I like my current vehicle. We’ve been through a lot together – road trips to B.C., vacations in the States, dozens if not hundreds of shopping trips – but after struggling yet again to get it started on a cold February day I began to think it might be time to make a change. But when it’s -15°C, you just want to leave work and your car won’t start, it’s easy to make a snap decision, especially when dealerships make it so easy (almost too easy) to finance these days. Although my current car had been mostly great, I have owned enough lemons in my day to know that it pays to take your time when choosing a vehicle. So when I finally made it home after a long and worrisome commute, I started doing some research and found a few surprising facts that even my husband – a self-proclaimed car guru – didn’t know about.
Mileage Isn’t Everything
I have been told I am cheap, which I never argue, except that I prefer the word frugal. As such I began looking at used vehicles first. Several of the sites I visited focused on mileage when discussing the right time to start thinking about a used vehicle, but they also stressed that mileage doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. A well-maintained, reliable car with 200,000 kilometres on it probably has a lot more to give than a finicky, poorly maintained vehicle with half that much mileage.
Looking beyond the odometer means researching your make and model year, then checking in with other drivers who own the same car. Did that particular vehicle seem to hit a wall at a certain point? If so, what was it, and how far is your potential new (used) car from reaching that plateau?
Not surprisingly, the number one reason drivers stick with failing vehicles is that they can’t come up with the money to buy a new one. But cars can quickly turn into money pits once their best days are behind them. If I see extensive repairs on the horizon I generally weigh that cost against the value of the vehicle to see if it’s worth it.
Right now, with interest rates are at historic lows, it’s cheap to borrow money. So when I started looking at the bigger picture, I softened towards the idea of a new vehicle, as I figured it could be a lot wiser to buy a vehicle I can rely on than it would be to keep fixing a car I’m going to have to replace sooner rather than later.
Take a Hint
Some hints are easier to take than others. Warning indicators like the check engine light are hard to miss – although I am surprisingly good at doing so – and there are many other subtle signs that a vehicle is starting to fail. Strange smells (like burning rubber) and odd sounds (like grinding or rattling) should be investigated by a mechanic. A battery that dies all the time, or of course, an engine that won’t turn over, are also signs of a potential problem.
The first thing that tipped me off about my car slowly reaching the end of its lifespan was its fuel consumption. Suddenly it seemed like I was driving a half-ton truck and not a small, four-door sedan. If, like me, you’re finding yourself at the gas station more frequently than usual, your car’s fuel efficiency is probably starting to decline, and that is one of the clearest indicators that it’s struggling to keep up with the demands you’re putting on it.
Think About Car Insurance
Car insurance rates can vary dramatically depending on the car you buy, which I knew, already. But I was surprised that even some of the safest and most reliable vehicles on the road can come with hefty insurance price tags. Why, I asked?
Turns out it’s because of theft rates.
Don’t assume that a certain make or model will be cheap to insure because it has a good reputation for reliability. Car insurance companies are in the business of assessing risk, and popular vehicles are common targets for thieves. Ask your car insurance provider about the numbers before you start shopping, not after. Trust me on this one.
To keep your vehicle and its occupants safe at all times, here are some more great resources for car owners in Alberta and Ontario: