb or non-urban area, I can easily reach or surpass the city rating. On the highway, even at speeds of 80mph with the windows and sunroof open, I can still average 45mpg — even higher when I slow down and keep steady at 65mph. In Chicago, however, with so much traffic and stop and go, my city number lives anywhere from 22-26mpg.
If you live in a highly-populated city with a lot of stop-and-go traffic, hybrids tend to be a lot more efficient because their engines cease at low speeds, letting the battery-pack take over and power the vehicle for sporadic moments. For example, the average mileage of a 2015 Toyota Prius, per crowd-sourced website fueleconomy.gov, is 47mpg. To be fair, Priis and Golfs are very different automobiles — one is the poster child for economic-minded folks, while one is a German sports hatchback. As tough as it is to go against Ms. Vida Boheme’s wishes of style vs. substance, try to mix the two (and add in some “value”).
3• Test drive vehicles at more than one dealership
Before arriving to the dealership, I was 90% set on the vehicle I wanted (a 2015 Volkswagen TDI SEL). There were, however, other vehicles by other manufacturers which caught my eye, as well. A Nissan Altima, Acura TLX, and Kia Optima-Hybrid were other contenders. However, after giving control to the salesman by arriving to the dealership unprepared, he knew just what he needed to lower the price enough to get me to sign on the spot. I love (almost) everything about my car, but I surely could have given others a look-over before signing a 72 month contract. Additionally, other dealers could have lower interest rates.
Finance aside, test the cars’ functions. Open/close doors and windows. Lean on the armrests. Test how easily your phone connects via Bluetooth. Check for a power outlet or USB port (After buying my car, I learned Volkswagens typically don’t have USB ports, but instead these unnecessary “MDI” inputs that require a special cable.) A vehicle brand or model that initially catches your eye may not always rub you the right way.
4• A large down payment is not required.
The years prior to buying my first (new) car, I went online to build and configure ones I wanted. A part of this process included calculating how much it would cost over the course of 60 months. The vehicles were nothing fancy — usually priced anywhere from $27,000 to $35,000 (the cost of the average school loan). It seemed that reasonable monthly payments based on my income — around $300/month — were only attainable if I put down $4 to $7-thousand. My monthly payment is significantly higher than that now (about $470 a month), but I only put down $1,500. If you have extra money each month, you can pay that against your premium and lower the amount you pay on interest, saving hundreds of dollars over the coarse of the loan.
5• Tease the salesman for awhile, then offer to leave
Milk that test drive. Take the car all over the city. Get to know your salesman. Then, after at least an hour of chit-chat, driving, and offering how much you’re willing to spend, say you’re going to test drive other vehicles at other dealerships that day. The salesman knows that if you leave the dealership, the likelihood of you coming back drops significantly. Once he or she thinks they have you in their grasp, say, “bitch, biyeeeeee.” Me doing this was by no means a strategic move in some game I was playing. I legitimately wanted to explore other options. However, the salesman did everything in his power to keep me there. This included bringing a “Manager” into the conversation, who lowered the total price of the car over $3,000.
6• Buy near the end of the year
Or the end of the month. Dealerships will do anything to beat their sales forecast or, more commonly, move a certain number of units by a certain date. Because of this, they are willing to give you a great price just to get the car the fuck out of their sight.
7• Plan for dings, dents, and fluctuating insurance costs
Sure, new vehicles come with a number of warranties — paint/rust, powertrain, etc. However, most cosmetic issues, such as a flat tire or dented rim as a result of the poorly attended-to Chicago streets, typically require an additional warranty through the dealer (or paying out of pocket after something bad happens). In the 7 months I’ve owned my car, my OCD-ass visited a body shop numerous times, including once when the repair-facility fucked up the paint after removing a $600 dent. If you can, put money aside for wear-and-tear expenses — driving for Lyft helps a lot (my referral code is right chere).
8• Read blogs to determine if the next model year will sport sexier features
My model-year Golf underwent a major redesign from the previous version. It looks sleeker, more modern, and has more interior room than its predecessor. Despite this, I recently learned the next model, coming out in 2016, has upgraded safety features like blind-spot detection, and CarPlay for iOS devices (STILL CRYING ABOUT THIS). Again, I love my car, but I can’t help but feel a little duped. Cars.com, Car and Driver and Autoblog are great resources for acquiring information before (or immediately following) the dealer announcing it publicly.
9• Fucking wash it
The time and money required to wash your car — especially if you live in a rainy or tree-laden city — is worth it in the long run. Tree sap, bird droppings and other liquid devils can eat through the protective-coating on the paint, causing discoloration and/or rust. As I’ve learned, paint and body damage is not cheap. Splurge on a Groupon or LivingSocial car wash package and keep momma clean.