As I mentioned early on, I am trying to ride my bicycle more and utilize MAX, the new public transportation system that I can ride for free as a CSU employee. Not only is driving expensive when you take into account gas prices, wear and tear on the vehicle, and maintenance, but there are the social and environmental impacts that come from being dependent on cars. However, living in Colorado is hard without a car. The weather is unpredictable and things are spread out. If I want to visit my parents in Wyoming, I need to drive because there are no trains to catch and I take my dogs with me. If I want to go to a neighboring town for dinner or pinball or whatever, I’m going to need my car to get me there because there aren’t many alternative options. So how do I make car ownership work with trying to live frugally?
Frugal in FoCo pro-tips for car ownership
- Buy a car that will do what you need and last forever.
I moved to Fort Collins with a 2003 Buick Century. It was reliable, it was (mostly) safe, the insurance was inexpensive, and, best of all, it was paid for. But it didn’t have all-wheel drive or anti-lock brakes, which are critical for driving in snow. When I decided to get a new car, I wrestled with the need for something I could drive in the snow without sliding or feeling like I was about to die, and taking on a car payment and the insurance costs of a new car. I ultimately decided that it would be far less expensive to not be in an accident so I decided to start the car hunt. I went with a Subaru Impreza hatchback with the all-weather package. Subarus have all-wheel drive, have great safety ratings, and the all-weather package provided me with things like traction control and seat warmers (critical in CO!). I also knew I needed a car with backseats that would lay down and a hatch. I was tired of dealing with a trunk and the inability to access the space in my back seat if I needed to carry snowboards or a bicycle. Subarus cater to the more outdoorsy set, so I knew I could get those features in any model. I decided on the Impreza because my beloved Buick got AMAZING gas mileage and I wanted something comparable. The Impreza, because it is a car and not an SUV, gets much better gas mileage than the Outback or the Forester. Crosstreks weren’t really a thing when I was car shopping in late 2012, so that model wasn’t in the running, though I would get one if I were shopping for a car now.
Because used Subarus are basically impossible to buy in Colorado with less than 200,000 miles on them and somehow they still cost almost as much as a new car, I decided to buy new. My Buick did not retain value at all. When I traded it in, I think I got about $1800, which was basically a miracle. But If I can sell my Impreza at 200,000 miles for almost what I paid for it, I feel like that is a great investment, as far as vehicles go.
- Do your research and negotiate.
Once I had decided on a Subaru Impreza with the all-weather package, I contacted all Subaru dealerships in NoCO, Denver, and Wyoming for availability and quotes. Because I have learned to drive stick repeatedly and still can’t make it happen, I needed a car with an automatic transmission. I was not at all concerned about exterior color, interior fabric or color, sound system, or other add-ons and made sure the dealers knew trying to talk up add-ons would not sway my decision. After I collected internet quotes, I went to a dealership where I knew they had what I wanted available so that I could test drive it and go from there. After I test drove the car on the highway and in town, I knew it was exactly what I wanted. I told the salesman that I was interested in the car, depending on if he could match a price I had gotten from another dealership, which was a couple thousand dollars less than “the lowest price” he told me they could do. Because I was so prepared, there wasn’t much negotiating. They wanted the sale so they made it happen because I made them aware I could go 30 minutes away and get the same car for a better price. I also went prepared with my Buick cleaned out and detailed so that I could negotiate a good trade-in deal. Fortunately, they offered me way more than I expected, based on Kelley Blue Book values and the condition of my car, so I just took it.
- Pay cash when possible or negotiate a lower interest rate.
I went prepared to put down a substantial down payment, but I wasn’t able to pay for the car outright. I was willing to trade in my car, knowing that it would be less headache and pretty comparable to selling it myself, just because it had retained no value and was in fair condition because of a couple of minor accidents (I was never the driver, fyi). Because I couldn’t pay for the vehicle fully in cash or trade-in, I made sure I went during an interest rate promotion. With little credit history, but good credit with what history I did have at the time, I knew I would get a good, but not great, rate on my own. The promotion, though, was 1.9% interest if you qualified for financing. They offered me an interest rate of 3.5%, I countered by mentioning the 1.9% promotion from the Subaru website, and they gave it to me on the spot because I had done my research. I also made sure there is no penalty for paying it off early so that I can put a little extra toward the principal when I can and save a little more on interest over the life of the loan. It worked out for the best that I couldn’t pay cash and needed to take on a little debt because I am building more of a credit history and paying as little as possible in interest.
- Protect the investment.
I spent a couple hours this weekend cleaning the inside and outside of my car from top to bottom to keep it looking as nice as possible. I also make sure I take it in for regular oil changes and maintenance. My Buick lasted 10 years and never had any issues other than someone else getting into a couple fender benders and a really annoying windshield wiper problem (known by GM and just a fact of life with 2003 Buicks) because I took it in for regular maintenance.
- Don’t use it all the time.
Fact: cars last longer if you aren’t driving them all the time because it keeps the mileage and wear and tear to a minimum.
- Drive it until it’s done.
I bought my Subaru with the assumption that I will drive it until it gets to the point where it is no longer reliable. It will be paid off hopefully in the next year or so, and then I plan on enjoying no car payments and lower insurance rates for as long as possible. Then I will trade it in or sell it when I absolutely NEED a new car. Avoid feeling the need to keep up with the Joneses and get the newest, coolest car. As long as my car does what I need, makes me feel safe, and I can depend on it, I’m keeping it.
For the record, I used brand names because this is what’s true to my life, and this was in no way a sponsored post.