My first car: A major purchase update in three parts (PART 3)

Posted on December 22, 2010 6 Comments

Part III, the conclusion:  Subaru Outback – FTW!

After spending several summer weeks browsing sweltering car lots, test-driving fancy new models and listening to sales pitches (could car salesmen’s offices be any more dreary, btw?), I was ready to buy my first car: A Silver Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium with all-wheel drive (standard), all-weather package and moon roof.  (Insert dreamy swoon here.)

After making the choice of vehicle, I spent about a week drooling over the glossy booklet pondering add-ons such as trailer hitches and bike racks, and wondering exactly how often I would use my heated seats (!), while my trusty research assistant B was busy sending me links on how to prepare for a car purchase and negotiation points. He also managed to check inventories at nearly every Subaru lot in the nearby Chicago/Wisconsin/Indiana area and got in touch with no less than five dealers to inquire about the status of their vehicles and see who would offer us the sweeter package.

I finally managed to turn my attention to finances. My goal was to keep the vehicle under $26,000 before taxes. After much belabored conversation with friends and family, I decided that I would put down $15,000 on the day of purchase – a decision that made most people choke on their drinks and one that I’m sure will be controversial here, but I weighed my options carefully. I have been saving since I started this blog (you can read some of my early 2004 posts to read about my first savings account deposit) and my accounts have been steadily growing. I could have bought the car outright, but that would have taken too much out of my savings account for near-term (within five years) purchases such as a house and wedding. So, I opted to keep my reserves healthy and put down $15,000 vs. buying the car outright – using online calculators, we figured that this would keep my monthly payments under $300, which is about what I was paying each month on my student loans.  I essentially managed to keep my budget the same as it’s been for years by swapping the student loan for a car loan.  I knew that financing was cheap, and if I could just qualify for the lowest rates, I would stay true to my plan.

So I knew what I wanted, and how much I wanted to pay. Based on some advice found on and, I began assembling a bulky folder filled with all my financial information, quotes from local dealers in the Illinois/Wisconsin/Indiana area, and all the e-mails I had ever exchanged with those dealers.

One of the handiest items I kept in the folder was my credit score and credit reports from Equifax and TransUnion. I went to (with a coupon code, of course) and paid a small fee for access to my credit score. I was delighted to find out that after years of obsessively monitoring my bills, saving, making payments on time and learning about credit, I am in the highest percentile of credit scores (only 13 percent of Americans can say the same). Armed with this knowledge, I was ready to negotiate.

Rather than deal in person or by phone, we started e-mailing salespeople. It’s harder for them to claim they didn’t promise something when you have a record for every interaction. The quotes we received, with all our options and including freight charges, dealer fees, tax, title and license charges, ranged from $25,948 to $28,443 across four different dealers. $25,948. I had my car.

We confirmed that I would be eligible for 2.9% financing for 48 months, haggled over a few last options, and then set a date. Then, we planned a trip to the dealer.

The morning of my very first car purchase, I awoke excited. I wore a skirt, packed up my folder, and tried to calm my nerves. For some reason I was very nervous, like I was about to run my first triathlon.

When we arrived, my nerves turned into annoyance. The salesman had been to a bachelor party the night before, and presumably because B and I look kind of young, he felt compelled to tell us repeatedly how hung over he was. It was a hot July day and he was sweating profusely, with a bottle of Gatorade next to him at all times. He didn’t have the extras we negotiated ready when we arrived, and actually tried to weasel out of a few of them, but we had our folder of emails to show him his promises. (Plus we had B’s intimidating height and deep voice, and my serious eyebrows, as I mentioned in the previous post.) We assured him we had three other motivated dealers (and had the emails as proof) ready to sell us the same vehicle. Ultimately, he gave us everything he promised us, for the price he promised us.

The rest of the afternoon was a sea of paperwork and odd dealings with mostly balding men in short-sleeved button-down shirts and ties. We had to sit in a waiting room, then watch a power point about acid rain (on a PC at a sales rep’s desk) and sign some papers confirming we did NOT need a specialized coating on the car. Then back to the waiting room. Then back into another office, this one without windows and occupied by an ancient-looking temp who processed our loan paperwork and mistook my down payment as “Fifteen-hundred” instead of “Fifteen-thousand.” I got the impression he was surprised that a woman my age had that much to put down (honestly).  Actually I got the impression that no one at the dealer had ever dealt with a woman before, they all were so awkward. I didn’t see one other lady there. They may want to work on that.

After more awkward waiting, the car was ready. My hung-over dealer brought it around in the hot sun and turned on the air full-blast to compensate for his crazy sweating. I thanked him, promised to be kind on his post-purchase survey and hoped never to see him again. The car was all mine (well, mostly mine, technically it’s owned by the loan company until I pay it all off).

B took off in his old Mitsubishi and I followed him home, but before I did, I turned on the radio. The first song in my new Subaru? One of my favorites of all time, Eddie Vedder singing “Hide Your Love Away.”  I won’t soon forget the perfection of that moment, of me sitting alone in my first car in the sun, dressed up, listening to Eddie Vedder on the radio and enjoying some peaceful, air-conditioned quiet-time before my first solo drive in the new car – basking in the afterglow of a well-researched, well-negotiated purchase that I worked hard for.

Category: Money
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6 Responses to “My first car: A major purchase update in three parts (PART 3)”

  1. amarantac
    December 23rd, 2010 @ 8:21 am

    did you get the heated seats??? i use mine all the time in houston and SF :) the sales guy when I bought my car actually told me I didn’t really need them!

  2. tanja
    December 23rd, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    God did I miss your blog, I love your writing style.
    I love how you described your car purchasing experience, I have purchased my fair share of cars and your experience is the reason I’ve purchase my last two cars from the same dealer and same sales person (I’m fixing to buy a third one form the same guy in the next few years).
    Your down payment is smart, when it comes to cars I have a rule in my house, I (my husband too) can finance 10,000 that’s it, so if I want a car that is worth more I have to come up with the difference by saving. If I want used car that is 17,000 I have to come up with 7000 in cash to cover the difference. It just makes life easier. Payment will be around 250 which is comfortable for my budget (I paid off my car 4 years ago and I love now having car payment) Bu we have my husbands car that we are financing right now.
    Also we have a rule when it comes to cars – one car payment per household.

    Good job and nice car too. I suits you.

  3. The Budgeting Babe
    December 23rd, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

    Amarantac – Yes! I use my heated seats every day! That was my only “must have” – I love them!

    Tanja – Thanks, you are so sweet! That’s a great rule. My payments are $291/month. I am very comfortable with that!

  4. Allison
    December 23rd, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    I am fighting the urge to say “You go girl” but….you go girl!!
    I think the research and printing copies of the emails is a very smart idea. We have actually been looking at Subaru’s latley, so I am glad to hear you like yours.

  5. federal grants
    December 24th, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

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  6. Michelle
    January 29th, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    Great story! I bought my Forester new in 2002; it was a very similar experience. We negotiated and negotiated…what a pain! I ended up getting a few thousand off from the price by being a certified ski instructor (something to look into if you have the skill set…it’s not hard).

    Ruby the Suby is still going strong. It might have been a bit more expensive, but I don’t regret buying new because I know that I’ve been better about maintenance than most people are so I know my car will last longer. It’s been a really reliable car overall.

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