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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Monday, February 4, 2008

Buying a Vehicle

Here are some quick guidelines to buying the van you need, versus something you really don't.

1/ Decide on what you want: There are quite a few criteria you'll probably face when purchasing your new home. That's right, home. Changes your perspective a little bit, eh. Year range, model type, amount of money to spend, fuel economy, vehicle quirks; these are all important factors. But, take some time to look around and research your desired vehicle. You want to get it right, as much as possible the first time.

2/ Form Follows Function: When I bought my van , I was only getting something to camp weekends in, so I bought what I call a midivan, an extended Ford Aerostar. But, if I had been buying a van to be my home, I probably would have bought a full-size Ford E-series or equivalent. That would provide more living room inside, with only a 20% sacrifice in fuel economy. If I lived in a colder climate (snow on the ground for 3-4 months), I would definitely go for the full size. Depending on where you live, you might want a camper van or RV, but those are not really suitable for urban stealth sleeping or efficient fuel economy. Think about your choice!

Below: My '89 Ford Aerostar. Paid $1500, still has only 103K miles on the clock after two years driving, no rust, no leaks. The bare minimum for a full-time vandweller, but good gas mileage and reliable!

3/ Money range (Fuel Economy): Without a doubt, this will be the deciding factor of what you can buy. For myself, I have always taken a long time (weeks, if not months) to find my vehicles; I shop for the best deal, buying the vehicle for as cheap as possible. If you are in a hurry, you might make a rash decision you will regret later.

I like buying vehicles that usually are ten years old or more, but haven't been worked too hard, with not more than a 100K miles on the odometer. Also, fuel economy is a consideration, so I avoid large blocks engines. I also like that vehicles that are very commonplace; there will be lots of parts available, and service will be provided almost everywhere.

4/ Mechanical Condition: When buying a used vehicle, ascertaining the mechanical condition is paramount. If you buy something cheap with tons of miles (200K +) on the clock, then you will spend thousands to fix it up, and you'll still have a worn out vehicle that will break down anytime. If you keep it long, you'll end up rebuilding the vehicle. That's why I suggest you get a vehicle with around 100k miles or less; it should have lots of life left in the engine and drive train, and should be reliable requiring only regular maintenance for a few years.

Insist on taking the van for a good test drive before purchasing, and try to get some highway driving in it. I usually get the owner to drive the vehicle at first, so I can listen for noises (turn the radio off!!!) that indicate repairs needed. I also observe their operation while driving; are they doing something to compensate for repairs necessary. Then I take over to see how the vehicle feels; is the front end loose, the brakes working properly, the vehicle accelerating fine? Do all the lights work, the stereo, the air conditioning, etc.?

Check it over ruthlessly, for you're the one stuck with the problem after you drive the vehicle away. Take something to lie on, and check under the vehicle, looking for leaks and overall condition. Ask questions about the vehicle and for any receipts, so you varify alleged repairs and odometer mileage. Owners usually value their vehicle on it being in proper mechanical shape, so if it isn't, that lowers the resale value. Why? Because you'll be stuck with the repair bill later, adding more to the overall expense of the purchase.

5/ It All Depends: Whatever vehicle you buy, hopefully you can use it for a long time. If so, it's gotta' feel right to you, and there are so many variables to be considered. Take your time!! You're the one with cash in hand, so you are in control. Get what you want and need, not just what someone is trying to sell you. Happy motoring!

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