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Buying a First Car: The American Dream

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Ester: Hello Judah! Would you like to introduce yourself for the Billfold readership?

Judah: Hi Billfold, my name is Judah Bloom and I am a new car shopper and, hopefully, owner.

Ester: And you are related to me!

Judah: That, too. I am your youngest brother.

Ester: That makes it sound like I have 15 younger brothers, each cuter and more princely than the last! But I only have you. Luckily, you’re great!

Judah: Well thank you. I am just trying to avoid the “little” brother routine that typically arises.

Ester: Yes, we middle children are notoriously insensitive to the feelings of our younger siblings. ANYWAY. You are not little; you are in fact almost 30, are you not?

Judah Yes I am. I am turning 30 in August and have been working a steady job for the past, almost three years.

Ester: Let the record show: You are a millennial with a strong work ethic. You’re virtually a unicorn! What other markers of traditional adulthood can you offer? Can you cook yourself dinner?

Judah: If ordering online or turning on the microwave count, then yes, absolutely. However, I have been a success at living by myself and going to work every day, which is an achievement.

Ester: In this day and age, that basically warrants you a Nobel prize. Or, as it happens, A NEW CAR! So tell me about your decision to purchase an automobile!

Judah Well, the car I am currently driving is an 11-year-old Acura RSX (two-door hatchback) that I got from my parents. It has taken me cross country three or four times and been with me for as long as I have been able to drive. However, it is reaching old age and becoming untenable/not financially viable to maintain.

Ester: You mean it’s time to put it in a home?

Judah: I was actually going to try to find it a nice farm up north to let it run around with other old cars.

Ester: That would be California, wouldn’t it? Isn’t that where old cars get put out to pasture? They like the dry heat or something.

Judah: That, or Michigan.

Ester: I thought that Michigan is where baby cars came from.

Judah: It’s a whole circle of life thing.

Ester: That’s so good to know. I am very ignorant about cars since I hate driving and live in the city almost entirely to avoid it. You seem to enjoy driving, however. How were those cross-country trips? What was your favorite state, and what was the most expensive one in terms of tickets?

Judah: I do enjoy driving a great deal. The cross-country trips were fun. Two of them, I did with Adam, our older brother, and two of them I did solo, going from Seattle to Virginia for an internship. I am not sure which is my favorite state as they all basically blended together, and without the dotted lines, like on a map, to indicate when one started and ended, I was not really sure at times which state I was in. For tickets … Let’s just say I try to avoid driving through Kansas as much as possible. I even have routes planned that allow me to circumvent the state.

Ester: What’s the matter with Kansas? That’s a rhetorical question. OK, so your trusty car has carried you to and fro and is now on its last wheels. What do you do now?

Judah: Once I realized that I could actually afford a new car, which was something of a shock, I started my search by writing a list of the features I want in the car, to initially narrow down the options.

Ester: Power steering and door locks?

Judah: Power steering is overrated. Without it, I can get a workout and drive to work at the same time.

Ester: I don’t even know what “power steering” means, I just remember hearing it in a thousand car commercials. Also “anti-lock brakes”! And “low APR”! Do you know what APR means?

Judah: Annuatized Price Requirement?

Ester: Sounds good, but I don’t think “annuatized” is a real word.

Judah: It’s from a car commercial; most of their words are made up. You think “triptronic” is going to fly in a Scrabble game?

Ester: Oh hell no. I don’t know cars but I do know Scrabble. Also, what’s that creepy thing where the lady always keeps track of you no matter where you are? OnStar? Did you want that?

Judah: Yes, OnStar but I don’t think it is a singular woman staring at your car on the screen. Though that would be an interesting job.

Ester: OnStar lady job description: Must never blink. Have calming voice and as many arms as an octopus. What does it set you back to have the OnStar lady watching your every movement?

Judah: I still think OnStar was the NSA’s first attempt at monitoring citizens, but that’s beside the point. In my case, the cars I am looking at don’t offer OnStar and I am not interested in it.

Ester: Oh my god, you’re right! Edward Snowden discovered the truth about OnStar … What, you don’t want to be surveilled? Do you have something to hide about your driving habits, besides the fact that you stuff your backseat full of empty pizza boxes and bottles of Coke Zero?

Judah: I am already avoiding one state, I would prefer not to get on anyone else’s radar while driving. Also, you make the pizza boxes and Coke Zero bottles sound like a bad thing. It is a decorative style. Just you watch, it will come into fashion soon enough! Then everyone will have a car decked out like that.

Ester: Speaking of decked out, were any of your priorities related to how the car looked?

Judah: Absolutely. One of my criteria was the body type. I was looking for a four door sedan that wasn’t a hundred miles long. Color is less important as I am looking for a pre-owned vehicle.

Ester: Used car, any color, not a Buick, check. What else?

Judah: After a frightening drive through a blizzard in Montana, I realized I wanted my new car to be AWD (all-wheel drive), unlike my current one which is front-wheel drive and terrifying on a steep, snow-covered mountain.

Ester: Isn’t anything terrifying on a steep, snow-covered mountain?

Judah: True, but with AWD, it would be slightly less terrifying and I would be able to go more than 7 mph.

Ester: As your sister, I’m not comfortable with you going faster than 7 mph during a blizzard anyway. Won’t AWD just give you false confidence and encourage you to be reckless? You know, like wearing a seatbelt.

Judah: I don’t think so. I can already be reckless without the AWD. With it, I just feel more comfortable and a little more sure of myself, which is helpful when driving as I feel if you are too nervous, you are too tense and could make a mistake. And in those situations, a mistake can prove quite problematic.

Ester: Fair enough. What else were you looking for in a ride? Are you brand-loyal?

Judah: I finally won an argument with my sister.

Ester: Don’t get too comfortable. I’ll probably edit it out.

Judah: Touche. I am not brand loyal but there were specific brands I was looking at as they fit best within my criteria. That, and I asked my brother for advice.

Ester: Oh you asked HIM and not me? But I love giving advice! I would have told you lots of smart things, like … Well, whatever Adam said, only smarter. What did Adam say?

Judah: You definitely, definitely do enjoy giving advice. This fact cannot be argued. But Adam said that I have a good enough job that I should look at higher-end vehicles, and I should focus on used models as you can get more bang for your buck.

Ester: What does “higher end” mean? German?

Judah: Not American, unfortunately. In this case, German or Japanese. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Infiniti, etc.

Ester: It’s still pretty funny to me that the countries we beat in WWII have us so totally beat in the luxury car market. Like, they can’t best our troops, but they sure can build a sedan!

Judah: I always heard that the tank Mercedes built for the Germans were surprisingly roomy and well equipped.

Ester: Power steering and door locks?

Judah: Exactly! And great gas mileage.

Ester: Good for taking over Poland. OK. So, we’ve narrowed your choices down. Adam, our spendy sibling, told you to buy fancy but buy used. (I, the saver sibling, would have told you to just buy a Metrocard.) What did you end up with?

Judah: I am still looking currently but I have successfully decided on the make and model, being an used Audi A4. I test drove a new model yesterday and fell in love. However, a new model is about $40,000. My price point is closer to $29,000-$30,000.

Ester: Are pre-owned Audis available for that amount?

Judah: Audi A4 was a very popular model between 2010-2012 so there are a lot of them out there. The difficult part has been finding them with low miles and with the features I want. However, minutes before we started this, I found near my price range that fits perfectly. I am hoping to test drive it tomorrow and if that goes well, I may drive away with it.

Ester: Amazing! But first you have to hand over some cash, presumably? How much does one have to put down?

Judah: I am in a different boat as I intend to pay for it all at once. I do not wish to get nailed with interest payments or leasing options. Pay it all at once and get it done with.

Ester: Uh. That means you have $25K in cash just sitting around like in Uncle Scrooge’s bank vault? Do you go swimming in it?

Judah: Swimming in it is my current exercise regime. 10 laps every day through the bills and coins REALLY burns those calories. I actually sold a number of shares of stock I own which I had been saving for this reason. The stock netted me about $25K and I have another 10k saved up specifically for a car purchase.

Ester: So mature and fiscally responsible! I think you are the Billfold hero of the day. Well done, sir.

Judah: Well thank you. And I am willing to bet you never thought I could do it, oh sister of mine.

Ester: Well, sure. In my mind you’re still the kid who ran outside without putting on his pants first.

Judah: …Are you ever going to forget about that?

Ester: Definitely not. But congrats on the car! Let us know how it goes after the test drive. We’re all rooting for you.

Judah: Thanks. I will keep you up to date.

ETA: Welcome to the world, baby girl! Judah has acquired himself a 2011 Audi A4, dark blue with a light leather interior, and he is THRILLED.

This post originally appeared on The Billfold.

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