The Joys of Shopping for a New Car

Denisa’s Buick is beginning to show its age. It’s a 2001, and we’ve happily used it for many years now, but it’s at the point that it’s beginning to need repairs. Nothing too outrageous. Some leaks here and there, and the promise of more repairs to come in the future. The car’s only worth around $1,500, and it’s not like putting money into it will make it more valuable. Sure, we could repair it now (and who knows, we still might), but every bit of money we put into it is a bit of money that we could have put into a new (used) car.

So we’re looking for new wheels.

Of course, since I’m an obsessive researcher, this is quite the process. Basically, it’s the simplest of research questions: “Which car is best for Bryce’s family in 2017?” But like many simple research questions, answering it proves to be fairly complicated.

The first part is easy. We know what kind of cars we don’t want. So sports cars, trucks, and minivans are out of the picture. (We’re not getting a minivan. We have three children. They all fit in the back seat of a normal car. End of story.) It’s been nice to have the Buick because it has a bigger trunk, so when we need more space to haul stuff to the dump or something like that, we can. (The Civic is lovely, but it’s a tight fit.)

Cost is an issue, of course. We want to buy a used car, because they’re cheaper, and we want a reliable car, because we’d like to have it for quite some time to come. In my experience, “reliable” automatically rules out American and European cars. I’ve had a Pontiac and a Buick. Both have a definite shelf life that’s quite a bit shorter than I’d like. For me, that means we’re down to a Honda or a Toyota. No, they’re not the most “fun” rides in the world. They’re reasonable, practical cars. And Denisa and I are reasonable, practical people. It’s a match made in heaven.

But which model? We thought about mid-size cars, but they were usually too pricey. But smaller cars have worse trunk space. So for a while, we thought we had it figured out: we’d get a Honda Fit, which is a subcompact car, but has a huge trunk, since it’s a hatchback. It’s got great reliability and reviews, and we know friends who have them and are very happy with theirs.

But there are no Fits in the immediate area, and so I kept researching while we evaluated our options. And my research into hatchbacks brought me to the Toyota Prius, and the wonders of a hybrid. (Which meant a whole new slate of research. Reliability of hybrid batteries. Buying used hybrids. That sort of thing.) And 50mpg really trumps 30mpg, you know?

Sigh. Even between those two models, there’s the question of how many miles is too many. What style would we prefer? Which year? I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of research, and there’s always something new to investigate. Some new question to answer.

Even once that’s over, you have to buy the actual thing, and that’s where I really don’t like things. Negotiating at a board game is great fun. Doing it over a car, with real money involved? No thank you. There’s this nagging feeling that you’re doing it wrong.

Perhaps the solution to all of this is to just fix the Buick for the short term, freeing up time to do a more leisurely search for a used car. Except that it all takes time. Time I don’t have a ton of. And I think I’d keep researching and thinking and reading and wasting a whole lot more time. And so just buying the car seems like the way to go.

In any case. Honda Fit or Toyota Prius. If you were to buy one of those and hope that it would last you around 75,000 miles or more of driving, what year would you get, and how many miles would be too many to have on it when you purchased it? If you know anything about used cars, I’d love to get your input.

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