November 14, 2021

Why Is It So Hard To Buy A New Car?


We have been without a second car for almost two years. At the time we donated the older car to a charity, Betty was a bit worried about the loss of freedom another car provides and about scheduling conflicts. Early on there were a few times when each wanted to be somewhere at a time that caused a problem for the other. Careful schedule coordination was required.

Within the past five months, I have accepted some additional volunteer commitments that mean driving somewhere. At the same time, our doctor appointments have shown an increase. One car has become an obstacle that is increasingly difficult to overcome.

Another factor is the poor gas mileage of our 2011 small SUV. Overall, even after 100,000 miles, it is performing well. This particular car was chosen for its ability to be towed behind an RV that we no longer own. So, its size is more than we require, and its appetite for gas and the pollution it produces grates on us.

We came to the logical conclusion: keep the SUV for occasional trips or chores that require extra room. Get a plug-in hybrid for everyday trips and 90% of our driving needs.

Unfortunately, right now vehicles are about as scarce as a TV without a remote. Forget about finding a new car that matches our criteria and comes in a color we could accept. Used cars? Just as bad. Plus, prices have inflated beyond reason.

Computer chips, metal, and plastic, fabric for upholstery...all the parts that go into an automobile are either stuck on a container ship somewhere or waiting to be made in a factory in southeast Asia. Repair parts for the vehicle we do own? Availability is hit or miss. Just pray something that is unique to a 2011 Honda CRV isn't needed anytime soon.

This puts us in a position we have never considered before: leasing a car that isn't one we would want to buy, but having it as a second vehicle until what we would like to buy becomes available.

With a lease, I have to pay a few thousand dollars in cash upfront and make regular payments for the use of the car, normally for 3 years. At the end of that time, I turn the car in, pay for any excess mileage or wear and tear, and walk away with nothing to show for the money I have spent over that period. In essence, I am renting the car. But, I am not paying for depreciation.

The key question we have is important: can a lease be terminated early if we want to buy a car? Will the dealer agree to such an arrangement?  As another option, can we lease a vehicle for one year, or two instead of three? Twelve months from today I have to believe new hybrid cars will be more readily available. 

Yet another option is to find a car, either new or used, that is acceptable and buy it. It may not be the brand, model, or color we would prefer, but it is just transportation. Neither of us bases any of our identity on the car parked in the garage. As long as the mileage is much better than the SUV we would feel less a part of the pollution problem. 

With our FICO score, I am sure we could find something that had zero, or very close to zero, interest. A decent down payment would mean monthly payments within budget, though a bit more than a lease. And, we wouldn't need to worry about an occasional spill, dog pawprint, or a scratch or two.

Then, in another year or so, when the hybrid plug-in we want becomes available, we could dump the SUV and have the car we originally wanted. Maybe, at that point, one car would be enough again, so the other newer vehicle could be part of the trade-in.

Not as easy as it should be, right?  Keep driving the SUV, hope it doesn't break down, and wait for the plug-in we want, or, lease a car for a few years, or, get a car that is OK for now, then buy the hybrid when they become available in sufficient choices. 

Frankly, I could choose any of the three options and be alright with the decision. But, I know you, dear reader, will offer sage advice and point out something I may have overlooked. So, comments, please.

I promise to let you know what is the ultimate outcome of this unexpected complication in what is normally a simple calculation.


32 comments:

  1. We downsized to one car starting in August when the lease on our second car ran out. So far, so good. As for buying another one, we haven't even tried b/c we hear it's near impossible. So good luck. As far as getting out of a lease early ... from our experience, you can do it if you're going to get another car from the same dealer; otherwise, get ready to pay up.

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    1. My understanding is the same as yours: the odds of getting out of a lease early are only realistically possible if buying a new car from the same dealer (or buying the leased vehicle).

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  2. I just went through the same problem - managed this week to buy a car from a friend that meets our needs. Car prices and availability are difficult to say the least. If you want to buy a 2002 Buick Lesabre with 77,000 miles on it for $2000 to get you to the next car I will deliver it to you!

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    1. Thanks for the offer, but I will pass, though the mileage is very low for a 19 year old car!

      I keep looking for both new and gently used and nothing yet.

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  3. Friends of ours purchased a Fifth Wheel last year.They needed a larger truck to haul it. They ordered a Ford at a dealership with all the bells and whistles,extra safety features,mirrors, etc. and were then told it would be 4 months to delivery.SIX MONTHS LATER the RV was still in storage (could not tow it!) and when Ford called and said “their truck” was ready for pick up, they arrived to the lot to find a SIMILAR Ford truck without ANY of the upgrades that was available. They took it and got some $$ knocked off the price,very disappointed at the lack of the extras they had wanted. I’d say stick with the SUV which is still running and is paid for, and just adjust your schedules, it’s only a little bit of work. Sometimes it is the “mental” aspect that a car is not in the driveway,that’s the issue.Mostly, Ken and I can work around each other's car needs and stick with one vehicle. But in the meantime, you can keep eyes open for JUST the right car you’re looking for for later.

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    1. There is also the occasional Uber ride if conflicts get too great. Or, my daughter has no problem letting her borrow one of their vehicles in a crunch.

      Considering the options at the moment, even lease choices are very restricted. The SUV is the likely short-term choice.

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    2. Bob, your Uber or "my daughter has no problem letting her borrow one of their vehicles in a crunch" alternatives are exactly the situation we are in. So far in 5 years we've never had to call Uber, I have taken public transit a few times, and we've borrowed our daughter's car (which is one of our old ones that we gave her) perhaps 3 times.

      As Madeline Hill says "Sometimes it is the mental aspect that a car is not in the driveway that’s the issue".

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    3. You can do a lot of Uber or even rent a car for a day or two when needed for the price it would end up costing to lease and not have anything at the end. Same for buying something now just to have it and then trading it when you can get what you really want. The same for paying for some extra gas for the SUV. It is still cheaper in the long run than the loss you will take with the other two options.

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    4. Linda, you are right. At this time even rental cars are hard to find at a price that isn't ridiculous. But, Uber prices have stayed pretty reasonable.

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  4. We went down to one car almost 3 years ago with very few issues. Sometimes we ask a neighbor for a ride, walk or ride a bike. But those situations seldom come up. If I were in your shoes, I would keep your 2011 SUV until things improve. Perhaps you can use Uber or Lyft for those occasions when you need it.

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    1. So far keeping the SUV is the only real choice. Buying two cars within the space of 12 months would seem financially silly.

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  5. Think of a hybrid vs plug-in for now as an option.
    Option 2 - Use your contacts to find a used car - someone coming off of a lease for example and buy it. (An acquaintance would be turning in a Camry on which 17k was owed - dealer can sell it for about 27k - just as an example.) Maybe a Camry type of car isn't your 1st choice but in a year or 2, I bet you could still sell it for close to the 17k.

    Alternative - find someone who wants to swap a lease or leasetrader. Assume their lease

    Thankfully I bought during the 2020 lockdown and scored a big discount. I'm wishing you find a good deal.

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    1. All good suggestions. We would consider a pure hybrid, though the plug-in's 26 miles on electric would be sufficient for most of our daily needs. I must stay flexible.

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  6. Bob, this sounds like the right time to go electric. A used Nissan Leaf, though not the most attractive look, might be worth considering. All you need is a runabout for the doctor visits and errands and it's amazing how cheap a used electric can be. You never struck me as one who cares what others think so even a small, used Honda or Toyota could be the answer. If you really NEED another car, anything reliable should work. It's almost like you're overthinking this. No offense intended.

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    1. For us, you are right: cars are purely transportation. A used sub compact would be fine if that turns out to be our wisest choice. It is unfortunate that there is no one who can really say when the flow of hybrid plug-ins will resume. I would consider full electric if charging stations were much more prevalent.

      I don't think we need another car so badly we will make a bad decision just to have some rolling stock in the driveway. In all honesty, I thought this topic would promote some good comments and interaction with readers. It is doing so.

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  7. Search out someone who has a car with 12-18 months left on a lease and take it over. By then cars will be more available

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  8. Thanks for laying out all the options. We also have a 2011 SUV but for now we are not driving much so will keep it as long as we can. Hopefully the car situation will get better soon

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    1. We are driving less than 7,500 miles a year. In theory this Honda engine should last at least 150,000 miles which would give us several more years. I am more concerned with an expensive repair, like AC unit or some transmission issue that forces my hand.

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  9. Uber or Lyft seem like a good idea, with your SUV, until the market opens up. This is really a First World Problem, isn't it? We're all very lucky.

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    1. It really is very low on the list of important problems. Whatever we end up deciding, you are quite correct: we are extremely lucky to 1) have this as a question and, 2) be able to afford any of the options.

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  10. When we spent the summer in Portland two years ago we signed up with Zipcar. We used it when we needed to do a Costco run, and for a couple of other bigger errands, and we took a 3-day road trip down the Oregon coast using a Zipcar as well. It was easier and about the same cost or less than using Uber or Lyft, and we didn't have to wait on someone to show up - we just had to get ourselves to the car, although there was a lot within walking distance of where we stayed.

    We liked using Zipcar so much that whenever we finally settle we plan to sign up again versus buying a car again. It was affordable and convenient, perfect for those few times when we needed a car versus using public transportation. Gas costs were covered by Zipcar. They have a wide variety of car types and models, including vans, trucks, and SUVs so almost every driving need can be met. You can reserve a car ahead of time as well.

    BTW, we've been a one-car family for nearly 10 years and have made it work, even with all the girls' activities, school, and their learning to drive. It takes some effort, trade-offs definitely have to be made, but it can be done!

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    1. Zipcar has limited locations in the Phoenix area. The closest is near the ASU campus about 12 miles away. I wonder how that company is handling the tremendous shortage of vehicles. At the very least it must be hampering any expansion plans. Even so, for those who have a Zipcar options, your feedback is helpful.

      Wow...one car and all those scheduling needs...impressive!

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  11. I have a 2016 Sonata Limited hybrid with 25K miles on it and dealers call/e-mail me regularly begging me to sell my car for an amazing amount of money. I think it's hilarious, since these are the same people that looked at me like I was crazy when I bought the car (at barely over their cost). It's a strange world we're living in these days .... Good luck with yur search.

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    1. At the moment car prices and the feeding frenzy you mention are like what is happening with housing. People are paying many thousands over list prices in the midst of insane bidding battles. It is a great time to sell a house, but only if you don't need to buy another one or don't want to pay more in rent than for a mortgage.

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  12. I'm grateful I have my 6yo that I intended to be my final car. I'm also grateful hubster found what he wanted April 2020-it was a 2yo but he can easily go 10+ years in it.

    A friend of mine has been carless since September. She is still waiting for parts for a repair needed-the issue renders it undriveable. They have no idea when the part will arrive from overseas.

    Tough decisions to be made. My hubster is not willing to go down to 1 vehicle-I've tried multiple times over the last 15 years. So I can relate to the struggle on 1 or 2. Best of luck!

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    1. You mention one of my biggest fears: parts availability for a 10 year old Honda. Normally that would not be an issue. But, your friend's experience is probably closer to the norm now.

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    2. Yes. She is extremely lucky. Her fiance' has flexible work hours so can drop her off and pick her up as needed. Fortunately, her work is on the way to his with a slight detour. As a couple, they are actually likely saving a small fortune but the requirements to do so are not comfortable to her for the long term.

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  13. We had one car between us for several months. When we lost our second car, I was curious how we would handle the situation (we are both retired and, due to Covid and lifestyle, don't drive all that much) and wondered if we could make it permanent. Nope. I found that I wanted my own car and the freedom it gave me, even if it's just psychological. Now my husband has his older SUV and I have my EV (my third EV: I love them) which gives us the flexibility we enjoy. Good luck with your search!

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    1. Your feelings mirror Betty's when we went to one car. Now our schedule is fuller do we both agree another car would be helpful.

      In another few years one car may be plenty. The the oldest one goes away.

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  14. I am feeling really lucky that in 2019 and 2020 we replaced all three vehicles. One was a 2003 with over 160,000 miles and carried our camper (slide in truck camper). Our middle son has that truck now. Hubby replaced his pick up that was a 2004 with 150,000 miles. Our oldest son has it. My car was the "new" car at a 2011 and 130,000 miles and it was only replaced due to the seat becoming so uncomfortable for my hip/back that I couldn't over an hour at a time in it(hip/back at fault not the car). Our youngest son and daughter in law now have it.

    We do drive quite a bit (grocery store other than Walmart is an hour drive each way). Also, being reliable was becoming an issue. One day we had to drive the 1991 pick up we use to run to the dump due to issues with the others all at once (the pickup with the camper could have been an option as well). That was really the trigger for finally replacing them.

    If we had waited any longer we would have been caught in this car/truck mess as well.

    I wish you well sorting it out!

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    1. One thing no one can say is you don't get full value out of your vehicles!

      If I could have foreseen the future, I would have purchased the plug-in hybrid we wanted in early 2020. Now, we hope the Honda stays in one piece until we can relegate it to backup duty. Honda vehicles have good engines and it is well maintained. So, the 103,000 on it at the moment should be nowhere near the end of its usable life.

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