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7 Lessons I’ve Learned From Owning 7 Cars

car-lessons

I grew up in the suburbs of South Jersey where you need a car to get things done.

The day I turned 16, I signed up for driver’s school so I could get my learner’s permit in six months. Then, on my 17th birthday, I took my driver’s test and got my license. A glorious day.

My first car was a shitty gray Dodge Shadow that my dad handed down to me. I had no car payments, but it only lasted six months before the lure of owning a new car sucked me in.

Since turning 17, I’ve owned seven different cars:

  1. Dodge Shadow
  2. Ford Ranger
  3. Chevy Blazer
  4. Jeep Wrangler
  5. Honda Civic Sedan
  6. BMW 328iX
  7. Honda Civic Coup (currently)

I drove each car for about 2-4 years a pop, and traded it in before I paid any of them off. I still don’t know a life without a hefty car payment.

huge-mistake

In the past 23 years, I’ve learned quite a lot about cars. Not how to fix them, but how to buy them because I did everything wrong you could do.

I now feel like I’m an expert at how NOT to buy a car, and I want to share the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Cars Only Serve One Purpose

I drove a BMW and a fully decked-out Chevy Blazer. Both cars were the worst.

Everything inside and outside the car broke. Sure, the heated seats were nice, but after a while sweating makes everything uncomfortable.

Both cars did the exact same thing: got me where I needed to go.

I would argue that the ride was a bit more comfortable, but not really. I drive a Honda Civic now and I’m just as comfortable — and I pay half the price.

A car, just like a plane, has one sole purpose, and paying anymore for that purpose is crazy, unless you are a “car guy/gal.” But that only makes sense if your wallet allows. I’m sure I’d be a “caviar guy” if I could afford it.

2. Pay Off Your Cars Before Trading Them In

Yup, I’ve never paid the sticker price for a car because I always rolled my previous car debt into the new one.

And for what? Just to drive a new car when the old one was perfectly fine? Seems kind of stupid in hindsight.

I bet the greatest feeling in the world is owning a car without a payment. I do not know that feeling, but I do know what it’s like to not have credit card debt, and it’s incredible, and here’s how I did it.

If you already have a car, pay it off before you get a new one. That way, you can sell it or trade it in and actually make the payments on a new car lower.

3. Money Talks

Every time I bought a car, I walked in the showroom with less than $500 to put down and a car that wasn’t paid off. To the salesmen, I’m a sucker. In fact, salesmen make more commissions on financing. They want full-financing.

That down payment I’m talking about is for YOU. It allows you to lower your monthly payment, or at the very least, reduce the term of the loan.

In that case, try to go less than 5 years. Hell, the shorter the better. Pay the car of fast!

Check out this article about the confessions of a car salesmen.

4. Buy Practical

Leave your ego at the door.

This is coming from the guy who drove a BMW and never got laid. It was an expensive monthly payment, it broke all the time, tires were insanely expensive, oil changes were over $100 a pop…bottom line, it pays to go practical.

My Civic is reliable. It looks cool. It’s gets the job done, and I pay half of what I did for a BMW. Same story for my Chevy.

My Ford Ranger was also reliable. It was also cheap, and I sold it for more than I bought it for. That’s what you get for buying with your brain, not with your…well, wherever your ego comes from.

5. Know What You Want Before Hand

Don’t let the sales team do the work for you. Know what you want. Do your research before hand. Use Edmunds.com.

Whenever I go to a restaurant I usually ask the waiter to bring me what they think is the BEST thing on the menu. Do you know what I get when I do that? The most EXPENSIVE thing on the menu. Why? Ok, I’ll spoon feed you…

THEY WANT MORE COMMISSION!

Just Walk Away

If you’re hungry for a car, it’s going to be hard to walk away. But doing so is a powerful negotiating trick. Let the sales team come after you with a deal.

A old friend of mine would walk into a dealership, say “I want this car at this price,” after doing his research.

If they said no, he would simply leave his phone number, say “well call me when you CAN sell me this car at the price I want,” and walk away.

Worked every time. As long as your research backs it up. Obviously you wouldn’t say, “I want this BMW for $10, take it or I’m leaving.”

6. Buy Used

Shopping for a used car is a lot more work than a new car, but there are 4 good reasons to buying used over new:

  1. New cars depreciate quicker.
  2. You can get the best bang for your buck.
  3. Used cars are just as good as new, if you find the right car.
  4. You can get what you want.

Here’s some more detail.

7. Size Matters

I spend about $30 a week in gas for my 2009 Honda Civic, and it’s not even a hybrid! On the other hand, my SUV was like $60, not to mention the insurance to cover it.

The insurance on my Civic is under $100 a month as compared to my BMW which was $150. I know it has a lot to do with your driving, but your car factors in too.

How About You?

Did you make any mistakes when buying a car? Are you smarter with your cars than I am. Either way, I’d love to hear your stories. Please share them in the comments below.

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  • We are still planning to buy our very first car. :) And we think we would choose a second hand car over a brand new car, maybe hopefully next year.

    • Matt Giovanisci

      Yea, second hand is certainly the way to go. Forget leasing! That only benefits the dealer.

  • Bob

    Great article. I agree completely. I am convinced that car payments are one of the primary reasons that many people fail to make any financial progress. Then they complain that the little man just can’t get ahead. But it’s not the system that’s the problem. It’s the $450 car payment they make every month that is killing them.

    I drive 80 miles a day with my commute. 20 years ago that would have meant I’d have bought a brand new car. Has to be reliable. Don’t want to be stranded. Plus I’m in the car for 2 hours a day so I “deserve” to be comfortable. That’s the rubbish I would have used to justify a car I couldn’t afford, meanwhile with that number of miles I’d have been destroying a $30,000 vehicle.

    In reality 5 years ago I bought a 97 Toyota Corolla that had a little under $100,000 miles for under $4,000. Drove it for 4 years and got it up to 223,000 miles. Got 30 miles to the gallon. Had almost no maintenance costs other than normal wear and tear. I gave that car away to a family member last year and bought a ’98 Camry with 89,000 miles for about $5,000. Driving that now and I love it.

    Oh and I paid cash for it!

    You don’t have to have a car payment to drive a good, reliable vehicle.

    • Matt Giovanisci

      Amen! Wow, what an excellent story, Bob. This is what I’m talking about.

      I know it’s cool to drive a brand new car, but quite frankly, nobody cares. It’s all about feeding your ego and not about whats really important: getting to your destination for a cheap as possible.

  • Erin @ My Alternate Life

    I’ve made a million and one mistakes with the five cars in my lifetime (shit, I’m only 24…). However, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. This week, I signed the paperwork to sell my vehicle and now I’m happily car-less. I hate driving and cars with a passion, so I’m thrilled :)

  • Tom Laxey

    Good article. My story is that I owned 2 excellent cars, both old, but just reliable ‘A to B’ cars. Then one day I had an accident and found myself without a car. Then I realised how lucky I had been – used cars bought from dealerships are ALWAYS expensive compared to book values. So I just went to a ‘bargain cars’ type of a place and bought a car I fancied – should work right? I mean if the car drives, is free from problems, and just needs running repairs that should do it? I overpaid because I didn’t know properly how much they should cost, even so called bargain cars. Secondly, the car has an oil leak which I didn’t spot on the day, and is not warrantied. Thirdly, it needs other repairs which which will be costly. OK so old cars have issues, but unless you love the car and will spend whatever it takes, basically my car is faulty and essentially no more valuable than scrap. I will put in more effort next time, and my advice is choose a car you really want, and think it through properly!

  • Having a car can be such a drag, forget about buying and selling: just maintaining it is insane. And gas, and parking, and insurance, and, and, and. I guess the idea is to get a car if you REALLY need it, and then to take REALLY good care of it so it lasts as long as possible and costs you as little as possible :)

  • I drive an awesome looking car that was made almost 20 years ago with 250K kms (that’s less than miles for you Americans) on odometer. It’s cheap, it’s good looking, it’s dreamy, it has a nickname (Donkey!). I got it for almost nothing years ago, and I’ll ride it into oblivion. It’s better be driving a three-digit car with a six-digit investment portfolio than the other way around. Peace!

  • I’ve made many of those same mistakes. I’ve owned 5 cars and at one point owned 2 at the same time. I was cray.

  • Great post. We recently got rid of one of our cars and traded it in for something we needed more instead, which was better fuel mileage. I am already loving how much less we are spending on gas. It is crazy!

  • Toad Phillips

    I regret finacing a vehicle, it was a big mistake, $83 a week going into a used car every week could have brand new tires and rims, new paint job etc. I’m never going to get a car on payments again. Also buying a chevy was a mistake, serious money pit. People brag about them going to 200k miles but fail to mention they begin to fall apart after 100k.