Rebecca Rider: Car trouble, the sequel

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 7, 2016

Remember what I said about having bad luck with cars? My newly repaired car showed its true colors over the weekend when it refused to start – again. Thankfully, I was able to coax it into working, but it was a solid two minutes of useless revving and me thinking I’d have to leave my car at the Magistrate’s Office.

Last week I said I’d wait to buy a car until I had a solid choice. That’s still my plan, but I’ve had to accelerate the timeline. Before Sunday, I was just poking half-heartedly at the problem and taking my time. But it’s time to shift into high gear.

I think the problem for myself – and perhaps most car shoppers – is deciding what is needed, rather than what is wanted. I know exactly what kind of car I want. But, facing the facts, I do not need a midsized SUV (or a 1970 El Camino). What I need is a car that’s reliable. And since I drive quite a lot for my job, I need something that’s fuel-efficient. I’m still making trips to Ikea, and have a fondness for yard sales and flea markets, so something with storage capacity would be a plus – something with a hatchback and fold down seats, perhaps.

It’s a list of criteria that’s bringing me to makers like Honda and Toyota, and looking at models like the Fit. They won’t win any beauty contests, perhaps, but sometimes dependable is what you need.

So, a list of potential models in hand, I’ve taken to the internet, and quickly run into a problem: mileage. The problem with looking at used commuter cars is that, well, they were used by commuters. Even newer models are cropping up at well over 100,000 miles.

I’m also very limited by budget. I’ve figured out exactly how much I can afford to pay on a loan – and it’s not much. Figuring out loan payments is, surprisingly, something I learned in school. Though not until I was a high school senior. Applying for a loan is another matter.

But back to the car search. It’s teaching me how to be suspicious. Why does an old model only have 35,000 miles? Why is a new model so cheap? Slowly, I’m gathering a list of things to watch out for with used cars. It’s slow going.

And at this point, it’s a needle-in-a-haystack search. I’m combing every car website I can find, and searching every dealership and private seller between Richmond, Va. and Savannah, Ga. Hopefully, luck will be with me.

In the meantime, you may catch me driving around town in my borrowed car. It drives a bit slowly, but at least I’ll be getting where I need to be. For now, at least.


Contact education reporter Rebecca Rider at or 704-797-4264.