The 5 Right Questions to Ask when Buying a Car

Yesterday I sold my baby. My car for the last 5 years was so precious to me. She helped us save $25,000, so I want to tell you all the lessons she taught us.

I have found that one of the largest financial mistakes many people make revolve around their car decisions. 

When I was 20, I was not very wise. I bought my “dream car” that ended up being a financial disaster for us. At the time, these were the questions that mattered most to me, and they are the questions most people rank highest: 

  1. Do I like the aesthetic of the car? 
  2. Can I afford the payments? 
  3. How old is it? 

THESE ARE THE WRONG QUESTIONS! 

It’s not that they’re irreverent questions, it’s that they are not the MOST relevant. 

After 10 years of no car payments (no waisted money on interest), minimal repair bills and THOUSANDS of dollars being reallocated to other parts of our budget, I want to share with you the RIGHT questions to ask when buying a car: 

What are the maintenance reviews?

  • You can scour the internet for all the mad people. They complain about everything. Before purchasing a vehicle, we read all the horror stories and look for common themes. Many vehicles start needing major repairs around a certain mileage point. Maybe it’s a transmission at 50,000, or an engine at 70,000. There are almost always patterns. Look for a car that people love to rave about, verses complain about. 
  • You can literally google “Cheapest cars to maintain” and read about the annual maintenance of vehicles. Those lists were how we made a decision on my husband’s car. It was consistently on every rating list of cheap to maintain, and it’s proven to be true. 

How much life does this vehicle have?

  • Years on a vehicle are not very relevant. You want miles. You can have a one year old car that someone drove back and forth across the country or a ten year old car that was a grocery-getter. Read the reviews online about which mileage point the vehicle is typically at when people have to drop major cash on repairing it. Some vehicles you want to ditch before they even approach 100k. 
  • Keep in mind, it’s not as important how many miles it has right now. The right question is “how many more miles until I have to sink a lot of money into repairs?” Both the cars we bought in college were SUPER low in mileage, and we thought that was good. Wrong. That was EXPENSIVE. Let someone else take the major depreciation hit. Buy a car that has tons of life left in it, but has taken a huge chunk of its depreciation already. 
  • My baby I just sold was a 2000 Toyota Avalon. We bought her in 2016 with 94,000 miles. There were abundant reviews showing us they very regularly get over 300,000 miles. So yes, I bought a 16 year old car. However, she was a teenager in mileage terms and had tons of life left to go. I was able to sell it for only $2,800 less than what I paid after 5 years. The average car payment in America is $500 right now. You do the math. I saved a ton.

What does the local mechanic say? 

  • I always talk to three different people who work on cars regularly to get their thoughts on a vehicle. They see the horror stories. They know what cars are in their shops constantly and which ones are a breeze to own. I am currently in the market for a minivan and narrowed it down to two based on everything I read online. I asked two local shops and both of them said “Oh definitely the option b. We are constantly having to work on option a. If you have an option b, we will hardly ever see you in here.”

Is the title clean?

  • Make sure you read the Carfax report. Sometimes something that looks like a great deal is because it’s been through a major repair. Maybe a flood. Maybe a car accident. You want to know the history of the vehicle to make sure you aren’t walking into a trap. 

How much does it actually cost?

  • Many people just look at the payment, but there are many other factors to consider. How much will it be annually to maintain? How much does it cost to ensure this vehicle? What is the gas mileage? Does it take standard or premium gas? How much do these type of tires cost? Many people see an affordable payment, but don’t realize all the surprises hidden in owning the vehicle.

Best of luck on your next car purchase! I hope our mistakes help you avoid making the same ones we did!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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