How to Buy a Used Car (Thanks, Dave Ramsey!)

I used to sell cars.  Yup.  Used cars. (I was thankyouGod terrible at it) And because I think I am particularly funny I even wore a pink and navy blue plaid jacket a few times.  I use what I learned in my car sale days...all sixty of 'em,  to teach sales and customer service everywhere.

My sales experience serves me well when I shop for cars.  My Dad also trained me up to be a wise and savvy car shopper jumping hurdles of  Consumer Reports and Kelly Blue Book and being willing to walk away if the sales deal wasn't perfect for me.  I know not to fall for the 'car payment is only $$$' line but to look at the numbers if financing.  Even though I do not understand them.  At all.  I know leasing a car is setting money on fire and driving away from it in a gorgeous new car.  I drive my cars until they are almost Fred Flinstone cars with the bottom gone and my pretty little pedicured feet peddling 'em.

So my much loved and driven through cornfields and cross country and paid for dearly 'Carl' needed to be replaced. My Honda CRV is a twelve (almost thirteen) year old car with 204,000 miles on it!  I have owned it for ten years.  I loved that car.  When we paid it off with our inheritance and went to zero car payments, we celebrated. And we kept making car payments.  We made a large car payment to ourselves almost every month. We have been following Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover pretty closely for about three years, so we planned to replace our next car by paying cash for a new used one.
Although we do live very well, we make a lot of choices in order to become debt free.  We do not buy a lot of things we want.  We budget in advance for each month's expenses using Pear Budget online tracker.  Currently we only owe our mortgage.  Everything else is paid for or we plan to pay for with cash instead of credit.  It is very freeing to just not buy things.  The things we do buy matter more because we have to plan and save and consciously choose them.  We do not fight about money as much as we would with more bills.  

Sometimes we just strain against this simple living thing, and want to go buy a new set of living room furniture or an imac or a vacation where we take a plane and get massages and room service every day.  Or we want a Honda Pilot.

Hondas are so stinkin' awesome.  In ten years I have barely had to do any mechanical work on my CRV.  When we started looking to replace 'Carl' we thought we might get the same car over again.  We looked at lots of cars and finally found the Honda Pilot.  


TOO MUCH MOOLAH. We wanted to avoid a car loan and pay with just cash.  We had a large chunk of money saved, but it started to feel like too little. I started to reason we should just do a partial car loan so we could get a newer car with fewer miles.  John reminded me how hard we had worked and how deeply we believed in getting off of the commercialism treadmill. Oh, right.  Plus he just said flat out NO.  And he is my hero and the boss.  I am ever grateful for his wisdom.  

To afford a Pilot with our hard saved cash, we had to settle for a much older car with higher mileage. We wanted a bigger car so our family of four plus ninety-two pound dog Steve and gear could go camping or drive cross country to our Colorado Dreamland cabin.  I was interested in a minvan, but I knew part of me would die a little. Probably the part who wears lingerie and puts on mascara.  But I was considering it.  A Pilot could do all of the things we wanted AND take my friends AND their kidlets to Chicago or the park in one car.  I hate driving a bunch of cars somewhere.  I like group adventures that are environmentally friendly.

After two weeks of exhaustive car shopping and fitfully sleepless nights, I met Joe Orosz Jr.  at South Lake Auto Mall.  He was only the second of SEVEN car salesmen I talked to and liked.  The poor thing and his wife have six year old triplet girls and their 8yo big sister to manage.  I am pretty sure his wife is a saint.  Anyway, he and I had witty banter and I was very direct with him about what we wanted, what we could afford and that we were paying cash, Dave Ramsey style.  Or mafia style, if it was a really unsuccessful mafia family.  

Joe was going to drive the Pilot I found to my house for my test drive! This man UNDERSTOOD having small children.  When I ended up on his car lot to test drive, with a one year old and a three year old. Joe HELD MY DAUGHTER's HAND to help her down the steps.  And put a BANDAID on the other daughter's skinned knee.  And Joe put my car seats in and BUCKLED MY GIRL IN when I drove the car to my husband for a visit.  We both had an insider's laugh when as he stuck out his finger for my baby daughter to grab onto for a big step I quipped, "Look at all those cars being sold!  Right now, as we stand here, cars are flying right off this lot!"  The thing is, as funny as it was and as cheesy as it could have been, I believed him.  Maybe he only plays WII at home and belches beer when he asks his sainted wife to bring him a sammich, but I saw Joe as a charming family man.  Well played or real, I hope I never know.  

Joe worked for me.  He knew my parameters and mooooostly stayed within them.  There was a flub about a second key that didn't exist and will cost me to replace, but really, he did well.  At the end of the day, all that matters is that I feel I got a good deal, and I do.  I am not giving details in fact, I think my deal was that good.  I might have even gotten my sales person to dance on a table to close the deal.  If you know you you will laugh and not be surprised.  If you know Joe, you will be doing the same.   

There was some tension when a pleasant but overly thorough floor manager tried to walk me through every point of why I should pay more.  I told him I wasn't stupid and had been through the numbers sheet and could read just fine so he didn't need to read it to me again.  Especially since he knew I had been in the car business.  Even though I said "Yes, you can get more for it, in fact you probably can get sticker for this car but I am willing to buy it right now for THIS amount.  Even though I stood firm (ok, we did give in another $200 in the end, but Joe danced, it was worth it!) there was a wheeling and dealing to it, as always.  And in honor of my Joe, I won't be giving details out unless you get a hold of me directly.  The car does have a huge scratch on its rump, so they probably got it for a song on trade. I am ok with it because my trade was hobbling and wearing dentures, so John and I are very pleased.

I strongly reccomend Southlake Auto Mall Nissan Kia in Merrillville Indiana and Joe Orosz Jr. In particular.  Let him know that you know he dances on the desk and you won't even have to say Heather sent you!

I am happy to coach anyone buying a used car towards a better deal. I asked Joe if he had some insider tips for me to share. He said always get the car checked out through your own mechanic and always look into warranties available for the car. Here are a few quick tips on how to get a great deal on a used car:

1) Check the Kelley Blue Book value online for YOUR car and the car you are looking at.  BEFORE you go see it. Aim for middle prices, but expect to pay a bit more and receive a bit less. It is just reality, your car salesperson does intend to make a living, after all. 

2) If you use Auto Trader, Carmax and the Kelley Blue Book sites to search for used cars online, you can get a larger view of what is out there and what you can expect to pay before you start hoofing it from lot to lot.

3) Never Never Never pay sticker price.  NEVER.  Even if it is a 'no haggle' lot like Carmax, ask them to sweeten the deal with services, extra keys, increasing your trade value  or warranties.  A car bought by a dealer as a trade in will ALWAYS be bought at less than it is worth.  Then they can sell it for a lower price and still make a tidy profit.  Plus they do the same with your trade in.  

4) Don't ever lease the car.  You did not get a good deal.  It doesn't matter what your payment is.  A nice car for a little payment only means you are paying too much to look wealthier than you would be if you bought a car with cash that you could afford.  It hurts.  I am sorry.  It is true.

5) Car dealers  and salesmen do put money into the process and want to make a profit.  It is a business and they should make a profit. BUT if you are sending their kid to a semester of college on your purchase because you didn't do the research, well that is kind of foolish, right?  

Soooo big and pretty and big and shiny and BIG!
Do you have any stories to tell?  What is your best or worst car shopping tip or adventure? Do you know Joe?  YOU SHOULD!  


Unknown said...

Awesome article on buying used cars. Thanks for sharing.

Wicked Kutun said...

Nice article for buying/selling second hand cars

Gabby Brotherton said...

Those pictures are hilarious :) Great tips on buying a used car! I bought my Toyota Echo four years at Country Hill Motors ( ) and I haven't had ANY major problems with it.

Alexa Reyes said...

Yay! Good blog post about buying used cars. Keep posting!

Anonymous said...

Another tip: Check vehicle history report to know the used car's history.