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THE VAULT: Archives of Past Features
What To Buy? When To Buy?
By: Mike Connell

Let's pretend that I know next to nothing about buying a car, new or used. Actually, while we're at it we might as well drop the "pretend" and just face up to the fact that I really do not know much about buying cars, fixing cars and looking after cars. I need help. Where do I get it?

In my own fun-filled adventures in used-car buying I've found that there are common elements, experiences and angst I share with Joe and Jolene Carbuyer, in the car-buying experience. Structured to emulate something akin to a cautionary tale, many exploits and endeavours in car buying begin with a seemingly simple question – just what kind of car do I want, and why? Simple my butt (forgive the literary lingo). Here sets in automotive angst in the attempts to figure out the best drive for your dollar, without getting stung in the deal.

I wend and weave through many factors in such decisions. There's the excited optimistic stage, where one sees the new BOXSTER cruising down the avenue and thinks, "y'know, I bet I could handle those payments . . . a couple of jobs on the side, Mr. Noodle 3 times a day, dump the girlfriend, move in with Mom and Dad, and presto!" Then there is excited yet practical – maybe not a Porsche, but perhaps a vintage vehicle that will add that uncertain eccentricity to a seemingly more uncertain personality. You know, something like a run down, ancient Volkswagen, or one which looks like a Triumph, but couldn't possibly be with that rubberband engine noticeably implanted. Slowly but surely we make our way to conservatively practical, settling on something that is hopefully not too much more than two years old, doesn't require much maintenance, and is easy and affordable if it does, and is good on gas.

These are all fairly simple and obvious considerations. Blatant signs pointing the way to the cost for conveyance. Be that as it may, we've all gotten lost before, thinking we knew a better way, only later finding we should have made that left at Albuquerque. So, it is nice to know that there are tools that can help us navigate. Sites such as AutobyInternet are good places to start in your journey. Not necessarily pointing north or south, AutobyInternet provides reasonable choices, as well as hinting at some dangers and how to avoid them.

Even the mass commercialism of companies like Saturn provide direction and opportunity for the average car-buyer. Despite the over-bearing and seemingly oppressive dedication Saturn promotes – " A Different Kind of Company . . . A Different Kind of Car" – what one has to admit amidst shouts of "I say, you say, we say . . . SATURN" (they actually do crowd around and shout this as you purchase your car) is that here is a company that provides a suite of information, support, and service to potential saturnites.

"In fact, every qualified used car [Saturn] sells undergoes an inspection process involving at least 100 and often 150 specific points. That's a lot of stuff to inspect. Engines are fine-tuned, electrical systems are tested - everything from the exterior finish to the dome lights gets a once-over. Sometimes even a twice-over. We also take each car out to prove it under various driving conditions. Not a bad idea, since that's exactly what you'll be doing with it after you buy it from us".

(http://www.saturn.com/car/used_cars/index.html) That's one route to go. Take the high road. The problem with this direction is that we've left all of the research and analysis to someone else, hoping that they have our best interests in mind, when in the back of our minds we know that while they represent dedication to customer service, they also have to deal with their considerable overhead.

I won't discourage going to the heavy hitters of the automotive industry, because they can host good deals. That doesn't mean, though, that we still can't go out on our own and do some research – perhaps coming up with some better options, or at the very least a better understanding of the deal you may or may not be getting.

AutobyInternet, like the Autoguide, directs potential carbuyers to standards and information hosted and provided by sites such as "Intellichoice" – effectively letting us know that in our use of the information and direction supplied, we will be that much closer to making that all important goal of the "intelligent choice". Some of their statistics culminate into the 1994-1996 Best Overall Pre-Owned Winners – Selected Ownership Costs. Detailing the standard choices in car size and style, these best overall winners cover those that have the lowest repair costs, the lowest maintenance costs, and the lowest depreciation rate ('96 Honda Civic, '96 Chrysler Cirrus, '95 Honda Civic, respectively).

Forums such as the AutoTrader provide a good sense of availability to anyone out there looking . . . but looking for what, when, and why? These sorts of questions are easily addressed, if not answered. Why does it have to be complicated? Really, it is just a car. A means to get you from "A" to "B". Research, like anything else, is a willingness and need to learn – to look before you leap. Not hard, but not always so easy to know where to start. The Auto Trader Online can help in many ways, one leading to reference material . . . you know, those things we used to read – books. Listing titles in areas such as reference, maintenance, history, vintage, racing, buying guides, engines, and parts, the Auto Trader Online is a layer to add to your automotive reference desk.

One can search on the Internet and find everything you ever wanted to know about many different subjects, car buying included. Tools like the Autoguide provide an organizing and informative structure. Your one-stop-shop for automotive interests. Pointing to another of their useful links, one can look at the "Used Car Buyer's Checklist". Not fancy. Very basic, but direct in its approach and goal – informing those interested that there are elements that should be, have to be considered before buying a used car. At the very least it can let you know whether or not you actually know as much about this process as you think you do, and at the very most it can help you avoid buying that heap sagging in the corner of the lot, one step away from demolition, but because you're such a good guy, the dealer will part with it for twenty times what it's worth.

I ramble.

Look, in my opinion, Citroën or Cadillac – it doesn't really matter for the most part. People buy what they want, sometimes whether they can afford it or not. How deep a hole we will dig for ourselves can be gauged and subsequently minimized by learning to make use of the tools out there.

Mike Connell.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the AutoGuide.net, and I have nothing against Citroëns, they're good reliant automobiles . . . . really.

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