After trekking across country with a newborn and a dog in two older cars we are thinking its almost time to have them replaced. My wife’s car, a 2004 Jeep Liberty had a little trouble starting on one of the legs. The mechanic “juiced” the battery (technical term?) and we were good for about two weeks until it started to have the same starting problem again. Maybe a new battery is all it needs, but it has 120,000 miles on it and with the baby (a whole quarter year old today) we entered the “reliable transportation” part of our lives. Ugh.
Along those lines, it’s time to look at my own transportation, a 2001 Ford Mustang. Nearly 12 years later, it’s a good time to consider a better car for the New England snow. That limits me to just about every other car made in history. The only problem is that it has relatively few miles on it, 90,000, and drives quite reliably (if you don’t consider the two breakdowns for a new battery and fuel pump last month).
It turns out that December is one of the best times to buy a car. In fact, five of the bests days of the year are closing out the year.
Today, we test drive cars. We just don’t really know where to begin.
I’ve done a lot of research online, and to be frank, my dog makes better progress chasing his tail. We know we want an SUV that’s good in snow. My wife also wants more of a luxury model, because she passed that up in the past… and well we can afford it. We’ve got a little of the Clark Howard family thing going on where I am happy with the best value car because it is a depreciating investment and his wife isn’t quite as frugal (hey few can be). She’s been looking at a used Audi Q5 or a BMW X3. She’s looking for the bells and whistles, but honestly, the first thing she looks at is whether it can connect to her cell phone and play her music over it. Since almost all cars do that today, there may be hope to swing her to a more practical model.
After doing so research, I think our price point is around $35,000. With the luxury models that would be about a 2010 with around 20-25K miles on it. I hopped on Consumer Reports and saw that their extremely highly-rated Lexus RX450h fits the bill as well. The Lexus RX450h is a hybrid and it gets a very good 29 miles to the gallon, which I estimate will save us roughly $5,000 in gas vs. the Audi Q5 or BMW X3. My wife was quite receptive, fewer stops for gas is a good thing. I was confident we were on the same page, a good compromise between luxury and frugality… until I saw a Toyota Highlander Hybrid. It doesn’t have the same luxury name (though its the same company), but it does have many of the same options with the great gas mileage and it also one of the top SUVs according to Consumer Reports. So we’ve now got too great options, right?
That’s where the research kind of fell apart.
The hybrid version of the Toyota Highlander costs about $6,000 more that the tradition non-hybrid version. So while we would get fewer stops at the gas station, it might not save us any money over the long haul. Going with a hybrid of either car might not save us money… and that’s a stiff right hook to my frugality ego. It’s made me think that it’s worth opening up the search again… and why not test-drive a lot and see what’s out there?
Also as I was looking into the Lexus RX450h, I noticed that TrueCar.com has quite a few people paying around $40,000 for a 2012. I had been seeing the 2010s for $39,900 that I figured I could talk into the $35,000 range. Now I’m wondering if we’re just better off going with the 2012s that I expect them to want to clear out. I think I’ll have to play that one by ear when we get there. I noticed that the online prices for the 2013 RX450h are around $56,000 and the TrueCar MSRP is around $46,805, quite a big difference… I can’t imagine that they come with $10,000 of options.
As for what kind of car I might get, I haven’t a clue. That Toyota Highlander might be a good fit, but it looks like prices can approach the Lexus’. That frugality side of me would probably be interested in test driving a 2010 Kia Sportage or whatever SUV Hyundai has (as you can tell, I’ve put a lot of thought into this) as I could probably get it for half of the luxury SUV that my wife is looking at. I’ve got a solo 401K that has tons of room to maximize and my eye on an investment property that I think could bring in a few hundred dollars a month, which just might be enough to make my car free.
Since neither of us really have any strong brand affinity, have any suggestions for us? I’m not too interested in particular reliability stories, but I’ve found they are all over the map. You can always find people who had trouble with any kind of car and people who will swear it is awesome. Without a big sample size, the information is kind of pointless and I think it only muddles our decision-making process.
Final Thought: If we do come home with a Lexus, I’ll have to take a shower from all the egg on my face. For more than a few years, I’ve been writing about how much I hate Lexus’ marketing in December: One Less Car Company to Consider and Surprise Honey, I Just Added $60,000 to Our Debt. If we do it, I’ll probably have to post a picture of it with the bow, even though it is after Christmas.