Let me start this post by saying I have a bad track record with cars. At the age of 16, I received my first car: a 2005 Dodge Neon. Yellow on the outside, black and yellow interior, affectionately named “Bumblebee”. After only 2 months of having Bumblebee, I flipped and totaled her. At the time, I was going into my junior year of high school where I was dual enrolled as a full time student at a local college. Can you imagine pulling up to college on a school bus? Every day? It was embarrassing, yet humbling to say the least. After about 2 years of yellow bus treatment and sharing a car with my mom, I received my second car, a 2006 Nissan Sentra. After about 3 months with Sentra, I T-boned an SUV on the way home and totaled her as well. To recap, at the ripe age of 18, within a two-year span, I had been gifted 2 cars by my parents and had totaled them both.

Fast forward 4 years, I started working as a high school teacher 45 miles away from my apartment, depleted my savings moving into my new apartment, had recently began courses in graduate school, and my 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee broke down for the 3rd and final time. I had no time to waste when it came to transportation. A friend of mine had recently began working at a local dealership, so he was my go-to in my time of need. While I am grateful that I was able to buy a car on my own for the first time (at a reasonable interest rate I might add), there are several things I wish I had done differently in this process.

  1. Research I wish I had done more research about the process of buying a car. The first thing I did when my car broke down for the last time was call my parents. They were a great source of information and support, but I wish I had taken the time to find trusted sources of information about the process. I think having more information about buying a car would have helped me get a better deal.
  2. Credit Union Offer My parent’s first piece of advice in buying a new car was to call my credit union for a quote on an auto loan. I followed their advice and because I had good credit, they were able to offer a $15,000 loan over 5 years at around 5.8%APR. Perfect, right? But I didn’t take it. I was so eager to sign papers and get it over with that I rushed into a loan offered by the dealership. The dealership’s offer was good, $20,000 over 4.5 years at 6.9%, but not better than what my credit union offered. Given a second chance, I would go with the Credit Union even if it means getting an older car with less bells and whistles. In the long run it’ll mean lower monthly payments and less interest.
  3. Ask around In my haste to get a car before my rental depleted what remained of my savings, I neglected to use the most valuable resource I had: People. Granted, most of the people I spent my time with were around my age and most had never purchased a vehicle. But I had family members and coworkers who had done so. I wished I had reached out to more than just my parents before I jumped into a five year commitment.
  4. Visit multiple lots The most important piece of advice my dad gave me as I was gearing up to purchase a car for the first time was “Don’t be afraid to walk away from the table”. In that he meant that I wasn’t obligated to sign my name on the dotted line under any circumstances, no matter who was offering or what was being offered. This is the one piece of advice I wished I had taken to heart. Although I got a great deal on my vehicle, I didn’t get all that I wanted out of the deal and may have been able to had I left the table and visited other lots.
  5. Take a day to think After it was all said and done I had a shiny new car, great on gas mileage, equipped with Bluetooth (something I’ve always wanted), and reasonable payments for the next five years. A five year commitment deserves some thought. If I had to do it all again, I would take at least one day to think about the decision I’m about to make. I’m not sure if more time would have changed the outcome, but it would’ve settle my mind about my decisions after the fact. And peace of mind is priceless.

Have you recently or are considering making a big purchase? What are some ways you work through your decision making process? Comment on this post or share your story with me at chelseaexceptional@gmail.com.