Where do I buy a car?
August 26, 2016 8:34 AM   Subscribe

We're moving to Los Angeles, hooray! We live in Chicago and don't own a car. Do we buy a car here or in CA? Or somewhere else?

I'm taking a job in LA. I will need a car because LA. I haven't owned a car in about 20 years and that was a hand-me-down from my folks. I think I maybe want a Honda Fit? I've read a lot of questions about them and everyone seems happy. I really want to get an electric car but we'll be living in an apartment for at least a year and I don't want to have to find a place with charging infrastructure. I think we want to buy used because that seems cheaper, so Carmax? Do I buy a car here in Chicago and then drive it to LA?
The pros I see of that are:
I'll have time to look around here before I really need a car, which means a big stress is gone before the move. I also don't have a lot of time to transition from Chicago to LA due to start dates and an already paid for vacation.
I buy a used car and then put 2k+ miles on it.
Plug in hybrids don't exist really in Chicago which is maybe something we want?
Do I have to pay to register it here in IL for the 5 weeks I have remaining here and then again in CA? Will insurance be weird about us moving?
There are probably so many questions I'm not asking or am asking in the wrong way, please help. Thanks.
posted by Uncle to Shopping (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Cars that have lived in LA won't have lived through Chicago winters, and salt is hell on a car.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 8:42 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I moved from Chicago to CA and bought a car when we got here and got settled. We got a rental car to fill in the gap between arriving and getting the car, which took about 2 weeks. I would recommend that approach/I'm glad we didn't do it the other way around. It's a lot simpler administratively.
posted by bleep at 8:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you purchase a car anywhere other than CA, you need to make sure it meets the CA emissions standards, which are different than the other states. "Meets Federal standards" does not mean it meets CA standards.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:05 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

In California, cars have to pass a smog test, which will be another thing you'd have to do if you buy a car elsewhere and drive it here.

Maybe you could test drive a few cars at a dealership while you're in Chicago to get a sense of what models you like, but then buy in California.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Buy in LA, absolutely. So much simpler with the registration/title crap, and it'll never have seen salt except maybe the occasional marine layer fog. (And it'll have A/C. Do cars in Chicago have that? They probably do.)

I would not get a plugin without knowing for sure I was moving into an apartment with charge stations, but then you're going to have to move it when it's charged, so maybe you want a townhouse or apartment with its own garage, which you can find here but you will pay and the location may not be ideal.

(My primary tip for newcomers: live so close to work you're practically sleeping in your office. Yeah, I know the hip part of town probably isn't where your office is, but it is very easy to accidentally end up with a 90+ minute commute each way. Do that next year if it's still desperately compelling. Live as close as humanly possible to your office this year.)

You may want to rent a car for a few weeks here just to get an understanding of how things are, which may influence what kind of car you realize you want. You can certainly pick up a certified used Prius at any Toyota dealer, and you can probably take your pick of used Fits/Souls/Yarises at Carmax.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the reasons that everyone else gave, definitely buy a car in CA.

I faced a similar decision when moving from the East Coast, from a moderate some-but-not-much snow area, and ended up buying a new car; I still think it was the right decision to buy in CA. Dealing with registration transfer, emissions, etc. is just as inconvenient (if not more) than buying a car when you get here.
posted by serelliya at 9:10 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agree that you want to buy in CA to get a CARB compliant car. I imported a performance car from out of state (a worse case than buying a Fit, for sure) but I ended up needing to spend money replacing some parts that weren't CARB approved. The big one was an aftermarket air intake. Turns out the same assembly line makes two identical parts with different branding. One (the manufacturer part!) is not CARB legal; the other (badged for an aftermarket vendor) came with the little CARB plate in the box. So I swapped em and was fine (but $300 poorer).

Point is CARB is weird and labyrinthine. Buy here if you can.
posted by Alterscape at 9:11 AM on August 26, 2016

I bought a Fit last year in LA at Carmax thanks to the help of Metafilter and it was astoundingly simple. Carmax was great-- I didn't even have to go to the DMV!-- but with a little more time I would have scoped out some of the dealer options too just to try out later models and some other features. It's a great car for LA, but that does mean they hold their value well as used cars. Have a safe trip, and welcome to LA!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:20 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buy it in LA, buy it used (2-ish years old is usually the sweet spot), and the Honda Fit is a great choice for your needs. There are a lot of other cars in this segment and it's kind of hard to go wrong. It mostly comes down to personal preferences and your individual situation.

I used to sell cars for a living and my family has been in the car business for about as long as I can remember so I'm very much a "car guy" which means I don't like the way Honda's drive and would prefer to give up a bit of fuel efficiency for something more fun to drive like a Mazda 3.

If you want advice about the buying process, I can give you a TON.
posted by VTX at 9:26 AM on August 26, 2016

I agree with others about buying a car at your final destination.

The last two cars I've bought, I moved soon after: once between states, and once within the same state. Having to transfer the registration of the car to a different address, and especially to a different state, is a pain. While it's not that hard, why do it if you don't have to?

Better to rent for a limited period, identify what car you want, buy it, and then simply be done with the purchase and registration process.
posted by theorique at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2016

I've lived in LA for 7 years and had my Honda Fit here for 4. It's great. I can fit it in spaces most other cars can't, which saves me a lot of time when I'm looking for parking (I street park in a congested area so every inch counts.)

As far as buying here... if you buy here the car should be up to CA emission standards and have been smog checked already. Otherwise, you are required to get it done within a couple months of moving - if you get caught driving with out-of-state plates after having lived here for over (I think) 60 days you can get a ticket. I moved here from the midwest and drove my car here, because I'd already owned it for a long time and was being cheap, but then I had to spend $250 to get it up to CA emission standards, only to have the car completely crap out two years later. Anecdotal for sure, but if you're starting fresh I'd still say buy here and not worry about getting a car to pass smog check.
posted by joechip at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2016

One other thing: you don't need to feel like you need to get a car the second you get here. My gf has lived here for 12 years and has never owned a car. Despite what some popular songs suggest some people do walk in LA, and living in LA without a car for an extended period is totally doable, especially if you live near Hollywood or downtown.
posted by joechip at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2016

I've driven across the country several times, and I would never do it in a car I didn't know or at least had someone I know vouch for.
posted by Etrigan at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

and salt is hell on a car.

Do beware of beach cars, however. My last car, a 15-yo Cherokee with 49K* miles sounds great but was a rust bucket from years of street parking while living at the beach.

Adding to what joechip said, living in SM made it possible to go car-free (with very occasional Uber trips.) The Westside and expo-adaject neighborhoods could also work. At least look into the option; you may only need a car for half your life.

*Blessed by the commute gawds.

Bonus advice: 1) if you're going to live in any metro area, avoid living somewhere without assigned parking at all costs. I know people who build in the cost of parking tickets into the rent budget. 2) join AAA and one perk is you'll be able to avoid the DMV for many routine transactions.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2016

It appears you'll be buying in California so this may be a moot point for you, but for posterity: most newer-model cars, if factory standard and decently maintained, easily pass the California smog requirements. I've brought 2 cars into California at various times, and they were both way, way under the emissions limits. Even a 9-year-old Saturn that I'd rarely taken in to the shop.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2016

I would not get a plugin without knowing for sure I was moving into an apartment with charge stations, but then you're going to have to move it when it's charged, so maybe you want a townhouse or apartment with its own garage, which you can find here but you will pay and the location may not be ideal.

Note that a regular wall outlet is plenty sufficient for charging a plugin hybrid overnight. About 50 percent of electric car buyers just use a wall outlet and the cord that came with the car to charge it. So don't limit yourself to places with a "charging station". But do ask if they'll let you plug into a wall outlet near your car.

Many multi-tenant facilities used to balk at that, but it's 2016 and they are becoming rarer. YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST TO ASK. If they say you can't plug into a wall outlet, even if you are willing to pay the dollar-a-day that the electricity costs, then tell them that you will find your home elsewhere. They'll change their mind.

My personal recommendation for someone new to this market: a Chevy Volt. It is a FANTASTIC car. New (gen 2) or used (gen 1), they are great. If buying used, try to get a 2013 or newer, because the first two years of Volt production (2011 and 2012) were missing a few key improvements. The Chevy Volt is a blast to drive, can drive unlimited distances yet produces zero tailpipe emissions most of the time, and the used ones are cheap!
posted by intermod at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2016

I waited till I got here to buy my car for a few reasons:

- No drama getting it registered, worrying if it was compliant with all the weird CA emissions laws, etc.

- Cars that have been in SoCal their whole life are less prone to rust and other environmental issues.

- I did the math and it turned out cheapest to fly to Los Angeles and ship my things rather than buy a car and drive cross-country.

I just rented a car for a week when I got here and shopped basically ASAP. It wasn't that difficult to do. Car rentals here are dirt cheap and it was trivial to do.
posted by Sara C. at 7:09 PM on August 26, 2016

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