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By agg97
July 28, 2004

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I have been keeping a secret here in the last few months. I'm finally ready to spill my guts. There are a couple of lessons along the way, so let's get started, shall we?

A few months ago, my much beloved '97 Dodge Ram with 141,000 miles on it started acting up. Nothing major, just it started to feel looser, shifted a little harder, a little repair here, tow to the garage there, etc. So, I decided it was time to start up the radar screen for a new vehicle.

So, I figure out what my needs and wants are. Top of the "needs" list is reliability, second is low miles, third is that I actually fit (I'm 6'4"), and fourth is that it's a light color (I park it outside, in Texas, in the summer). Top of the "wants" list is a manual transmission (it's a want, but an uncompromising want so it's first), second is gas mileage, and third is "stylish".

My budget allows for either a new Kia or a nice used car. I quickly decide against the Kia and start looking at used cars. I've never bought a used car before, so the process has been quite interesting. In fact, the Ram is the only vehicle I've ever purchased. Hmmm.

My truck is still running reasonably well, so I am not in a rush to purchase a new vehicle. This should allow me to get a good deal when it comes along. Now, I need to edumacate myself so I know a good deal when I see it.

So, the hunt started a few months ago by trying to come up with potential candidates for vehicle replacements. High on the list are the Camry (yes, it's available in a manual), the Passat, and small trucks.

A Camry comes along a few weeks ago to a local Toyota dealer, and I start getting excited. It was a '99 with about 60k miles with some accessories such as CD player. I think to myself, "Ahh, a Camry. That means reliability, relatively low miles for a Camry, not sure if I fit or not, and it is a tannish gold color." I figure it's worth a gander, so I drive to the dealership, talk to "Ricardo", and we take it out for a test drive. I can honestly say this was one of the biggest disappointments in my life. The thing was uninteresting, lifeless, and utterly boring. I mean, my TOASTER has more personality than this car did. Needless to say, I pass on this car, with my head hanging low and in a little bit of a funk.

All right. So, the Camry is out. That still leaves the VW Passat, small trucks, or maybe something else that that I hadn't considered before such as an Acura. I continue on my quest, scouring through on a daily basis. Not many promising things there, so I figure I'd check out eBay. I'm very leery about buying such a huge purchase over an online auction, so I just browse, looking at what's out there, and putting a couple of them in my "watch" list to see where they end up at the end of the auction.

A couple of weeks pass with no action. Then one day, on my way to work, I notice a small truck with a "for sale" sign in the back window. I look at the sign more closely, and the sign says it is listed in "Huh, I've never heard of that site before. I'll have to go check it out." So, when I got to work, I scour over as usual, then head over to WOW! Look at all these search options, and look at all these dealerships that aren't using Things were definitely looking up.

At this point, I start thinking about how I am going to finance this new vehicle. The Fools here who have been on the boards awhile may remember that I finally got rid of all non-mortgage debt just a few months ago. I followed my own advice and only had a $1k emergency fund, which I have been slowly building up ever since (that's a different post altogether). To get to the point, I do not have a "car fund" to buy a car outright since my Ram keeps acting up $125 at a time.

Now, my truck with 141k miles on it isn't going to get much from the dealership, but I should be able to sell it for around $6,000 privately since I'm in Texas and trucks are king in Texas. Crap! How am I going to time this right so that when the right used car comes along I can buy it, but then sell my truck when the right buyer comes along for that. Hmmmmmm.

So a couple of weeks ago, I get one of those "0% for a year" deals from MBNA, and they give me actual checks to use. I carefully read the fine print to find out what my "cash advance" limit is, but there was no such thing listed. So, I called up MBNA and asked them. Turns out, the cash advance limit is the same as the credit limit. He also says, "Would you like to increase your credit limit by $4,000? I can do that right now without checking your credit report since you've been with us for so long." Right then, the light turned on, and quickly accepted the CL increase.

I thought to myself, "why don't I write a huge check out to myself so I'll have enough to buy the new (to me) car outright, then sell my truck for a good price!" What a GREAT idea! So, I write a check to myself for $15,000 and deposit it in the bank. So, now I have this huge bankroll available so I can write a check for a car when the right deal comes along. Best of all, it only cost me a small BT fee to have access to all this money for an entire YEAR, which is well more than enough time find a car, buy it, sell my truck, and then earn interest on the cash joelcorley style until next summer. I should come out at least $1,000 ahead by being able to take my time buying and selling vehicles rather than having to time everything "just right".

All right. Now that I have the financing lined up, it's time to start seriously looking at the cars available again. A few Passats come up for sale (~2000 model year with 40-45k) in my price range, so I decide to do a little more research into them. To make a long story short, Consumer Reports loves the Passat and they're reliable cars. Still, there are horror stories from consumers about recalled ignition coils, and a few other things. I go back to the Passats and notice that the depreciation slide doesn't stop and a Passat with 80k+ miles on it is next to worthless, and over 100k miles are next to non-existent. Add to that fact that VWs are expensive to repair here in the U.S., and I decide that those aren't for me. So sad, because I love to drive those things. But, it doesn't meet my "needs" criteria, so there's no compromising. Buh-bye, Passat.

Well, now I'm down to either small trucks. Okay, that's fine. It'll definitely make the transition from my full-size to a smaller vehicle easier. Based on my criteria and price range, it seemed the clear leader was the Toyota Tacoma. It gets OVER 20 MPG, which is a huge improvement from my current 13mpg. It's fairly common in a manual transmission. So, I start focusing on those. I definitely want the extended cab, though. My dog, George, HAS to have a place to lie down and sleep on the long drives to/from Houston every few weeks. ;^D

There's some okay deals out there, but there's nothing screaming at me. Besides, MBNA's money is earning interest, so I'm basically being paid to wait for the right deal to come along! <enter evil, sinister laugh> MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

One day last week, I get the bright idea of not searching for just Tacomas, but for all Toyotas with a manual transmission in my price range. As expected, a few Corrollas and Echos pop up, but then this 4Runner pops up as well. Hmm. A 4Runner. That's the same as a Tacoma, but the back is closed instead of open. Hmm. Let's click on this thing.

When the description comes along, I seriously couldn't believe my eyes. It was a '99, manual transmission, white, and it only had 33,700 miles on it. I think to myself, "WTF?" Manual transmission (non-sports) cars are usually driven by people who commute daily to/from work, and the miles typically rack up pretty quickly. But a '99 model was available as early as '98. So, that car's between 5 and 6 years old, was only driven about 8k miles per year, and it is sitting in a lot only 14 miles away from my house. SWEET!!! I do some research on it, start coming up with initial prices, but I find that the description is lacking a couple of key pieces of information.

So, I check the dealer's website and see that they close at 9pm. So, I hop in my truck and drive over there around 9:30 so I can be armed with all my due diligence before talking to a salesman. I drive up, and wouldn't you know it, their extended summer hours are until 10pm. I get out of my truck, don't stare into the building, and quickly head towards the 4runners parked in the far corner of the lot. I start searching for the elusive white one with manual transmission. There were probably 25 4Runners there, and as I was getting towards the end of my search, a salesman makes his way over and says, "May I help you?" So, annoyed that I hadn't finish my search, I tell him I'm looking for the white 5-speed. He throws his head back at me, starts LAUGHING, and says, "Wouldn't you know it. That car was on our lot for weeks, and had very little traffic. So, we sent it to the auction today." <insert balloon deflating sound here> He tries to sell me something else and I tell him to kiss off. Besides, my dog George is waiting in my truck (Before anyone starts a dissertation on animal rights, it was a cool night and she was very excited about getting to ride. I wasn't gone for more than 5 minutes, the windows were rolled down, and she was fine. BTW, did I mention that George is female?)

Well, since they sold it at a dealer auction, the truck will probably surface again at another dealership. <Obiwan Kanobe voice> Patience, Agg97 </Obiwan Kanobe voice>. So, this past Saturday I do my search again, and BAM! There it is. The VIN matches. Unfortunately, it is a dealership 60 miles away, and I had plans later on Saturday so there wasn't any time to drive out there. The dealership is closed on Sunday (one of the remnants of the "Blue laws" in Texas), so I drive out there to get my info to come up with my calculated price.

When I get there, I am immediately impressed at all the accessories it has on it. It is LOADED with everything there is to stuff into the base model 4Runner. Sweet. One thing concerned me, though. It was only a 4-cylinder engine, with a max HP of 150 and around 175 ft-lbs of torque. For a vehicle that size and weight, that isn't all that impressive. Hmmmm.

So, Monday (yesterday) rolls around, I drive out there after work and take a test drive. As expected, everything in the car is perfect EXCEPT for the undersized engine. I then start thinking about how I'll be driving it MOST of the time. I'd say 98% of my driving is not on the freeways but on city streets with stoplights and constant starting/stopping. I realize that the SUV isn't slow in the lower gears, just maxes out pretty early on the top end.

Then I start thinking about the minimum car that would meet my "needs" and "wants". I estimate that my current truck is a whopping 160% of what I really need, and this vehicle is about 97% of what I really need. I decide that I can live with a 3% shortcoming, and make a deal.

We do our little negotiation game (I'm in sales, so it doesn't take long to get to a reasonable number). I go home last night to sleep on it. Today, I decided it was a good deal, drove 60 miles to this dealership for the 3rd day in a row, and I BOUGHT IT. I'll pick it up this weekend since that's the soonest I can convince a friend to drive out there with me to pick it up. Let me tell you, that was by far the BIGGEST CHECK I've ever made, but I was confident I was approaching this the best way I could thanks to all of you Fools.

Now let's go back and review my "needs" list. Reliability, check. Low miles, check. I actually fit, check. Light color, check. It meets ALL of my needs. Now onto the "wants" list. Manual transmission, check. Gas mileage, neutral. "Stylish", check.

So, Phase I of my plan is complete.

I figure if I do a good enough job selling the Ram, this new vehicle with 110,000 LESS MILES on it will cost me about $6,000 out-of-pocket. I should be able to drive it for a LONG TIME, and I'm very satisfied with the purchase as a whole.

Now it's on to Phase II: Selling the Ram. Are you interested? ;^D

1 month down, 11 months to go on 0% BT Offer.

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