Game plan


On this little blog, I don’t really talk in specifics about my dating life (do I have a dating life? You’ll never know). In the event that any given romantic endeavor doesn’t work out, I can handle my own disappointment – but the collective devastation of us all? That would just be too much.

I actually approach a lot of things like this. Unless something is a “done deal,” I don’t really volunteer much information about it. I have a secret project right now that will be blogged about at some point, but not yet. I have some upcoming plans that you’ll hear about, but not until they are fleshed out a bit more. I have some big ideas and dreams and such, but right now, they’re just that: ideas and dreams and such. Blame it on the fear of everything coming crashing down, but for now, my lips are sealed.

So with that said, maybe it’s a risky thing of me to talk about something that is by no means a “done deal.” But tomorrow, I have an appointment to go look at a car – one that, from the ad, looks like it very well might be “the one.”

And I have no idea how to buy a car.

And my dad is out of the country.

And I’m afraid of making the wrong decision.

Mike already pointed me toward a very helpful video of Cliff Huxtable and his game plan for negotiation. I plan on showing up looking one step above homeless, and talking about the moment that I realized I was poor (when I started eating the heel of the bread). But beyond that, I’m nervous that I’ll overlook the important things.

So, blog readers, tell me. What is a Carfax? What are the important questions to ask? What repairs should be red alerts? And when all else fails, is “going with my gut” as good a plan as I’ve typically found it to be?*

*Except for that time when I spent $400 on a date at a date auction.  But I don’t talk about dating here.



  1. FW on February 9, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    I’m pretty sure you don’t want advice from me – the *newest* car I own is a 1988, and it has a 1979 engine in it.

    That said, here are some general observations to consider *after* you have been satisfied with condition and test drive do not put you off:
    o How soon before you have to spring for a set of tires?
    o How long before you’ll have to spring for a brake job?
    o Automatic transmissions have essentially no wear parts in them. Stick shifts have the clutch, which needs to be changed periodically, just like the brake pads.
    o Leaks do not heal. They only get worse.
    o What mechanical repairs were done recently? More importantly, Why? Does the reason reveal abuse that you’d inherit? Does it imply more repairs will be needed?
    o Why is it being sold? Is it because the next repair is too costly?

    And most importantly:

    o When was the timing belt last changed?

  2. Alissa on February 9, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    Don’t be afraid to show up with paper in hand – list of questions from above and price quotes.

    Go to and print out the price quotes for blue book, private party, and dealer for the car in various conditions. Then, it’s easier to say, “Well, based on my research, I’m only willing to pay X.”

    You’re a smart gal, Annie, and you’ve done your research. This is the time to show it. Don’t play dumb and hope they take pity on you with a lower price. Be smart and confident, so they are too intimidated to ask for a higher price.

    Know what your back-up price is – the one you’re not willing to go over. If the price is too high, you HAVE to walk away.

    I kind of love negotiating for a car – gives you an excuse to be intimidating. =)

  3. Erin on February 9, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    If you have a mechanic friend bring them with to look at the car. It’s also semi-standard practice (so I was told when looking for my car) that you be allowed to take it to a mechanic of your choice to have it looked at before you purchase it. (You would have to pay for that to be done, unless you have a friend who would do it for free…)

  4. holly on February 9, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    i have nothing helpful to tell you. cars are a total crapshoot. my dumb old car came up clean on every report and passed the responsible friend test (my best friend is very reliable)…and has since become the bane of my existence.

    so…um…lay hands on it before you buy?

    and take someone bossy with you who really enjoys confrontation. unless that’s you. then just show up and tell ’em what’s up.

  5. Dawn on February 9, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    Remember it is in THEIR best interest that you buy this car. If you choose not to, then you’ll just buy one somewhere else. They know this and WANT your business. So, only give it to them if everything stacks up and if the entire experience wins you over… this includes price, how they treat you, do they belittle your “car intelligence”? Also, remember you don’t have to buy the first time you go in… even if its the PERFECT car. If the price is off, tell them the truth. Tell them you want it so badly, but ___ is your budget. Then leave. I guarantee you that if they can’t sell the car within a week they will call you back with a lower price… the price that could be right for you. It’s a waiting game… Strategy at is finest. Enjoy it because honestly, its just really fun.

  6. Joner on February 9, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Carfax is where you enter in the VIN# and it tells you if the car has been in a flood, etc. I also recommend Edmunds…great info on the car, prices for negotiating, etc. Kelly Blue Book can also give you some good baseline prices. Never be afraid to “walk away”. Good luck!!

  7. Eric on February 9, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    ask if the car has a timing belt (rather than a timing chain). the timing belt has to be replaces at around 80k miles which is about $1500. If it is not replaced, it has the chance to break on you which would then cost you about $4000.
    My best car search advice would be to scour craigslist and autotrader. I’ve purchased 2 cars from classifieds and have had a great experience both times (plus it saves around $2000 rather than buying from a dealer)

    good luck!

  8. Michael Murphy on February 9, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    A tidbit or two from my experience…

    Test drive it – and be vigorous about it. Hit the gas, slam on the brakes, do some swerving. Obviously these should all be done in a reasonably safe manner (no crossing your fingers as you race towards the elderly woman ambling across the street using a walker or the young mother pushing her baby in a stroller and then slamming on the brakes hoping the car does actually stop), but you need to know that the object you will be trusting your life with can handle it. Plus, putting the car under a little strain can sometimes reveal a squeak or a groan that can be a tell-tale sign of things going wrong. Be listening for that type of thing as you drive.

    As another contributor mentioned, Carfax will tell you what the car’s history is, including if it’s ever been totaled, had significant repairs done, etc. I believe you have to pay for it, plus you need the car’s VIN # ( so this is something you might do after you’ve seen and tested the car if you really feel good about the first inspection. (There may be places where you can get similar information for free… I haven’t really looked into it.)

    Understand why the seller is selling it. If they’ve already got a brand new Mercedes sitting in the driveway they probably just wanted an upgrade. If instead they’ve got their trusty Schwinn leaned up against the garage door there’s a good chance they either decided they prefer a lifestyle more like Christopher McCandless’s or they can’t afford the repairs they know the car needs so they are hoping to sell it before it completely craps out.

    And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

  9. Sarah on February 9, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Have we been asking about your dating life? You must have one, if you’re telling us you don’t talk about it – kudos.

    No thoughts on the car, though I do like seeing what catches the eye of others – would love to see a picture, if/ when you decide on one!

  10. Mandy on February 9, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    I totally agree with Michael about being aggressive with your test drive. I also would turn on the AC and heat to see how long they take to feel hot and cold. Test all the windows and locks just to make such they work. I never checked out carfax or other sites so I have no advice there, but be very aggressive with your test drive–anyone selling a car will understand that.

  11. Brent on February 10, 2011 at 5:30 AM

    Do we get to see your Huxtable Car-buying outfit?

  12. Laurissa on February 10, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    if something happy does happen in your dating life, please mention something. I live for good news! lol.

  13. Christy on February 10, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    FYI “Never be afraid to walk away” was written by a girl that just went to a dealership for a 2010 car and walked away with a 2011 car because, well, they were out of 2010’s.

    Now, If you saw my blog yesterday, you saw the red roller-skate that I am currently driving. I have all kinds of wisdom to dish out. You listen to me.

  14. Joner on February 10, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    Yes, Christy is correct..BUT I did walk away…AND got a steal on a brand new car. The 2010’s on Carmax with like 10k plus miles were MORE EXPENSIVE than the final offer the dealer made me…so there!! ;)

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