Common Cents, Uncategorized

On Hindsight: Car Buying

The problem with hindsight is that it’s always so obvious. “Well, duh,” I tell myself, “if I’d known THEN what I know NOW, of course I would have bought a Windows phone!”

Actually, I’ve never wished I bought a Windows phone. (Has anyone ever wished that?)

Let’s use a better example: cars. My first car was a Kia Spectra, stick shift. If you’ve never seen or owned one, be grateful. It was old, beat up, and lasted about 3 months. In a fun twist of fate, the transmission wore out on the way to an Entreprise car dealership. Here it’s pictured dying on the side of the road, moments before being towed off to car heaven (or the alternative… probably the alternative).

Kia Spectra


I’d tell you how much I paid for it upfront and in maintenance, but I’m too embarrassed.

Now, is about helping people be their best selves, and that includes making car decisions. So, what would older and wiser McCTaft tell younger, naive McCTaft about cars?

  • Learn to haggle. I got this part right, and managed to talk the seller down (a little) before buying. This also meant not buying the first couple of cars I inquired about: if someone wouldn’t budge on price, I’d walk away.
  • If you’re buying used (and a lot of “first car” buyers are), have an emergency fund! Many home finance gurus, Dave Ramsey for example, suggest $1,000.00 as a “uh-oh” or “Murphy’s Law” fund, and I agree with them. This is another one younger McCTaft got right: when looking for a car, I didn’t even bother looking at one that would leave me with little or no emergency cash. Think about it: if you spend all your savings on a used car, and something important breaks a month later, you’d better have a way to pay for repairs.
  • Talk to a good mechanic, and take their advice. The first part of this, I got right, the second… I blatantly ignored. My parents’ mechanic advised that I stay away from older Kia models. What did I buy? A really old Kia. Guess who got to eat crow?
  • Be realistic about how long your car will last. I poured way too much cash into minor and major repairs for that pile of scrap. Without damaging my pride too much, I can tell you that I could have made payments on a much, much better car for less than that thing cost me per month. Ouch. What’s really sad is that I didn’t need most of the repairs: why replace the tires on a car that won’t live long enough to see the tread wear? A rule of thumb that some families use: if repairs are costing us the same, on average, as a car payment, it’s probably time for a new car. Saving that money to make a bigger down payment on (or outright buy) a newer car would have been a much better choice. (Younger McCTaft bows to older McCTaft’s wisdom.)
  • Unless you can pay cash for a new(er) car–which is an admirable goal–start working on a (good) credit history. Don’t, however, go into debt for it! Using a credit card responsibly could help. Buying an expensive computer you don’t need and making payments on it? Not so much. I got the no debt part right–unfortunately, my lack of a credit history meant I was locked into higher interest payments on my next car.

I’m sure there are other things older McCTaft could tell younger McCTaft, but for now this will do. In the meantime, older McCTaft is going to have a friendly chat with his mechanic about new wheel bearings on a solid, comfortable, and reliable hatchback, which should last much longer than its predecessor.

What would you tell your younger self about buying a car?




©2016 (and yes, Microsoft and Kia own the Windows and Spectra brands, respectively.)