Don’t Let Your Emotions Get The Best Of You When Buying A Car

When buying a car, don't let your emotions get the best of you. If they do, you may end up paying way more for a car than you should.

The 6th grade was when I first laid eyes on her. She was a 1989 BMW 635i Coupe who did donuts in the school's parking lot after class thanks to an obnoxious, rich kid driver in the 11th grade. 

The driver was the son of a royal family who lived in a royal house filled with a fleet of the most luxurious automobiles.

I was immediately smitten and promised myself one day I'd be able to buy such a car as soon as I started working.

The Dream Car

The new 6 series BMW came out in 2005 and all the memories came rushing back.  What cost only $35,000 then now cost $75,000 thanks to inflation and the infinite amount of new features.  I don't know about you, but  $75,000 is a big chunk of change and my absolute upper limit for what I'd ever spend on a car.

Instead of spending $75,000, why not go back in time and actually buy that 1989 635i Coupe instead!  My brilliant idea led me to Craigslist where I found my true dream car listed in “Fantastic condition with only 160,000 miles”!  That's only 8,000 miles a year I rationed and off I went to see the seller.

The sand dune colored BMW was in great condition and the seller was only asking $3,800.  After a test drive and over 1 hour of negotiating, I got him down to just $2,500.  

What a bargain I thought knowing that even if the car blew up the next day, I'd only be down $2,500.  I gleefully drove back home in my dream mobile I had waited for almost 20 years!  Of course, as soon as I got home this is where all the trouble began.

Buying A Car Can Be Very Emotional

Having bought and sold 14 cars in the past 10 years, I fancy myself ad a car aficionado. Unfortunately, since I just had to have this new ride I violated one of my basic rules: sell my existing vehicle before buying a new one!  

Parking is an absolute nightmare in San Francisco, and unfortunately, I've only got one car parking.

Tax Rules For Buying A SUV Or Truck To Deduct As A Business Expense
Range Rover Velar family car for the kids

So here I am, a guy who takes the bus to work with two cars and not enough space. What a pain  in the rump as I had to move my car every several hours before 5pm, or else risk getting a ticket.  

I ended up blocking my driveway most of the time instead, which immediately made my other car useless. At least I knew I wouldn't be calling the parking police on myself!

I finally ended up selling my other car on Craigslist after a month so I could put my new baby in the garage.  Ah, how good it felt only to have just one car instead of two!

Buying A Car With Unforeseen Problems

A 20-year-old car undoubtedly has problems and I chose not to get an inspection out of sheer lust. Bad move as my steering gearbox had a crack, which resulted in a massive amount of steering fluid leakage every time I stopped the car.  

Cost to fix? $1,200-1,500, which I didn't end up fixing. I just bought 20 gallons of steering fluid for $30 bucks!

What's worse than a leaky steering box is a sticky accelerator.  I discovered on a routine drive around the city that my accelerator got stuck on “lead foot mode” and I had to ram on my brakes and shut the engine off before crashing into the car ahead of me!  It was one of the scariest feelings, ever.

This was a problem I had to fix, so I spent $400 changing out the electronics that controls the sensors to the accelerator. I didn't want to end my life running a red light and getting t-boned because I couldn't stop in time!

A third major problem arose soon after. The electronics would intermittently all shutdown so i would lose all lights and power steering.  Of course a cop was behind me during one episode and I got a fix-it ticket.  The ticket was only $15 bucks if I fixed the problem. 

It was just a hassle I had to go prove the fix over at the dreaded DMV.  Sweet, another $400 to change out another computer chip.

The final unforeseen defect was a low idle which caused stalling.  My dream mobile would just die at a red light, and I'd have to crank the ignition multiple times before she would start again.  

How stressful and embarrassing! Back to the auto mechanic I went who proceeded to charge me another $300 for a “classic car tune-up” and idle adjustment.

If Only I Didn't Let Emotions Get In The Way

I let my emotions get the best of me when buying a car. I knew there would be problems with the car, but I didn't care. However, I had successfully negotiated my dream car for only $2,500 and that's all that mattered.  

In the end, I ended up spending $1,200 to make the car operable, and it still had the $1,200+ steering gearbox problem I refused to fix. Who needs steering anyway?  

All in all, I probably went to the mechanic 6 times and spent more than 15 hours in my 1.5 years of ownership to maintain the car.  In the end, it wasn't worth the headache at all.

If I could do it over again I'd:

1) Bring a friend as a voice of reason.

2) Spend $100 and a couple hours having the car checked out by an auto mechanic.

3) Wait a couple days and then continue negotiating.

4) Check the online forums to understand all the major problems with the particular model and ask the seller about them.

5) Never buy a car older than twenty years again unless it is a show car!

I ended up selling the car to another emotional enthusiast for $2,200.  I told him about my problems and all the fixes made except for the steering box which he saw on his own.  He has a car repair shop so he'd just work on the car himself.

I've learned that I don't have time to spend so much time maintaining a car anymore.  It was fun as a guy in my 20's, but I want to spend my time doing other things now.  

A car should serve me, not the other way around. I will never let my car nostalgia get the best of me again. Don't let it get the best of you either!

Finally, always follow my 1/10th rule for car buying. If you do, you will dramatically minimize financial regret after buying a car.

I currently drive a 2015 Range Rover Sport and I LOVE it! Getting A Range Rover was another one of my dream cars growing up as a middle-school kid in Malaysia. I plan to drive the RRS until 2025 and reconsider due to better safety features.

Related posts:

The Best Mid-Life Crisis Cars To Buy

The Safest Cars To Survive A Crash

Own One Car For Dough, One Car For Show

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44 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Emotions Get The Best Of You When Buying A Car”

  1. A while a go I had a thing for a convertible Mustang. My wife surprised me and rented one for my birthday weekend. I still remember it – what a terrific gesture!

    Did it cure me of my craving? Nope. I got a used one soon after and enjoyed it for a few years, until we had one car too many (bit of a story). We still rent one regularly. I remember picking one up with just 200 miles on it, and turning it back in with 2,800 miles… 5 days later! (You do the math.) Let’s just say we played Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again more than once… :)

    In the meantime we moved to Denver. I love the four seasons, but a convertible just doesn’t fit the situation. You can’t have everything, I guess :)

  2. RichUncle EL

    Despite the problems it had, I would have kept the car, theres something about older car models that tickle my fancy. After the stearing being fixed you could have lasted a good 2 years driving that car without any other issues.

    1. Maybe. The problem was parking. I only have one car parking in my house. If I lived in suburbia with two car parking, yes, I would have kept my 635csi because it only cost $2,500 and I would love to work on it over time.

  3. I have only had 2 cars (including my current one) since starting to drive 13 years ago so I have never made the mistake YET! Every time I see my first love a 1993 240sx on the road I often think about just offering the guy or gal a couple grand to have it back in my life.

  4. 4 years ago I was in a car crash where I had my Civic written off. I went hunting for a new car and thought that I wanted a 06 Mazda 3, but laid my eyes on an 325i and made the horrible/ill advised decision to test drive it. Needless to say I walked away with that car instead. I did negotiate (my parents taught me well), and had a friend with me. The problem was that my friend was more impulsive than I was and was really excited. I’m sure bringing a female friend might have been a better idea as most of my female friends aren’t really that impressed with cars.

  5. We all learn and live, Sam. I’ve purchased cars from auctions before. But, that was long time ago. And looking back, I feel that I was a fool who went on buying cars from auction without getting any other opinions. Fortunately, I’ve never had any problems. But, now I don’t buy more than 5 years old car.

  6. Ouch! I’ve had my car towed once for being in a public parking lot for CVS store after being there for 1.5 hours instead of the 1 hour limit. It was total bullshit!

    I will never buy a property in the city that doesn’t come with parking. Not worth it!

  7. Something similar happened to my brother. He bought an 89 Turbo Toyota Supra. He had to put oil in it whenever he filled up with gas. His misery ended when it got stolen.

  8. That car sounds like a lot of trouble. We got a used BMW Z3 and drove it for 11 years. I love convertible and we’ll get another one when the kid is out of the house. :) We’ll make sure to get it inspected. German cars are so expensive to repair/maintain.

  9. Is this Moose?
    I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased sound cars. This current car, a BMW as well, was my 5th car in ten years. Thankfully they’ve all worked out, except the Saab, which ended up with a cracked motor head, and the repair was as much as the car was worth. No thanks!

  10. I always made thrifty car decisions, never paying more than $10k for a car and always putting a lot of mileage on them. Then in 2007, 34 years old, the reverse was shot on my ’95 Pathfinder, and I knew I was soon going to propose to my soon-to-be wife so kids wouldn’t be far behind, I figured if I was ever going to own a Porsche, I had to do it then or it would be twenty or more years. So, I quickly found an ’01 Boxster for $20.5k. Between maintenance problems, not wanting to put too many miles on it (I kept the Pathfinder with no reverse) and not being able to carry our daughter in it due to the airbag in the passenger seat (I pick her up from daycare daily), I sold it in February of this year for $12k and I had only driven it only 15k miles. It cost me 78 cents/mile just in insurance and depreciation, not counting gas and maintenance. And it really wants as fun as the Toyota MR2s I used to drive. So that’s a purchase I regret. But I bought that 95 Pathfinder with 143k miles for $5500 put 100k miles on it with minimal maintenance and got $3500 for it through Cash For Clunkers. So that kind of evens things out with the Porsche.

  11. On a more serious note:

    The safety issues are the most concern for me. It is good practice to think through scenarios before the unexpected occurs so you can react with instinct.

    Stuck accelerator? No problem- just push in the clutch to decouple the engine. If it’s an automatic, then shift into neutral. Turning off the engine is a last option since the power steering and power brakes are assisted from the engine and get very difficult to control. Also you don’t want the steering column locking if the car is off and you have the wheel turned.

    When I was driving a stick shift Skoda on the Autobahn I started to have engine problems where the engine would run very rough and without power. The engine stalled out while I was driving in the passing lane, and if you have never driven in Germany you wouldn’t know that you have to be passing in the left lane or must get out, and that cars come up behind you very quickly. When the engine stalled out I de-clutched and slipped it into neutral while shifting lanes to get between two trucks. Was able to restart the engine after a few attempts while still cruising at 80 MPH with the car in neutral, and then was able to keep up with the traffic. None of the passengers understood what was going on. It was a bit nerve wracking but I let instinct take over.

    The other thing to think about is that you probably not be taking chances to get into an accident by having a car with a lot of problems. I have come to realize that having a high net worth could make you more of a target should a personal lawsuit possibility be raised. Just another thing to worry about I guess.


    1. Mike, VERY excellent points!

      As I got older, I thought more about safety. Sherman, my 636ci was back in 2005. I was young and had a relatively high amount of disposable income to burn. I only spent $3,800 total to buy and fix, but it was the safety issues that really got to me. Stuck break and car breaking down at a stop light is very disconcerting.

      I like Moose now. He’s large and reliable. Bumper cars, bring it on!

  12. I can remember buying an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme because I felt it had soooo much potential. I only paid $500 for it, and new it needed work. I trusted my own senses that it was ok.
    Well, after a couple of years and doing all the work myself (replacing transmission, lift kit, carburetor, window crank, bucket seat, etc.), I finally threw in the towel because I needed more reliable transportation.
    The change was to a red and black Ford Mustang – Mach 1 for $2,500. That was soo the car that I loved and was so worth the price I paid, that I wish I never got rid of it. By this time, I could examine the cars much, much better myself and even could tell if someone did something to make it sound better (i.e. adjusting idle or advancing timing so that it would sound better).
    Glad you learned, but alas that is often how we learn, and as long as we remember, the solution that works correctly, then we are in better shape the next time around.

  13. Darwin's Money

    I’m all about buying the “just barely respectable” car to not be the talk of the town, but save the money and use it on something else. We’re driving both our Hondas into the ground and hope to get a good 150K miles out of each of them with no payments for several years. Thankfully, I don’t have a job where people see what I drive much and status doesn’t matter so much in our circles. If you’re a sales guy, doctor, or whatever, it’s a bit tougher to get away with driving crap. There are some benefits to having a routine middle class lifestyle!

  14. My dream ride is an 87-88 Porsche 911. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and belong to a Porsche forum. I’ve learned about the issues with owning a Porsche so when the time is right I’ll be ready. By the way sweet 635 Sam!

  15. I just had a discussion with a car guy about buying one of my fantasy cars. I always wanted a classic Porsche (Speedster S) convertible or a classic British sports car (Morgan). He talked me out of it! He went through a list of problems and explained how expensive it is to repair. I resisted it for years thanks to my practical side. My emotions never interfere when it comes to cars because I know so little about them. I would never buy a car without a mechanic checking it out. I get caught up in sales and sometimes buy something I think I want and end up returning it days or weeks later.

      1. The secret (actually not so secret) to wealth is keeping most of it by spending it carefully! It is very hard to overcome genetics and how I was brought up. Besides, I do spend some of it on overseas trips.

        1. When you start getting your pension at 70, do you plan to still save some of your pension, even though you also have savings as well, or spend it all?

          I’m trying to convince my parents to spend all their monthly income every month and live it up.

  16. When I bought my first car at age 20, I didn’t have a job or any stream of income. Yet, somehow, the dealership gave me a loan for $25,000. I spent the next few years resenting every penny I spent on that car. I truly could barely afford to put gas in it. I did learn a good lesson though… that I hate car payments. I will never finance a car again.

    Now that I am getting older and wiser, I place less importance on the car that I drive. Sure, having a new car looks cool…but it really just isn’t worth it to me. We recently bought my husband a used Prius and paid for it. I found that the feeling is totally different to write out a giant check for a car than to finance it for 5 years. Financing it takes the sting off but paying for something outright makes you really question whether it’s the right purchase or not.

    Anyways, I tote my kids around in a 2007 periwinkle Dodge caravan and couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about my dorky transportation. Nothing looks cool with car seats in it anyway, I think.

    Have a nice day!

    1. Wow, that’s pretty sweet you got a $25,000 loan with no job! I HATE car payments too. The new car joy lasts for 3-6 months, but the payments usually lasts much longer!

  17. Oh wow what a headache that must have been fixing all of those problems. At least you got to have some fun at the same time. I like your fourth tip about checking online forums about a make/model before making a purchase. I do that a lot with electronics but never thought about doing that for cars. Makes perfect sense though! I’ll remember to do that when I’m in the market to buy a new/used car.

    1. Yeah, it was definitely fun. I will definitely spend time researching the car next time. I’m trying to not buy another car for a long while, even though Moose is now 12 years old!

  18. Never buy a car older than two years? What do you mean by show car? My sense is that with this as a rule, you are going to pay an awful lot for cars over the years. I’ve purchased plenty of used cars older than that have been rock-solid reliable. Great and thought-provoking post!

  19. Despite the problems you had I hope you enjoyed the car while you had it! The cars I wanted when I were in high school are now all way too old to consider buying them if I wanted a reliable car. Instead I’ll stick with my Honda Civic, reliable and inexpensive as far as cars go.

    1. I definitely enjoyed it, just not all the maintenance.

      I had a Honda Civic once too, a 1997 which I miss, but it didn’t have any soul. I wanted to have fun driving, so fun is what I had with the 635i.

  20. In the ’90s, I bought a 1966 Thunderbird (non operational) that I saw on vacation and trailered home all because of Thelma and Louise lol It hulked in the garage for 2 years before I sold it to a classic car buff for a lot less than I paid for it.

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