Budget Mo-beel

We’ve taken the plunge. We’ve stepped out on faith. We have dipped our toe into the murkey waters of cash car buying. As one who is philosophically done with payments on anything that doesn’t include four walls, a roof, and an anticipated appreciation value, we’ve attempted to put our money where our principles are. This diva is the proud owner of a 1996 milky-white, Nissan Quest, 7-passenger, paid-cash-for van. Hmmm…could this be a contra-diva-diction?

The purchase facilitates a new pick-up service intended to boost clientele. However, I am fascinated with just how satisfying this purchase has become. I may rumble along at a snail’s pace and anger a few grannies on their way to bingo, but payment-free driving has its advantages.

Potential dings add to the van’s vintage charm.

Friends volunteer to drive their cars on group outings.

Thieves overlook the intrinsic value and it generally remains unmolested in a fairly rough area – even when I forget to lock all doors.

Joking aside, the purchase has really set a tone for avoiding car payments entirely; including  personal vehicles. Since I am not what I drive, my self-appointed diva status has nothing to do with the vehicle’s price tag. I can confidentially pull up next to a Lexus RX 450h (my dream car) at red lights with my shoulders back because any would-be car payments are building my business and not Toyota’s.

Very used-car buying is not without its lessons. Car buying, like most non-real-estate purchases, is not my strength. Being a newbie, I made a few mistakes that are worth sharing. Hopefully, you can avoid the same when you take the cash-car-buy plunge.

  • Keep your payment range to yourself. I told the seller up front how much I wanted to spend. I’m sure in some negotiation 101 class, I broke rule #1.
  • Never accept the first offer. I didn’t negotiate the price. When you are buying something second, third, or (in my case, probably) fourth hand…everything is negotiable. The worst they can say is no.
  • Turn on everything. Try the air conditioning, heat, windshield wipers, mirrors. Drive the car in reverse. Make right and left turns with a turn signal engaged. Thankfully all these systems work, but I never tested them before I handed over the cash.
  • Ensure all gauges work properly. I didn’t notice that the mileage gauge was broken. Argh! So there’s no telling how many miles this baby has. Note to self…make sure the dials rotate as you drive.
  • Put gas in the car. Just a few dollars. A broken fuel gauge is no small issue.
  • Take along a trusted car enthusiast. Neither my husband nor I have much used car savvy. Looking back, I should have enlisted any number of friends or family members to help us kick the tires.
  • Insist that they clean the car first. My new-to-me van smelled like a male locker room. Not sexy at all. So a good scrubbing should have been at their expense.
  • Opt for a second opinion. I passed on the offer to have a mechanic student in training give the car a good once over. No reason…just didn’t. Looking back, that would have been a smart idea.
  • Take your time. Haste makes waste. Check the Kelly Blue Book values (www.kbb.com). Compare prices of similar cars. Visit a few car lots and test drive. Due diligence is that name of the game.

While this wasn’t the worst mistake I’ve ever made with money, I have a lot to learn when it comes to the cash-car-buy. Practice makes perfect…at least I hope so.


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