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 then what I know now, I would NEVER have agreed to buy this car, but I was young and desperate, so I took what I could get. It lasted about two years until it suffered the same fate as my previous car (a blown head-gasket, which is essentially the kiss of death for a used vehicle). I reluctantly donated the car to charity, and because I no longer had transportation, and no income, I decided to ship off to Navy boot camp a few months later.
After boot camp, I was stationed in Virginia, and 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 price of the Civic. Side bar: the guy at the dealership tried to convince me to apply for a credit card to cover the remaining balance of the car that the loan didn’t cover. Even though I was still pretty clueless about finances at that point, my spidey senses told me that idea was no bueno.
Since the ’09 Civic wasn’t working out, I went to another Honda dealership in the area to find a car that was within the price range of my pre-approved loan. After looking at several cars, I had settled on a Nissan Altima. For some reason, I let the used car salesperson run my credit (yes, another mistake) and she gleefully announced that my credit was SO GOOD that I qualified for a NEW CAR!
Like a fool, I fell for the okey-doke and signed on to purchase a “new” 2012 Honda Civic (I say “new” because it had a little over 300 miles on it at the time of purchase….mistake #63,598) for about $26,000 after taxes. Crazy, right?
Although I had clearly been bamboozled, I was happy with a reliable vehicle that got me wherever I needed to go with no issues. I even did the nerdy new car-owner thing and gave her a gender and name: Robyn 🙂 Still, the monthly payment gave me very little breathing room in my budget, and after about a year, I refinanced my car, which lowered my interest rate from 7% to 3%, and my payment from $420/month to $298. As the years went on and I became more knowledgeable about car buying, I realized my purchase was not well-executed at all, and I 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 be the first to admit that I didn’t do enough research before buying my car. I let my emotions and (what I thought was) desperate need for transportation to cloud my judgment, which is probably the #1 cardinal sin in personal finance. However, I don’t subscribe to the patriarchal advice I often hear that admonishes women to take a male companion along when car shopping. The idea that we need a strong and supposedly more knowledgeable man to protect us from the Big Bad Car Dealer Wolf just seems ridiculous and condescending. As with all financial decisions, it comes down to education, knowing exactly what you want before going in, and the commitment to walk away if the dealership can’t give you what you want. Most of the time they can, but they’re waiting on you to cave into the pressure first.
Although I plan on driving Robyn until the wheels fall off, there’s a tiny part of me that anxiously awaits the moment of my next car purchase so I can redeem myself for all the mistakes I made back in the day. I’m already planning to put $0 down, with an interest rate of no less than 3%, and ZERO miles if they’re selling it as 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.