Buying a used car, NYC edition
July 15, 2020 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I don't like cars and have never owned one in my life, but mass transit is looking like it'll be Covid-risky for a while. It would be nice to be able to leave Brooklyn sometimes. So my partner and I are thinking about buying a used car. I've looked through the general tips on car-buying (love that Nicole Cliffe article), but I'm wondering if anyone has any tips that are 1) used car-specific, 2) NYC-specific, or 3) Covid-specific.

More info: we've secured financing at an excellent rate and are very unlikely to change lenders. We're looking for something about 5 years old, give or take. We'll need to park on the street, but street parking is pretty decent in our neighborhood. We'd like the car to be used certified.

We'll be particular about model. Priority factors: fuel efficiency, reliability, city-friendliness, safety, ability to hold a family's worth of stuff. A Prius is probably my top choice; we had use of one for a while and it suited us well. To give a sense of price range, a 2015-ish Prius—assuming we can find one—appears to be within our budget. I have the vague sense that a Corolla or a Honda Fit would also be good choices. Any other suggestions?

Does anyone have experience with Carvana and the like? Seems like that could be ideal for us, since we prefer to stay minimum-contact, and getting to dealerships is tricky. I also get the sense that the used-car market is somewhat inflated in NYC right now (y/n?) because a lot of us are in the same boat, which would be another point in favor of not shopping local. What does their certification mean compared to a normal dealer's?

How much can you haggle with a used-car dealer? I'm thinking that the used factor complicates things since all used cars are different, so maybe it's not possible to get dealers to compete for a sale?

Anyone know a reliable Brooklyn mechanic who can do a diagnostic inspection? Or could I just go to (in the case of a Prius) a Toyota dealership?

Anything else I should know about buying a used car in this place and time?
posted by the_blizz to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is not NYC specific but I did just buy a used car (certified pre-owned 2016 Golf) two weeks ago. We went to three dealerships, at each one they assured us the cars were cleaned between test drives, and the sales people did not come on the test drives with us - just gave us the keys and told us to bring it back. They only took our id as a hold at one place. The dealerships also all said on their website that they were appointment only, but that was likely just to remain technically compliant with Ontario's rules at the time, because when we showed up, without appointment, each dealership let us test drive cars.

We did not haggle, both because we were buying used and because we were paying all cash and so the dealership wouldn't be making financing money off of us. Also we trusted the dealership (they know my parents). That being said, all the places we went (small city outside Toronto) seemed somewhat desperate for customers.
posted by hepta at 10:45 AM on July 15, 2020

An older but still very relevant book called "Don't get Taken Every Time" .. Can not recommend highly enough !! Most libraries have it, I may even have a pdf of it around here somewhere if you can't find it, feel free to memail me !
posted by elgee at 10:49 AM on July 15, 2020

Just said in another thread that I love my Honda Fit...but I LOVE my Honda Fit. It is a dream to park in the city (SF in my case but I would imagine in NYC also). I got it used certified and the certified coverage came in handy. In my case, the certified used place was a "no haggle" place; the price was lower to start but there was no negotiation.
If you do go with a Fit, be aware that they come with basically no accessories at base--no floor mats, cargo cover, etc, so you'll have to buy them separately and they're astronomically expensive from Honda. If it's used, you may get whatever the previous owner bought and sold back with the car. Bernardi Parts has been a good source for me for accessories.
posted by assenav at 11:08 AM on July 15, 2020

Best answer: I'm in a similar situation as you and am watching these replies with interest. Re: Carvana, I found that the r/Carvana subreddit has lots of people sharing their experiences (though I suspect that, as with many online reviews, generally only people with unusually good or bad experiences feel compelled to write them up..)
posted by btfreek at 12:10 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Three weeks ago I bought a Craigslist car in Brooklyn. Almost went with Carvana or Hertz Rentals, but they were too expensive for us, and I see CL prices have gone up even in the last couple weeks (I still have CL alerts coming to me), so you have competition unfortunately. A huge plus for dealers is they take care of paperwork for you. The DMV's closure posed a massive problem that I hadn't anticipated. But on July 2 at the Coney Island DMV we put in the dropbox the title transfer and a credit card number and they mailed us license plates the same day (the postage stamp was canceled that day, at least). I see that they take appointments now, so I don't know what to advise.

Did our pre-purchase inspection for $100 at South Slope Auto and found the owner, named Joke (sounds like "joke"), so trustworthy and thorough, we will be returning there for service.

I now have to offload my $3-4k Altima, so if your standards drop, here I am!
posted by mahorn at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I bought a new car recently (after thinking I was in the used car market but jumping on a 0% offer from a manufacturer that doesn't usually offer that) so I have been following things. Used car inventory is very low, because new car inventory is very low due to COVID disruption, and a major source of used cars at dealerships is trade-ins. Also, many people extended leases due to COVID and another major source is off-lease. So the market is in some disarray and prices can be high at dealers. Private sales might be a way to get a deal now, or waiting a number of months since the USian economy is likely to continue to collapse.

Your instinct that there is not a lot of haggling with used cars is right. The internet forces dealers to offer better pricing; there are not manufacturer incentives on used cars, and the snowflake nature of used cars means it's harder for you to cross shop offers like you can new. Also dealers have learned that people hate haggling and more of them offer no-haggle experiences now.

I would not buy a used car right now. Give it a few months. And, "Don't Get Taken Every Time" is not up to date, the most recent edition is 13 years old and the original is entering middle age.
posted by Kwine at 12:51 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’d honestly leave the City if I were you, the taxes are astronomical, the DMV is an utter pain... etc. (I’ve never dealt with Carvana, but some close friends had an entirely positive experience buying a nice, used Subaru last year.)

But if I were you, I’d rent a car, bleach wipe the surfaces, and drive up (with the windows down) to Dutchess/Columbia County for the weekend and just hit up Honda (and Toyota) dealerships. (I’ve had to go into a few up here for various essential work reasons, and have been totally comfortable with their precautions, as someone without underlying conditions.) Then take the paperwork for the best deal you can find to the dealership that has a car you’re interested in and ask them to beat it— and don’t sign up for any extras, which they will totally try to sell you.

Once I finally quit agonizing over So Many Options, I got a great deal on a 2014 CRV with 86,000 miles from Friendly Honda near Poughkeepsie.

Then drive it over to the DMV in Hudson (it’s open, with a long-but-doable socially distant line) and get your tags. The car should come pre-registered, I think? I don’t remember. But regardless, the Hudson DMV is open and feels safe enough to me, if you need it— my friend just did this.

(Memail me if you need help or want a tour guide! I love helping my fellow MeFites.)
posted by functionequalsform at 1:40 PM on July 15, 2020

I bought a car through Carvana last year and it was a solidly good experience. It's been about nine months and I'm still super happy with the vehicle and the price, and getting to that point was literally just a matter of deciding what I wanted and waiting. I barely interacted with any humans at all, let alone in-person. If you have specific questions or want more advice/information about it, let me know. Definitely check out that subreddit if for no other reason than that people have $500-off codes to share. Carvana pays $100 per redeemed code and the rule over on Reddit is that you have to post a legit review you put some effort into to be allowed to hawk the codes, so there actually is a fair mix of content.
posted by teremala at 2:54 PM on July 15, 2020

Buy something small. Small things fit in more spaces. Buy something you wont be upset if the bumper gets scratched. People tend to drive into the car both in front of them and behind them while parallel parking in bigger cities. Buy a snow shovel for when you have to dig it out as soon as you find one. Do not buy a car 2013 or older - that's Hurricane Sandy times (2012, 2013 models would have been available).

Used cars sold at dealers are generally sold according to a formula +/- a percentage, dependent on dealer greed and their rarity of a comparable car. Dont believe me? Plot price and mileage and you'll see them on a solidly linear line. Add a years and you'll see a differential on the line. Look at the packages that said cars have and you'll see the top and/or bottom of each variance. In other words: find a car that you work, and haggle with the knowledge that the pricing seems to really be set by formula. Also, cheapest pricing will likely be further away following the law of New York.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:52 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

That point about bumper scratches is GENIUS.

If you're looking to optimize (instead of satisfice), there's a website that plots depreciation curves by make and model. Caredge (formerly Usedfirst).

I don't know if I'd avoid pre-Sandy cars. A pre-purchase inspection would detect flood damage anyway.
posted by mahorn at 5:37 PM on July 15, 2020

Best answer: Hello, you are me! We bought a 5 year-old Prius from Carvana in May and it was a completely smooth transaction. They handle pretty much all the paperwork, DMV and registration and etc, aside from financing. You may need to call their customer service to get your financing to talk properly with their system. They had some trouble with that on our end but it worked out okay, it was just a matter of getting everyone on the phone at the same time, and they were super helpful and responsive the whole way.

There's no haggling with Carvana. The price on the site is the price they offer, but I appreciated that. The car price does NOT include NY state tax, so factor that into your budget. It'll be a chonk.

Car was in great condition, completely as advertised in their pictures and site rundown. We bought a bumper buddy and an EZ Pass and were good to go literally as soon as the car showed up outside our apartment. The car may take 2-3 weeks to become available for you, but the whole experience was the straightforward, almost too good to be true, process that we'd hoped.
posted by greenland at 2:01 PM on July 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

« Older Favorite things to cook for the bereaved/new...   |   Covid transmission rates in hospitals in non-ICU... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments