Taking out a car loan when your partner is basically unemployed and you’re living on one income. Sounds like the worst idea ever and the start of a judgey Reddit thread, right?
Yet that is just what we did.
I kept trying to hold out until T got a steady job, but eventually both the safety and reliability of our car deteriorated to alarming levels. We’re a one-car household and public transport will never be a viable option for BOTH of our commutes so it’s vital that we are able to rely on our vehicle. T needed to be able to get to job interviews and to start work at the drop of a hat.
It was a bad catch 22 – needing a car to earn money but needing money to pay for a car. I’ve said before that our strategy of buying cars we can afford in cash has not worked out well in the past – thus, the loan, despite the terrible, terrible timing.
Our car-buying process
The last (and only time) I discussed our car issues with my mother, her advice was succinct: go for something in the $10k plus range, as cheap cars have always turned out to be money pits for us. Both her and my dad did and I don’t recall them ever having issues with their cars growing up. The difference of course is they had the cash to do that, and we don’t.
Much as I’d like the peace of mind of a brand new car, there just weren’t any good finance deals around (Subaru had 0% and 3 lump sum payments, Mitsubishi had some good driveaway prices, but not for models we had any interest in). So we took a punt on the used market again, just higher up the price ladder. The one small comfort was that we know more about cars than ever before and T knows car sales from the inside out now.
Looking in the $15k range (give or take) we were looking at cars falling roughly along two lines: 4 to 6-year-old cars with 80,000 to 100,000 plus km through to 10-year-old cars with 50,000 plus km, and everything in between. Basically, the best case choices split between newer model, higher ks and older model, lower ks. The older cars are usually Japanese imports, while the newer ones are occasionally New Zealand new (and thus with a full history).
T zeroed in on a few different specific models; narrowing down our choices made things easier in some ways and harder in others. He loves driving, does 99.9 percent of the driving, and needs to be happy with whatever car we have (and let’s face it, it’s really the only decision he gets majority say in – I’m the boss on everything else). It’s got to be big enough and hardy enough to handle him – a little 1300cc is not going to work for space or engine power. Being a gearhead he’s very specific about particular models and year ranges and knows all the little differences – features and problems alike.
In the end we set our sights on a Mazda – possibly an Atenza but ideally a 6 (the Mazda 6 is the NZ version).
The Subaru Legacy was another contender, but it’s difficult to find a lightly used Subaru without ridiculously high mileage, and being the most stolen cars in NZ, insurance is higher on them.
(Toyotas are famously awesome for reliability but expensive as they don’t tend to depreciate as fast. Also, he doesn’t like any of their current models – last time we were car hunting he would have killed for a Caldina wagon but apparently the later years are definitely off the list.)
Random thought aside: I feel like I don’t seem to see many Hondas or Nissans around Auckland anymore. Growing up there were tons of Civics, Integras, Accords, Pulsars, and Primeras on the roads – these days the models have changed of course, but anecdotally the makes just don’t seem as common.
Closing the deal
So, what did we have to compromise on? In the end, we went for newer with higher mileage – a 2011 wagon with a little over 100,000 km. It’s an ex-lease car with a full service history that’s had regular maintenance, all documented.
(I gotta say, it took a while to get used to the quiet engine. None of the rougher rattling, shaking or ticking kind of sounds we’re used to.)
I’d read a little bit about negotiating with sales people at dealerships online, but it was truly bizarre sitting through the process. It actually happens – writing down the price you want to pay on a sheet of paper, then sitting and waiting for the rep to take the offer to the manager. I was super tense the whole time, convinced they were out to get us, but it really wasn’t that bad. I’d even go as far as to say that the rep didn’t really seem into it – maybe their commissions are small. He was definitely not overly pushy.
If I recall right, we got a little over 10 percent knocked off, paying $16,000. Compared to what similar cars, even private sales, were going for, it was a very good price.
It’s funny how things work out. I was determined to shut down any attempts to sell me on dealership finance, and yet…
1. The AA completely disappointed me. In their pre-approval email they gave me absolutely no details beyond the fact that I was pre-approved for a loan. I had to hit reply asking what my interest rate would be, and it wasn’t the best one they advertise.
2. My bank was the complete opposite – what a great experience! I was actually almost excited about the whole thing. A banker called me up, went through every little detail with me, took the time to make sure I understood everything, and was incredibly patient.
3. But the dealer in fact bettered the offer through their finance company. (There was slightly less flexibility around making extra repayments – however, given our situation, it was highly unlikely we’d be in the position to make extra repayments any time soon.) Also, going through them meant the whole process would be quicker, which was a bonus.
Incidentally, I had to laugh at this:
For every instance of a car loan “horror story”, how many people have no trouble or regrets about financing their car? You aren’t going to have a bunch of threads titled “Two years ago I bought a nice car, negotiated a good deal on it, put down a sizeable down payment, had excellent credit and secured a low interest loan and I couldn’t be happier!”.
(Yes, I have become a Reddit addict. Reddict?)
Plenty of my PF blog friends have borrowed for cars in order to get something reliable and on the newer side, and done so responsibly. Ideally nobody would ever take out a loan for a car, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
I won’t say it’s the best financial decision I’ve ever made, but it’s definitely far from the worst one.
I set the car loan up as an 18-month loan, so payments were rather high with the aim of killing the debt all the quicker. But halfway through, thanks to my new job, I decided to pay it off. That monkey is now off my back.
BONUS: having a car this new reduces our annual registration costs by heaps.