Posted on December 7, 2010 6 Comments
Part II: Exploration (aka Shopping Around)
Once I determined that I wanted to buy a car, I enlisted my man-friend, B, to serve as my stoic sidekick on this epic journey. Not only had he bought a car before, he is also very tall and can be slightly intimidating to outsiders. Given the combination of my stellar “serious eyebrow” face and his height, I assumed it would be difficult for anyone to best us in negotiations. Also, since B would be using the car like I had used his Eclipse for the last 10 years, he volunteered to do a lot of the research for the purchase.
My first step was to narrow down the choices. I knew that I needed something big enough to hold bikes, camping gear, ski trip baggage and more. Yet, fuel efficiency was very important to me. The vehicle also needed to handle well in extreme weather; we get a lot of ice and snow in Chicago, and so 4-wheel or all-wheel drive was a necessity to me. And, for my vanity items, I wanted a sunroof for the nice days and heated seats for the frigid days. And I had a price range in mind: I didn’t want to spend more than $26,000 before taxes. I narrowed the field down to small/mid-sized SUVs, specifically the following: Subaru Forrester, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe or Tuscon, Toyota RAV4.
I did consider leasing as an option, and buying a used car. But since I want to keep the car around for 10 years, just like B’s old one, buying new was more appealing to me. Plus, the interest rates advertised at the time were between one and three percent for well-qualified buyers, so the cost of an auto loan to buy the car outright was ridiculously cheap (a friend with good credit who bought her car two years prior got an interest rate near seven percent on a used car).
One more consideration was buying American. I did go to car lots and look at new Ford, Chevy, and GM models. But I really didn’t like the body styles on a lot of them. They all seemed so big and flashy – they also appeared to be built more on a truck foundation vs. a car. Plus, some of them were assembled in Canada and Mexico – negating the “buy American” concept in the first place. And finally, I asked some business school graduates about buying American. If the cars are made elsewhere and the investors are global, what’s the benefit of buying American vs. a foreign car that’s assembled in the US? The answers were unconvincing. In the end, buying American was not the deciding factor for me.
So back to my purchase; I had settled on a mid-sized/small SUV. B and I spent a several weeks during the summer checking out car lots all over northern Illinois. We typically went on a Sunday, when the dealerships were closed and no salesman would be around. It was an unbearably hot summer here, and there were days when we fried on the black top parking lots. But we felt it was important to see the cars in person, check out the available inventory, review the price tags on the windows, and see a variety of models in person. Sometimes the internet just doesn’t do a car justice, and I’m easily distracted by flash animation.
After I felt comfortable enough being around car lots, I was ready to take on test drives. We decided to test drive a number of vehicles at our local AutoBarn, which had many of the models I was interested in. I thought I was going to fall in love with the Subaru Forrester. Instead, I found myself drawn to the Subaru Outback. It was just as fuel-efficient as our Mitsubishi Eclipse, was made at the Indiana plant (with zero landfill status), held its value over time, earned excellent reviews from auto press and glowing recommendations from every Subaru owner I spoke with, came standard with all-wheel drive, and included an all-weather package with moonroof, heated seats, and more for under $26,000 before taxes and fees. Plus, it was fun to drive. During the test drive, I confess, I was a little too enthusiastic… B reminded me that hard-nosed negotiators with serious eyebrows don’t say things like “I can totally see myself taking this baby on a road trip!” while the salesman is in the car. Duly noted.
Once I had settled on the Subaru Outback, the next step was simple, right? I just needed to buy the car!
(Stay tuned for Part 3: Subaru Outback FTW! – or some similar title, coming later this week.)