Car Buying When You Are On The Path To FIRE

This past weekend we bought a car, with cash, on a whim.  This oversimplifies things a lot but in essence that is what we did.  The difference is that although some people may actually buy a car on a whim, this purchase was in actuality very well planned.

I previously owned a 2007 Honda Fit Sport that I purchased used just over 10 years ago with less than 9,000 miles on it.  And let me tell you, I loved that car!  I seriously almost cried as we traded it in on Saturday.  My Fit was fuel efficient, had the most functional interior space of most cars I have seen (everything fits in a FIT!), had next to no repairs over the tenure that I owned it, and was just in general the greatest car.  In all honesty I wanted to keep it for even longer but it had one issue that was seemingly impossible to fix.

Around this time last year we noticed a sloshing sound coming from inside the car.  There was water getting in the car somehow that was collecting in the spare tire compartment and a couple of times even overflowed that area enough to get to the passenger foot wells.  Water inside a car is really not a good thing as it can be extremely hard to track down and truly solve.  We did fix the problem last year but it turns out it wasn’t a permanent fix.  🙁   Once again as winter was winding down this year we noticed the sloshing sound had come back.  The fix last year was putting silicone on the top part of the hatch.  I believe that in winter snow and ice gets jammed in that area which causes a crack and also likely dislodged the silicone from the previous fix.  Mr. SFF bought some silicone and re-sealed the areas in question last month but it seems that this time it didn’t solve the problem.  Could there be another crack somewhere?  Who know as water can flow from anywhere and “water wins”.  Every time it rained or I went through the car wash water would accumulate in the back.  I was actually leaving the back compartment where the spare times lives flipped up so that the area could dry out a little faster but it was pretty clear this was a problem that was going to continue.  As much as I loved my car it was becoming clear that it was time to trade her in.  🙁

One of the first steps was to start saving some extra cash for the car.  We put our tax refund in our savings account at the bank and over the past few months have been stock piling our extra cash in our regular savings account instead of allocating it to other areas.  We also had some extra money in our long term savings account at Ally bank which we had earmarked for this purchase.

As we are a one car family and on the path to FIRE we have been doing our research over the past couple of months to ensure that when the time came we were knowledgeable about our options.  We knew we wanted AWD, a feature that my Fit didn’t have but we deemed a requirement because if it snows we want to make it to the mountain without any problems.  Also on the list was a roof rack.  With the Fit we just threw our skis/snowboard and everything else in the back but this limits the number of passengers as well as scratches the interior of the car big time.  We did have an after market rack that we could put on but it really wasn’t great.  Being that we live in the Northeast I also wanted heated seats.  Yes this is more of a luxury feature but hey, one luxury item for this financially savvy lady isn’t too much to ask for and man does a warm seat make a difference in the winter!  The last thing on the list was decent gas mileage.  This one is a little harder when AWD is also a requirement.  No matter what car we chose we would be getting worse mileage than my Fit.  So what did we do?  We made a spreadsheet of course!  Doesn’t everyone do that?!

This is just a snapshot of the entire spreadsheet but the important pieces are here.  First I calculated the average miles I drive per year.  As I keep I log this was pretty easy to figure out: around 15,000 miles per year.  The majority of this is around town but we do take some long distance trips so we figured a 70/30 split was fairly accurate.  Next was to do a little research on what cars have AWD and fit our other criteria.  We picked out a few wagons/hatchbacks and smaller SUVs that could be a good fit.  Subaru, the unofficial car of the state, was definitely on the list as well as some Honda and Toyota options.  We had already decided we didn’t want to buy new if possible so I was mainly looking at 2016 models in hopes of finding something in good shape with less than 30,000 miles.  I then googled the gas mileage for each of these options and entered them in the spreadsheet.  There were some that didn’t even make it to this step because the mileage was so dismal.

Just based on gas mileage alone the Subaru Impreza was coming out on top.  We would be likely spending a couple hundred dollars more per year on gas but at least it wouldn’t be all that terrible.  It’s it funny that when we put this together is made me realize just how differently we think than the average person.  I mean does the average car buyer actually calculate their expected fuel costs for the year?  I am sure there are some people out there that do this but it has got to be a minuscule number.  But being that we are on the path to FIRE and are trying to minimize our expenses as much as possible this was certainly an important exercise.  My insurance costs were surely going to go up but we wanted to minimize our increased fuel costs as much as possible.

So what happened Saturday?  Well things didn’t go exactly as planned…  Before we left the house we agreed we were just looking and test driving today because it is always important to be on the same page.  Plus we were not in an immediate rush.  Yes my car had a leak but worked just fine.  Great, now with that figured out we had a list of three dealerships we wanted to go to: Subaru, Honda and Toyota.  We decided to start at Subaru as they were the closest of the dealerships to our house plus they were already high on our list.  We were greeted by a sales person named Chris when we walked in.  I stated we were looking for a car for me specifically (a little test to see if he would address me or default to my husband as the “man”) and that we hadn’t spoken with anyone yet.  Once we sat down I reviewed “my” criteria: AWD, roof rack, heated seats and the best mileage we could get.  He then proceeded to tell me about a car they had just gotten in a day or two before (I had been on their website a couple days previously so I was somewhat familiar with their current stock but this one had not been listed).  It was a meticulously maintained 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport Limited with only 28,000 miles on it.  2012?  Yeah, not on my current radar as I was hoping for something newer but the miles were so low that we decided it was worth a look.  Plus we were just looking today, right?

He grabs the keys and drives the car right up to the door.  We meet him outside and take a quick look at the exterior, opened the doors and checked out the interior, and then I jump in the front seat.  And I melted…  Seriously!  It was love at first sit.  Sounds crazy, right?  Silky black leather interior, heated seats, mirrors and windshield (for our insanely long winters!), moon roof (not something I care all that much about but sure…), and an interior that definitely did not look 6 years old.  I am not sure but he might have known right then that this car was sold…

We took the car for a little test drive, including some highway miles, to see how it handled and how comfortable I felt in it.  As I have been in a little Honda Fit for over 10 years most cars feel huge to me but this one felt…like home…  At the halfway point we switched so Mr. SFF could drive because although this would be “my” car, it is our only car so it will be “ours”.  And I am not sure if he melted in the same way but there was consensus, this was the car.  And we know we couldn’t delay too long as a car with all the extra with such low miles in such pristine condition wouldn’t last.  We drove back to the dealership and told Chris we wanted to shop a little more but that we would be in touch.

As were we driving to our next destination we were already talking about what it would take to make this one happen.  We even stopped by the car wash on the way to give my Fit a little cleanup since she had gotten muddy while I was helping my sister move a week before.  Honda was our next destination as I really did love my Fit and the Honda brand and wanted to try out it’s slightly bigger sibling, the Honda HR-V.  The HR-V offers AWD, the top of our list of requirements, but is smaller than the CR-V.  We were greeted by Natalie at this dealership and I gave her my same list of requirements specifically saying we were most interested in the HR-V, which she agreed was the best fit for our list.  Although strangely roof racks are not standard so we would likely have to get an after market one which would add to the costs.  As the HR-V is a newer model there were no used ones available so we were limited to a brand new 2018 option.

While she was off getting a set of keys we were checked out the one on the showroom floor.  Similar amazing seat folding system as my Fit but the drivers area was very different.  When she returned with the keys I went right to the driver’s side and got it.  And immediately I knew, this wasn’t the car.  I am not sure I can even pinpoint exactly what it was but even as she was rattling off this and that of the list of features I knew this car wasn’t a good fit for us.  Although it is only slightly bigger than the Fit it felt huge.  Another downside is all of the controls are a touch screen, which neither of us like. I really prefer physical buttons as there is less of a need to take your eyes off of the road. But we took it for the obligatory test drive to make sure we were doing our due diligence. Once again we switched half way and Mr. SFF also agreed, it just wasn’t right. We drove back and politely thanked her for her time before heading back to my car. (Before jumping in I did confirm that there was water in the back from the recent car wash…grrr…). It was time…

We confirmed out list of requests as we drove back to Subaru with no need to stop anywhere else as our minds were set. We wanted the crossbars added to the roof rack because without them, the rack was pretty useless. We wanted all season floor mats added because our winters with the endless salt plus mud in other seasons are just brutal on cars. We also wanted a couple of little clips on the bumper replaced as it had obviously been curbed at one point. All in all, it was a pretty easy list.

When we sat back down with Chris he saw our list and started to immediately address them, and as suspected they were all easily done. He personally went out and grabbed crossbars from another Subaru on the lot, had someone get the clips for the bumper, and had the floor mats added. Then we got down to the negotiation. I know you never get what you don’t ask for so I figured we had to at least ask for a little off the list price. We quickly checked Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of if the list price for the car was fair, and it was.  They estimated a car of this age with this mileage is typically listed at $15,990.  Being that this car was in such great shape we knew we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room but we asked if they could take the $15,499 price down to $15,000. Worth a shot, right? Well they met us sort of half-way at $15,302.

If my Fit had been in better shape, or more specifically didn’t have an seemingly unsolvable water problem, we might have tried to sell it personally but as I couldn’t with a good conscious sell it to an unsuspecting individual we decided to trade it in.  I had previously done some research on KBB and knew that its value, depending on how you rated the condition, was anywhere between $500-$1,500.  I was hoping for $1,000 which is exactly what they offered.

As we were waiting for the “finance” guy we cleaned out my car.  This activity made me realize I need to clear my car more often!  To be fair I had planned on cleaning it before trading it in but as I have discussed this day had not gone as planned.  It’s funny how buying a “new” car is usually an exciting time but this was strangely a sad moment for me.  I mean my little Fit had been so great to me.  I actually had Mr. SFF take of photo of me giving her one last little hug before saying goodbye for the last time.  If this wasn’t an anonymous blog I would share it with you.

The next step was to meet with the “finance” guy.  Now we weren’t actually financing the car but he was also the guy that reviewed the warranty options.  As this was 6 years old car and we only had their word as to its exact history we did actually decided to add a warranty to the deal.  Will this be a waste of money?  Very possibly.  I would actually be curious what others in the FI community would have done.  But for an added $1,834 we are getting another 3 years or 45,000 miles of coverage.  Cheap?  No.  And only time will tell if it will be worth it.

One of the final steps in the process was actually paying for the car.  Now as we hadn’t actually planned on purchasing a car that day there was a slight glitch in this plan as some of the money was at Ally.  They did allow us to put $4,000 on a credit card (yay for earning points!) which was increased from their normal allowable amount of $2,500.  For the rest they would accept a personal check.  As I downsized my purse I only had a single check in my wallet from my personal checking account which decidedly didn’t have enough money.  We transferred the money from our joint savings which had already been earmarked for the car to my account as well as some from our joint checking account.  These transfers brought both account balances to amounts lower than what we would like to see but at least we had just barely enough to cover the check (it would leave only $40 in my account which is WAY lower than I normally keep it).  We also submitted a request to move money over from our Ally account which would replenish these bank accounts, cover the difference, and also allow me to pay off my credit card.  The transfer, since I initiated it on Saturday, was scheduled to hit our joint bank account on Tuesday so they put a sticky note on the check to wait until Wednesday to cash it.  Apparently I was not the first to need to do this as this didn’t seem like a problem at all.

Looking great for a 2012!

You might be thinking “hey, you are missing something important”.  Why yes we were.  The title to my Fit was at home in our safe.  Since we were not planning on purchasing that day I of course didn’t bring it with us, as well as the second key.  Since we already had plans to go out to dinner with my mother in law and had to pass by the dealership later anyways we told Chris we would drop everything off towards the end of the day.  So the final step, which was so quick compared to everything else, was to sign over the title to my Fit.  Since I had purchased the Fit before we were married it was still in my maiden name so I also brought along a copy of our marriage certificate.  With everything dropped off we were officially done.  We had spent the better part of the first nice spring day buying a car, for cash.

I have heard of many other people who also have bought a new car on the spot but how many of them were as well planned as us?  We had the money saved, albeit in the wrong account, had a list of our requirements, and spreadsheet outlining the increased fuel costs for each option.  So was this a purchase on a whim?  Yes.  But it was a well educated and thought out whim.

On Sunday we took our “new” Subie for her first excision to one of the local ski areas that had closed the week before.  The mountains had strangely received 17″ of snow in the past couple of days (a rarity this time of year) so the parking lot wasn’t plowed.  But thanks to our AWD car, that also has better clearance then the Fit, this wasn’t a problem at all.  The weather was perfect and the mountain still had 8′ of snow so we skinned over 2300 of vertical feet up to an amazing view, hung out with the dozens of others with the same plan, and then took a run down.  Let’s hope we have many more years of adventures in our new car.

Odometer after our weekend adventure


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