The college search I am enduring with my eldest child has followed nearly the same trajectory of information and emotions as buying a car. To quote my father, buying a car is a “necessary evil” and in many ways buying a college education these days feels exactly the same.
My breakthrough in this analogy comes from reading a blog post on NPR titled “What You’ll Actually Pay at 1,550 Colleges” Plug in the college of your choice and the graph will show you the “Sticker Price” and below that the “Annual Net Price” based on Household Income. Have some fun with this one.
Buying a new car is a big decision and in the beginning it is full of excitement and promise. You travel from dealership to dealership test driving vehicles and inhaling the new car smell.
Car advertisements, even window shopping while commuting become conversations about a cars pros and cons, amenities, resale value and more.
Do Your Research! The caveat of car buying. You can find out everything you need to know about your car without ever leaving your living room. In fact, you can climb in a virtual car, read endless comments about its successful owners or watch videos that make you wish you could drive away in it today.
Eventually however as time and repair bills eek you ever closer to a purchase date, you realize that the variety of cars is substantial and the dealerships offer packages, leases and incentives that at times sound not only too good to be true but often too difficult to use for comparison.
You also begin to notice that every car dealer is offering you essentially the same thing, an engine and four wheels that you will use to take you from point A to point B. How you travel from point A to point B, with a leather interior and V6 engine or via an environmentally friendly compact version is entirely up to you.
Listen carefully to the car dealers for they are all telling you the same things. Not only do all their cars have four tires and engines but they also have windows, storage, seating capacity, entertainment, service options, and the ability to take your car overseas for a year if you choose.
Safety is also a widely broadcasted feature and while door locks and airbags are required it is still virtually impossible to avoid an accident.
The earlier excitement about purchasing a new car is slowly being erased with the time and pressure to make a decision. Is it better to go big and prestigious or reliable and utilitarian?
Will you regret not having the blue tooth option or is it something you can live without?
Would you rather keep your car in suburbia or be buzzing around the city? How many people will your car hold and how close together will you have to sit? Are you close enough to drive the car home?
The craziest part of the car buying process is that you never really know the price. There is a price posted in the window, however only a fool or someone with a large checkbook would pay that price. And so, there are many people to meet at the dealership and questions to be answered about your income, budget and potential future earnings. It would appear that car dealers know more about what I can afford than I do. Even better most are more than willing to offer me financing in a myriad of ways.
How can we get you in this car today? What are you willing to pay? How can we make this work for you?
Buyer beware, often the price you are quoted does not include the fees: you need to pay taxes, title insurance, documentation fees, delivery charges, gas, owners manual printings, floor mat options, air for the tires, and much more. Oh and the price you decide to finance may very well change every year.
Sometimes the purchase price you see is only for half a year, or the price includes the engine and tires but not the gas to run it or the garage to store it?
Do you plan to drive this car in the city or up a mountain? Will you be using this particular type of car for the rest of your life?
Before you know it the whole car buying process moves from exciting and wonderful to stressful and confusing. You wander from dealership to dealership wondering which offer is the best? What can I really afford and what is it I am actually buying?
Does the car dealer every really, truly, know you, the driver? Are you the right occupant for this vehicle and if so how do they know that you are a perfect fit?
Will you be able to drive away with real air in the tires?
Is there any other way to get to point B?