A Car Buying Odyssey: part 1

From the editor’s desk, Andy Bunch

Here at the Kicker we know writing and we love cars, all cars. We love them so much that it pains us to hear the fear and trepidation many car buyers have when it’s time to replace their vehicle. One of our goals, along with improving road safety for everyone, is demystifying the automotive industry

With the permission of all parties, the Kicker began following a typical car buyer as she shopped for a new (to her) vehicle. What began as a simple article on a typical buyer’s experience quickly evolved into a car buying odyssey, full of twists and turns that truly sound stranger than fiction.

The Need for a New Car:

An important first step in car buying is clarifying why you need it. There’s nothing wrong with getting a new car because you can afford it, but the more you clarify your needs the better you’ll be able to focus your search.

Meet K, our car shopper. K describes her past car buying experiences as turning out okay. She can’t point to a particular source for her anxiety but admits that she did feel bullied at points during past buying experiences. This time her life situation has changed. She’s married and has a baby. The small car she bought new from a dealer 12 years ago doesn’t fit a car seat, at least not if anyone wants to sit in the front seat while it’s installed. So she’s going to have to take on a car payment again for the first time in almost ten years.

The Must Haves in a Car:

K’s size requirements come down to two things. 1) enough room to fit a car seat behind either car with leg room remaining in front. 2) A big enough trunk to accommodate a large stroller without having to strain in order to put it in or take it out.

K’s desires in a car come down to three things. 1) Leather interior (Easier to wipe clean) 2) Sun roof. 3) Not red.

Ways to shop:

K doesn’t want to deal with “car salespeople,” but feels more hesitant to shop online due to her lack of mechanical knowledge. When asked about using a car finding service, she replied, “I don’t see the difference, I mean, I can search for cars online, I just don’t want to.”

Challenges to Shopping:

K and her husband are both very busy, but feel it’s important to get a car that both can comfortably drive. So to save time they’ve chosen to shop together. This means leaving their daughter with a relative for a couple hours after work. Since their daughter, age 1, is in bed by 7 pm every night this leaves only an hour or two to search car lots if they want to see her at all each night.

K’s husband is taller, especially sitting down, and doesn’t find most car’s comfortable to drive. He doubts that they’ll ever find a car that fits both their needs.


K feels more comfortable going through her bank for a loan and secured financing before she began shopping. She also hopes that this will shorten or reduce stress during the purchase phase. The couple qualified for around $20,000 at 3%, which they hope to stretch by trading in K’s current car.

The Search, Day 1:

With two large dealerships near their house, the couple set out after work to check out models they’d seen online. They were surprised to learn that none of those models were as attractive in person.

K and her husband had run into a common challenge. Selecting the right car is an emotional process and it’s much easier to examine statistics on the internet. K didn’t see any cars in her price range that attracted her at the first dealership and her husband couldn’t physically fit into any of the cars at the second dealership. To be fair, he’d have probably fit into some of the trucks or larger SUV’s but the couple wanted to remain conscious of fuel economy.

On the bright side, the employees at both lots were friendly, easy to work with, and didn’t try to force a car to fit the couple just to make a sale.

The Search, Day 2:

A couple days later, K and her husband drove to another two dealerships. These were further from home but still in town. They didn’t want to have to drive to Portland just to buy a car, since childcare constrained their time.

These two dealerships were part of an auto group, which allowed one employee to show them cars from several lots. K really hit it off with the sales lady who helped the couple search. This time the couple actually test drove a couple cars and ultimately found one they wanted to get to know better.

The dealership allowed the couple to take to vehicle home so they could get back to their daughter and have the car examined. K’s husband had the car inspected by an independent specialist and the story took a twist. See part two to continue the story.

Link to Part 2

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