I think we’re going to buy a new car: Any advice before we pull the trigger?

DH’s 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is starting to make unpleasant putt putt putt sounds.  It’s possible that the hybrid battery is going to run out in half a year or so (replacement cost:  more than the car is currently worth– 2-3K), and the brakes will probably need to be replaced (~$300) sooner rather than later.

When my sister’s Mini-Cooper, bought around the same time as we got our car, committed suicide on the highway in a cloud of dark smoke (after a few months of unpleasant putt putt putt sounds…), we started looking around at new cars as she decided what to get (she ended up with a gently-used 2016 BMW for 29K, though I am not remembering what model– her second choice was a new 2018 Mazda 3 for 25K ).  While doing this, we discovered that Honda has a new plug-in Hybrid called the Clarity.  This qualifies for the 7.5K federal tax credit, we’re pretty sure.  (We will make sure.)  DH drove it and decided he liked it very much, except that fancy new cars no longer have spare tires and the trunk is oddly shaped and won’t fit our big cooler that we take when we drive into the city (we do have smaller soft-bodied coolers and could get a smaller hard-bodied cooler).  Then he drove the Hyundai Ioniq and the Toyota Prius and decided he did not like them as much at all (we will still probably get a Prius when we swap out my car, although my sister says the new Accents are much nicer than the model we got, so it is tempting to just replace my car with another $15K Accent, even though we can afford a Prius… and I could in theory get an all electric vehicle since my car just tools around town).

It is not cheap.  MSRP is $33,400.  But there is that $7.5K tax credit that brings is more in line with what we were expecting to pay for a new car for DH.  This is also the first year that this model has been available, and there are some small annoying things that reviewers and current owners say about it.  Like, they wish there was a knob for the stereo instead of a button (DH doesn’t mind the button– he uses the steering wheel button, but I LIKE the knob as a passenger).  They think the middle of the car looks kind of weird (DH doesn’t mind).  The lane correction isn’t as good as in other cars that have it.  These and probably many other small annoying things will probably be fixed in the 2019 and 2020 models if the Clarity stays in production.  It really isn’t like us to buy a first of anything– we generally buy the most popular and tried item that we can afford within the set of what we’re looking for.  We got a Honda Civic Hybrid, but not until they’d ironed out the kinks.  Of course, by the time the kinks are ironed out, that phat tax incentive is gone.

If/When we do pull the trigger, I’m planning on emailing all the dealers in a 2 hour radius to ask for a walk-away price to see if I can get them to compete.  This is the same strategy that I wrote up for a guest post on Get Rich Slowly many years ago.  Some dealers are making it harder to find an email, but generally they do provide emails of individual sales people even if they don’t have an easy to find inquiries email anymore.

My work has a free plug-in station for electric vehicles, though over the past year it has started getting actual use meaning one cannot just drive up and plugin anymore.  I assume that they will start charging for it eventually (all the other plug-in stations charge!)

We also have to figure out what to do with the Civic.  We can’t keep it because we have a 2-car garage and a 1-car driveway and our HOA tows cars that stay on the street overnight.  Kelly Blue Book thinks we’ll get something like 2-3K for a trade-in and 1-2K if we sell it.  Donating it would probably get $45 (that is not a typo) *if* we itemized, which is unlikely.  DH also considered giving it to his relative who is down to one car (as a hobby, his relative’s father likes to drive and pick up and drop off cars and people all over the country without getting anything in exchange), but after thinking it through he realized that giving his relative something that is soon going to need $300 brakes and won’t work without a $2000 battery is probably not a great idea.  On top of that, the Civic Hybrid needs a pit to do oil changes and the closest Honda dealer is 40 min away.  I feel a little bit guilty about springing all that on whatever unsuspecting college student would end up buying our car as well, though there’s also the chance that the car will be fine for the next few years and DH is too pessimistic, and if things aren’t fine for this hypothetical college student, there’s a dealership in town.  Most likely we’ll trade-in and take very little for the trade-in because it’s too hard to negotiate that part.  Oh well, we’re not trying to completely optimize money here.

So, what are your thoughts?  What are we missing?

46 Responses to “I think we’re going to buy a new car: Any advice before we pull the trigger?”

  1. Erik and Kris Lindquist Says:

    I just leased a Toyota c-hr. New model this year. I’ve been a Prius owner twice before but wanted a fill in car as I’m sure, with the amazing improvements I’m seeing between 2014 Prius and 2018 c-hr, the next generation of cars (in 3 years) will have something I want to buy – i.e., even more safety better range, faster charging, and, dare I say it, self-driving? The Premium package even has heated seats! Good luck with your decision

  2. Omdg Says:

    How are you paying for it?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Cash. Part of our emergency fund has been targeted for a new car purchase for a couple of years, given the age and increase in issues of both cars.

      Though the bmw dealer did let my sister put 5k of her purchase on credit card, but no more. I don’t know if we’ll want to try that for 2% cash rewards.

      • omdg Says:

        The credit card thing would be awesome. I tried to pay my daughter’s tuition using my card, but the only option was direct bank withdrawal. Annoying! It would have been nice to get Amazon cash! I think we only get 1% though.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Citi has a 2% card (1% when the charge happens, 1% when you pay it), and Capitol One has 1.5% flat rate card. (We really need to get into the CC recommendation business– I understand that’s where the big bucks are online)

      • Linda Says:

        That may be a standard dealer limit. When I bought my used Prius several years ago with cash, the dealer would only allow me to put $5k on a credit card. I had the money in the bank, but I wanted the cash rewards. It would have been sweet to get more back than the 1.5% I did, but there was no way around that rule.

  3. monsterzero Says:

    No spare tire? How’s that supposed to work?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They put in a patch kit and assume you’ll call for roadside assistance. Almost every time we’ve blown a tire, it has been on a Sunday on a highway in the middle of nowhere and nothing with tire services has been open for dozens and even hundreds of miles. (We now have a patch kit in addition to a donut in the Civic because driving on a donut is no fun.)

      For the really nice cars, they’re supposed to have puncture proof tires.

      • monsterzero Says:

        I was wondering if the dealer’d be trying to sell some kind of Anywhere roadside assistance to go along with the car, that you’d be paying monthly forever.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Probably! I think some of the luxury models provide that as part of the package. But the real reason is that they’re trying to keep their mpg down and spare tires are heavy and take up a lot of space. (Gas guzzling trucks and jeeps continue to have them.)

      • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

        I learned about puncture proof tires about ten years ago from a friend with a BMW – turns out to be just as much trouble because they can be punctured and they cost her at least twice as much as regular tires. It didn’t make much sense to me. I wonder if they’re any better now.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      (by puncture proof I mean that they can still be driven on if punctured, not that they can’t be punctured, but that is well out of our price range anyway)

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I should note– we can still be talked into or out of this!

    We can probably not be talked into buying a used car. But we might be able to be talked into just keeping our current car limping along. DH may be willing to try other test drives (he’s been considering the Accord hybrid which people love and would essentially be replacing his current car with the newest version, but he likes the idea of the Clarity a lot, and there is that pretty sizable tax incentive on the Clarity.)

  5. First Gen American Says:

    Most people I know who’ve had electric vehicles love them.

    My only advice is that if you have a trade in, you should shop a few dealerships. My trade in value between the highest dealer and lowest varied by $1500. I had a newer car I was trading though so it may not be as important but I was surprised by that data. One of the dealers also had a used car dealership as well so they gave me a much higher trade than the auction price.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      In our case, it probably isn’t worth it to shop on the trade-in since the value of the car is so low and the dealerships are so far away (and there’s tens of thousands of college students in town). But that definitely sounds like good advice for people who don’t hang on to their cars until they’re falling apart!

      • First Gen American Says:

        Our current vehicle is 11 years old. It was a special circumstance (purchased due to death in family) that we had a newer car to trade. I still used it for years until my 2nd kid was born and finally was like, the 2 door coupe in the snow belt just isn’t working anymore. I still feel a little guilt over not driving it longer. Can you tell?

  6. Karen Says:

    We’re thinking of buying a plug-in hybrid as well. Have you looked at the Kia Niro plug-in? I like it because it’s shorter than the Clarity, but we also probably have more limited garage space than you do. What do you think of this argument about leasing rather than buying plug-ins? https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1115008_why-everyone-leases-electric-cars-rather-than-buying-and-maybe-you-should-too

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m not sure it is as relevant to hybrid plugins as to straight up-EVs? I dunno. I do know that we hate car shopping so leasing is a non-starter for us unless we have to.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        DH says: I off-handedly dismissed the Niro because it’s a “subcompact SUV”…it looks like an SUV

      • Karen Says:

        We’re hoping the Niro looks more like a station wagon in size than an SUV when we see it in person. Some of the pictures and reviews suggest that it’s really not SUV-sized. And it is significantly more compact than the Clarity. The article suggests leasing is better than buying for plugins as well as EVs. Like you, however, I’m reluctant to lease and would rather buy. But I’m also a bit worried about buying a plugin because it seems like such new technology; it’s hard to say what will happen with them in 2- 5 years, and we don’t want to buy another car any time soon. We’re only buying a car now because our VW is a diesel and has to be returned soon in order for us to get our money back. I also don’t want to get stuck with another technology that ended up being a bad decision! Anyway, I don’t think I’m saying anything that will help your situation. We’re just in a similar place with our decision.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        But with hybrid plug-ins, you can just continue to drive it like a regular hybrid car and ignore the EV part.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        DH: huh, the niro is 1 foot shorter, but 2 inches taller.
        so it is smaller, but it looks bigger in pictures

      • Karen Says:

        I guess a foot isn’t significantly smaller but it makes a big difference in our tiny garage and, as #2 mentioned below, for parallel parking. But we’re city dwellers so every inch in length matters!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think DH is just surprised because the pictures make it look bigger!

        Generally we use DH’s car for doing things like driving 13 hours to see his parents, or driving to our sabbatical destination. One of the reasons we’ve been doing plane tickets lately is that driving hasn’t seemed like as safe an idea as in the past. (The other reason is that when DH is employed I am totally willing to pay 1K to drive 2 hours instead of 13 each way!)

        I personally like having a little car, even here where the parking spots are roomy. I can totally park diagonally and still not be over a line. (Though once I got a jerky note on the car window shield at work telling me to learn how to park after doing that.)

      • Karen Says:

        It does look big in pictures. That’s probably because auto manufacturers think Americans want big cars. This will be our only car, and we also drive long distances in the summer to visit family. So we need a car with a roomy trunk and a relatively small footprint. Our VW Jetta hatchback was perfect until we learned that it’s actually a polluting monster. It’s been hard to find a hybrid replacement!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        ” the total range of the Niro is rated at 560 miles” (!)

      • Karen Says:

        We also just learned that the Niro has a great warranty— 10 years on the electrical parts and 5 years on the rest. That is good reason for us not to lease. But we still haven’t seen it in person. None of the dealers in our big city seem to have one so we have to find time to make a trip to the suburbs.

  7. chacha1 Says:

    If you both were overall positive on the Clarity (as it seems) I don’t see any downside to trading in the old Civic now and getting the Clarity, and bagging that tax credit while it still exists. Even at full MSRP that’s not an egregiously-expensive car.

  8. Katherine Says:

    At home in the garage, do you just plug it into a normal outlet, or do you need to get a special one put in? If you need a special one, how much do they cost?

    • Karen Says:

      You can plug in to a normal outlet, which takes about 7-9 hours to fully charge the car (depending on the car). You can buy a special outlet for a 2-3 hour charge. I think it costs around $2000, but unless you make a lot of short trips every day and spend 2-3 hours at home in between I don’t think the special charger is necessary.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You can plug it into the kind of outlet we already have in our garage (I think three prong? I’m not entirely sure). It takes 12 hours to charge. The special kind will charge it in 2.5 hours and is somewhat pricey (can’t remember the exact cost, but it’s in the 1-2K range once labor is factored in).

  9. bogart Says:

    We’re going on a decade since buying our most recent car, so I don’t feel really up-to-date on what that involves, but I do know that at least when I did that, CarMax would buy your old car from you whether or not you were trading it in on anything, and would give you an offer that did not in any way involve a commitment (from you — it was good from them for maybe a week?). So if there’s one of those anywhere in your vicinity, could be worth looking into.

  10. becca Says:

    My beloved Mazda3 has gotten crunched :-( It is still drivable, but should definitely be fixed (I am fighting w/insurance about that currently).
    I looked in to how much it is “worth” via KBB and was just depressed. I looked into replacement options, but there is nothing in a reasonable price range that I like (<10k).
    I looked into the plug-in Prius before, and find those pretty appealing. They are pricier than I want to spend now though, since moderate-age used Priuses appear to be scarce. I might also want something with more pick-up though, the improvement in acceleration for driving on short on-ramps between my old car (Chevy Prizm) and the Mazda was pretty life-changing.

    Although I think the tax credit seems delightful, I don't know if I'd go with an untried model for a Honda. The odds of high repair costs over time are higher, because you are less likely to have spare parts around and people don't work on them as much. Do you already have a beloved mechanic for Hondas? I wouldn't worry so much about style bugs that haven't been worked out (though my parents had a Honda Civic that was *almost* a great car, but had visibility issues like crazy when it iced or fogged. In Chicago, that rendered it a lot less useful than expected).

    Mazda and Toyota are apparently working on an EV together. Maybe that will be the Tesla for the masses I'm hoping for, though waiting for it would definitely still have the drawback of getting untested tech. That said, if you don't think your current car is going to make 3 more years, it's unlikely that a MUCH better new one will come out from any of those sources.

    What is the source of your electrical energy at home, and have you looked in to how much it costs to buy all renewable? It was like…$20/month extra for me to get all renewable in Michigan, and if I were going to get an EV in an otherwise coal intensive state, I'd want to take that step. If you're state is mostly renewable or nuclear now though, that may not be as much a consideration.

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    #2 says: that’s a large-ass car for a sedan. I feel like its length would be hard to park. I guess you don’t have to parallel park out where you live, maybe?

  12. Susan Says:

    We got an A3 etron, plug-in hybrid, last summer. Love it – we don’t use gas most weeks. My back likes VW seats and I like putting a bike inside, so it was in the middle of my personal Venn diagram – but the accord hybrid was the close runner-up. It still has a $4500 tax credit and we got a good deal on a dealer demo car, so it was almost the same price as the accord hybrid.

  13. Abigail @ipickuppennies Says:

    I know you don’t want to sink too much more money in a car that you’re planning on getting rid of, but why not get the mechanic to give it the once-over and tell you what (s)he thinks about its future. That way if you do sell it, you can tell the person what to expect and sell with a clean conscience. Or get told that the putt-putt-putt is nothing ominous and can be fixed for not too much.

    I’d say go for the trade-in, otherwise. Just — as you probably already know — don’t tell them you have a trade-in until you’ve already negotiated the price for the new car.

    Alas, I have no insight on car models. We got a very gently used ’12 Civic back in ’14, and we hope to get many, many more years out of it. (So far, only 60,000 on the odometer, so I think we’re good for a bit yet.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH already did that– that’s why he thinks the battery isn’t long for this world. We don’t know about the putt putt putt noise, but since the hybrid battery costs more than the car is worth, it seems secondary. Though you’re right about the clean conscience being a benefit to determining what’s making the noise.

  14. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    We’re doing a little car shopping, too! My old, pretty janky car is in need of a pretty major repair to pass emissions inspections required this summer, so I think I’m going to ‘sell’ it back to my out-of-state parents (who are not subject to said inspections) so my dad can tinker around town with it. It still runs well despite high mileage (woo, Toyota Camry!), so I’m glad someone will get some use out of it. Considering I was still in high school when the car was new and I bought it well-used, I think I got my money’s worth out of it!

    I’m hesitant to buy a plug-in hybrid due to their relatively short track record, but I would love to have one!!! If this were for a second car for our household, I’d probably go that route…I know a few people who drive the new Prius Prime and love them! The electric capabilities would easily cover my everyday driving, so I’d only have to fill up when I took long road trips, and even then I’d probably rent something else for those drives since most of those trips are to/through very rural areas with few mechanics, crummy cell phone reception, and no local roadside assistance. Does the Clarity offer a model with Honda Sensing? I have heard from several people that this is a very worthwhile upgrade if available. I think a lot of the same features come standard on the base models from Toyota, though…

    I’m hoping to buy something that we can drive for >10 years, so I’m leaning toward the faithful smaller-ish sedans (Civic, Corolla, etc.). I’m looking forward to better gas mileage, 4 functional doors, and updated safety bells and whistles!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH didn’t like the Prius Prime because it didn’t fit his body well. I suspect that means I’d like it a lot! (His head scrapes the top of my Accent and I get pretty bad back pain after an hour or two in his Civic Hybrid.)

      The Clarity has the stay in-your-lane thing and DH said it wasn’t great, not anywhere near as good as the Prius.

      mileage, 4 doors, and safety are awesome! Also, I gotta say, I am looking forward to being unable to buy a car without power windows and locks in the future (my accent still has manual windows and I have to actually put the key in the doors!)

  15. DH got a 10% raise and now we’re really going to have some obnoxious money posts | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] is not going to happen.  Ditto having a third child…) [Update:  the Honda Clarity that we just discovered existed is affordable after the federal tax […]

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