The Car Buying Blues, Part One : Doing The Research

March 26, 2010 | Kate Horrell

If I’ve seemed a little distracted lately, there is a good reason. We’ve been trying to buy a car. I have wanted to write about it, but I’ve been so busy researching, and reading, and talking to dealers that I barely have time to think, much less write.

Fortunately for everyone, the car buying process is now finally over. It has been an exhausting and totally irritating day, but our snazzy new-to-us vehicle is safely in the driveway and I didn’t assault anyone along the way.We realized a few months ago that we wanted to purchase a used vehicle.  We are moving overseas in a few months and my husband was concerned that we would have difficulty quickly finding a comfortable car that would seat six people.  We are eligible to ship one car, but both of our current cars are old and American, making parts and repairs challenging.  We decided that we would purchase a slightly used car that was also sold in the country where we are moving, so that we could have it easily serviced.  Since the idea was to have the car when we arrive in our new home, we would purchase it a few months ahead and ship it mid-April.  Since the family is visiting the grandparents over spring break, we could buy the new car, drive it for spring break (because neither of our old cars are really up to the extended trip) and then ship it.

Many people will say that I am an over-researcher.  They might be right – I’ve been known to make spreadsheets to figure out where to go to dinner.  However, I think that car buying is a perfect place to put those research skills to use.  First I researched all the cars that are available in the US and would comfortably fit our family.  I felt strongly that I wanted 8 seats – there are six of us and I hate having to rent a car just because we have company.  I then researched a native automobile website to find out which vehicles are available there as well.  Then, I researched the comfort of the back row of seats.  Lastly, I sorted for price.  In addition to being frugal, the evidence suggests that our car will come back rather dinged and possibly damaged, so I certainly didn’t want to spent at lot.

Hmm, that shouldn’t too hard, right?  Hah!  I could not find a single vehicle that fit all those categories.  Next up was “close” vehicles.  I didn’t want to budge on price, so we looked at some 7 seaters, and some models not available in Europe.  After numerous late nights staring at the computer screen, I finally decided on a minivan, and narrowed it down to the Honda Odyssey.  I also decided that I wanted it to have less than 45,000 miles and cost less than $25,000.  I searched the car databases, including AutoTrader, eBay, CarMax and Auto.com, and found a likely looking list that wouldn’t require me to drive all over the tri-state area shopping.  Last Thursday, I called a few dealerships, verified inventory, and made plans to visit on Monday.  I was so happy – I thought the hard part was over.

On Monday morning, I called to verify that the cars were available, and discovered that a recall had come out.  The cars were not available to be sold, and no one could tell me when they would be fixed.  It seems the Odyssey wasn’t happening for our family.  Back to the drawing board.  A friend recommended the Mazda 5 and so the husband and I went over to the Mazda dealership to look.  I didn’t think the 5 was the right car for us, but the CX-9 looked awfully snazzy.

Back to the research again.  Now that we were re-considering SUVs, I had to revisit every possibly choice.  The Honda Pilot looked to be the best choice, with 8 seats, a relatively small size, and it’s general Honda-ness.  I rapidly identified three local dealers who had suitable used Pilots in stock.  (Thank you, internet.)  I visited the dealers, make some preliminary contacts, checked out the cars, and picked my top choice at each dealers.

Check in tomorrow for The Car Buying Blues; Part Two – The Buying Process.

Also in this series:

The Car Buying Blues, Part One:  Doing The Research

The Car Buying Blues, Part Two:  The Buying Process

The Car Buying Blues, Part Three:  The Financials

The Car Buying Blues, Part Four:  The Follow-up

The Car Buying Blues, Part Five:  Let’s Just Be Done With It