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My First Car Buying Experience

When I moved to Los Angeles, I had no apartment, no car, and no job.

Well, we can cross car off of this list, which will help me get around and find the other two!

This is my first car and I still can’t help you find buy a new car because I have no experience.

However, after buying a used car, I can tell you a bit about my process.

I was looking for a foreign car, the newer the better, with as few miles on it as possible, and I wanted to keep the price low. Obviously, those requirements can mean a lot of things to different dealers, so I had to set some limits. Nothing older than 2003 and nothing over 70,000 miles. The biggie, was keeping the price under $9,000.

I love negotiating, so I was a little excited to start the process, but I also knew the reputation of used car dealers, so I wasn’t ecstatic about having to negotiate against these types of people.

My first instinct was to have someone else do my work for me. I wanted to use an auto-buying service to get my vehicle. The way it works is that you pay an up-front cost, give them your specific requirements, and they contact dealers for you, delivering the car for you. This eliminates the private dealers that you may find on craigslist, but it also saves a lot of time looking at cars and leaves the work to an expert, which can be nice if you know nothing about cars.

Still, I figured with all my free time, I should probably be doing this myself, for practice if for no other reason. I went online, found several used car dealers in the area that had reasonable prices, and started visiting some dealers.

The first few were underwhelming with high prices, and I figured out that fees were going to add another 10-11% to the price, so I’d either have to go with a lower quality car, more miles, or increase my price point. Over the past few years, fewer people have been buying new cars and more people want to save by buying used, so there’s been a lot of demand but lower supply. As a result, the cost of used cars has skyrocketted as much as 25% over the past year.

I found a few cars that peaked my interest, and one dealer in particular had great prices. Why? Because he was selling cars that had salvage titles. What this means is that there enough damage to the car at some point that an insurance company determined that the price to fix it would be higher than the value of the vehicle. The dealer took these cars in, fixed them up, and then resold them. No warranty, just drive it off the lot and it’s yours.

Now, not all salvage title vehicles are lemons. In fact, Lauren bought a car 5 years ago from this same guy and her car is still in excellent condition. I wasn’t totally opposed to a salvaged vehicle, but I wanted to learn more details about the type of damage, and of course, I prefered to deal with a car that I knew wouldn’t need much work for at least a few years.

After about two weeks of looking at cars, I narrowed down my search to a few cars. On Thursday evening, I test drove a 2006 Nissan Sentra. It was nice, but needed a few fixes, including tire alignment, which made the car shake a little when driving. Still, it was the best deal I had seen, so I planned on negotiating a little more the next morning and getting the problems fixed.

There was one last car I was interested in, a 2007 Hyundai Elantra, so I drove out about 45 minutes to the dealer and took a look at the car. I wanted to be sure of my purchase instead of possibly regretting it. When I got there, I test drove the car and absolutely loved it. It was a smooth drive, a reasonable price, and a clean record. If I could negotiate a little on the price, I was going to drive it home.

After some back and forth with the salesman and some uncomfortable silences, we agreed on a final price of $10,550, about $1,000 off the sticker price. And now I’m the proud new owner of a car!

Readers, do you remember your first car buying experience?



  1. Disappointed that you didn’t even consider a domestic car. I would have no problem if you’d ended up with the Nissan that you did, but why rule out a whole lot of cars simply because of the nameplate? There are plenty of good quality domestic cars out there where ruling every single one out doesn’t make a lot of sense. This isn’t the 80’s anymore! I’ll get off my high horse now!

    • @Money Beagle, The reason I did it is that that the foreign cars have a really great track record for lasting a long time. Looking at the ratings for 2003-2007 cars, it seemed like a no brainer to me.

      • @Daniel,

        What? From where? consumer reports? Reality is, that just aint so. Oh well, you’ll find out for yourself I imagine. Note the number of independent repair facilities in any city dedicated to ‘asian’ cars only. Seldom do you see “Joe’s Chevrolet Service”…
        Of course, ‘MoneyBeagle” would be adverse to a hyundai if for no other reason than the koreans [and chinese] eat dogs.

  2. Congrats on the new car! I hope you’re happy with it.

    I’ve only bought one used car, and that was a crapper for $900 that I didn’t expect to last long (it didn’t). Other than that I’ve mostly stuck with new cars.

    That’s a great point about used cars increasing in value because they’re more in demand.

  3. I remember when I bought my first car, I wanted the hottest car that was out, but my parents convinced me to get a used car and I am sure glad that I did.

  4. Seems a bit pricey for a used Hyundai. First car I bought was a 92 Accord; I paid $5k for it and this was 10 years ago. After that I bought a certified pre-owned CLK Benz for around $39k but it was over $40k with taxes and fees added. Never had a major issue with either cars.

    • @Used Vehicles, Yah, many things have changed in 10 years. I also would have paid $5,000 for a 2002 car, but I didn’t want an old car.

      • @Daniel, new cars are 3 times more expensive.
        But not everyone has the desire and money to spend this amount on a piece of iron.

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