Spending a semester in LA: When to buy a car?
July 25, 2013 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm leaving in about a month to study in Los Angeles for the semester (until mid-December). I'll need a car in LA for getting around and can't decide how to handle it.

I have been doing research for awhile in preparation of buying my first car and recently settled on buying a used Prius. After trawling local listings online with mixed success, I was able to find one in my price range and with the options I wanted. I went to look at it a few days ago, took it for a test drive, and, predictably, fell in love.

It would be sitting in my driveway right now if not for the wrinkle of my upcoming semester away.

If I bought a car now, I could ship it to Los Angeles, drive it for the semester, and ship it back. (I've already debated driving cross-country, and have ruled it out as an option––I'm coming from upstate NY.) It would also be nice to have a car for the remainder of the summer.

If I waited, I would have to rent a car for the duration of the semester and plan on buying a car over my winter break. I would have from mid December to mid January to handle it before I went back to school. I'm not confident that I can find a similar car to the one I've found in the short time before going back to school, considering the general stressful/busy nature of the holidays and that it took some serious searching to find this one. Used Prii don't seem to be particularly common around here. I understand, though, that some (most?) of my feelings stem from this particular car being tangible and here NOW, and my excitement over getting my first car.

Renting a car would run about $3k, and the shipment quotes I've generated from companies previously recommended on Ask have been around $1-1.5k from NY to LA, so I'm considering the two options equal in that respect (correct me if I'm wrong).

Does either option sound obviously advantageous over the other? It's stumped me.
posted by Kronios to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Have you looked into Enterprise long-term rentals? They have better rental options than generic car rental places. Also, Hotwire.

Another option would be to buy a car at the beginning of the semester then sell it again when you're done.

If it were me, I'd buy the car now, drive it out to California with a bud, then drive it back with a bud. Long road trips are awesome!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on July 25, 2013

Could you buy a car in CA? I don't know what your budget is or how old a car you'd be buying, but a used car from CA has the advantage of not having been driven on salted roads/having dealt with snow.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:46 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Need More Cowbell has a point. Also, you will have your PICK of Prii in California. It's kind of popular there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:57 AM on July 25, 2013

Not really an answer, but I've been car-less in LA for 18 months now. Its not always easy and some places will be inaccessible, but for just 6 months or so you could probably survive on a combo of Lyft/Public Transport with the occasional rental for distant trips. Also, many schools offer a flat-rate public transport card. USC, for example, is 90 bucks a semester.
posted by GilloD at 11:14 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're really against the cross country drive, I would buy a car when you get out here. There's lots of used Priuses for sale. Are you from IC? I did the L.A. program my junior year. My dad flew out here with me, and he said "We'll see if you need a car once we get there." We were here for all of an hour before he was like "OK, we need to go get you a car." Yes, L.A. is (painfully) doable without a car, but I wouldn't. Half the reason I came out here for the semester was to see if I liked living here. I couldn't have explored L.A. in the ways I wanted to without my car. Not to mention I needed it to get to my internships. Then, when the semester was over, I shipped the car back (P.S. Make sure you find a reputable shipping company - I picked the wrong one, and ended up waiting an extra 3 weeks for my car!).
posted by dithmer at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2013

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I'm not going to drive there and back. My parents are opposed to the idea (and have kindly offered to pay for either the rental or shipping so that I can make the best decision). Though I can see the appeal of a road trip I can't argue with the quicker and more comfortable option of flying.

The option of buying a car in CA is one I would consider; I'm just hesitant because it's my first car buying experience and I'd prefer to have my father with me.

Ruthless Bunny, I would definitely go with Enterprise if renting. I get an edu discount with them as well.
posted by Kronios at 12:03 PM on July 25, 2013

Is Zipcar something that might be useful to you instead of purchasing a car for one semester?
posted by dottiechang at 9:27 PM on July 25, 2013

Rent a car. Buying a car is a huge headache (renting a car/getting a buddy to take you to the dealer/person, negotiating, car loans etc). And yes - shipping cars is extremely expensive. I just checked rental car prices and got $2300 for mid Aug - Mid Dec. If you work directly with a smaller company, they often offer discounted rates for long term rentals (heck I know that even Avis and Budget offer long term discounts).
posted by puertosurf at 5:40 PM on July 26, 2013

« Older What kind of women's pants are these?   |   How can I help a loved one who is abusing... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.