Monday, March 21, 2011

The Car Buying Experience: Not for the Faint of Heart

Bye-bye, Sweet Lexus
On the last day of January, my beloved 2001 Lexus RX 300 was hit at an unfortunate angle by a large Chevy Suburban. After weeks of driving a rental and not knowing the status of my Lexus repair, the insurance company decided to total my Lexus. Ugh. Our Family Master Plan did not include buying a new car in 2011. One would think a car reviewer would have a long list titled "Cars I'm Going Buy" (in prioritized order), but it's way more complicated than that. We haven't had a car payment for 7 years. Getting a new SUV or Crossover opens us up to all the various decisions I write about in this Blog: How big? 3 rows? 4WD or AWD? Regular gas or premium at premium prices? New or used?

I'm all too happy to drive new cars and write about them. It's another thing all together to drive cars and answer my standard list of review questions when it pertains to my family and our money. New SUVs are expensive and generally don't get good mileage. Used SUVs aren't as expensive, but don't have warranties and still get poor mileage. Crossovers are small and not many have 4-wheel drive which we want for our weekends in the Sierras. What's a car reviewer to do?

So far I've gone to various dealers to drive used SUVs with 4WD:
2011 Infiniti QX56
  • Chevy Tahoe
  • GMC Denali
  • Ford Expedition (including the longer EL version)
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Audi Q7
  • VW Toureg
  • Infiniti QX56
  • Nissan Armada (my rental car since our accident)
  • Saturn VUE (so bad I could barely drive out of the lot)

The Tahoe and Denali were pretty on the inside and out, but to big and sloshy to drive and ride in. One Expedition had so many miles on it it rattled and clanked and was way over-priced. The Infiniti is great, and I don't mind the truck-like drive of the Armada. By far my favorite was the Audi Q7. The only reason I don't already have one is the expense of premium gas and premium repairs. But oh man, it was the nicest everything. Audi's drive the way a car or SUV or crossover should. I just don't know about the cost of ownership -- we live in California and gas is crazy expensive.

Here are the SUV's in the running, but I'm still waffling because of gas prices. And we still don't have a settlement from the insurance company so we don't know how much we can put down. (Oh the drama!)
2011 Ford Explorer

Buy a used one?
1. Audi Q7 (2007-2010)
2. Infiniti QX56 (2007-2010)
3. Nissan Armada (2008-2010)

Lease a new one? 
1. 2011 Ford Explorer
2. 2011 Infiniti QX56
3. 2011 Nissan Armada

My husband is very generous and gave me the green light to choose the vehicle that I like best. And then he excluded a few (Acura MDX, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander & Sequoia). So the decision that was all mine becomes a joint decision with various parameters. I don't really mind since he works hard for the money that pays for the car that I will have the pleasure of driving. It's a pretty cush life. 

2008 Audi Q7
I hesitate to buy a new vehicle because of the depreciation hit within the first year. Leasing is an option, but you still pay for that depreciation. A certified pre-owned is a great option, but they're few and far between. I created a spreadsheet with all the contestants listing what you get with new and don't get with used; cost of ownership; depreciation; extended warranty cost; insurance; etc. The one vehicle on the list that hasn't changed much over the last 3 years is the Audi Q7. According to my not-so-scientific calculations, a certified pre-owned Q7 will make us the happiest.  And as a person who likes to drive more than ride along, I can see myself making extra trips to Ikea across the bay just for the fun of it.

The various websites we scour daily are helpful, but I wonder how often the dealerships update them. Two sites with excellent advanced search features are and (which is partnered with You can save your searches and print out the list of saved vehicles which saves a lot of time when you finally get to the dealers to drive some of them. Checking out the Carfax reports has also helped narrow down the list. And I don't bother calling the dealers who don't give a free Carfax report online. 

For the new vehicles that we're considering leasing, I am looking into the services offered by and Carwoo gets great reviews and is an easy site to navigate. Plus they follow me on Twitter...
The insurance company says I need to get rid of the rental car in five days. I don't have much time to make a decision or extend the rental of this Armada. I'll keep you posted on what I can find. 

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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