I’ve been waiting a long time to buy my new car. My trusty Toyota Corolla had just turned thirteen-and-a-half when the mechanic informed me that three of the four engine mounts were broken. It would cost $538 to repair it. I already planned to buy a car in November, so my husband and I decided to bump up that timetable rather than pour more money into the old car.

Researching New Cars
I know a lot of frugal experts recommend buying a used car, but that’s not my philosophy. I’d rather buy one brand new, thereby getting the free maintenance they usually offer and the full warranty. Then I keep the car at least ten years, instead of having to buy a new used car every seven or eight years.

My first step was to decide what kind of car I wanted. I wanted a hatchback for less than $25,000, but nicer than the starter-level hatchbacks.

By using new car research sites, I created a list of four cars: the Hyundai Elantra Touring, the Toyota Prius, the Mazda 3, and the Volkswagen Golf. I added the Honda Fit because a friend recommended it, but I sort of knew it wouldn’t meet my needs.

Before taking test drives, I read reviews at Edmunds.com and checked Consumer Reports for reliability ratings and common issues. I also looked at owner’s forums to see how happy people were.

Test Driving New Cars
I test drove the five cars in one afternoon. It took about three hours. Dealerships tend to be clumped together, so choose the area with most of the dealerships you’re considering. It was a bit grueling toward the end, but I wanted to get a feel for the cars back to back.

I went home and rated each of the cars on my personal scale. That knocked out the Volkswagen and the Fit. The Fit was too small, and the Golf was nice, but it didn’t wow me enough to make it worth an extra $4,000, especially given its mixed reliability history.

Next I made up a chart with the three remaining cars. I listed the following:

Consumer Reports Reliability score
Personal Rating (1-5)
Fuel costs per year
Dealer financing offers
Bank financing rate
Payments with dealer financing
Payments with bank financing
Total cost over ten years (Fuel and loan, maintenance is too hard to predict over ten years.)

Interestingly, the three cars were within $1000 of each other.

Next I went for my second test drives of the three cars, this time with my husband. I insisted on testing all three cars on the freeway. The first Toyota dealership I visited refused, so I found one who would let me take it on the freeway.

Based on that test drive, I narrowed it down to the Prius or the Elantra. The next day, I settled on the Elantra because it was $6000 cheaper and I hated looking through the Prius’s back window.

Finding a Price
I was already approved for a car loan through a bank, but this would have been the time to apply if I wasn’t. I also set about getting dealer quotes. I simply emailed a bunch of dealers through the websites. Initially I was looking for a 2010, but they were selling out fast, so I switched to 2011. I got several prices that way. Next I tried the Costco auto buying program and got a low price, but not the lowest. Finally, I used the American Express auto buying program and got the best price. That dealership was 30 miles away, but a dealer 1 mile from my house matched the price, which was $1450 below invoice (including rebates). If you’re not an Amex member, visit Zag.com to see who else offers their discount program.

Arranging the Deal
My husband and I went down to the dealership Saturday morning where my car was waiting for me. The dealer matched the lower bank financing rate (it was only .2 percent lower, so not a big negotiation point), so I financed through them. In exchange, I get free car washes once a month.

Now that we had settled on the price, we talked about the trade-in. I’ll admit, I probably could have gotten more, but I’ve never traded in a car before. Next time I’ll know better. I didn’t want to deal with selling it myself.

Finally, we went into the financing office to sign all the papers and transfer the title. We listened to their various sales pitches. I did accept the alarm offer, and they “threw in” VIN etching. Here’s a little tip: the car was ready the moment we stepped out of financing, which means that VIN was already etched, whether we’d been willing to pay for it or not. The alarm was also already installed, but they wouldn’t activate it unless we paid.

We rejected the hard-sell for gap insurance (insurance for the difference between the car’s value if it’s stolen or totaled and the loan balance.) The alarm already provided that coverage if the car was stolen. If someone hit me hard enough to total my car, you can be sure that we’d get more than the gap. We have the cash on hand to cover the gap should anything happen. The financing guy tried to argue that we’d still buy auto insurance if it wasn’t mandatory, but that’s a false argument. There’s a huge difference between auto insurance to protect us from financial ruin if we were to cause an accident and gap insurance that costs $500-$1000 and only covers $3000-$4000.

We also rejected the hard sell on an additional warranty with paint and upholstery coverage.

Getting My Car
We got the keys, the dealer reviewed the maintenance schedule with me, showed me how to work a few features, and then we took my new car home.

I’m buying a new car this weekend. My husband and I considered spending our entire emergency fund to pay cash for the car, but then we took a look at the budget and decided it was too big a risk. So, we’ve decided to get a car loan. Rates are pretty reasonable right now for people with our credit.

Car Loan Sources
You can get a car loan from various sources. Dealers may or may not be a good option. I also checked out credit unions and big banks.

Dealer Loans
Obviously, a dealer wants to give you the loan because they make more money that way. However, a dealer may not be the best option. The Mazda I considered came with 0% financing from the manufacturer. I seriously considered that offer, because our credit allows us to qualify for it. Ultimately I decided I liked a different car better, but it was tempting. Toyota was offering 2.9%, which is also better than bank rates. If you have great credit and can qualify for those rates, then dealer financing is probably the best option.

Credit Union Loans
Traditionally, credit unions have lower auto loan interest rates than banks. The credit unions I investigated were at 4.49% for loans over $15,000. After tax, title, and license in California, any car I buy will exceed that number. However, rates vary by location, so a credit union should be high on your list for potential car loans. If your credit isn’t great, a credit union should be your first stop for reasonable rates.

Bank Loans
If you have good credit, you should also check out rates at your local bank. I discovered that Bank of America was offering rates as low as 3.49%. I ultimately qualified for a 3.7% loan. The car I opted to buy has 3.9% dealer financing, so I’ll definitely be using my own financing. However, bank rates are usually much higher if you have poor credit.

Loan Co-Signers
My husband will be co-signing my loan. Since we’re married and co-responsible for the debt anyway, there’s no risk in this situation. However, you shouldn’t co-sign a loan, or ask someone to co-sign your loan, if you’re single. No matter how good your intentions are, there is always a risk of that you’ll run into trouble and someone else will get stuck with your payments or see their credit dinged. Friends don’t ask friends to damage their credit! If you can’t qualify for the loan on your own, you need to buy a cheaper car. Consider a used car, even.

On the flip side, many an unmarried couple has purchased a car together, or with one partner as a co-signer, only to break up later. What happens if your partner has financial trouble after the break-up and you get calls from debt collectors for property you don’t possess?

How the Loan Process Works
About a week before you go to buy the car, apply for a loan online. I received instant approval, but the bank called the next day to review the terms and explain how it worked.

Once you get to the dealer, you should do your best to be in control. First agree on the price of the car. Never focus on the monthly payment as part of the negotiation unless you want to get screwed.

Next, you can ask about dealer financing if they have incentive offers going and you want to consider that route. Have backup financing ready, though, just in case you magically don’t qualify for that awesome rate.

The dealer will run your credit and come back with some numbers. If you agree, you’ll go to the financing office and sign the papers. If you don’t agree, tell them you have your own financing.

Some banks already have arrangements with certain dealers that streamline the process. If your bank and dealer don’t have a deal, the bank will provide you with instructions. You’ll still have to go to the finance office to sign papers. This is also where they’ll try to sell you more stuff.

When my husband bought his car, he paid cash for the whole thing. The dealer still tried to convince him to finance, with a rate of 9.9%!

If you want to check out loan rates, start at Bankrate.com or Edmunds.com for lists of local rates.

Dear Readers,

I need your help. My car, with 133,000 miles on it, grumbles when it starts and doesn’t particularly like traveling at high speed any more. It may just need a tune-up, but nevertheless, the old girl is due for replacement. She’s 13 now and I want some newer amenities.

So, when should I buy a car? I’m considering Mazdas, Hondas, Volkswagens, and a couple other options. I’ve previously bought a car in December (the previous year’s model). My husband bought the next year’s model in May (no major redesign that year).

So, when should I get serious about buying? I’m thinking September, but I want to hear your thoughts!

I’m also open to make/model ideas. I want four things:

fuel efficiency
under $25,000
reliability over ten years.

Many people have noticed an interesting phenomenon in the housing market: tons of would-be buyers are flocking to low-priced homes. Some speculate that the first-time buyer credit is the cause. But is this really true? Is the new car tax deduction having the same result?

Does the First-Time Buyer Tax Credit Motivate You to Buy?
I think the answer here is: it depends. My husband and I are happy to accept the tax credit if the government is going to give it to us, but it didn’t change our target price range or goad us into buying this year. We’d always planned to buy this year. We have, however, seen more people out looking. At the same time, prices in Los Angeles have fallen precipitously, to the point where first-timers can now afford to buy, so I’m not sure if the credit is fueling sales as much as the low prices.

You also have to consider that the tax credit isn’t anywhere close to 10% of the purchase price in Los Angeles. Here it’s no more than 5%, and it’s probably closer to 1-2% of the price for first homes in the popular areas.

However, if we were buying a place like Kansas or Michigan, that extra $8,000 could be a very important consideration. There it could potentially be 8-10% of the purchase price. Since the FHA is also now allowing buyers to use the money as part of the down payment, it’s suddenly become possible for people in lower-priced regions to put down a substantial down payment. It’s also made it easier for people shopping in the low-end of higher-priced regions to make it to the required 3.5% down.

Apparently Congress believes the credit has been effective enough to warrant boosting it to $15,000, but that may be more of a gambit to boost home prices for current owners who want to sell. There’s been speculation that prices have risen as a result of the credits.

Does the New Car Tax Deduction Motivate You to Buy?
It certainly doesn’t seem like people are rushing to buy cars the way they’re rushing to buy homes. That could partly be because most people don’t need new cars – most cars on the road are less than three years old, which is hardly dire. It could also be that the deduction is worth a few hundred bucks at most – hardly the thousands that could actually alter your finances.

The deduction is unrelated to my reason for buying a new car. In my case, my car will be twelve by the time I replace it. It’s time. The deduction is just a nice bonus for something I already planned to do, like the new home tax credit.

Does the Cash for Clunkers Program Motivate You to Buy?
Since my clunker doesn’t qualify for the voucher, I certainly wouldn’t consider this a motivation to buy a new car. For some people, it might, but the majority of people who qualify under this program have cars that will fetch more than $3500 or $4500 as a resale or trade-in. It might get some of those 1970s-1980s boats off the road, but many of those have already died.

What do you think? Will you trade in your SUV for a more efficient car because of the Clunkers program? Will the new car deduction motivate your purchase? Has the first-time buyer tax credit caused you to rethink your home purchase plans?

From my point of view, they shouldn’t. If you want to buy a home and can afford to buy a home, then buy a home. If you want a new car and can afford a new car, then buy a new car. However, stretching your limits to take advantage of tax credits may lead you down a dangerous road.

I was okay with the new car tax deduction. It didn’t offer a huge incentive to buy a new car or pose a big burden on the federal budget, but it was a nice bonus for people who planned to buy a new car anyway. Now the House of Representatives has passed a new “cash for clunkers” voucher program, AKA bribe, that is really making me stabby. There’s no telling if the Senate will pass it, but the very idea makes me so stabby that I nearly have the vapors. Someone get my smelling salts.

Cash for Clunkers = Bribes for Getting New Cars
The bill purports to offer an incentive for people to replace their old gas guzzlers with new energy-efficient vehicles. The House defines a gas guzzler as anything getting less than 18MPG. I can completely agree with that – that’s really bad mileage and I can understand people wanting to get rid of them. That’s not the part that makes me stabby.

This is: a “fuel-efficient” car is anything that gets over 22 MPG! 22! And the bonus for gaining a measly 4 MPG? $3,500! If you’re really bold and improve your gas mileage by 10 MPG, you get $4,500.

But wait, there’s more. That’s for standard passenger cars, not SUVS, trucks, or minivans.

Someone hold me back, I’m about to rip my hair out.

If you own an SUV, truck, or minivan that gets less than 18 MPG, you can earn a $3,500 voucher for buying a new SUV that does 2 MPG better. Yes, that’s right, choose an SUV that improves your gas mileage by TWO miles per gallon, and you get $3,500.You get the full $4,500 by buying an SUV that gets an extra 5 MPG.

And if you’ve got a really heavy truck, you only need to improve by ONE MILE PER GALLON.

I think I’m going to cry now.

This is Not about Fuel Efficiency
If the government was really concerned about encouraging people to buy more fuel efficient cars, they have a few options:

  1. Establish the Cash for Clunkers program with minimum improvement requirements of 15 MPG. That would require people to buy cars with a minimum mileage of 33 MPG. For those of you paying attention, that’s 2.5 MPG less than the new fleet-wide minimum CAFE standards that are mandated by 2016.
  2. Increase the gas tax. Want to see people flock to fuel-efficient cars? Make them pay more for gas. It worked when gas prices shot up, it would have a more permanent effect if the base rate was always higher.
  3. Levy additional taxes on gas guzzlers. It’s simple – want to buy a Hummer? Pay a sin tax at purchase. $3,500 sounds fair.

Why This Makes Me Stabby
The House of Representatives wants our government to spend $4 billion to fund this program that will do very little to improve fuel efficiency, reduce our gas use, or reduce our impact on the environment. It’s basically designed to sell all those cars sitting in dealer lots right now so they can start making new ones. How about they just cut the price instead of asking the government for more hand-outs? Reducing the price by $4,500 would do a lot to help move those cars and taxpayers wouldn’t have to get involved.

Potential Upsides
This bill does have potential benefits. I can think of two:

It will stimulate the auto industry. This particular bill doesn’t support any specific car company, in fact it might help foreign automakers more than US automakers. Although you could argue that some fuel-efficient Toyotas and Hondas are built in the US, so they’re American cars anyway and are saving American jobs.

It will get those older, less efficient cars off the road. Once traded-in, the engine, transmission, and some other parts will be destroyed so the cars don’t return as used cars.

Those benefits are not enough to outweigh the downsides for me. I DO NOT support this bill. If you agree, it’s time to call or write your Senator. Urge them not to pass this bill. I will write my Senators just as soon as I stop screaming.

If you own a Chrysler or GM car, you may be wondering how the GM bankruptcy and Chrysler collapse affect you. Rest easy – your car is still covered by the warranty. If you’re in the market for a car, you’re probably seeing great deals on the American brands. The question is how comfortable you feel buying one. Here’s what you need to know.

Warranties during Chrysler and GM Bankruptcies
The GM bankruptcy is actually fairly straightforward from a consumer perspective. The company isn’t going to cease to exist, although some brands and dealerships are being shuttered. The government has a funded program in place for both GM and Chrysler to guarantee your coverage for the term of your warranty. Federal law requires that your parts continue to be manufactured, so you won’t be unable to get the parts you need. You also don’t need to contact the government to file a claim. The dealership will take care of it.

Loan Payments during the Bankruptcy
If your bank went bankrupt or sold your home loan, you still have to pay the mortgage. The same holds true of any payments you owe on your car. Continue sending payments on time to the same address until you receive a notice indicating a new address for your payments.

Buying a Car from a Bankrupt Manufacturer
This is a little more tricky. If you’re in the market for a car, you may be able to find some great deals on Chryslers and GMs. The question comes down to whether or not you’re comfortable buying a car from a company in bankruptcy or have faith in its current models.

GM is expected to continue to exist after they emerge from bankruptcy. So, the question is not whether you’ll still be able to get parts and warrant coverage. It’s a question of whether or not you believe in GM quality.

I imagine GM to be in the same situation as United or Delta airlines when they were in bankruptcy. People didn’t stop flying those airlines while they were in Chapter 11. You shouldn’t avoid GM just because it’s in bankruptcy. Consult expert reviews, quality ratings, fuel ratings, maintenance ratings, etc. just as you would for any other car purchase if you have a GM car on your list. You may want to consider that GMs may have a lower resale value after they emerge from bankruptcy, but the resale wasn’t all that great to begin with and is not a huge factor if you own a car for ten years, as I recommend. http://www.soundmoneymatters.com/lease-vs-buy-a-car/

Chrysler is the sticky wicket. Although it will soon re-emerge as a partnership between Fiat and the Chrysler arm of the UAW, only time will tell how Fiat will manage its new brand. Chrysler’s current line of cars is not well-reviewed or considered to be very reliable. Fiat hasn’t been in the US market for some time, but European cars do tend to be smaller and more nimble. If I had a choice, I would wait to see the new designs they come up with for Chrysler before opting for one of these cars.

Ford Is Fine
For anyone concerned about Ford, they are not bankrupt. They have not received bail-out funds. They’re suffering from the downturn, but they’re not currently at risk.

Would I Buy a GM?
Because of my GM bail-out stabby post, some people think I hate GM. I honestly don’t. I don’t hate Chrysler or Ford, either. I think they’re all lumbering companies with outdated business models that need to seriously change if they want to succeed in the future. I also think they have serious reputation issues due to decades of poor manufacturing.

I have actually owned a GM. My first car was an early-90s Pontiac that I later learned was made by Daewoo, which was new to car manufacturing at the time. I’m lucky to be alive after owning that car. Due to the design, it regularly overheated in traffic. When it overheated, the brakes failed to work properly. So picture me sitting in Thanksgiving traffic on a hilly freeway with a car rapidly rising in temperature and my brakes getting softer by the minute. I was lucky to be able to get off the freeway and coast to a stop to wait for my car to cool off so I could get home. The car was replaced one month later by my Toyota. I will never buy another GM. I won’t buy a Daewoo, either.

A car is a personal purchase. Some people feel the need to buy American, and that’s fine. I only ask that you do all your research before you decide which car to buy and don’t let the GM bankruptcy play into your decision if you believe they make good cars. If you have more questions, see the New York Times piece on the bankruptcy.

Once you’ve determined your new car criteria, it’s time to visit the new car buying websites. I’ve tested several and found a few that I rely on for the most reliable information as well as the simplest interfaces.

Gas Mileage Ratings
The government fuel economy site is simply the best. You can compare several cars, and you can input your local gas prices and annual mileage to get a true estimate of the actual cost to drive the car. If you want a simpler comparison, use Cost2Drive to calculate the typical cost from place to place.

Vehicle Reviews and Average Prices
I primarily use Edmunds and Vehix to do my new car research. I default to Edmunds because I find it easier to use. Vehix tends to want to push you to a dealer site, while Edmunds puts the research at the top. I haven’t tested Consumer Reports because you have to pay to access their reviews. I’m still in the free research stage. I especially like the Edmunds True Market Value, which tells you what people really paid in your area.

Auto Trims, Colors, and Options
When it comes to new cars, the manufacturer’s site is the best place to go to look at trims, colors, and options. Most of them will let you select a model and then customize it. Some will also estimate a price for a car with those options, but your actual price will vary depending on our location and negotiation skills. You could spend hours playing around on these sites.

Hard-Nosed Negotiating
The site isn’t pretty, but Car Buying Tips tells you exactly how to compile price reports and negotiate with dealers. If you’re willing to haggle and haggle hard, visit this site to learn the method from the master.

Discount Programs
Several organizations offer discount purchase programs. They’re worth checking out if you’re a member. Costco offers members a no-haggle auto discount from participating dealers. I know someone who bought a car through the program and was very pleased. AAA also offers a car buying program through its local state branches.

Vehicle Pricing
Once you’re ready to buy, use a site like CarsDirect, Yahoo Autos, Edmunds, or Vehix to collect dealer offers. Since they will be receiving your email address and probably your phone number, use a junk account and only your home phone (not your office or cell phone). Review the various offers, then take them with you wherever you shop to see if they will match or beat the offer.

Auto Loans
If you belong to a credit union, start by checking their auto loan rates. If you have a good credit score, you may qualify for a better offer from the dealership, but it’s best to start with an offer from a local credit union or bank to give you a bargaining chip. Costco and AAA also offer auto-financing programs if you don’t belong to a credit union.

I’ve never negotiated for a new car on my own. My last car was purchased with my dad through a good friend of the family. I’m nervous this time, but I’m taking my time to collect a lot of information before making my choice and I’ll use as many programs as I need to in order to get a good deal.

Once I buy a house, I will also be in the market for a new car. My little Toyota has held up well over the last 12 years, but it’s getting to be time to buy a car built in the current century and with nice features like an MP3 player jack or remote locks. I’ve sort of been looking for a few years, which helped me establish my criteria. Here are my tips for determining your criteria before you visit a dealership.

Figure Out What You Need in a Car
The first thing I did was figure out what I wanted in a car. I started by thinking about the things that annoyed me about my current car. For example, the tape deck. I’d like an MP3 jack in my new car so I could plug-in my iPod during my commute. After trying to force a friend’s stroller into my trunk, I’d also like something with more cargo room. So that means I’m looking at a recent car and probably a hatchback. I also expect that gas prices will go up again eventually, so I’d like decent gas mileage and a lower carbon footprint.

Figure Out What You Don’t Need in a Car
Even more important to the car buying process is figuring out what you don’t need so that a dealer can’t sell you on a feature you’ll never use. I mostly drive on city streets and Los Angeles freeways, so I don’t need four-wheel drive. I also don’t need a seat-heater, a multi-CD changer, a major stereo, or the ability to go from 0 to 60 in a second. The ability to go from 0 to 60 in the time it takes me to climb an on-ramp would be nice. I’m also not interested in the fancy stuff like a moon roof or dual climate control. Although I’d like more cargo room, I don’t need to be able to tote around a soccer team.

Look at Other Cars on the Road
After determining that I either wanted a larger sedan or a hatchback, I started to look at other cars on the road and in parking lots. I peeked in the windows at the backseats, peered at the trunks, and checked out the dashboards. I noticed body styling, too. I don’t want something boxy. That narrowed my choices somewhat.

Settle on a Budget
Before you start eyeing an Aston Martin, sit down and figure out what you can really afford to pay every month. I don’t recommend leasing. Use an auto loan calculator to determine the expected payment for a range of prices. Now look at your budget. How much can you reasonably spare every month without reducing your savings goals? Remember that you’ll also be paying higher insurance costs when you get a new car.

Find the Cars the Suit Your Needs Online
Tomorrow I’ll review several car buying websites. For now, I recommend that you check a new car research site called CarZen.com. It allows you to select your criteria and price range and then shows you cars the fit the bill. It’s a very cool little tool. If gas mileage is a big concern, visit FuelEconomy.gov to compare gas mileage ratings for various cars with your current car. You may be quite surprised by the result.

Take Test Drives
Once you’ve narrowed the options, head to the dealership to take a few test drives. Don’t fall for any offers to buy now, just drive a few cars and then leave. You need time to let that test drive sink in.

Above all, don’t be the person who goes to the dealership with a vague idea and drives home with a new car. Most people who do that are back buying a new car a few years later. It’s better to take your time to figure out what you want, and then head to the dealership.

About four months ago, my car started to make a very bad noise. After checking to make sure I hadn’t run over a few rubber cones or a giant stick, I took it to the shop. I left with a large repair bill. My husband also recently got walloped with a big repair bill. I wish we’d known about RepairPal.com at the time. It might have saved us a few bucks on his repair. I’m glad to know my repair was at the low end of the price range.

The Old Way to Compare Car Repair Estimates
When they first told me that I needed to replace my wheel hub bearings at a cost of $831, I was hesitant. Although it seemed like a reasonable repair — the car did have 115,000 miles on it — that was a lot of money to spend. So instead I decided to think about it. If I was being really careful, I would have followed these steps to make sure it was necessary and fairly priced:

1. Go online to research the repair. I found that this repair is fairly common with high-mileage cars.
2. Call a dealer to request a price. Toyota wanted $1260.
3. Take it to a different shop for a second opinion. Toyota wanted $100 just to look at it. I was also pressed for time, and didn’t want to spend another day at the shop. I’ve been going to my shop for years and they’ve never scammed me, so I let them do the repair.
4. Hope you got a fair price. According to RepairPal, I paid slightly less than the lowest average price.

Repair Pal: The New Way to Compare Estimates
Thanks to Consumerist.com, I now know about RepairPal.com. It’s a fast and easy way to compare estimates. You’ll still have to do some online legwork or visit another mechanic if the repair itself sounds fishy, but this new site makes it easy to see if you’re being gouged for common repairs. Prices are based on your location and they ask specific questions to make sure you’re being given accurate information for your specific car.

First, you enter your car’s make. The dropdown boxes change as you answer various questions. These are the questions it asked for my car:

repair pal estimate

To select the repair, it brings up a dialog box that lists the common repairs. Just click the one you want.

repair pal common repairs

The next screen shows your car, a list of local repair centers, and a range of prices from dealers and independent mechanics. It also explains what the repair involves.

Repair Pal interface

For some cars, they also list the known problems with the car. My husband’s car is newer, and didn’t have known issues listed. My car doesn’t have very many, which makes me happy.

Repair Pal estimate 2

Other RepairPal Features
I haven’t tried them yet, but the site also offers a few other cool features. You can track the repairs you’ve had on your car. No more sorting through piles of receipts trying to figure out the last time the timing belt was replaced! You can also look through an encyclopedia of car repair advice to learn more about common issues and repairs.

If you want to ask a more specific question, they charge $9 to receive an answer from a certified mechanic. I’m not sure I’d use that one because it’s hard to diagnose a car problem over email, but they could probably tell you whether a certain repair is recommended for a specific problem.

The site also helps you find local shops. Most of the shops I saw don’t currently have ratings, but it’s relatively new. In time I think you’ll be able to go by the user ratings.

I have this page bookmarked for my future car repair estimates! Even though my shop is honest and my repair was actually cheaper than the average, it never hurts to check.

This weekend, I heard a CNN expert say that switching to a hybrid won’t really save many people much money, once you factor in the cost of the new vehicle and the lower trade-in for the older vehicle. So how much money do hybrids really save?

Factors in Favor of Hybrids
There are three main factors in favor of buying a hybrid:

  1. Lower cost for fuel
  2. Less pollution
  3. Ability to gloat over friends with gas guzzlers.

If you buy a hybrid, you should see an immediate savings at the fuel pump. I used the fuel savings calculator to compare my current Toyota with the 2007 Prius, and it would save me $674 a year, after factoring a $720 cost for the car and $4.49 a gallon for gas. It doesn’t say, but I assume that’s the cost without car payments. Given that Priuses are going for around $24,000 in my area, buying one wouldn’t really save me much money because I’d have to finance $21,000 of that.

That said, I need to replace my car soon anyway. It’s already 11 years old, so I’m in the market. If I were to buy the same model I have now, it would cost me around $18,000. In that case I might as well spend the extra $6,000 to buy a car that gets better mileage and makes me feel like I’m doing my part to reduce pollution.

Factors Against Hybrids
There are also two main factors against hybrid cars and trucks:

  1. Higher purchase cost
  2. Potential need to replace the battery before you’re done with the car
  3. Waiting period.

Hybrids usually cost $2-3,000 more than their gas counterpart. The Prius and Insight don’t really have a comparison point, so I’ll compare the Camrys. According to Edmunds, the Camry Hybrid costs $4,000 more than a comparable gas model. Increased demand is pushing the prices on the hybrids even higher than that. In my area, a new Camry Hybrid costs $27,000.

Hybrid cars are also relatively new. While most experts say that the batteries should last 150,000 miles at least, there is the possibility that you’ll need to replace them and the cost for replacement isn’t yet known. However, I think you’d probably spend as much replacing the transmission or other drive train parts of a non-hybrid if you put that many miles on it.

Finally, some hybrid cars are in such demand that you may have to wait up to six months to get one. If you’re in the market for a new car, you probably don’t want to wait that long.

How to Choose a Hybrid
If you’re considering a hybrid, like I am, compare the costs and comparables of similar vehicles. Some hybrid cars don’t get much better mileage than their gas-only counterparts, in which case the higher cost of the hybrid would obliterate your savings. If I were to replace my Toyota with a Mercury Mariner Hybrid, I’d save a whopping $92 a year.

Look for a hybrid that is small and gets excellent gas mileage. I don’t like SUVs anyway, so I would opt for a Prius, Camry, or Civic, all of which have top-notch mileage and have comfortable seating room. When it comes to American cars, I’ve seen several hybrid sedans that get worse mileage than comparable gas-only Japanese cars.

When Not to Switch
If your car gets decent mileage and is only five years old, then switching probably wouldn’t save you much money. Due to gas-price panic, resale values for gas-only cars have fallen significantly. The higher cost of purchasing a new car when your old car is in good condition would probably cancel any savings in fuel cost. The CNN expert also pointed out that SUV owners are getting very little trade-in value. His advice was to wait a few months until the gas price panic levels off.

I’m still deciding whether or not to get a hybrid. Since my car is already 11 years old, most sedans will do better on gas mileage. I’ll have to run the numbers once it’s time to make the purchase, and consider the fact that I will own this car for the next ten years. Which car do I want to be driving in 2018? That’s the question of the month.

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