Get yourself a dependable car for retirement
Are you retired and living on a fixed income? You're probably not in the mood for any unexpected, high-dollar surprises. These tips can help you find a dependable vehicle and keep it running for years to come:
1 Pick a model with an excellent track record. Do some savvy sleuth work on the Internet to find reliability ratings for vehicles that meet criteria you care about, such as, say, fuel economy. If you don't have Internet access, ask a friend or relative for help or visit your local public library.
2 Know where to look. A Web site that allows you to research vehicles' reliability is the Consumer Reports New Car Buying Kit (www.consumerreports.org/ncbk). Free and extensive pricing information and reviews are available from Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), Edmunds.com and NADAguides.com.
3 You don't have to buy new. Your search likely will turn up a variety of Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Hyundai and Subaru models with good reputations — and it may leave you reeling from sticker shock. Because so many of these newer, reliable models have been built to last, you could safely buy a 2- or 3-year-old car and save as much as 45 percent.
4 Foresee your ownership costs. In minutes, IntelliChoice (www.intellichoice.com) can serve up a projection of the likely costs of insurance, depreciation, repairs and maintenance over the next five years for new and used cars.
5 Shop around. Get quotes from three or four dealerships and don't let yourself get rushed. Ask for the lowest possible markup over the car's invoice price. Write down all the figures you're quoted and leave. Say you'll be back if this is the best price you can find.
6 Count all the costs. Set a reasonable price limit ahead of time and stick to it. (All of your car-related expenses, including insurance and gasoline, should cost no more than 20 percent of your monthly net income.)
7 Maintenance matters. Keep that car running well for a long, long time. Stick with the recommended maintenance schedule outlined in your owner's manual. Failing to do so can cost you much more money in the long run.
8 Understand what's really needed. With some newer vehicle models, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can wait 10,000 miles between oil changes and 100,000 miles between new sets of spark plugs. Eyeball your owner's manual to make sure you know what you need to do. When having fluids added or other maintenance work done, make sure the work matches up with the car manufacturer's specifications.
9 Do regular spot checks yourself. Even if you know very little about cars, you can pop the hood open from time to time and make sure everything looks, sounds and smells right. If you spot leaks, cracked belts and other problems, don't procrastinate about having them checked out. It's better to catch these troubling little issues early, before they get worse.
10 Keep it clean. You'll help your vehicle retain its value and appeal if you clean it regularly inside and out. Regular waxing can help your paint job hold up nicely and can stave off rust and other unsightly blemishes.
Laura T. Coffey (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sources: Consumer Reports Money Adviser (www.consumerreports.org); AARP The Magazine (www.aarpmagazine.org/money/); Edmunds.com.