yellow car

My first car was a 1992 Buick Skylark gifted to me by my grandmother. At the tender age of 18, I was overjoyed to finally have what signaled the first sign of independence: my own set of wheels.

That car stuck with me for my first few years of adulthood, and lasted until a bitter departure courtesy of Atlanta’s towing services. After that, my stepdad helped me purchase my second car, a Ford Escort. If I knew what I know now, I would NEVER have agreed to buy this car, but I was young and desperate. It lasted two years before it suffered the same fate as my previous car: a blown head-gasket, the kiss of death for a used vehicle. The repairs were too expensive to justify, and I donated the car to charity.  I no longer had transportation or income, so I left for Navy boot camp a few months later.

After boot camp, I was stationed in Virginia. Within a few days of arriving at my duty station, I realized that I would need to be mobile. I initially planned to purchase a 2009 2-door Honda Civic, after going to a dealership that my friend recommended. Those plans fell through, after I found out that my credit union would not increase my pre-approved auto loan to match the Civic’s price. Side bar: the guy at the dealership tried to convince me to apply for a credit card to cover the car’s remaining balance. I was fairly clueless about finances at that point, but my spidey senses told me that idea was no bueno.

Since the ’09 Civic wasn’t working out, I went to a local Honda dealership. After looking at several cars, I was prepared to buy a used Nissan Altima. For some reason, I let the sales rep run my credit (yes, another mistake). She gleefully announced that my credit was SO GOOD that I qualified for a NEW CAR!



Soon after, I signed on to purchase a “new” 2012 Honda Civic instead of the Altima. I say “new” because it had over 300 miles at the time of purchase (mistake #63,598) for $26,000 after taxes. Crazy, right?

Although I had been bamboozled, I was happy with a reliable vehicle that got me wherever I needed to go. I even did the nerdy new car-owner thing and gave her a gender and name: Robyn 🙂 Still, the monthly payment gave me little breathing room in my budget. I refinanced my car, lowering my interest rate from 7% to 3%, and my payment from $420/month to $298. Years went by and I became more knowledgeable about car buying. I realized my purchase was not well-executed, and decided to pay off my loan ASAP. I made my final payment in March 2017, and I am now happily car-note free.

I’ll admit that I didn’t do enough research before buying my car. I allowed my emotions and (what I thought was) desperate need for transportation to cloud my judgment. This is probably the #1 cardinal sin in personal finance. However, I don’t subscribe to the patriarchal advice that admonishes women to bring a male companion when car shopping. The idea that we need a supposedly more knowledgeable man to protect us from the Big Bad Car Dealer Wolf seems ridiculous and condescending. Like any financial decision, it comes down to education, knowing what you want, and being ok with walking away if it’s not the best deal. Most of the time dealerships can work with you, but they’re banking on you being uneducated about car buying.

Although I plan to drive Robyn until the wheels fall off, a tiny part of me anxiously awaits my next car purchase. I feel a need to redeem myself for all the mistakes I made back in the day. I’m planning to put $0 down, with an interest rate of 3% or less, and ZERO miles if it’s a new car. Of course, this is only the back-up plan, as my true dream is to pay for my next car with cash. Either way, I’ll be doing my damnedest to make sure that I come out triumphant over the Big Bad Car Dealer Wolf.


  • I hear you an many levels with this post. My girlfriend did the same thing and fell for the new car purchase. She was enticed by the zero down 0% loan that she qualified for because of her great credit. However, the money save in interest is really just taken away from any discounts she could have negotiated with cash.

    I drive a 2010 Carola with a 140k miles and I am honestly making a game out of how long I can get this car to last. I would live to be driving it passed 500k miles.

    Just because my radio is fuzzy and the interior lights don’t always work doesn’t mean the car isn’t safe.

    • Yes, car dealerships are really good at wooing you in with a lot of bells and whistles. I’m sure there’s a lot more that I could have gotten with my car that they never even told me about.

      I’m right there with you on trying to drive your car to 500k! I’m almost at 90k with my car, and even though I’m tempted sometimes to trade it in for something that has Bluetooth and fancy rear view cameras, I’m driving it until it won’t start anymore.

      • When I wanted to listen to podcast while driving I realized my phone wasn’t load info. So I got some sticky Velcro and put a Bluetooth speaker on my dash.

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