Monday, May 2, 2011

Used Cars and a Frugal Life

At the gym last week I heard two women talking about buying a used car. My ears perked up; I had been raised on my parents' used car lot. After paying a bit of attention to their conversation I realized that I knew both of them from church; what a small world. I said hello and mentioned that I'd overhead the conversation. One women had been encouraging the other to buy a used car. I seconded her opinion. My father would be proud. He passed away almost 2 years ago, but loved used cars. He had owned a used car lot for over 20 years. Yes, he would have been proud to hear my voice support for a used car purchase....and possibly surprised by my opinion.

I have not always been a fan of used cars. In high school I was routinely embarrassed by my parents' cars. But aren't high schoolers embarrassed my anything their parents do? I also had a bit of a breakdown some years ago, literally and figuratively. My 1991 Honda Civic died, wouldn't start, on the coldest day of a Wisconsin winter. I had been out of law school for 3 and a half years, and said enough. My co-workers didn't believe me when I first told them that over the weekend I had bought a new Honda Civic. I had. I had had enough of "used cars".

That Honda is still in my possession, safely parked in the garage and fully paid for. But, when it comes time to replace it, I will not be buying a new car. There is a new influence in my life, my husband. No, he does not own a used car lot. Instead he is an electrical engineer. That means he can take the concept of efficiency to extremes most people have not heard of. And buying a used car is not an "efficient" use of money. "The minute you drive it off the lot is looses something like 20% of its value!!!"

Two years ago he decided it was time that he get a car; he had been a devote bicycle commuter, but a change to a freelance career with multiple clients make that impossible to continue. He decided it was time to purchase a used car. I gave him some advice that he felt was a bit odd and doubted would work. Bring cash. He was wrong, I was right.

Once he had a car selected I suggested he take cash to the dealer. Having grown up on a car lot I knew that people, all people, having a hard time saying no when there is a stack of 100s on the table. The uncertainty of another deal coming in the door is usually enough for them to take a "sure thing". Financing isn't going to fall through (which had happened on the two earlier attempts by other customers interested in what became my husband's Mazda). A check isn't going to bounce. Cash in hand, deal done, commission earned, next customer please. He felt odd, still does, but is amazed at the price he paid. They couldn't inch him any higher, the limit was the amount of cash he had. A key point to this being a success is the willingness to walk away. Don't get emotional, there will always be another car. Preferably a used car.


  1. It's true. It was going to be $5400 and change. I laid down five sets of ten c-notes, $5000, and said if they could work it out so the total came out to that, I would buy. They said, "Done!" I've had the car for a year and a half with no repairs. It feels like a newer car to me.

    The used section of Zimbrick is a few blocks west of the main location on Fish Hatch and the Beltline. John Leung [] is the person who gave me this great deal.

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