Car shopping- an insider’s perspective

Car shopping- an insider’s perspective

After a full two and a half years of studying the car market, in search of my next vehicle, I have opted for a slightly used 2015 Mazda CX-5, Soul Red, with 19,855 miles, and remaining manufacturer’s warranty at a cost of $23k.

My criteria:

  • A car built to last the test of Kimberly- lots of driving, long distance driving, severe weather contingencies, seating for 5,
  • Comfortable ride, both suspension, and seat.
  • Quiet interior cabin- no road noise.
  • Leather interior.
  • Sun/moonroof.
  • AWD/FWD
  • Good on gas
  • Great sound system
  • Heated seats
  • Room to carry up to 6′ slabs of wood, dog, kids, skis, luggage
  • SUV- sits up higher than sedans
  • FWD or AWD and Excellent handling- over hill and dale, beach and mountains, city traffic, highways and byways
  • White

Potential candidates:

Honda CRV– I was already the owner of a CRV, and have loved my Honda- by far and away, the most reliable car I’ve ever known and I have hauled loads to the roof- from art shows with framed photography and displays packed to the gils, to 5 people and ski equipment, to 4 kids and a dog, a week’s worth of summer vacation necessities…you get the picture.  For the record, the late model CRVs are considerably more comfortable, than the 2006 LX model I had).  It holds all merit badges for being both reliable and utilitarian- but it has been extremely uncomfortable to drive long distances- which I do frequently. Lots of road noise, a tinny sounding stereo and it was grey and drab.

Next on the list would have been the Nissan Rogue, having met several owners, by literally stopping them in parking lots and in traffic to inquire of their satisfaction- none of whom had a bad thing to say about this vehicle, on the contrary, several invited me to sit in theirs, and raved about it.  One woman even noted that she loved it so much, she didn’t even try to negotiate the price- she thought it worth every penny!

But I test drove it and unfortunately, I heard a lot of road noise, and the clunky shifting sent a red flag about the tranny. I also drove the Nissan Murano, thinking that sometimes the next heavier model may not have the same issues, as it’s geared more toward a crowd that desires a bit more luxury, this one was a few years older, but same road noise and frankly, the pushy salesman had me running for the door after being detained for over an hour.

I asked a couple Kia Soul and Kia Sorrento drivers how they felt about their vehicles and each also gave two thumbs up.  My former neighbors, a few years ago, owned a new Kia Optima and lost all power on 3 separate occasions (twice after being repaired), while on a highway driving 60+mph. So, the Kia was not really an option for me.

I drove someone else’s Maxda CX-9 to the airport one rainy day, and that car was fun to drive!  It held the road tight in the Florida torrential rain, made passing a cinch and handled nimbly during pole position practice.  A bit bigger than I’d intended, but a solid ride with a great sound system and comfortable driver’s seat. Hmmm.

This prompted me to look at used Mazda CX-9‘s after a while it started to look like a minivan to me, however, and I have an innate aversion to minivans and distracted soccer-moms; which led me to the next smaller model, the Mazda CX-7, a mid-size SUV on par with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus RX 350-450 (out of my price range-or this would have been the top contender) series or the Honda Element possibly.

[Regarding Jeep- had a lemon once, don’t even get me started on the vehicle that to this day holds the record for the most breakdowns, tows, u-joints and headaches, I’ve personally experienced over a vehicle. Ironically, at the time I purchased it- it was my dream car and one that violated our family rule of buying only Chevy products, as my stepdad had sold Chevys for many moons.  I was a loyal Chevy owner for decades, but I later lived in a rural area of NYS and traveled snow and ice covered roads seemingly 8 months out of the year, I traded the Jeep for a Buick Rendezvous, which ate wheel bearings for breakfast, and I looked to Japanese automakers for their reliability and longevity- Honda won hands down in the category I was shopping.  It was a not a fun conversation advising my GM loyal parents that I would not buy American, but I explained that I travel alone, approximately 45,000 miles/yr, through the mountains in extreme conditions and could not afford to be either stranded, or without my vehicle while being repaired repeatedly.  They didn’t like it, but they understood, considering the troubles GM was experiencing at the time, and my Buick’s obvious failure to meet my driving needs.]

The CX-7 would have been the perfect fit for me, except that they stopped making it in 2012, and while this put it in the price ballpark, available CX-7s came with 100k+ miles, and not in white- which for some insane reason, I have wanted a white car for at least 10 years.  Michael’s mom (Michael is my son’s friend), Julie, has a 2016 Mazda CX-5.  She LOVES it! Hers is New Jersey black.  It’s sexy for a 4 cylinder crossover utility vehicle.  I sat in hers, then I went out and test drove one, here in Greenville.  I found it to be quite roomy for a 4 cylinder- seemingly way more so than the Honda CRV in my driveway.  It handled well, had all the bells and whistles on my wishlist and would allow me to look at a late model with low mileage, which would give me the hopefully 8 years I was looking to get out of my next car.  Having done some serious research into this market, I knew their ‘out-the-door’ price on the 2016 (bronze) was high by about $2k for the miles- they were asking $27k for 31,000 miles.  Plus, did I mention it was bronze? Interestingly, brand new- the white costs $600 more and the red costs $300 more than other colours.  The red may cost more in insurance; factors to weigh when doing your research.

So I went home and spent the weekend, with the help of a dog-on-a-bone friend, researching available 2015 Grand Touring (highest trim model- met all my criteria, including a Bose 9-speaker sound system).    CX-5s across the country, using:  Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, CarMax, CarGuru, TrueCar, Craigslist, even Ebay to search nationwide for my vehicle.  My friend has this potent advice:  ‘If you search long enough and hard enough, the right deal will come along.’  After literally 3 days, morning to night of searching and checking VINs against Autocheck (I read a few articles about this being the best safeguard against “Branded Titles” and potential lemons.)  A branded title will mean that a car that’s been totalled or had extreme waterdamage has been satisfied through an insurance settlement and can not be sold as if no damage had occurred, yet, sleazy people try to fix (i.e. sometimes you’ll find attractive custom upholstery replaced factory installed after water damage) and then sell them without initially disclosing this information, for approximately $2-5k less than market value of a comparable un-damaged vehicle. Thus bamboozling folks thinking they found the deal of the century, only to realize later that the vehicle can not be registered, or that the value is way less than they paid (Note:  according to Consumer Reports, however, cars with branded or salvaged titles are only worth 50% of the value of a comparable un-damaged vehicle) . Incidentally,  I received from the dealer, a clean CarFax report on that Jeep I mentioned- just saying.

 

We found it! At a small NJ dealership, and only had to work out the logistics of getting me there to pay for and drive it back to SC in time to start my new job the following Monday.   Just as I was about to send the deposit via electronic funds transfer, I received a text from Taylor Hyundai in Georgia, advising that they had a Soul Red  CX-5 with less miles for $1k more than the white one in NJ.  I was honest with both dealers, about my considerations, mileage on the vehicle, favourite colour, logistics of pick-up and price.  Taylor Hyundai made the offer that couldn’t be beat;  The NJ dealership was understanding and said that a woman from Massachusetts bought the white one.  Now I’m driving that Soul Red Mazda CX-5, and loving every minute of it!  I’ve already driven it to PA and NY and back, and I feel confident I found exactly the car for me!  It’s a comfortable ride- even at a 12 hour stretch!  It gets about 30 miles to the gallon on highway trips, a little less in the city.  It’s a comfortable, quiet ride, except when I’m tuning in to my favourite music line up!  In short, I love this CX-5! My friend Karen went with me to pick it up!

My best advice for finding the BEST DEAL:

  • When looking at so many, it gets a bit confusing, I’d recommend making a comparison spreadsheet (include columns for year/ model (if comparing more than one, or more than one trim level)/ price/ vehicle mileage/ mpg/ location/ Price: whether this is the out the door price or comes with hidden fees, any indications you get from speaking to the dealer that give you an unsettling feeling (a simple thumbs-up or down should suffice)
  • Narrow list down to say 10 possibilities.  Then narrow down to 3.
  • Consider purchasing the 50 Autochecks over a 30 day period for $49.  You may not check that many, but it sure beats not knowing (beyond reasonable doubt) that you are getting a clean title and is way less expensive if you decide to check a few or more, rather than just one.
  • Negotiate the price to as close to your budget as you can get, but remember, this is next to impossible if you don’t really know what available inventory is and what current pricing is by comparing many vehicles of similar features, mileage, titles, locations.
  • I like to buy one-owner vehicles where possible, particularly with conscientious owners- who keep all service records, haven’t abused the vehicle, or smoked in it, etc.
  • At first, I tried to find cars for sale by owners to eliminate having to deal with unsavory dealers, but the selection is limited and sometimes owners haven’t researched the market so their pricing may not be competitive, I wouldn’t rule this out going forward, but I became open to working with reputable dealers (read reviews to get a feel for prior customer experiences), and this is how I ended up buying my car- and they were upfront and kept their word, as did I, so it all worked out very well for me this time.
  • Also, there is no place for naiveté, but expecting the best of the people you deal with, doing your research upfront and asking for honesty, willingness to understand each other’s position, prompts folks to be above board. Everyone is at the table for a reason- you need a reliable, priced-right vehicle, they need the sale; meet in the middle. Deal! Enjoy the ride!

 

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