Wednesday, March 31

Pancake Mountain

All your favorite D.C. hardcore bands have little kids. This is the show they made for them to watch.

Tuesday, March 2

I finally found a car! And I learned a LOT in the process. I wasn't reared around "carfolk" and have had to learn everything from scratch. I also had parents who knew nothing about finances, so that, too, I've had to figure out on my own. At any rate, these are the things I learned that everyone else seemed to know, but I was woefully in the dark about. Perhaps there is someone else who can use this info.

1) Figure out your budget BEFORE you start looking at cars. There is an irrational part of car shopping, the weird itchy "I can swing this" mentality when you're sitting in a rad car that does everything you want and in that moment you can ruin your next 48 to 60 months! Salesman have long figured out how to address the "I only want to pay X per month" game and bury their markups in the final purchase price of the vehicle. Knowing how much you can pay per month as well as the interest rate you can get is critical (if you are financing the car), as whenever you are buying a car, new or used, you always negotiate the FINAL PURCHASE PRICE. I was able to determine my interest rate by qualifying for a loan before I went looking for cars. Talk to your bank or your credit union and secure your financing first. If you use the auto dealer, they won't talk to you about interest rates or overall price because they talk to the finance company directly. By taking you out of the financing loop they are able to change the final purchase price and make their profit. And don't forget you have to pay sales tax, even on a used vehicle. When you go to the DMV to register the car you will pay a sales tax on the final negotiated price. This can be a lot out of pocket if you're not prepared for it.

This online tool was invaluable for figuring out how much the car would realistically cost. This calculator checks loan vs. lease rates:


Ultimately, I got a loan from my credit union (much better rates than a dealer would ever give), found out what interest rate my credit would yield, and worked down from there. It made my decisions much easier as I could quickly rule out cars that were out of my price range. I love to drive, but I refuse to go broke over a car. When I was looking at leases, the calculators at
were a great help to get a pretty good idea of my overall payments. The most helpful thing about that site is it unveils the mystery "money factor" cost, which is the depreciated value of the particular vehicle at which you are looking. Leases are determined by how well the car will hold its resale value after you're done leasing it, which drives up the monthly cost and mileage overage. Your credit also determines this, but that's mostly buried in the interest rate. If I was really interested in a car I would call a car broker to find out what incentives they could get me and any other way they could get the best price. Car brokers are paid by the dealers to move inventory, but they haggle down to the lowest price for you. Finding a good, trusted broker will help tremendously in searching and pricing. You can also buy from them with confidence, but you may have better luck looking for used cars on your own. The best thing you can do is determine your financial ability before ever sitting in a car.

In brief you need to determine and factor the:
a) final negotiated price of the car
b) interest rate for your loan (cars older than 5 years may add more interest, cars over 100,000 miles also will raise this rate)
c) sales tax
d) license fee (the DMV charge to register the vehicle)
e) how much of a down payment you can come up with to offset the final negotiated price (many banks require a minimum of 10% down)

2) As you shop for cars use Edmunds.com to get the overall specifications and use the editor's reviews for the cars you are interested in:
Used car lookup tool:
Edmunds.com used car lookup
Kelly Blue Book

Every car that caught my fancy I looked up and read about. There was quite a variance between Edmunds "True Market Value" pricing and the Kelley Blue Book price, and since my bank would use the KBB to determine value I just used Edmunds as a spec sheet. It gives detailed information about the vehicle, including road tests and interior measurements. This was invaluable in comparing the hundreds of models of cars available, when test driving all of them was impractical. It also gives the JD Power report (if available) as well as average-Joe customer reviews. It took about 1/2 hour for every car I was interested in, and after a while I was getting better at ruling out cars quickly before spending the time to go over them (i.e. which cars hold their value longer, which makers had "trouble" years, etc.). Like anything, building a working knowledge of something helps you make an informed decision. It also helps narrow what you are looking for.

3) Only use a car dealership for the test drive, use the internet for everything else. Car sales are sleazier than even their reputations bely, and when you're spending less than $20,000 on a car you get the new guys in dumpy suits who are clearly being broken in. Read the Edmunds.com undercover article for the life of the car salesman for more info, but trust me, the sooner salesmen and their managers are removed from the car buying process the better life will be for customers. My phone is still ringing with calls from slavering salesmen who won't go away. Even the "no haggle" process has haggle in it, as they can lower the value of your trade-in (if you have one) and thus get more from you out of pocket. The Scion is a good example of a no-haggle car, where the Toyota dealership (Scion is really a Toyota mark) hands the sales off to the fleet salesperson. It makes for a more pleasant experience in the test drive phase, since the salesperson isn't going to siphon gobs of money from you. But they do want the sale!

4) Get the CarFax report on the car. Don't deal with someone who won't tell you the VIN (vehicle identification number) of their car right up front so you can do a search on the car. The CarFax report will tell you the actual mileage on the car when it was registered, in what states the car has been registered in, how many owners the vehicle has had, if there are any red flags for mileage or odometer roll-backs, and more. The cost is about $25 for a month of lookups and it's well, well worth it.


5) If you are looking at used cars from private sellers (and Craigslist.org was the BEST way to find a used car for me) find a mechanic who will look it over. Get them to tell you what service needs to be done BEFORE you buy. If you live in Los Angeles a man named Jack Winters will come to the location of the used car and go over the whole thing. He usually charges the insurance companies he works for $150 to do it, but he will do the same thing for you, for less. He quoted me $60 to go over the car and run a computer diagnostic. Jack was great!

Jack Winters, independent car mechanic, cell (310) 920-2091, home (310) 559-2629.

6) This may seem obvious, but be nice! Most private sellers are just normal people looking to get rid of something that's now a liability. Watch out for scams and rip offs, but also just being nice will often usurp the "first come, first sold" mentality. I wasn't the first person to look at the car I bought, but I was by far the nicest. (It didn't hurt that I already have a Subaru wagon and she wanted to sell to a nice Subaru home.) Make sure you create contracts as you go. The DMV will require a bill-of-sale besides just the title, so make sure you get everything in writing. (A bill of sale looks just like a receipt, with the seller and purchaser contact information on it, the date, a sales price, the thing you are buying, and both of your signatures at the bottom.) My bank would not finance a car unless it was a) smog inspected, b) had an in-state registration that would not expire within 60 days, and c) was selling around or below the Blue Book value. Make sure the private seller has all of these things in place, otherwise you will be paying for it (and paying and paying and paying).

7) Don't stop looking until you find the perfect car that meets your budget and driving expectations. With so many cars on the road, and so many vehicles coming off leases, there is every car available for every budget line and every person. Make a realistic wish list of everything you need in a car and you will find it. I despise shopping, I hate the hassle of looking for the right thing, and it took me a week (about 40 hours of homework, phone calls, and test drives) to find the perfect fit.

Here, then, is a bulleted list of the process:

• Determine your budget: final price + down payment + sales tax + license fees
• Do your homework on every car you like: http://www.edmunds.com http://www.kbb.com http://www.carfax.com
• Once you find a good car have an independent (not the seller's) mechanic look at it and verify the condition
• Verify the seller has everything needed to do the sale
• Create a bill of sale, run all the facts over with your bank or finance company
• Buy your car!

I hope this helps someone out there.

Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?