Three weeks ago, the check engine light on my dashboard started to urk me.
Yeah, urk me. I don’t know why because the light had been coming on and off since December and the truck never acted up or anything to make me feel like it wasn’t safe to drive.
But suddenly, I just couldn’t let it go, even after my local mechanic said he didn’t see any reason not to drive it two hundred miles to South Carolina for a mini family vacation.
So, I took it to the dealer to find out exactly why my truck kept sending a cylinder six misfire code. I spent $230 for them to tell me that it needed approximately $3,800 in repairs to fix the head gasket leak and install a new catalytic converter, among other little things.
My husband text me: New car. 🙂
Although we’d been car payment free for about three years on my truck, it did have over 213,000 miles and was ten years old, so maybe my husband was right. It was time to shop for a new car.
After shopping around for a week, we ended up purchasing a brand new 2015 Toyota Sienna XLE.
Yes, the original Swagger Wagon.
But before we came to an agreement on which vehicle to get, we did several things first. Below are a few tips before you buy your next family vehicle.
Tip #1: Agree on how much car you can realistically afford.
My husband and I started our hunt by looking for a used Infiniti QX56, but we soon felt that there was no way that we wanted to spend our max budget of $38,000 on the models available to us. In order to afford that SUV, we had to look for a 2011 model and they typically clocked between 70,000 to 100,000 miles. Even though it was the SUV we’d been wanting for a while, I couldn’t stomach spending that kind of money on something so used.
We found a 2012 model that we were able to test drive, but it was priced at $44,000, which meant financing almost $48,000 after taxes and tags. The sales person tried to talk us into running our credit and the numbers to make it work for us, but we knew that we did not want to go a penny over $38,000. We declined and walked away. We were sticking to our number, no matter what.
Tip #2: Get pre-approved financing before you visit the dealerships.
Walking into a dealership with a check already in our hand helped us feel very powerful. I have to give my husband the credit for this idea because he was the one who wanted to go to our credit union to see what they could do for us before we went to the dealership. It turned out to be the best idea ever because it helped us stick to our guns on price (tip #1). However, this didn’t stop the salesman from trying to get us to do the financing through them (which is another way the dealerships make money) and they tried to entice us by suggesting they might be able to get us a better interest rate. Even though it was possible, our credit had already been run once when we got pre-approved and we didn’t want our credit to be checked multiple times, which hurts your FICO score. Being pre-approved basically put us in the driver’s seat (pun intended).
Tip #3: Research the fair market price for the vehicles you’re looking at.
One website I kept using was CarGurus.com because it told you if the price of the vehicle was unfair or not. It even told you by how much. For instance, I discovered that some dealership internet prices were marked about $3,000 more than the fair price of the car. Especially if you’re looking at buying a used car, like we originally set out to do, you’ll want to make sure you’re not being ripped off. I came across a large SUV that was priced several thousand too high for how many miles it had. In the end, it pays to do your homework.
Tip #4: Be open to looking at different vehicle types.
I’m going to put a lot of emphasis on this tip because we started out wanting a large SUV and ended up buying a minivan (err…Swagger Wagon). We almost bought another 4Runner, but I was concerned that it still wasn’t big enough even though it had a third row seat (we travel a lot). They then showed us a used 2011 Sequoia, but I wasn’t impressed with the interior look and feel. Even though my husband absolutely didn’t want to look at minivans, I didn’t really care. I just wanted the inside to look nice since I spent most of the time inside the vehicle (and I am the driver 90% of the time).
Let’s just say that my husband called dibs on test driving it first, with a smirk on his face. We were equally impressed with the amount of storage space and leg room for eight passengers. We liked how it didn’t feel like a monster vehicle while driving it. In fact, it felt no bigger than driving the 4Runner we’d been driving over the last seven years. Plus, after we were told how much it cost and how much they’d give us on our trade, it was too good a deal to pass up.
Bonus tip: Bring one of your kids with you, preferably one that uses a car seat.
We left our older children with my mom, but we took our youngest with us. This served one of two purposes: one, it allowed us to test out car seat installation and fit. Two, our toddler served as a gauge for how much space the inside of the vehicle actually was. I knew like the back of my hand how she looked in her car seat in our truck so having her in our new car helped us judge how much bigger it actually was.
Overall, I’m at peace with the final decision, even though it happened in a very roundabout way. The most important thing is that we stuck to our guns on how much we wanted to pay and that we got the important features we needed. It’s just an extra that the vehicle we ended up with is ranked #2 in its class by U.S. News.
And I have a feeling having a minivan can only mean one thing: people will start to ask me, “When are you going to have another baby?”
Well, obviously, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share about buying a family vehicle?