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August 19, 2010 2:54 AM   Subscribe

Help me not be an idiot while buying a used car! (Some Rav4 specific details.)

I want to get a Rav4 at either 40000 miles (10K prior to the need for 50K recommended service) or 51-55000 miles (just after the 50K recommended service).

I want to get a Toyota Certified vehicle, a 4WD model with power windows, steering, locks, basically stuff I'm pretty sure is standard, and I don't really care about anything else. I'm sure airbags are standard. Is there something else I should care about that I'm just not thinking about?

So given this--how can I make this as painless as possible? I hate this process and I'm looking for the broadest metrics I can that can help me to get screwed as lightly as possible.

I looked at Edmunds for prices and have an idea of what people are trying to get for them, but how do I know if my price is a good one? I'm looking for 'if it's 1000 below sticker, you're golden' or some such. What's a good deal? What's a bad deal? How can I tell when there seems to be five different flavors of Rav4s? How do I know they're not charging me a price for an extra special Rav4 when I could care less and am buying just a basic one? What the hell is the difference between 'sport' and 'limited' -- what are those code words for?

Not only do I hate the process I really don't know (or care) much about cars. I'm buying because I have to, I'm a little excited to drive something than my current 14 year old car, but on the other hand, yuck to this whole process.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Shopping (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Because Rav4s are pretty cheap and have a decent power/weight ratio, some people use them as "starter" cars for off-road driving. Check the suspension carefully.
posted by atrazine at 2:58 AM on August 19, 2010

Given that you hate the process this might be more time than you want to devote to it, but I recommend the book Don't Get Taken Every Time. I read it a few months ago so I could help my parents (who also hate car shopping) buy a car, and ended up using what I'd learned to buy my wife a car. I used to dread car shopping, especially at dealers' lots, but the strategies in that book let me feel that I was in control of the transaction. Also, we saved a boatload of money.

Consumer Reports has a free online car buying guide which is also excellent.

At those mileage levels, you're probably looking for a ~2007 model (overview here). The "Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options" section on that page will help you figure out what you're looking for.

I'm looking for 'if it's 1000 below sticker, you're golden' or some such.

It won't be quite that simple. Dealers will inflate the sticker price to really ridiculous levels. If someone buys the car at that price the dealer is thrilled, but the sticker is so high that they can drop the price dramatically and still make money. The car I bought for my wife was initially put out on the lot with a price tag $1200 above its bluebook "dealer retail" value, but I was able to buy it for $2800 less than that bluebook value / $4k less than the original asking price. I refused the dealer's lowball trade-in offer on our old car, and instead sold it for $2100 more via craigslist, in a little over a week. Also, financing through a credit union beat the heck out of the best loan the dealer could find.

Go and look at particular cars. Write down detailed info about them. Then use Edmunds to find the typical selling prices and trade-in values. The latter is useful because it gives you a sense of what the dealer paid for the car, so you have an idea of how much wiggle room is built into the price. Find 2 or 3 cars, at different used car lots owned by different companies, that would work for you; your bargaining power is dependent on your ability to walk away.

If you feel confused during the buying process, realize that this is by design. The whole process is intended to cloud your ability to think clearly. When you feel confused, go home for the day.
posted by jon1270 at 4:17 AM on August 19, 2010

Sorry, my first comment was more story than direct answer.

I'm looking for the broadest metrics I can that can help me to get screwed as lightly as possible.
  • Figure out how much your trade-in is worth (probably not much at 14 years old, but still). Avoid getting screwed on your trade-in.
  • Investigate financing options ahead of time. Avoid getting screwed via crappy financing rates and/or terms.
  • Do enough research to know what sort of car you want and can likely afford. Don't forget to account for sales tax, loan origination fees, etc.
  • Know the values (including trade-in values) of specific cars you're interested in. Ignore sticker prices, as they are almost meaningless. Avoid getting screwed on the price tag.
  • Maintain your ability to walk away from any given deal until all the terms that matter to you have been settled.

posted by jon1270 at 4:36 AM on August 19, 2010

We hate the car buying experience and did this, but buying a brand new car. I suppose it could be customized for a used car. It worked perfectly---no negotiation, just met the dealer to pick the car up.

At very least you could use the method he uses for determining his target price.
posted by chiefthe at 5:22 AM on August 19, 2010

If the interest is in making it painless while within budget, I was *really* pleased with the painlessness of going to my credit union and doing their carfinder service. I made an appointment, told them what I wanted, how much I wanted to pay, filled out loan paperwork. After I signed, they picked up the phone, made one phone call, & gave me a dealer to go to who had two cars for me to look at. I took the silver one and drove home. End of headache, beginning of loan payments.
posted by Ys at 5:53 AM on August 19, 2010

When talking to the dealer, make them give you the total amount when they're talking prices, not the monthly payment.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:16 AM on August 19, 2010

This Wikipedia article talks about "sport" and "limited" editions.
What was important to me when I bought my RAV4 was that it have manual transmission, which was a little hard to find.
I basically watched CarMax until a RAV4 with manual transmission was available there. I found buying from CarMax was relatively painless, and I have been very happy with my low mileage, manual transmission 1st generation RAV4.
posted by easilyamused at 3:47 PM on August 19, 2010

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