My 24 Hour Car Buying Experience

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The following is a contribution from my good blogging friend, Brock, from Clever Dude. Brock writes about family, marriage, finances and life over at Clever Dude. Please enjoy his post on his recent car buying experience. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules please see our guidelines and contact us.

I did something over the weekend, and I’m sure I’m going to get an earful from bloggers and readers alike. My wife and I bought a new to us minivan, and in doing so we violated two well established car buying rules for getting the best deal.

  • We did not take our time :  The time span from when we walked into the dealership until we signed the papers was less than 24 hours.
  • We didn’t shop around:  We test drove exactly one vehicle, and bought it.

Let’s Start at the Beginning of my Car Buying Experience


My wife and I went out for lunch on Friday and noticed that the turn signals on our van were not working quite right.  Sometimes they would work, sometimes the wrong signal would turn on, and sometimes they wouldn’t work at all.

This was really the straw that broke the camel’s back as our van that we have owned for ten years had a variety of things wrong with it:

  • The automatic mechanism for one of the sliding doors no longer worked
  • The passenger side window stopped working over two years ago
  • The power steering was humming and whining leading us to believe a repair was imminent.

After lunch we drove through the car dealership lots in our city looking at vans. After checking out the makes and models available, we decided on either a Chrysler Town and Country or a Dodge Caravan. It’s really the same van, just simply a matter of different options and packages.

We went back for a second visit to the Chrysler dealership and found a van on the lot that caught our eye. A salesman happened to be walking by and told us specifics about the van which included all the features we were looking for. Those features included:

  • 2013 model with just over 12,000 miles on it
  • Certified used vehicle – this means that it had passed a long checklist of qualifications to be sold with this designation.
  • Leather seats
  • Rear camera when in reverse
  • DVD system
  • Sto-and-Go seating (seats fold down into the floor for hauling large items)
  • Windows on the sliding doors roll down

We Test Drove it, and We Loved it


At this point in our car buying adventure, my wife had a hair cut appointment she had to get to, and I wanted to go to the gym.  We walked out the door with his business card and said we’d be back later.

We came back later that afternoon and started talking numbers.

We negotiated the price of the van down a little, and the trade in amount for our current van up. I whipped out my phone and verified that the values for both vans were fair market values. My wife even got them to throw the installation of heated front seats into the deal.  Even though the van was a year old, we got financing at a new car rate (2.99%), lower than any vehicle loan I’d ever had before.

We drove our new van home Saturday morning, feeling good about our purchase and our car buying experience.  I’ve read stories about people that take weeks to look for and buy a new car, and engage in all kinds of tactics to get a vehicle for as little as possible.

I was happy to get exactly what we were looking for, know that I got a fair price for the vehicle, and didn’t spend days or weeks of effort trying to whittle the price down or agonize over the purchase.

What do you think, did I make a good decision? Or should I have used more extreme tactics to squeeze every last cent I could out of the salesman?



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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • NZ Muse says:

    Ha, my husband just got a job as a car salesman, so I am learning a lot! πŸ™‚ The point of negotiation is to reach a happy middle ground for both parties so IMO this sounds pretty successful.

    • We certainly found a middle ground, and the price was in the fair market range…I just felt odd about it since I know people who take weeks to buy a new car as they shop around. You also hear those stories about people walking out and waiting for the salesperson to call them back and all that. This is pretty normal for us…once we decide to do something, we dive right in and make it happen. Success indeed – thanks for your comment NZ Muse!

  • Sounds like you did a great job with negotiations, Brock!! As with marriage, sometimes you just “meet” the right car, and you know it’s “the one”. πŸ™‚ When that happens, you’ve got to jump on it!

    • I have to admit, my wife fell for it before I did. The color is “Kashmir”….but as a guy I call it “Tan.” I thought to myself…really? Tan? But now that we’ve had it for a week or so, I absolutely love it.

  • Great post, thanks for sharing. My hubby and I are probably going to be in the market for a newer car within the next 1-2 years and I have to admit that one of the reasons we have kept our crappy cars for as long as we have is that the process of buying a car seems really daunting and time consuming (if you want to get a good deal), and it’s just not a big enough priority to make time for it. However, it gives me hope that you were able to complete the process so quickly and get a good deal on the purchase price and your trade-in. Maybe we shouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by the process. πŸ™‚

    • Personally, I think buying a car can be as long and drawn out of a process as you want to make it, Dee. As a software engineer, there’s a term we use called “diminishing returns.” You get 90% return on investment by spending X amount of effort. To get the next 5%, you spend 5X effort. To get that last 5% you spend 100x effort. So while maybe we could have gotten a little bit better of a deal, we would have had to exert an enormous amount of effort. Not worth it to us. πŸ™‚ Good luck on your adventure in the near future….hope we get to read a blog post about it!

  • Liz says:

    I don’t really see the point in spending more time than you have to on buying a car. Sounds like you got a great deal. We’ve had to buy two new cars over the last year and a half and I hope to not be back car shopping for a very long time. I would say if you are satisfied with the deal then there’s no need to waste more time on it. Especially 0weekend time!

  • I think it really depends on each individual, as you said. My approach to car-buying will likely be this: one of our two older cars (likely mine) will require some expensive repair that simply is not justified. Then, within a few days I will spend countless hours surfing the car sites on the internet and finding a few that I like (already have make/models in mind). Then I’ll go test drive it and most likely purchase the first one I test drive. Not the best way to go about buying a car, but I know that’s how it’ll go.

    • Look forward to reading about your experience, DC….I can never read enough car buying experiences – the more we read about how things worked for others, the better we can be the next time we go through the process. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I agree with John’s comment in the post, that this worked for you and you got a fair deal, so good for you. Others might want to haggle more, and saving that extra $500 might be worth the effort to them. But to you, you are find with the deal you got, so kudos to you.

    • Exactly right, Jon (read above comment response to Dee on the concept of diminishing returns). I personally hate the whole negotiating and haggling process…I know some people thrive on it – but I’d just as soon get it over with as soon as possible.

  • I absolutely hate car shopping! But it must be done from time to time. I personally like to buy older cars that can be paid for in cash. I hate car payments!

    • I’m with you, Holly….I hope this is the LAST car we have to finance. We’re in a place now financially where we can make the car payment AND save for our next vehicle. Thanks for commenting!

  • As long as you did the research and know you got a fair deal, I don’t think it matters how long it takes you. You were just efficient πŸ™‚

  • It’s great that you found what you were looking for quickly and efficiently. If it works for you, then that’s great! I’m a bit more cautious and will probably take a few weeks. Just who I am!

    • If it were just me, I probably would have taken a bit more time…my wife, however, is a “get it done” kind of girl. She see’s what she likes, and latches on. She’s awesome that way….when I’m waffling back and forth she get’s impatient and forces a decision. That’s just one of the many things I love about her. πŸ™‚

  • I agree with Holly, never liked car shopping but it’s a necessary evil. Sometimes we can buy big purchases without much thought but it’s important not to make it your M.O.

    • I think the important thing to emphasize that we did pay fair market value for the vehicle. I think many people just search and search trying to find “the ultimate deal.” it’s be interesting to do some research on how many people actually find it. Thanks for your thoughts, Michael!

  • Money isn’t everything! I think you did well, since it was stress free and you did get a good price. I am not a fan of car shopping so my experience was similar.

    • I’m a HUGE fan of stress free…and it was definitely that. It’s amazing what the new vehicle has done for my day to day well being though – no humming power steering, doors that work, windows that work and blinkers that work. It’s SO NICE. lol

  • Mark Ross says:

    That’s great for you that you didn’t have to give up too much of your time searching for a car to buy. It really is different for each one of us when it comes to everything in life, sometimes luck is on our side, sometimes it’s not. Anyways, I hope you have a great time with your car. πŸ™‚

    • The big thing for me is reliability. I’m not much into bells and whistles – I’m more into practicality. The need for the sto-and-go seating was on my list and the knowledge that this thing is going to transport my family safely around. Our old van was getting to the point where I was a little hesitant if we were going on a long trip. Thanks for dropping by!

  • My friend’s father owns a car dealership and I remember him saying that something like 75% of car purchases are impulse buys. I thought that was crazy, but I see how it can be. I definitely do not like long drawn out car buying exercises, but I definitely do my homework and always have my reasonable budget number for what I would like to pay. It makes the negotiating easy when you have a number and don’t budge from it, and they need to sell cars.

    • Great point, Shannon – one mistake we’ve made in the past is that we focused on the monthly payment. The guy even asked us that question, “how much of a monthly payment are you looking for.” I steered him back to the price of the vehicle….they actually offered me a 7 year loan. A SEVEN year loan! Crazy!

  • E.M. says:

    If you’re happy with the process that’s all that matters. I don’t think I would be able to pull the trigger that fast, only because I like to explore other options and do my research. I think it’s great that you were able to get what you wanted quickly though, since buying a car can be really tedious.

    • In fairness, I was happy with the process because I was happy with the numbers, E.M. The offered price was in the range of fair market value and I didn’t have any reasoning to give the guy to go any lower and still make him believe that I would walk away and not buy the van if he didn’t budge. I’m a terrible bluffer. πŸ™‚ Thanks for reading!

  • I hate negotiating…I ended up buying a used car at a no-hassle/no negotiation place…Enterprise (yes they sell used cars too). I still think that the price was fair though as I did go to a traditional dealership and the price that I got was about the same, without the hassle and without the hidden fees. I might look into the Caravan in the future when my family grows. How do you like it?

    • Our previous van was a Town and Country (again, really the same van as the Caravan just a different option package) and we had it for almost 10 years and 120,000 miles. We liked it so much that after looking at the other van’s available we bought another one. That speaks volumes for how much I like it, Andrew. I never thought I’d be a van guy, but I love it. Great ride, great options…and like I said in the post we can fold all the seats down and haul stuff – which we do from time to time.

  • Ugh, last time I went car shopping I was at the dealer for close to 4 hours. It was INSANE. I hate the experience so the quicker you can get out of it the better IMO.

    • I would guess we spent about that long….2 hours at first, another 90 minutes after my wife’s hair appointment, and another hour signing paperwork the next day. Good to know I’m not the only one that hates sitting in a salesperson’s office. LOL. Thanks for commenting, Raquel!

  • I think you did what was best for you and what you were comfortable with. I just wrote today about my car financing experiment. When I first talked about it, I got some hate mail, but from the results of my experiment, it looks like I was the winner!

  • Kudos on your new ride! It sounds to me like you did sufficient research to determine you weren’t getting swindled on the price and also landed a great interest rate. Just because it didn’t take you long to get the car doesn’t mean you got a bad deal. When I buy something, my goal isn’t about getting the absolute lowest price (right or wrong), it’s about getting the price I think is fair and reasonable.

    • That’s a good point, Kendal…my wife and I did have discussions previously about what we wanted in a new vehicle so it wasn’t like we were going in cold. AND, bringing up the market value of the car on your smartphone to show the salesman is a great way to make sure you’re getting a fair deal. πŸ™‚

  • It sounds like you weren’t having the ‘let’s buy a new car’ discussion for the first time, so I think you put together a solid plan and executed it well. You might have test drove a few more cars but if you were happy and had no holes in what you were looking for, I think you were fine. You didn’t settle and you walked away happy.

    • True story, Money Beagle – we did have a plan in place. It’s just that it was always “in a few months we’ll do this” sort of thing – so the whole experience was a bit of a surprise. Although I like the outward appearance of the Chrysler van better, I wouldn’t have minded test driving a Honda Odyssey. But, my wife hated it passionately….so that was definitely out the window. πŸ™‚

  • kathryn says:

    We purchased a second vehicle a couple of years, when ours was costing too much in repairs. We knew what we wanted, and approx how much we wanted to spend.We weren’t trading in anything.
    Took about 24 hrs from deciding to buy to buying.
    We insisted the vehicle have a new safety inpection, before we took possession.The brakes failed, so they were replaced, no charge to us.
    We are happy with the that is all that matters.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Kathryn. You reminded me of something I can’t believe I forgot – having it inspected by a mechanic. Then again, the van is only a year old, and it had to pass a rigorous inspection to be a “certified used” vehicle. My wife watches a lot of Judge Judy and The People’s Court….and they ALWAYS say to take it to a mechanic. LOL.

  • Marvin says:

    I’ve never been great at negotiating car prices. I have always gone to Carmax or auction to purchase our vehicles. I think you made the right choice and it’s my firm belief that sometimes over thinking a situation becomes more detrimental than it does beneficial.

    • I tend to be one of those overthinkers….which is why my wife is a great equalizer. Actually, we equalize each other out…I slow her down a bit, and she speeds me up. We tipped a little further in her direction this time, though.

  • It sounds like a purchase was inevitable, so wasting time would likely have ended up with the same outcome but with lots more headache. I hate car dealerships and hope to buy my next car in cash, but it all depends on how long our current one lasts and what the interest rates are at time.

    • I was surprised to hear that the interest rate on new cars was 2.99%. As mentioned, that’s the lowest I’ve ever paid on a car loan. Of course, it’s been 10 years since we bought our previous van so things have changed drastically. Hope we can both buy our next vehicle with cash, Kim!

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