Shiny, Clean Car: My Biggest Challenge Yet

Just like the beloved Daniel Tiger sings, “There are lots and lots of feelings, And we can feel them all.” In this case, those feelings have most recently been about car buying.

Feelings like,

EXCITED: I get to get a new car! I cannot wait to get a new car!

STRESSED: Which one should I pick? Why are there so many options? Why are so many dealerships calling me nonstop?

WORRIED: Can we manage this investment? Did I make the right vehicle choice?

RELIEVED: Not only have I chosen my car, but now I get to drive it home. It’s mine! It’s over!

Yes, there is quite the spectrum of feelings when buying a car and my most recent experience has me ready to share a few pointers I learned along the way. My hope is that doing so might help you navigate those emotions when your time comes.

Let me step back to say that the pretty new car sitting in my garage isn’t actually the first car I’ve owned or purchased.

My first car was my sexy ’95 gold Camry (emphasis on the sexy). I had my Dad install my totally sweet sound system––complete with the removable faceplate on my stereo whose background graphics would rotate between a range of bright, party-like colors. Toyotas are synonymous with safety and reliability and this car was a true testament to this reputation, having reached 205,000 miles and going strong before I handed the keys off to my Dad when purchasing my latest car.

The first car I purchased on my own was my 2011 Nissan Murano. I really, really loved that car. I spent the entirety of 2011 researching Muranos––values, features, reliability, expenses, you name it. When the time was right to buy early in 2012, I visited two dealerships and signed my name on the paper for a slightly used “S” model with after-market upgrades (read: Bluetooth telephone and touch-screen radio/navigation).

My Murano was an amazing car and held up really well. When I was hit at a dead stop in Houston by a driver going 45 MPH, the car only suffered damage to the bumper and I was well protected with no injury. I even recently paid off the car––let me tell you, no car payments was AMAZING!

So why trade it in? (This is where my Car Buying Plan comes in.)

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ESTABLISH YOUR NEED

With two children in bulky car seats, one 80-pound labrador (yes, she’s on a diet and exercise plan) and lots to tote on a daily basis, the Murano sadly lacked the space I grew to need.

It was easy to determine that I’d need something larger, but I wasn’t ready to commit to a much larger vehicle, like an Expedition or Sequoia. I also knew I would not be happy driving a minivan (NO OFFENSE to minivan drivers because they really are the best deal for toting around lots on a daily basis, but I grew up the daughter of a car aficionado and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it).

I determined my “need” was for a mid-sized SUV that would have to seat at least seven passengers.

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DETERMINE YOUR OPTIONS

The market is bountiful with SUV options. And, fortunately, many options today come stock with technology and safety features. So, unfortunately, the list could grow a mile long very quickly.

To make my life a bit easier, I tapped my previously accoladed aficionado mechanic, my Dad, for trusted resources to narrow in my search. He provided me with the best websites to comb over and Consumer Reports guides to aid in my audit. From there, I pared my list down to six manufacturers and several makes.

  • Toyota (Highlander, 4Runner)
  • Honda (Pilot, Touring and Elite models)
  • Infiniti (QX60, QX80)
  • Lexus (RX350L)
  • Volvo (XC90)
  • Volkswagen (Atlas)

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COMPARE FEATURES AND RATINGS

With my list in hand, I started my research. I created a spreadsheet (yes, Account Service person over here) that went through the following benchmarks:

  • Ratings: Consumer, Safety and Reliability
  • MSRP
  • Features: Standard and Upgrades
  • Seating Capacity
  • Body Style

From there it was easier for me to narrow down my list further. I found that many of the features I required (safety, drivers assistance and technology) would be upgrades in the basic models (Toyota and Honda) and were standard in most of the luxury models I was evaluating. This information, coupled with ratings from users and trusted publications, helped me trim back my list even further. The makes and models I honed in on were:

  • Toyota (Highlander)
  • Honda (Pilot Elite)
  • Infiniti (QX60)
  • Volvo (XC90)

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BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

All four models and makes were solid contenders and offered the features I determined I must have if I was going to drive this car into the ground (which is my intent, as I do not want/need to be buying a new car for at least another 12-15 years).

I mulled over my list for a while and started to get pickier about which cars I truly liked. I imagined myself sitting in them and (in a bit of vanity) determined which models I visually liked the best. This brought me to:

  • Honda (Pilot Elite)
  • Infiniti (QX60)

HEAD OUT TO THE DEALERS

I brought my Dad and sister along to test drive the two models I had chosen. I drove both the Pilot and QX60 in the same day to ensure I was able to really compare the following:

  • How they drove: Was the ride smooth/bumpy? Easy to navigate? Did it feel too big or just right?
  • How they were organized and laid out: Was the dashboard easy to access and understand? Were there too many/too little tools to assist in my drive? Was it easy to get in/out of the car from all angles (including the trunk, because Miz/passengers would have to get in that way while the car seats occupy the middle row)? Was there ample storage options and space?
  • Comfort: Outside of handling comfort, were the seats comfortable? Were the air vents accessible and adjustable in the back (where my Murano lacked air circulation)?

I left the lots knowing exactly which car I wanted. Just kidding, I had a really hard time deciding.

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MAKE YOUR CHOICE, DO YOUR HOMEWORK

I (unsurprisingly, if you’ve been looking at my photos) decided on the Infiniti QX60. C.D. drives an Infiniti and my QX60 handles as well as his car does. The comfort of the seats and accessibility to the controls was familiar and put me at ease.

The QX60 doesn’t necessarily offer a variety of trim levels but instead upgrade packages. I, again, unsurprisingly, wanted a model a little above base. This meant our monthly payment estimations would go up unless we did our homework.

To better prepare ourselves to negotiate and to make the purchase process smoother, we looked into financing options and compared APRs before heading back to the dealer. A great friend of ours (Justin Pasternak of State Farm for St. Louisans) delivered us the best interest rate and confirmed our pre-approval before we started our negotiations. Yes, did you know that insurance companies, like State Farm, offer auto loans? This was news to me before this experience!

I tapped our company perks through Insperity’s TrueCar partnership to determine the TrueCar value of the model I liked best. This output a price on the car lower than MSRP and gave us a better asking price to kick off our negotiations. I reached out to our sales representative to confirm they would honor the TrueCar price, which they did.

We also knew we would trade the Murano in, having paid off all remaining balance and owning it outright. We looked into the Kelley Blue Book evaluations based on our model and the condition it was in to get our base asking price.

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SEAL THE DEAL

We reached out to the sales representative I had been in communication with ahead of time and made an appointment to test drive the exact model I preferred. Unlike other dealerships, Bommarito Infiniti in Ellisville listed cars they had out on the lot, not versions they could potentially get their hands on if a buyer was seriously interested.

Upon arrival, our car was waiting and running out front (I seriously love the remote start in this St. Louis heat right now…). We did a quick test drive so C.D. felt comfortable with the drive of the car and upon our return, we worked out an amazing deal with their team.

If you can believe it, we only “negotiated” for 20 minutes to get a monthly payment that was within our budget. Most of our wait time was due to C.D.’s need to use the restroom or get waters. I kid, but seriously, it was the fastest process. I highly recommend Bommarito Infiniti for anyone interested in a new or used car (my amazing Murano is currently listed as a Certified Used Car on their website).


So it sounds super easy, right? Hah, hardly, but hopefully my recent experience offered new suggestions and tips to help you turn the car buying experience on its head. Have you recently purchased a car? What tips or advice do you have that we didn’t consider (and should have)?

XO and happy shopping!

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