Details About My First Car -- Why and How I Chose it, and How Much It Cost Me

I posted about getting my first car 2 months ago but I didn't do any follow up posts because I first wanted to get everything right with it and I was afraid to jinx it... And now I'm worried about posting about it because I don't want people to call me negative things such as irresponsible financially or whatever... But I do want to share, I'm just hesitant, and ask you to be nice. (I just am expecting some haters to use this post as proof of something against me...)

So let's start off with this:

I bought a car after a really, really long time without one, after a few years that my physical therapist told me that I really needed a car because of my disabilities. I regularly would get injured taking public transportation, and she'd keep on reminding me that I needed a car. However, I didn't have the money to buy one.

I got a local drivers' license (which was quite a bit of a process since my American one had expired) and once I got that I started renting a car on semi regular occasions, but only "as needed" because I didn't want to waste a lot of money on rentals. This added up to quite a high monthly fee, but I didn' have the funds needed for purchasing one.

I applied for disability for myself, with the hopes that if I got a disability stipend I would have the money to be able to buy a car. Fortunately I got approved, and with it, got a year's back payment, of which I set aside part to be able to buy a used car.

Now before I get into pricing and details, I want to explain that cars locally are ridiculously expensive. Brand new cars have extremely high import taxes, and there are other factors as well, but buying a new car here usually costs at least twice that of a new car in the US. For example, a new Toyota Corolla in the US will cost $22,000 on average, whereas locally the same car will cost $48,000. (Did I mention that the average salary here is a fraction of the average US salary? Because of this, there is a thriving used car market and even used cars are not cheap at all. There's no such thing as a remotely decent used car for a few thousand dollars.

Knowing the used car market here, having checked a bunch online for average pricing, as well as how much I got in disability payments, I decided that I'd give myself a budget of maximum $8,500 for a used car. I figured that I'd be able to get something decent for myself within that range.

I spoke to my friend Michelle who wrote a post on how to frugally buy a car, and she walked me through the steps on how to do this (essentially what she posted here). 

First, we made a list of what my priorities were in a car.

Since this was the first time I was buying a car I realized I had no idea what things I was actually looking for in a car, so I decided to ask my Facebook friends who know about me, my health issues, and my lifestyle about their suggestions for what I should be looking for in a car. Once I saw all their ideas I came up with my final list of absolute priorities.

  1. Automatic only. I don't know how to drive stick. Bottom line, absolutely absolutely non negotiable.
  2. A large enough car that I can drive comfortably in it without feeling squished, so I wouldn't injure myself in it. (Yes, I have actually gotten injured sitting in too-small cars.) It also needed to be large enough for my kids not to be squished- my sons are already 5'11 and 5'10 at 15 and 13 and are very leggy and I saw how difficult it was in car rides in small cars and how much strife it caused in cars.
  3. A large trunk. The smaller the trunk the more difficulty it causes for my kids who need to be squished by everything on their laps and legs. Again, strife causing. This is especially true on trips which is when I'd need the car most. Additionally, I planned on using my car to teach foraging classes including foraging classes that were combined with cooking, which needed a lot of equipment, and I needed to make sure there was enough room in the trunk for that.
  4. Fuel efficient.
  5. Having a high enough bottom so I didn't scrape the bottom of it every time I pulled into the parking spot next to my house (very important so I don't ruin the car).
Anything else beyond that was just extra. But having those were the most important and things I didn't want to negotiate on.

I was told which companies are good quality whose engines and parts last a long time and can go many many kilometers, and what amount of kilometers was the max I wanted to be getting. So that removed a lot of potential second hand cars from the available options. I was told to not look for anything older than 2007 and to aim for as close to 150,000 km or less, but with one of the good companies I could go a little higher with kilometers.

Of the companies I was told to look at, I searched to see which cars of theirs were good enough for large people, but not just large drivers but also large passengers, comparing trunk room, and got a list of what cars I should be looking for. 

Of course, the other non negotiable was how much I'd spend on it. I then searched on our local second hand websites to see what cars within my category fit my price range.

Once I saw and sat in a Skoda Ocatvia and a Skoda Superb (taxis here are usually those) I saw how comfortable they are for larger people and had my mind set on getting one of those since it seemed to fit exactly what I was looking for. I found some for sale, but nearly nothing within the price range I wanted. Almost all of them remotely affordable were 200,000 km or more, which put them out of the running because then I wouldn't get much time out of them.

There were very few Skoda Octavias or Superbs that were remotely an option based on specs, and the one that seemed like it might actually have the specs I wanted but was cheaper, being sold for $6500 because of "cosmetic issues," was in a city about a 2 hour drive from where I lived. After renting a car to get there and driving to check it out, I arranged to bring it to a garage there to have it examined. When I got there, I saw that the damage was not just to the outside paint but the inside was also really gross, but I said that maybe I should put up with it because it's what I could afford. As soon as he drives it into the garage I see black smoke coming out of the exhaust, and I tell him that that doesn't seem normal, and he insists it is and says its because it is a "turbo engine"... Then all of a sudden he gets into the car and drives away and disappears. I asked the mechanics what happened and they said they told him to leave, that he better not sell that car because it is in terrible condition, and I should not pay for an inspection because it quite clearly had a faulty engine and I should stay away from it.

That was a huge bummer. Because that was the only affordable one, basically. And if it was that terrible at that price, it didn't seem like Skoda Octavias were a good option for me. I was really bummed out, having paid for a rental and spent all that time and I felt so let down. When I was there, I had the chance to sit in and check out a few different types of cars, ones that I had put on my list as being potentially good options since they seemed big enough because of the specs, but once I saw them I realized that I would not be able to sit comfortably in the driver's seat with a tall kid sitting comfortably behind me. I realized I had to further narrow down my list of what cars were decent options for my family. Additionally, I realized that I had to make a choice between a larger car with leg room and a trunk and fuel efficiency (because I couldn't afford a hybrid). After a lot of thinking, I made the choice that space is much more important for me than fuel efficiency. And that I get disability for my kids' autism and part of their needs that I should be focusing on in a car is to prevent sensory overload, and being squished in the car isn't good for their sensory issues. I figured that the extra money I'm spending on gas can be considered an expense for my kids' needs, that I spend their disability money on.

What can I say, I was ready to throw in the towel and pay an agent to find me a car. This was just too hard and I wanted to give up. I got the name of a good agent and told him what I was looking for and my budget and he said he didn't know of a single car available that met my criteria within that price range, but to keep checking in with him if he gets new cars. And I kept checking in with him and nothing.

I didn't know what to do. I didn't wait to raise the amount of money I'd spend on a car, but wasn't finding decent options within that range.

Then my friend contacted me, said she saw I was looking for a car to buy, and did I know that she was selling a car? (It was actually her mother's car, but she was in charge of selling it, after her family moved here, purchased the car second hand, then moved back abroad and now had a car sitting in another country unused.)

The car was a Chrysler Town and Country, a brand that I hadn't looked into, because it isn't so common in my country, and it was a minivan, and I had been looking at sedans and hatchbacks. But the price was amazing, and it made me think if a minivan would actually be a better fit for my family than trying to find a really large 5 seater like those Skodas that fit into my budget. And I realized that the extra 2 seats in the minivan that we didn't need would actually help with my kids' sensory issues so much.

She was selling it for $5100, well under the budget of $8500 I had set, which was amazing. It is from 2008 and has 175,000 km which was really good for a Chrysler, because they can last many more years. I trusted my friend to tell me what the issues with the car were, and she pointed them out. 

I took the car to a mechanic named Gerry that my friend Michelle trusted highly, and he checked out the car and said that it was an amazing car, but it needed around $1500 worth of repairs. He made a list for me which repairs were needed exactly, including water leaks and oil leaks, tires, air conditioning, and some other things. But he said that in his opinion I should go with this car, it'll last me many many years, and it is more than worth the price they were asking for it, and wanted to know why they were asking so little. I told him it was because they moved abroad and just wanted money for it instead of it sitting there, and my friend (also a single mom) was limited in how much time and effort she could put into trying to sell it. The mechanic understood and said that I should try to negotiate the price down to factor in the repairs needed.

I told my friend about the needed repairs and she consulted with her mechanic who she had paid to fix the car, and he told her that "It's an old car, you can't expect it to run perfectly, there will always be some issues with it, that's what happens with a 15 year old car." Her mother was only willing to go down in price by $285, because she had already invested money in repairing it, but I figured that even with $1500 worth of repairs it would still be a great price without that discount, still, that was cheaper than the asking price for the terrible Skoda with the black smoke that billowed out of it. I decided to go for it, and we transferred the title to my name and I made the celebratory post that day.

I was talking to a neighbor about taking my new car to Gerry to get it repaired and he heard the guestimated total for fixing it and said that it is ridiculous to drive so far to Gerry (he's on the opposite end of the nearest city) and I should go to this local guy that is terrific and an honest worker and reliable and cheaper. I wasn't sure if I should, because I knew Gerry was good, but decided to ask locals about the local guy and they all had only amazing things to say about him... so I decided to try my luck there.

Before I continue, let me say that I regret this, I shouldn't have tried to save money, and I should have just trusted Michelle and gone to the person she recommended.

Anyhow, Mr. Local Guy, let's call him Jake, was very nice when I met him. But one of the first things he did was go through the list of what needed to be done and said that he could do it for a fraction of the price Gerry gave me. 
But there was a gas tank in the back of the car for natural gas, which I didn't want there since I wouldn't be using because, while cheaper than gas, it ruins the engine over time which doesn't pay off in the long run. It also took up much of the trunk room which was one of the important things for me when buying the car. And Jake said he wasn't allowed to remove it, since he wasn't licensed for that. So already one thing that I needed that he wasn't going to do.
He took a look at my tires and said they didn't need replacing. After going to Gerry and getting a price quote I realized that I needed the reupholstering fixed on my seat (more about that later) and Jake said he would send the seat to a reupholsterer to fix.

I left my car there for 4 days (I think), and when I go to pick it up he tells me the repairs cost $715, which is half the quoted price from Gerry.

Only it didn't include tires or removing the gas tank. The upholstery wasn't repaired (he hadn't gotten around to that in the 4 days it was there). The window which needed repairs wasn't done. He told me that he fixed the oil leak and water leak but not perfectly, you can't get it perfect, and I'd just need to check the oil and water every week and see if it needed to be topped off. And he didn't fix the AC since he said it needed a valve replaced to keep the freon inside, and they don't make those valves anymore and even if they fill it with freon it would leak out.

Honestly, I'm not even sure what Jake fixed and why it cost $715, because the only things from the list he did was replace a rubber gasket (I think) by the steering wheel, fix something with the brakes, and replace the radiator. He saw my crestfallen face when I saw just how much of the list hadn't been done that he lowered the price to $570 for the work. 

I knew I needed to go back to Gerry to get the rest fixed, and I was very disappointed and wished I never went to Jake. 

About a week later while I was on an errand, I bumped into a curb and my tire popped. That was fun. Fortunately, someone passed and helped me get the donut onto the car and I was able to take it to the nearby tire place and replaced both that tire and the other tire that Gerry had told me needed replacement. The total cost was $240. At least that wasn't extra money spent on fixing the puncture, because the tire needed replacing. Just really annoying.

I had a lot of busy days where I needed the car, so I waited a bit until I had a few days where I didn't desperately need the car to bring it to Gerry to fix the rest. I felt very pressured to do it already since the front window was problematic and would get stuck down, which is a problem when parking it in public places. I had also been forbidden from parking in some parking lots because of the natural gas tank, even though it was disconnected from the engine, and I just wanted it out of there ASAP. Additionally, the lack of air conditioning was really a problem since I get overheated easily and it had been pretty warm locally.

On the way to bring the car to the mechanic, I stopped on the way to pick up something from a friend, and when I went to turn the car on it started beeping and smoke was billowing out of the front of the car. I was petrified that the car was about to blow up or something. It had just overheated, and, not knowing that it was dangerous to do this, I opened the hood and poured a bunch of water into the water tank which had leaked out, causing it to overheat. I was so glad that I was literally on the way to the mechanic when this happened and not pressed for time or in the middle of a dangerous place to park. And extremely pissed off that despite having just brought it to Jake to "be repaired" it lost enough water to overheat like that.

Installing back up sensors

Turns out that this dude Jake tried to "fix the leak" by putting glue on a leak he saw... which as soon as there was pressure just popped off, and it started leaking again. Gerry pointed out that this was done for the purpose of "doing things cheaply" but when you do things cheaply, you end up with repeated issues.

When I was at Gerry I asked him to please add back up sensors to the car which I felt was important and would save me a lot of money in the long run (pretty self-explanatory) so that was worth the money. 

Now about the re-upholstering. I noticed when driving the car that I felt like I was being pushed towards the door and that I was sliding in that direction, especially on turns, and I felt I had to either work extra hard to hold my body in place or brace myself by putting my leg against the door. Since I have pelvic issues and one of the biggest things that cause my pelvis to go out of place is pressure on one side of my pelvis that was just asking for trouble. I realized that one side of the driver's seat was worn down and that was causing the issue, and I realized that in order for my car to not injure me and cost me more money at physical therapy appointments I needed to invest money in fixing the seat. So I also paid for the seat to get reupholstered, not at all for aesthetic reasons but purely for practical (and dare I say it, money saving) reasons.

Unfortunately fixing the car was a lot more expensive than initially estimated. The leak that Jake "fixed" was but one of 4 leaks that he entirely missed. Gerry fixed 4 big leaks, one of which was behind the engine and required the entire engine being taken out to fix the leak, which, that alone (removing the engine and putting it back in) cost $570 for just the work. 

The window was fixed, the 4 water leaks were repaired, the oil leak which Jake said "wasn't fixable and I should just expect that in an old car and check weekly" was fixed, the air conditioner was fixed, the chair was reupholstered, the gas tank was removed, the back up sensors were installed, and the total cost was $2800. It's hard to not be resentful that the fix cost me so much more than the initial $1500 estimate, but it was just that, an estimate. Gerry had told me about the leaks around the engine, but until he took it apart to try to fix it, he couldn't see the extent of the leak. And then the chair reupholstering (I think with leather, even though I didn't specify that I needed that) and the back up sensors hadn't been added in the initial estimate. However, the tire replacement that had been included and whatever Jake did fix (the brakes and radiator and something with the steering wheel) were originally in the estimate and didn't get included in the $2800 repair fee.

And then about a week after this I noticed that when I parked the car after a drive it sometimes dripped water from the car. Of course, I was totally freaking out, because I just paid a lot for the repairs of the leak. I brought the car back to Gerry and it turns out that it was something very small. There is a valve on the coolant system to keep it pressurized and when it heats up too much and builds up too much pressure it releases some water to release the excess pressure. I asked Gerry if it was like a pressure cooker and its release valve, and he said it's exactly like that. And sometimes if the valve is faulty it releases water even before it gets too pressurized. It just needed a new cap which cost $40 and since then all is fine.

So how much total did I spend on the car including all the repairs?

$4855 for the car.
$240 for the tires.
$570 to Jake for the shoddy work.
$2800 for the repairs and additions by Gerry.
$40 for the new cap.

Grand total? $8505.

My original maximum budget for the car? $8575.

So even though the repairs cost me a lot more than I thought it would, I ended up with a great car that was $70 less than my original maximum budget, and it has all the features my family and I needed.

Do I wish that the car hadn't needed that many repairs? Yes. Do I wish I would have gotten all the repairs done before I purchased it? Yes. Would they have done them? I don't know. Their guy told them also that as an old car you can expect these "little issues", and they were selling it cheaply taking these things into account. 

Was I scammed? Did I make bad financial decisions here? 

I know going to Jake was a total waste of money and I regret having gone to him and I never will again. I knew Gerry was more expensive, but I'd rather go to an expensive guy who does a good job and gets a car fixed and running in top working order than get a shoddy cheap job that will work only temporarily until the glue pops off and you have a car overheating on the side of the road because it lost the water in the cooling system.

As for the rest? I did the best I could with what I had available. The agent I went to said I would not find a large good car within my price range, but I did. And hopefully this car will last me and my family a long time and be a good investment. But who knows what the future holds? We can only wait and see but hope for the best. But Gerry is a trustworthy guy and he said that with these repairs, he doesn't think I'll need any more repairs for a good few years, since this is a solid, dependable car. 

How much do used cars cost where you live? What do you usually budget for a car? What can you get with that price?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Congrats on the car! I think it's great that you got it and all the repairs done within your original budget. That's something to be happy about. I'm in the US and right now the used car market is crazy also. My son was looking to buy his first car and thankfully a family member was upgrading to a newer car and he was able to buy her old one - a 2003 Camry. So 20 years old. We (as a family) keep our cars a LONG time, because even though repairs can be expensive, it still doesn't add up to the price of making car payments on a new (or new to us) car. A reliable, trustworthy mechanic is ESSENTIAL. Even one that is a little more expensive. I don't know much about the way cars work beyond checking oil and tire pressure and changing a tire, so having someone I trust is critical.

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