The challenging process of finding a replacement car

I have the check from All-State from the car being totaled. It feels abysmal. Over the life of our 2010 Toyota Corolla, we spent $36,000 for full coverage insurance. They are giving us just $7,000 to replace it. Car was in perfect condition with just 62,000 miles on it. I tried to argue with All-State that I would not be able to find a car that matches for what they’ve giving me and they didn’t care.

I have never shopped for a used car and to be honest it scares me. The thought of driving off a lot (or wherever) and having the transmission die 6 months later leaves me in a panic. Looking on Autotrader or carmax I can’t seem to find a car of equal value with the kind of mileage that would match what we had before.

So any tips you could provide I would appreciate. I also wonder if I should look for cars sold by the individual owner? And if so, how does one even do that nowadays?

If I were in your situation I’d figure out two things:

  • what you actually need from a car. Is it basic transportation? Commuting? Hauling bulky or weird shaped medical gear now and then? Good gas mileage? What is important to you?
  • your budget. As in, how much you are willing to spend? Do you want to purchase a car for just the $7000 you have in-hand? Do you want to take out a loan? If so, what’s the most you would borrow - consider the monthly payment you’d end up with (there’s plenty of calculators online that will figure this out for you).

The combination of those two items will help to inform your choices.

As for the fear of buying a used car and having it break down after a while, you can research dependable car models and brands but to a degree that’s theoretical - the best thing you can do is get it inspected by a mechanic you trust prior to buying the car. Those “certified used” labels dealerships put on used cars is pretty worthless IMHO. A mechanic may not catch everything (and indeed, even if the inspection gives an all clear you STILL might have something big and expensive break six months down the line). That’s why you should, if you can, put money aside monthly for car maintenance. I know not everyone can though.

I wouldn’t purchase a used car unless I could have it inspected prior to purchase.

If you purchase a new car then you have much less to worry about as far as emergency repairs in the near term. Newer cars will typically have little to no maintenance for the first three or so years, and you won’t need to do things like replace tires, etc, for that period (depending on mileage). Of course you will probably be plunking down a whole lot more for the car, so that’s a definite consideration.

Hope this rambling helps.

I just went through this, buying a first vehicle for one of my children. I bought used.

First, I sympathize with your observations about insurance. I sometimes feel like I am working for insurance more than other things. And now that I have cars for the whole family on my policy for the next few years at least, it’s going to be extra fun.

So the one thing I’ll say about your fears is that these days cars are pretty well built. Bad things and the presence of lemons can happen but so many of the things that made Japanese cars so much more reliable than American cars in the 70s and 80s are common now across many manufacturers so general quality is more consistent.

Buying used will save you some money, and most of the used car specialists like Autonation and Carmax focus on more recent models in decent shape. But always check it out before buying. I would feel uneasy buying off the internet without getting a test drive first.

I bought my Honda Fit used a decade ago, still have it too. I tried a bunch of cars until I found one that clicked, had it looked over by my trusted mechanic shop, and put the down payment on it a week later. I got it with 38,000 miles on it, but she’s been a dream to drive.

My advice would be to research the type of car you want online, find a local reputable dealer (via Yelp and Google reviews) and drive a few of them to see what clicks.

You might actually be able to get a similar car. I’m getting some reasonable looking results on in my area for Corollas 2008 and newer, capped at $8k.

What if you don’t have a “trusted mechanic” to take the car too? We always just had the Toyota dealership do our maintenance. Also, does it cost money to have them look it over? If so, how much?

Also does anyone understand the differences between,,,,

I’m a bit overwhelmed and don’t want to pick the wrong service. Do people list the same car on every one of those services?

I’m still trying to absorb the idea that you can pay $36,000 over the life of a 9 year old car. How is that even possible? I say this as someone who has never owned a car but that sounds outrageous.

Michigan rather infamously has the highest insurance rates in the country. More than double national average.

I was taken advantage of. My agent at All-State led me to believe this high insurance rates would insure that if we were in accident, we could walk off the lot with a car that was better than what we had. The reason this came up is when we bought this car, we had just literally paid off our previous Toyota Corolla a few months prior. We lost that one because some guy decided to cut 3 lanes over to hit an exit, hitting my wife who was driving, and totaling that car. Thankfully she was fine. I told my insurance rep I didn’t want to be in that situation again where we finally paid off the car, were making headway on bills, then suddenly have a new car payment again.

I should note, I’ve been with these All-State people for 25 years so I didn’t have any reason to think they’d lead me astray. Feel stupid now.

If you don’t know any mechanics ask neighbors or local friends or Google online to find out if any mechanics in your area are recommended by people. If you still can’t find anyone just take it to a local mechanic that you find randomly, having him inspect it is better than not having anyone to inspect it!

If you are just having the car inspected and not having it repaired I suspect that most mechanics will give you an accurate idea of the cars condition.

This is sadly true but if he is paying $3,000 a year for insurance on a sedan, he is getting ripped off big time or he has a large amount of driving violations. I pay $1,500 a year on my Lexus SUV and I live in Metro Detroit, where the rates are way higher than anywhere else in the state. If I lived on the west side of the state my rates would be around $600 less. That $36,000 doesn’t add up without some other issues involved. If that figure is accurate, then he needs to find a new insurance company through an independent agent.

I’ve had zero driving violations in 30 years, no accidents, not even a parking ticket. Two years ago I asked why my rates were never going down, and they said auto insurance rates were going up so I should be happy they didn’t increase my rates.

You’re not stupid. Millions of people fall for this. Allstate is one of the most expensive insurance companies around. But they provide the same insurance that any other company can provide. You can try my agent if you would like. I would be happy to give you the info

I wonder if a little bit of it is that we’re in a no-fault state? Every year I filled out forms to see if private health insurance would take over for auto insurance in case of an accident, but that never panned out.

Hey don’t pile onto yourself. These are complicated industries. There is probably not a single insurance company out there that you couldn’t find someone who both hate and loves it for xyz reasons.

Lots of people buy used cars, but I’ve been fortunate where I buy cars when mine dies (or was wrecked and totaled), so my experience with the process is very limited or I would offer up advice. I think you’re not as in bad shape as you are probably imagining though. Yes, it would’ve been ideal to not have to deal with this at all but 7,000 doesn’t seem too bad actually. Just take a breath, try your best not to kick yourself when you’re down, and maybe consider taking a friend with you for the search, someone who supports you and also will help you not hit those emotional blocks.

You can do this.

Check Geico and Progressive. In my experience they are the two cheapest, and the service/coverage is fine. In Michigan it will still be higher than elsewhere, but still better.

To compare: I currently have completely adequate coverage in New York for a 2015 Subaru Crosstrek with 80,000 miles on it, and I pay $33/month. That is with Geico.

Yeah we have a Honda Insight with 95k and a Ford Fusion with 85k, both with State Farm. We pay about $650-700 every 6 months for both cars.

Jeff’s prices seem insane to me.

What?! I’m almost paying that ($25/month) just to have my insurance suspended for the totaled vehicle! What the hell.

What are your deductibles? You can’t really compare insurance prices without knowing the details. I don’t think your agent mislead you, but you probably had extremely low deductibles and more insurance than you needed.

$250. I raised it to $1,000 now since there’s no car to drive. I didn’t cancel insurance because I’d read that if there’s a lapse in your auto insurance it creates issues for your next policy.