At least once a day, I see someone cruising around and I think, "Why did you buy that? You could have done so much better." Now I'm not talking about beige boxes like the Civic and Corolla. I don't think those are poor purchases; those cars make perfectly fine transportation modules for the majority of car buyers. And I'm not talking about people driving cheap beaters either. If you only have a few grand in your pocket and need a car ASAP, I understand grabbing the first thing that you can find that looks clean. I'm talking about new or relatively new vehicle purchases where the budget has allowed for plenty of good alternatives. I came up with some theories on how sub-par cars end up with their owners, usually these phenomena don't happen in isolation but rather in some combination.
1. Point and shoot buyers-
Believe it or not some people have the following process when buying a car:
- I need a car
(Goes to local car dealer)
Hey there is a car that looks good.
I can afford this car
I have a friend with a Jeep Patriot, she is rather proud of her Patriot as it is the first car she bought new. I suspect she used the above methodology for her purchase. She is always talking about weird noises and rattles even though it is only a few years old. Despite this she is determined to "keep it forever;" I have my doubts on how long that Jeep will last. I guess the upside is with 2wd (who buy's a Jeep with 2wd?), manual windows and door locks, the lack of features will limit the hassles down the road.
2. Discounts, lot's of them-
Cash on the hood is a powerful motivator. If the Consumer Reports top recommended pick costs 20k and the brand X car in the same class costs, 19k but is now discounted to 15k, chances are average Joe car-buyer is going to get the cheaper car. I see a woman in my town quite frequently driving a Chevy Aveo. What I like about this woman is she is not shy about taking that Aveo to about 8/10ths around every turn. But I imagine the only reason she purchased the sad Chevrolet is because it was dirt cheap. Either that or she saw the Aveo on the lot and determined that it must die a hoonful death. If the latter she is my hero.
3. Ignorance is bliss-
These buyers come in two versions. The first are people who do not cross-shop, do not consult Consumer Reports, and rarely will go to a manufacturer's website to configure a vehicle. Dealerships love these people. While they are getting rarer they still exist, which is probably the reason Mitsubishi hasn't gone bankrupt yet. Most of them are either first time car buyers, or they are people who have been driving around in a total crap-box for at least 5 years so any new car is going to seem like a wonder-machine compared to what they have.
The second version are people who see something on the road, get fixated on that car and are totally unaware of what else they could have for the same money. Recently, I had a former client ask me to find an Altima coupe for his son. I asked him, "Why does he want the Altima coupe?" He replied, "He wants a two door and thinks it is cool." I promptly suggested they visit their local Honda dealer and take a look at the Accord coupe. His response was, "Honda makes an Accord coupe?" I also mentioned that if his son wants a a "cool" sports car for the same money there is the the Scion FR-S (they like Toyotas so I didn't bother with the Subaru). They reported back that the FR-S was too small but the Accord coupe was awesome.
As Jalops we have a duty to not let bad cars happen to good people. Most of us do a good job of keeping our ears pealed to conversations regarding car-buying. While we are quick to recommend Miata or manual-diesel-wagon to pretty much everyone, the more important job is to make sure our friends don't drive home in a 4cyl Avenger.
How successful have you been at talking someone out of a bad car purchase?
My name is Tom and I run AutomatchConsulting.com. I am a professional car-buying consultant, which means people pay me to help them select the right car (NO YOU CAN'T HAVE A PRIUS) and negotiate with the dealerships to get them the best price. If you have any other questions or suggestions for future posts about the car-buying process please let me know. You can find some of my other car-buying articles here.