What I Learned From the Latest of My Many Car Purchases

Sunrise, sunset. As you can see, when it comes to cars, I definitely have a “type.”

Happy Tuesday, Folks! I took yesterday off since it was Columbus Day and I’ve decided to do more to make holidays special, even the more dubious ones. This post has been a long time in coming, since it happened about a month ago now, but after months of researching and deliberating, I bought my next car. As the picture shows, I replaced my 2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited with a 2015 Infiniti Q60S. This was pretty out of character for me since I ended up buying a totally different car than I had planned to and I committed some car buying sins I never would have previously considered in the process. But at least so far, I’m very happy with my decision. I’ve been buying cars for almost two decades now, and while some aspects stay the same, every purchase is also a little different. So here are the specifics from this time.

What stayed the same?

I did a ton of research before I even stepped foot on a dealership lot.

In this case, I found what I thought was the perfect car for me – on paper. I was going to buy a 2015 Lexus ES 350. In addition to having the usual bulletproof Toyota reliability, it has a venerable, naturally aspirated engine, meaning none of the turbo related issues so many of the cars being sold today are likely to suffer from somewhere down the line. The gas mileage is a solid 21/31 and it doesn’t require premium gas like most luxury cars do. It is a big, smooth, comfortable car, which is important for someone who drives a lot as I do. The main compromise I felt I would have to make is that like most cars today, it is not very pretty. But that’s not terribly important and other than that, the car checked all the boxes.

Doing the research is crucial. You need to know everything about the car you’re looking at – the fair market value, the long term reliability, any specific problems the year/make/model is known for, the features in different trim packages, etc. Most salesman suck at their jobs and will not know a lot of these things, especially with used cars. This doesn’t mean they won’t answer any questions you have; it just means you shouldn’t rely on the answers they give you. Keep their motivation in mind and go in armed with information from unbiased sources.

I also had financing lined up before I went to any dealerships.

I decided to finance this car instead of paying cash because my credit score has suffered some since I paid off my last car years ago as a result of having no current installment debt on it and I want it back where it was. No, there isn’t much practical difference between the mid 800s and the low 800s. But this stuff is literally what I do and yes, there is also some ego element to it. Anyway, another reason I got a loan is that at today’s interest rates, a small one (just over $10k in this case) costs basically nothing. I had a sub 3% rate ready to go at a local credit union.

 I walked away from two potential cars because the deal I wanted wasn’t there.

This is extremely important. Car salesmen know how to toy with your emotions and if you aren’t careful, they will have you feeling that you MUST have THIS car. Or that they’re such nice people that you owe them something. Or any number of other psychological tricks that they might play depending on what you respond to. Any time you start feeling yourself having an emotional response to anything involving money, it is a good practice to walk away until it has passed. And when buying a car, if you sense that you’re at the salesman’s limit and the numbers aren’t where you want them, that is the perfect time to walk away anyway. If he lets you leave, you know it really was the best he had to offer. And don’t believe any bullshit he gives you about this being “a one time, today only offer!” I promise he’s lying. And even if he’s not, if he was willing to give it to you, someone else will be too. If you remember nothing else, remember this: you will never lose money by not spending it. Think about it.

Like many of my previous car purchases, I bought a late model used car and saved a ton.

My Sonata was actually the one new car I’ve bought so far. I only bought that one because it was a demo model (6000 miles or less on it but still legally a new car) and it was selling for about an $8k discount off of its retail price of $31k. But even though I got a deal that good on that “new” car, and even though this latest car was significantly more expensive when it was new, I still paid less for this one. With options, the Infiniti retailed at just shy of $50k. But five years old and with only about 30k miles on it, I got it for $21k. I wasn’t concerned about the year/mileage imbalance affecting my resale value since I put on a ton of miles and will quickly reverse it anyway. Considering this car has a long proven, naturally aspirated engine and the Hyundai had a turbo, you could make the argument that this car’s powertrain probably has as many trouble free miles in it as the Hyundai’s did when I bought it – but this powertrain is in a considerably nicer car. And in case you think this particular model depreciates unusually quickly, there were plenty of available ES 350 options at right around $20k for that same vintage as well. Keep in mind that the secret has been out on Lexus for some time so they depreciate slower than almost anything on the road. But even there, the late model used discount is alive and well.

What was different about this purchase?

I bought my car from a “no haggle” dealership.

Most people know that Carmax is a fantastic ripoff by now. If you still don’t, compare any car on their lot with other comparable options in your area. Even without factoring in that most dealers will negotiate some on their advertised pricing, thus making it even lower, Carmax is going to be at least 10% higher than the best available options on nearly anything. They make it simple for you…to pay them an enormous premium for a car. This time around, I found a lot of dealers that appeared to be copying that business model. However, upon further inspection, I noticed something surprising. Many of their prices are actually pretty competitive and some are even exceptional. The dealership I wound up going with happened to have the exact car I wanted at the lowest price available for hundreds of miles. Could I have found a similar car for a thousand or two less somewhere else? Possibly. But it probably wouldn’t have been worth the time and effort. I only buy black cars with black leather interiors and the Q60S is a fairly rare car to begin with. This is a preference that always costs me money but one that makes me happy and thus, that I’m willing to pay a little for.

Anyway, I ended up getting a pretty decent deal on the car without the fun of negotiating, which normal people don’t seem to enjoy anyway. So don’t ignore all the “no haggle” dealerships; not all of them are ripoffs. I will, however, note that this was not one of those “delivered to your door” dealerships. I would NEVER buy a car I couldn’t inspect in person first, whether new or used, although it is significantly more important with a used one. And yes, I know they offer return policies, albeit for very short time/mileage windows. Do you want to try returning a car? I can’t imagine any scenario where that would go smoothly. For example, there will already be a loan in your name. That will have to be zeroed out or paid off. I can’t imagine that will report cleanly on your credit report. The titling process will already have been started. Do you think they refund that money? Do you think you won’t also be paying to title the second vehicle? Those are just a couple of issues off the top of my head. If you can’t inspect a car in person, don’t buy it. These aren’t tv sets; no two are alike.

I actually wound up financing through the dealer.

This particular dealer only dealt with a selected group of finance companies. Ever the cynic, I figured this meant they were going to add one or more points into my deal, which is a very common practice at dealerships and one of the main reasons to line up financing before you go. Had they tried to do that, I would have simply bought the car with cash or walked away. However, they wound up getting me a loan within a quarter point of the one I had already lined up. And with a loan as small as the one I took, I will pay basically nothing in interest anyway and a rate difference that small means nothing. Why did I take such a small loan?

I actually wound up trading my car in.

I have always sold my own cars in the past and have been very successful with it. In my experience, I’ve gotten anywhere from 20 to a whopping 50% more than dealerships were offering by doing things this way. But in this case, the dealership actually made me a pretty fair offer. I know because I did my research in advance. If I had sold the car myself, I would most likely have gotten $1-3k more for it. However, that would have involved spending time I simply don’t have and dealing with at least some people I absolutely don’t want to deal with. When you’re dealing with the public, you’re usually going to meet some assholes, some weirdos, etc. But the bigger issue was the time factor. For me, at this stage of my life, I decided it wasn’t worth squeezing every last dollar out of my car. Plus, the $10k I got for it by trading reduced my sales tax by $625 (you are only taxed on the sale price that’s in excess of your trade and the rate is 6.25% here), further reducing my motivation to sell the car on my own.

I threw my research in the trash and started over.

Like I said above, the 2015 Lexus ES 350 would have been a nearly perfect car in my situation. So why didn’t I buy one? Because I test drove one. I can honestly say I have never been so disappointed with a car in my life. The car was, in fact, nearly perfect – except for one little problem. It was the most sterile driving experience I’ve ever had. Although the stats were pretty similar to my existing car, the performance didn’t feel like it was. And even if it had been, it wouldn’t have mattered. I could have been in a car as fast as the heavily modified Supra I had back in the day (you know, when they weren’t just BMWs marketed as Supras), but so what? I couldn’t feel anything. It was like someone set out to create a car that felt like you were floating in it rather than driving. The car is extremely good at what it does and I thought I would like it. But I absolutely didn’t.

By the by, this is also a strong selling point for the Hyundai. I wanted to get out of that car for two reasons – the mediocre build quality (don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t a Chrysler product or anything, but it was starting to creak and groan way too much for a car its age) and the turbo engine that would inevitably start costing me money well before I wanted to get rid of the car. I drove a car that is significantly more expensive and objectively better in almost every way and yet, it didn’t feel like much of an upgrade at all. For anyone looking for a lower priced car that still offers an awful lot, you could do a lot worse than a Hyundai. And if you get a maxed out one like mine was, you might have a harder time noticing the differences between it and a luxury car than you would expect.

Anyway, after that colossal disappointment, I decided I’m at the point in life where I can compromise a little more between financial optimization and enjoyment. I do have to drive this thing after all. The car I bought is significantly faster, sportier, and more fun in every way than the Lexus. It will not be quite as reliable over time, although it should still hold up decently, especially for being a sports car. And while the gas mileage will rarely be north of 30, again, it’s not terrible for a car this fun to drive at 19/27. And like with most cars, I’ve already been finding that it does a little better than its EPA rating in real life since I don’t beat on it. So far I’m averaging a little north of 27 with probably 75% highway driving.

And I actually love the car. It is a few years “behind the times” in terms of technology, but I think that’s great since I want a car, not a computer. The reason I was looking at a 2015 Lexus in the first place instead of a 2016 or newer is that after 2015, they started adding more and more of the self driving features I have zero interest in, at least until further notice. In the case of the Infiniti, 2015 was also my year because Nissan caved to the turbo trend in the next model year. It’s no race car, but it’s a sporty, fun little car with a very nice interior and everything I want in it. I’ll do another post on the cost of ownership between the three cars (the Hyundai, the Lexus, and this one) but for now, suffice it to say, while this one is the most expensive of the three, I still consider it a reasonable compromise compared to something very sporty like a Corvette. It is certainly well within my means and as long as you stay there, at the end of the day, I think it’s ok to enjoy yourself a little every now and again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s