This past month, I embarked upon the ever-daunting car-buying experience. As a chronic leaser for the past nine years, I finally got burned. During their Ford years, I leased a Volvo S40 when I graduated college and got the sweet taste for brand new cars. I made a logical decision to decrease my payments and lease a Honda Civic during the economic recession in 2009, and then once I started carrying around audio equipment and musical instruments I opted for the larger, more powerful Honda Accord in 2011. All of these vehicles were fully loaded with heated leather seats, sunroofs and the latest technologies. In all cases, except for the last, I was able to turn the lease in early while having some equity in the vehicle. With the 2011 EX-L Accord Coupe, this was not the case. See, I like to drive (hence why I write for Blast), and I started driving too much for the little lease. Leases typically carry 10-15k miles, with 12k being the average. 15k increases the monthly cost. I had 13 months left to reach 36k with the Accord, and was already at 32k. The purpose of having a lease is to have a lower monthly cost, which essentially pays for the depreciation of the vehicle. Unfortunately, either I did not do a good job at negotiating the sales price down for the Accord or the vehicle depreciated more rapidly than estimated, which resulted in negative equity. All things considered, it was a losing situation that I needed to exit. I had some hard thinking to do, and needed to come to the realization that if I was going to purchase a car, it needed to be one that holds its residual value, has a proven track record for maintenance and performance, and be something I would love driving. I narrowed it down to a Certified Pre-Owned Audi, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, or a BMW.
I attempted the lease route again before I came to the realization that financially it made more sense to purchase a pre-owned vehicle. The first car I drove was a 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid. Apart from idling very low once started and at stops, the car lacked acceleration. It sounded and handled exactly like my Honda and shared similar interior elements as well. I did not feel it was an upgrade at all from the EX-L Honda, except for a higher price. The only true upgrade was that this model had a navigation system, and back-up camera. I am a Garmin purist and love my personal GPS and to me the camera is helpful but is really distracting to someone that is trying to drive and have a real sense of their cars physical boundaries. In addition to the lowlights of the car, the dealership I visited was cold, uninviting and required me sitting around for a long time. This is particularly frustrating since I had an appointment to test drive this specific car and was told that “Leigh” would be ready for me as soon as I arrived. What you’re not told is that the Internet sales manager passes you off to a floor sales person without passing along any relevant information that you’ve already shared. This waste of my time set the tone for my experiences with this auto group. I wanted to walk into a dealership, test drive and walk away to decompress, however the sales team wants to talk numbers almost immediately. Also, make sure you have done your car appraisal on Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com. Be sure to know the options on your car so the appraisal is as accurate as possible. I’m glad I came prepared with this knowledge since Acura offered me $3500 less than the appropriate amount for my car. Not convinced that the price tag was worth the difference in gas, and losing my patience, I left for the day. Still in the mind-set of leasing the Ford Fusion Hybrid caught my attention. It’s a gorgeous looking car, very Aston-Martin-like and perhaps a little like a Volvo. The Volvo look-alike is not a coincidence since the sales representative at the local Ford dealership indicated that “Ford had learned a lot from Volvo.” Yes, thank you for the space under the radio for my purse; I loved that feature on my past Volvo. The Ford had all the latest gadgets like park assist which through the touch of a button your car identifies a parallel spot and parks itself. You don’t touch a thing, except the brake if you are compelled to stop the process. It was truly a lovely car, and thankfully I had solicited the opinion of my Facebook friends (don’t under estimate the power of people..) and was pre-warned by another Fusion owner that her car was falling apart after 2 years and that she highly recommended leasing the car versus buying. Others claimed they loved the car. Being the skeptic I am, and knowing my own high-maintenance issues with cars, I knew that ownership was not an option for this car. After having a wonderful experience with the sales person, we talked numbers about my trade-in and for leasing. He presented a better number for the Honda than the last dealership but the rates for leasing the hybrid for 3 years were coming in at over $500 per month. Based on my calculations, I would only approximately save $70-80 a month on gas (if that) and took into consideration that Ford Financing adds the excise tax into the monthly payment. Currently my car payment is $300 a month so I was willing to spend $420 to lease. The sales director wouldn’t budge, tried to put me at ease by joking, asking probing questions on my employment, hobbies, and why my boyfriend didn’t help me get the car. In the end, I walked away when they presented the option to purchase for 84 months (7 years) at the same rate. Another lesson I learned was to know the interest rates and what you should be getting based on your credit. More on that later.
That evening, thoroughly disgusted that I was asked to lease a Ford for $500 a month, I ran into a neighbor who recently purchased a 2008 Mercedes–Benz C300. It is truly a beautiful car, and for him to purchase, only $375 a month. What was I thinking leasing all these years? A Benz?? I could do this. Heck we joked I should look for an Escalade with “spinny” wheels, or a Porsche from the 80’s. In all seriousness, I’ve always been attracted to BMW’s. They are as sexy as a car gets in my eyes. My boyfriend’s father has a lovely white 2012 325i convertible. It is seriously hot and nice to drive. Being the practical person I am, I determined that 2-doors were out and that a BMW 328xi was my dream car. I immediately test-drove a dark blue one the following day. Hot car on the outside, interior was classic with the wood trim, but not all that impressive; really sporty ride, smooth on pothole ridden Boston roads, and spectacular pick-up. I could see myself whipping this car around the Jamaicaway during rush-hour traffic in the brief moments when my foot wasn’t on the brake. The other thing that had attracted me to the Ford Fusion initially was the exterior color Ice Storm, a robin’s egg blue metallic that screamed happy Easter egg. There was a BMW in a similar color, except it was a 2012 with 11k miles and way out of my price point, which was established at $25-28k. The sales consultant informed me of BMW select pricing which is to pay a lower monthly payment for 4 years and then a balloon payment at the end. The BMW was within my reach and many others reach since they are everywhere on the road. Not always the conformist, I was determined to test drive the Mercedes-Benz C300 and love it so I could drive something a little different. I tried to love it; it was sharp on the outside and super snazzy inside, but wasn’t as smooth of a ride as the BMW (I know that sounds wrong) and the steering was a bit stiff, definitely nice to drive, but not fun. After speaking to a fellow Blast writer, I was told to add Audi and Infiniti to my list.
The following day, by chance, I drove by another Mercedes-Benz dealership. Another tidbit I learned from the prior day was about the position of the logo. If the logo is raised on the hood it indicates that the car is equipped with a more “luxury” ride; conversely the logo embedded in the grill indicates a sportier ride. I took the “sporty” ride out and definitely found the car fun to drive, what bothered me on the 2011 model I drove the day before was that the USB cable, and iPod cable along with power supply were located in the glove compartment. This feature didn’t change until the 2013 model. How was I supposed to make phone calls (even hands free) or use my iPod so far away from me? The glove compartment is like that junk drawer in the kitchen with things you know you should keep and might need but never open unless you’re in a pickle. Needless to say, the 2013 was beyond my financial capabilities, although I was presented a great option with a low interest rate of 1.9%. I seriously considered it. It also made me realize what a joke my dealings were with the Ford dealership. I could buy a 2013 Benz for around the same as leasing a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid. That didn’t add up. Another thing I had done in the meantime was apply for an independent auto loan through my bank, Bank of America. I was given the amount requested and a low rate. It was a helpful piece of paper to have in my purse.
After speaking with my boyfriends mother who is a long-time Lexus owner, I was encouraged to add these cars to the mix, and also was informed that the hot little BMW 325i had already been in the shop three times for various annoying things. BMW was starting to lose its grip. The next day I had made plans to bring my mother along for the process since she’s usually a voice of reason in my daily life. We had an appointment at BMW at noon, and were going to hit Lexus or Audi before. We happened to drive right by the Lexus dealership at 10:00 AM before they were officially opened. We drove around the lot when I spotted a dark blue 2011 IS250 AWD, with 12k miles and said “this is the one.” I don’t know what compelled me to say that after not having driven the car, but I did. One of the other criteria throughout this whole process was that I wanted a colored-car, not black, white, silver, or grey – more difficult than it sounds. The Benz dealership informed me silver was the official racing color of Germany; yeah, that’s nice. The salesman, Alex was driving around in a golf cart when he spotted us and told us that they were open. We parked the car and he came running to greet us; I was already impressed. He asked what my budget and price point was, and I felt he was a straight shooter, and directed me to a 2011 IS250 AWD on special for right in the point. The only issue was that it had 45k miles and was white with a dark grey interior. We took it for a spin; nice little steering wheel, compact interior for short-people (which runs in the family); everything necessary in the technology department, including manual sport mode transmission with paddle shifting on the steering wheel, sunroof, heated and cooled seats. Although the pick-up was not like the BMW, that car wanted to go and zip around just like I directed it. I was in love. I knew I could afford the little white one, so I wanted to see how much we could do for my dream blue car. It was a little more, and in the end they gave me a number I was comfortable with for my trade-in and made me feel comfortable during the whole process. There was no pressure or unnecessary back and forth. Herb Chambers lists a “Smart Price” directly from Kelley Blue Book and delivers it. I also got a tour of the dealership where I can get the car hand washed and vacuumed for free anytime I feel like it (when they are open) and where I can grab breakfast, lunch, or a snack for free during any visit. Even the bathroom was more like a fine dining establishment’s with a TV, sleek tiles, full-length doors on the stalls, and disposable hand towels with the logo. This experience was unlike anything I had with Volvo, Honda, and miles above the Acura dealership. There was no hard sell by my sales “friend” and even the finance associate who is a glorified sales rep running the numbers and printing the paperwork, wasn’t that bad when providing all the warranty, Simoniz, Ding, Tire, and Lojack protections. My car will be Simonized and will have the “Venture shield” plastic bra on the front. If I’m buying it for 5+ years I know I’ll want to sell it and have it still looking like to new to get top dollar. I was thankful I had my pre-approval letter from the bank since I was offered 3.9% for 72 months (6 years) by the dealership. On a Sunday, they had trouble reaching Bank of America for a second offer, but somehow were able to beat their private pricing with 1.74% based on my credit worthiness. Had I not been equipped with this information, I would have been stuck at a rate more than double this amount! An error on the payment start date when corrected lowered my payments by $35 a month, so I came out with the exact number I had in mind.
To further make me feel more confident about this dealership, I just read that Carlos Arrendondo (the man in the cowboy hat that helped save Jeff Bauman who lost both his legs in the Boston marathon attack) was given a new truck.
Even though signing the paperwork for the car felt more nerve-wracking than buying my condo, I’m very glad I “settled” down. I could have driven the Audi that people had great experiences with, and could have spent another month in this process, but it just gets more and more confusing trying to remember how you felt driving each car.
Another great tool that I used was Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own® (TCO®) calculator
My top contenders:
2011 BMW ix Drive AWD for 5 years: $52,234
2011 Audi A4 Quattro AWD Automatic for 5 years: $47,690
2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD Automatic for 5 years: $46,147