Nothing can make a sports car go faster than a baby. Go away, that is.
You can’t fit a baby seat into that sleek two-seater. And with money being gobbled up by all those baby expenses, that stylish but oh-so-impractical dream car is one of the first things to go.
The sooner the better, say consumer experts, who urge couples to purchase their first family car well before the baby arrives — preferably when both parents are still working full-time.
“They have to decide to do it when they’re both working so they can pay it off fast,” says Marilyn Steinmetz, a certified financial planner in West Hartford, Conn.
Pay it off ASAP
“Finance the car for the least months you can rather than the most,” says Remar Sutton, president of the Consumer Task Force for Automotive Issues.
Make sure there’s plenty of room in the back seat for a car seat. And be sure to select a car that meets your family’s driving needs for the long haul. Do you plan on having more children? Is there room for another car seat?
“Trade down to a more practical car that you can drive for 200,000 miles that also has room for a car seat,” says M. Eileen Dorsey, a certified financial planner in St. Louis. “We also encourage people to hold cars a long time, to keep them for 10 or 12 years, to really get their money’s worth.”
One way for a couple to drum up some additional cash is to sell the old car themselves rather than trade it in at the dealership.
“When having a baby, money matters more than ever,” Sutton says. “You should probably try to sell your car yourself.”
Sutton admits that there may only be a fifty-fifty chance of selling the car privately, but such a sale would bring in $1,000 to $2,000 more than the trade-in value offered by a dealer.
Parents should prefer pre-owned
While savvy car shoppers may make out well in a private sale, buying cars coming off lease from an auto dealer is a good bet for less sophisticated shoppers.
Many cars bought after a typical two-year lease will still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. In addition, dealers for most major manufacturers sell certified previously driven vehicles, which have been subjected to extensive inspections and reconditioning aimed at bringing them up to new car standards.
Couples set on bringing home baby in a brand-new car should be on the lookout for rebates and other manufacturer incentives.
Detailed listings of manufacturers’ rebates and discount financing can be found on several automotive-related Web sites, including Edmund’s Automobile Buyers Guide, AutoSite, Autopedia and MSN’s Carpoint. You also have to analyze the numbers when choosing between a rebate and a low, low interest rate to see which offers a better deal.
Get your financing first
When talking and negotiating with car salesman, giddy, would-be parents would be wise to keep their excitement to themselves. Dealers often prey on overenthusiastic buyers.
“If they see you’re enthused or excited, they’re going to turn that against you,” Sutton says. “They’re going to try to make more money off you.”
One tactic is to encourage young families to lease rather than buy. While leasing may get you into more car for that monthly payment, it’s not for everyone.
“Leasing is a simpler way but definitely not a cheaper way to drive a car,” Sutton says.
Don’t get locked into leasing
Because of this, leasing makes the best sense for young families who can afford to shell out $300 or so a month for a car, who are stable in their jobs, and who take good care of their vehicles, Sutton says.
It’s important to have a handle on all the ins and outs of leasing before setting foot on a dealer’s lot. Getting a good deal takes some homework.
Many people end up paying more than they should on a lease simply because they don’t understand the terminology. A consumer brochure on leasing is available from the Federal Reserve Board.
Before choosing an auto, be sure to do several scouting trips to dealerships and take plenty of test drives. Young families can choose from traditional people-movers such as station wagons and passenger cars to roomy minivans and sport utility vehicles. Many minivans and sports utility vehicles come with flip-down seats and extra storage space to meet the changing needs of growing families.
“Surprisingly, a $50 car seat can be just as safe as a $200 one,” says Alan Fields, co-author of Baby Bargains. “A $50 car seat will basically do the same job as long as it’s installed properly. Some minivans come with integrated child safety seats. These seats are a bit pricier, typically costing $200 or more.
“The key advantage is they’re built in the car, designed for the car and generally considered safe,” Field says.
Once again, the best bet is to shop around. Keep in mind that not all car seats fit all cars.
“Whenever you buy a car seat, keep the receipt and check the store’s return policy,” Fields says. “It’s a lot of trial and error.”
|— Updated: Aug. 1, 2003|