Skip to content

Buying a new car (and there’s even an ALA 2008 tie-in)

So Sandy’s car is kaput (of course, since she’s temporarily between jobs — isn’t that how it works?) and I am going to bequeath her my trusty Honda Civic and get a new-to-me set of wheels. Probably not brand-new. I’m thinking a gently-used Prius or Mini-Cooper — exactly what I was thinking these last few months when I told myself that it wasn’t a good time to buy a new(er) car. But now it is, because this isn’t a walking/bus town, so we can’t share a car.

The last time I bought a car was 1998. It was my Civic, then almost five years old, and I vaguely remember using newspaper classifieds. It’s 2008 (in case you hadn’t noticed), and I have no idea how to buy a car. I suspect it has something to do with The Internets, which through a series of tubes process new and used cars which then extrude into sundry communities across the U.S.

At least that’s my first guess. If you have suggestions, I’m all ears. I’ve heard it might be the season for rental agencies to sell their cars. I’d like to cut to the chase and ask Avis to sell me the green Prius I keep renting here in Tallahassee, because I love that car.

I admit to being a teensy bit excited about the idea of a new (to me) car. My Civic is a superb little vehicle that has treated me well all these years. I love driving it, it’s been easy to maintain, and it has Been Places. (New Jersey, New York, California, and now Florida — plus it traveled Route 66 in 2001, when we moved to NorCal.)

But even though it’s not the financially easiest time for us to get new(er) wheels, I do keep thinking about the features in the cars I drive when I rent. Even the incredibly stripped-down budget car I rented in Boston two weeks ago (hello, manual windows and locks!) had two accessory outlets and cupholders. Yes, shallow, but my cup-holders have never worked (they were an early model…), and on a five-hour drive I like a place to park my diet root beer. I am even a little tiddly over the idea of a car in which I could unlock the driver’s side without opening my door and pressing a button. Little things, things that I have chosen to live without, but now that Moderne Automotiveness beckons to me… well, I am tempted.

Naturally, this thread segues into the work of the ALA Task Force on Electronic Meeting Participation.

We on the Task Force completed a survey last month, and though I haven’t gone over the data yet, a quick peekaroo indicates that a lot of us love ALA dearly, but we do think we’re ready for an upgrade. We don’t want to leave ALA; I’ve said earlier, if we tried to form a library organization, it would end up looking a lot like ALA. But we do want to see our dear old association get a makeover.

We want to be able to fully participate in the work of the association without expanding our carbon footprint to the size of Bigfoot’s.

We want our work to be seamless.

We want ALA to stop distinguishing between “virtual” members and other members (and to stop punishing librarians who choose to participate electronically), because in this day and age, we’re ALL virtual members.

We want ALA to support our virtual efforts and to stop pretending that a meeting is more “open” if it’s face-to-face, even if it costs thousands of personal dollars to travel to.

We want ALA to be accessible to all.

We want to be part of ALA, unencumbered.

Posted on this day, other years:

Add a Facebook Comment


  1. My prefered way to buy a new-to-me car is to buy an off-lease from the dealer. This is definitely more expensive that kevinslist or whatever that tube-y thing is, but you know that the car will be better maintained.

    There’s a high coolness-premium on the coopers from what I understand. Another thing to consider is Toyota. The Canadian feds have a new “eco-auto” program that offers rebates for fuel efficient cars, and for the last couple of years, the manual transmission Corolla has qualified. I usually get 40+mpg in mine.

    Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Karen,

    I bought my first and so far only car in 1998 from a Toyota dealership. It was a used 1996 Toyota Corolla in fine shape with 30,000 miles. Being used, I got a good deal, price wise. It was also a stick shift which I prefer and probably harder to sell as well. So, consider purchasing a used car whatever make and model you choose.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  3. Amanda wrote:

    I’ve had family members who’ve had success using to buy used cars.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  4. Oh, never buy a rental car. I worked for Hertz for four years (and Jim worked for National for three). It’s really not a good deal. I like that you can set up searches in Carmax and others (like Craigslist) and get emailed when something comes in that matches your search.

    We just got a new Civic (because they keep value for so long). It was better to just get the new one since the one that was a few years old was only a couple grand less. And we got 2.9% rate! And they are very safe. I’d love a mini cooper or prius, so I think you have excellent choices. And if you can wait for the car you want, you find it!

    Best of luck! Glad Sandy was okay…

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  5. 2.9%! That’s great! Brandi, thank you. That’s the kind of inside info I need.

    Carmax sounds like what I need. A new Civic… yes, they do keep value and that does open the door to “new.” Interesting q.

    I won’t drive another stick shift; drove sticks for my first five cars and it just wasn’t worth the hassle. My parents were stick-shift snobs and I think it was my first active rebellion from them.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  6. Tara wrote:

    hiya Karen–i’m one of the Evergreen trainers in BC and part of the car coop in Vancouver, Canada. one of the cars near me is a Mini. the colour of the one by me is vanilla, not white, but vanilla. they are cute and trendy like that.

    however, i find the interior design is all form over function. sure, it’s stylish and symmetrical but good luck finding the window switch or the door locks.

    they are small and zippy, but it’s hard to see around parked cars as they are so low to the ground. also the tiny rear view mirror doesn’t allow you to see much.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  7. A car coop… how I miss big cities with moderne tendencies!! Using a car coop would so be “me.”

    Those are great form issues. (A friend and my sister both own mini coopers, and apparently love triumphs over all, but I can see where love might be irritating if I can’t see out the rear-view mirror.)

    Vanilla… what a gorgeous color. (I know, I should be thinking practically.)

    I am resisting the temptation to write a post about what cars designed by last-gen ILS vendors would look like…

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  8. Robin wrote:

    Ah, but watch the Mini Cooper “trap”…
    Since they’re considered “performance cars,” they are built to run on *premium* gas. So you could get great mileage, but still have a hefty gas bill. That drove me away from the Mini…and quickly! [Note: I’ve read that some folks do admit they use regular gas without a problem, but if you have an engine problem and the dealer finds out you’ve been using regular gas, they can void your warranty…) Your mileage may vary!

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  9. Robin, I have been using 91 octane for my Civic since I bought it — the mid-grade gas, anyway — on the advice of a mechanic who said if I wanted the pinging to go away, use better gas. He was right. I suspect that good fuel, plus rigorous attention to my car’s service needs, included recommended scheduled maintenance, is why I have a 15-year-old car that drives like a four-year-old car. (Or am I describing myself? ;> )

    If you factor it into how much it costs to use better gasoline, say, over a year, in a car with good mileage, better gasoline is just not much more money. So in the long run, the question is a more complex equation that includes the cost of the vehicle, its expected service life, its mileage, the cost of its fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc.

    I have pondered the also-rans in the Hybrid world, including the Insight, but I wonder if it will be easy to get an Insight repaired in ten years…

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  10. Abigail wrote:

    I bought a new Cooper in 2002 and have never regretted it (well, except maybe the one time the window wouldn’t shut in the middle of winter). The form issues others have mentioned haven’t really been problems for me, and I’ve been using regular gas ever since my dealer advised it for winter weather. I’d buy another Mini in an instant, although lately I’ve been admiring a friend’s Prius – sounds to me like you’ve picked two great options!

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  11. Tara wrote:

    “you wouldn’t buy a car with the hood welded shut, would you?” the last-gen ILS vendor designed car post would be great! hope you find time to write it.

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  12. Ah yes… I think I shall.

    Meanwhile, I’m finding some very good deals on gently-used Civics, and pondering those as well. I have been treated well by my Civic, and it’s a chunk of change cheaper than the MINI or the Prius…

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  13. I’ve bought two cars in my lifetime (a Toyota Corolla and a Honda Accord). Both were about half a dozen years old, which seems to be a sweet spot where the sale price is a lot lower than a new car, but there are still lots of good years in the car if it’s treated well. The Toyota lasted us nearly ten more years after we bought it; we’re still driving the Honda. (I don’t know if I’d get a 6-year old Prius, though, until there was more data on the expected lifetime of the batteries.)

    We got both of our cars through private sales, which I preferred for the lower prices and lower pressure. Craigslist is a good place to find lots of private sales in many areas; that’s where we found our current car. The sellers let us give the cars a good test drive, and take them to a mechanic to check them out carefully before we bought. (We also got a 30-day subscription to Carfax so we could pre-screen cars for data reported to the state, like accidents, ownership changes, salvage titles, or odometer anomalies.) We used to get a good idea of going prices in our area, so we knew what cars would be in our price range and what to bid for a car we liked.

    We lined up financing before we bought. You pretty much have to on a private sale, but it’s a good idea if you’re buying from a dealer too, since you can often get a better deal with a bank or credit union, and you can concentrate on getting the best price instead of getting caught up by payment shell games a lot of dealers seem to like. If you get a price you like and *then* the dealer offers you something better for a loan than what you have lined up, you can consider it, but make sure you have the car you want at the price you want before considering dealer finance offers.

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  14. John, that’s terrific advice. I have to say I’m tempted by cars with at least a year on the manufacturer’s warranty, though as you point out cars get a lot cheaper at the four-to-six-year point.

    All your other advice (edmunds, carfax, etc.) makes great sense.

    I’m very fortunate to have USAA as my insurer since 1985. In talking to the Toyota person yesterday (while dreams of a new Prius danced in my head… and then danced out), when I mentioned I could get a loan through USAA he said they would inevitably beat everyone else. I don’t know if that’s true for used cars, and I am going to shop around. We don’t have to buy a car this week. We can’t go indefinitely, but we have some wiggle room. I should probably use this week while I’m home to do what you say — subscribe to carfax, shop for loans, etc. — and then keep our eyes peeled for The car. I don’t know if we’ll find The car in Tallahassee, frankly. Carmax has at least that advantage that I’m not stuck with what’s available around here.

    I was pleased to see if I put down a big chunk of changed on a gently-used car I’d have it paid off in 3 years on a reasonable loan plan. (I have a small student loan and we have a mortgage, plus Sandy is between jobs, or I’d try to just buy it outright.)

    Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  15. Yes, it’s always nice to have a car paid off long before its expected lifespan elapses.

    If you have a mortgage, and you’ve got a good equity cushion in your house, you might want to consider financing via a home equity line of credit (HELOC). With a low loan-to-value ratio and clean credit, you can get a HELOC now for about 5% APR (or less!) in some markets, which is less than the typical used car loan nowadays. Plus, the interest is usually tax deductible, unlike a car loan.

    A HELOC rate is variable, unlike a typical car loan, but for a term of 3 years or less (which it sounds like you’re thinking of, and which I recommend) most of your payment will be principal anyway.

    One nice thing about using a HELOC is it gives you flexibility with your payments. If you’ve got extra savings, you can pay it into the HELOC as you go, which can let you pay off the loan early or just lower your interest payments. (Or, to look at it another way, if you make extra payments, it’s like putting that money into a money market account that pays at the rate of the HELOC– and you can always pull the money back out later if you need it.) You can also “slow down” your payments, or take some back, if you hit a financial crisis, though I’d try to avoid that if possible.

    To avoid piling up debt via a HELOC, it helps to treat it as a straight installment loan, with periodic level payments, till you’ve paid it off in your desired time window (3 years or whenever). You can use a spreadsheet to track your progress, and track any extra payments as withdrawable “savings” until the loan is retired. (Because of our extra diversions of savings, we’ve now paid off the HELOC balance with the bank a few months ahead of schedule; we’ll make a few more payments into our savings account, in place of making HELOC payments, before we “pay it off” on our own books.)

    Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
  16. Re: Premium gas in an older car.

    I have a friend (really!) who drives an ancient minivan, into which he puts premium fuel, also on the advice of his mechanic. Apparently, with older cars, there’s some sort of build-up in the cylinders which changes the compression ratios, which means your old car has the compression ration of a high-performance vehicle without the high performance.

    Monday, July 7, 2008 at 7:41 am | Permalink
  17. Karen, I have USAA and love it!! It’s pretty much the only company that I really do like. Their customer service is awesome.

    I try to use them for anything I can. That said, when we were buying the new car, USAA couldn’t compete. I got an approval from them (pretty much a blank check that I could use at the time, which helps negotiate). I also had a deal from the State Credit Union. We ended up going with Honda financing for the Civic since it got us the 2.9 APR. We’ll only pay like 1900 in financing! Now I see 1.9% deals too! Seems like a good time to buy.

    I believe USAA will do 100% financing for used cars as well. Applying online and signing up for the auto payment option will get you the best deal.

    Monday, July 7, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  18. Jamie wrote:


    To echo a previous poster, my partner and I found our car thru craigslist, and we got a great deal on a used Scion XB. Being lesbians, we were looking for a Suburu Forrester :), but the price was way too much even for a used one. Someone recommended, and I did some research, and found the Scion, which is made by Toyota. Without Edmunds, I would not even have heard of the car. Which would have been a shame, because we love it.
    Another car I would not even have considered without Edmunds is the post -2003(?) Hyundai Elantra. Believe it not, the Elantra is supposed to be a great buy now, both because of vast improvements in design, and because of the lingering effects of their past reputation. Who knew? Good luck with your search!

    Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. The Links of Love are in Your Eyes on Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    [...] weekend after being on the road for nearly a month, and I’m still catching up — plus I plunged into car purchasing mode (I believe my green Prius is turning into a gently-used Honda — a more sensible choice, [...]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *