Thursday, November 17, 2011

To Own or Not to Own That is the Question

This can be read here, on the Eastern Echo's website, or picked up in Thursday's print issue.

To some, owning a car is considered a rite of passage, ranked with graduating high school, moving out and partaking in your first hangover. Being a car owner, though, can come with more headaches than just an upset stomach and a questionable sensitivity to light.

First-time car purchasers have a lot to consider when looking for a car. Next to a house or, for some, an education, buying a car is the next largest investment many will make, and making a bad investment could cost thousands.

One has to consider if buying a vehicle is the best option. Yes, it is nice having the ability to drive to the farthest reaches of the country on a whim, but if there is public transportation available and businesses are within close enough proximity, taking the bus, walking or biking may be a better choice.

If a set of wheels is a necessary requirement for life, then there are things that should be taken into consideration before purchasing a vehicle.


Desiring to own a Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Aventador might be out of possibility or even practicality, so never buy more than what’s needed for everyday life. Being a chauffeur for friends wouldn’t warrant purchasing a two-door sports car, and doing city driving wouldn’t require a four-wheel-drive truck capable of scaling Mount Everest.

You are trying to find a car that fits your lifestyle, not your desires. Keep this in mind when searching for a car. Most will buy out of love, not need. This is how people end up with a $20,000 car when in reality a $10,000 purchase would suffice.

Things to consider when purchasing a car are fuel economy, number of doors and seats and cargo space.

Buying used is cheaper and more practical than new, but almost any vehicle can come with hidden gremlins that can creep up months or years later and cause untold havoc on a wallet.

Always research a vehicle before buying. If it seems like it is a deal that is too good to be true, it is. With the recession still in full swing, good used cars are hard to find. People are holding onto their cars for longer, so it is simply supply and demand. Demand is up while supply is down, so there are bound to be scams out there. Be vigilant.

Asking for or even purchasing a CarFax or comparable report is wise. This gives insight into a car’s history, including past inspections, DMV registrations, previous owners, how many miles it’s been driven between recorded events and any accidents the vehicle may have gotten into.

If everything in the CarFax checks out, Google whatever car you are looking for and toss in “reliability” into the search. This will bring up real reviews from other owners, and will help with debunking the cars reliability.

Sift through the opinions and look for patterns. If there are an above average number of complaints about one thing or another, like engine or transmission problems, be leery of the vehicle. If there are a high number of any complaints, think about walking away. The Internet won’t lie straight to your face.

Remember, the seller may say his grandmother drove it only to grocery store and church on Sundays, when in reality it means his kid drove it daily, hell-bent on destroying the car.

Also research and find an honest mechanic. This will come in handy later on.

Test drive the car to make sure everything works the way it is supposed to. Check everything from the windshield wipers to the heater and air condition – if it has it. Lights, 12-volt outlets, radio, parking brake and trunk lock should all be inspected. These things are known to fail.

If good reliability is a major factor in purchasing a car, avoid things like power windows, locks and seats. Yes, those are fine luxuries to give up, but in the future those components are less likely to fail and even cheaper to repair. The less complicated the car is, the longer it will last. Things like navigation, stability control, high-end audio systems and all-wheel-drive add complexity and raises ownership costs.

Next, try and see if the owner will let you take the car to the mechanic you researched. This is a good test to see how well the car is maintained. If the owner is hesitant on taking it to a mechanic, this is a red flag.

It is not wrong to ask for this. Most should let a mechanic inspect, and if they ask to come along, don’t fight them.

Once the mechanic checks it out, and gives it a clean bill of health, deciding on whether to buy the car or not, is the next step.

Make sure it’s what you want. Even though you should purchase a vehicle to fit your lifestyle, ultimately it is difficult to invest in
a vehicle you are not attracted to. You have to find a vehicle that fits what you need while satisfying a little bit of what you want, too.