The CJ family is growing. M and I have just found out she’s pregnant, God bless, due in late summer.
While we still have to get through that crucial first trimester—as M cautions, she is 39, which means a greater chance of complications—I’m throwing caution to the wind and proceeding full-speed ahead to prepare for the new arrival. So this weekend I’ll start shopping for a minivan to replace M’s 2002 Honda Civic.
A new experience
I bought my last car, the slightly used 1998 Sentra I drive to this day, eight years ago. Back then I traded in my 1988 Ford Festiva, took out a five-year loan, and made all 60 payments.
This time, I’ll be putting some of the personal finance wisdom I’ve learned to the test. I’ll be selling M’s car privately instead of trading it in. I’ll be looking for a vehicle around three to five years old and between 75,000 and 100,000 miles on it, instead of just slightly used. And I’ll be paying cash instead of carrying around a car loan for half a decade of my life.
Private sale means more cash
The advantages of this approach: First, by selling M’s car privately, I should be able to get more money for it than I would as a trade-in. According to Kelley Blue Book, a good condition Civic like M's sells privately in my area for about $9,400, nearly $1,400 more than its trade-in value. It’s also paid off, so every dollar we get for it goes to us.
Sure, showing the car to buyers will probably be a hassle and it may cost a few bucks to run some ads. But will the time and money be worth another $1,400 that we can apply to the van purchase? I think so. We’ll see.
Used doesn’t mean unreliable
Second, we can in no way afford a brand new Honda Odyssey—the van M prefers—which currently has a minimum pricetag of $26,000. Even if we could, I’d have a hard time shelling out that kind of money for something that will likely worth about half that amount in a couple years.
A high-mileage Odyssey is still relatively pricey—around $9,000 to $12,000—but much of that cost should be covered by the sale of M’s Civic. And while we do run the risk of buying something with unforeseen mechanical problems, Honda and Odysseys have a great reputation for reliability. I also plan to check certified pre-owned vehicles first to see if they are in our price range.
In the end, I expect we’ll pay an additional $2,000 to $4,000 for the luxury of not having to hear my teenage stepdaughter complain about being wedged between two carseats. That’s family peace at an affordable price.
No borrowing costs, less risk
Lastly, I’m looking forward to telling a car salesperson that I want to pay by check instead of taking out a loan. Financing mostly benefits the dealer, since loans are often where auto retailers make their biggest profits.
For buyers, however, a new car’s value drops like an anvil in its first couple years on the road. Used car values still lose ground each year, though not as quickly. Having a car loan is like borrowing money to buy a stock you know is going to lose money. It doesn’t really make sense.
Plus, say M and I hit dire financial straits down the road and had to sell the van. We may owe more on it than we can sell it for—what’s known as being “upside down” in a loan. That would likely make our tough money situation only slightly better.
Paying cash might mean a dealer and salesperson are less willing to negotiate on a van’s price, since that’s where their only profits will come from. But I’m willing to take that chance. Last I checked, there were lots of used Odysseys for sale in my area.
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