How Car Shopping Went From Goal to On-Hold

One of my goals for this year was to buy a new to me vehicle.  My current car, a 2003 Chevy Malibu, isn’t a bad car.  She doesn’t even have 80,000 miles on her yet.  She gets me reliably from point A to B in town, I put new tires on her the day after Christmas, and while she may not be sexy, she does work.  Well, at least for the most part.  Her A/C is unreliable, at best, due to an electrical short that’s a known defect of the control panel; but when it feels like working it does blow cold and after all this time, I’m mostly used to it.  And she gets shitty gas mileage – averaging only 16-17 mph with my 99% city driving.  For comparison, my partner’s 1 TON van gets 14! Still, she does the main thing she needs to do.

All that said, in addition to the minor issues and despite the low mileage, she is now 15 years old.  During the North Carolina trip in December, we rented a car and I got to enjoy almost a week of driving a nicely equipped 2016 Nissan Altima.  I won’t pretend I didn’t love the creature comforts, like the comfortable, heated seats, more finite seat controls, better feeling steering wheel, and, of course, being just plain pretty inside and out.  But what I really loved were the safety features, like the blind spot detection, proximity sensors, and back up camera.  I also loved the “infotainment” system that included hands-free blue tooth for the phone and/or iPad.  While I don’t get a ton of calls, Texas is now a hands-free state so it would be good to have it there for when I do get the random call while driving.

With that mulling around in my head, and having gotten rid of all of my debt last year, sans the mortgage of course, I took a good look at my budget and decided that I could potentially afford to get a new to me car.  If I can’t pay cash for a car, I follow the Suze Orman standard of it having to be something I can pay off in three years.  If I need a 4-10 year car loan to afford the payments, I cannot afford the car period.  I would of course never consider a flease.  I also didn’t want to tie up huge amounts of my monthly budget to a car payment, so I decided I would be comfortable with a payment of $450/mth or less.  With my credit rating I could easily get a loan in the $15,000 range or so.

Then it was coming up with the rest of my criteria for a potential vehicle.  As I don’t need a new vehicle, and I keep my cars a long time, I decided that if I did replace my old girl, it was going to be with something I wanted and would love for years to come.  Initially, that put my search criteria as:

  • large compact sedan (at least the same size as my Malibu), mid-sized sedan, full-size sedan, or compact SUV
  • most makes up for contemplation except Dodge, Volvo, VW, and GMC (the make, not the overall brand); really like Honda, Nissan, and Toyota
  • 2010 or newer; anything above $10k must either be 2015 or newer or an SUV
  • If used: No more than 50,000 miles, and less strongly preferred
  • Must have a backup camera and at least a basic “infotainment” console for playing my music, being able to comply with the hands-free phone requirements, and able to connect with an Android phone
  • Good gas mileage and high safety ratings
  • If used: One owner or prior rental vehicle, clean title, no accidents, well maintained
  • Automatic transmission
  • Blue, dark red/burgundy, or darker purple shades – I won’t settle for a color I hate again
  • Niceties, but not a deal breaker: heated front seats, blind spot indicators, parking assistant/sonar thingies, leather seats (especially for a car), sunroof, & manufacturer certified
  • Within 200 miles of BCS, closer obviously better

I then started searching away on,, CarFax’s used car listings, Craigslist, and all our local reputable dealers.  I spent most of a single day looking at vehicles and bookmarking potentials, which led to this list:

I’d forgotten how mentally exhausting car hunting can be, even with all done online!  So I took a break and just let my brain mull things over a bit.  When I came back to my list, I sorted it into sedans and compact SUVs. I was pleasantly surprised to find a large range of lower mileage, newer vehicles and that I’d found quite a few compact SUVs in my price range, as I’d presumed they would be out of my $15,000 limit.

I’ve wanted a compact SUV for years now and since, as I said, I didn’t want to settle, I decided I would narrow my criteria to just compact SUVs, focus on 2013 or newer, and really lean more towards 45,000 miles or less.  It was around this point that I finally did my goals for the year (hence them specifically saying get a new compact SUV) and took care of the financing, getting approval for a $15,000 unsecured loan at a nice 2,49% interest rate.

Combined with what I’ve seen on the roads I like, researching online, and the helpful suggestions of Facebook and real life friends based on their experiences, I focused on these makes and models:

Back to searching, wee!  The Toyota RAV4 was eliminated almost immediately – nothing in my price range available at all.  The Ford Escape followed due to only the Titanium trim level had an interior I liked; the lower level ones had a hideous looking console with the backup camera screen way too embedded for someone of my stature.  I like Honda CRVs, it is in fact what I’ve lusted after the last few years, but again, was finding my price criteria was making it difficult to find anything other than a few basic LX models.

Still, I kept looking for it and the Nissan Rogue.  The Rogue has several trim levels and I also noticed that 2014 and 2015 had a variant called the Rogue Select.  While I’ve had experience with enough Nissan vehicles to be fairly certain I’d like how the CR-V drives, I’ve only ridden in one Rogue (which was also during the NC trip as my friend who we visited has one).  I’d found a Rogue Select that was a potential, lovely dark purple color, good mileage, clean CarFax, and price likely negotiable to where I wanted to be.  But, my online searches were not giving me a very clear idea of the difference between a Rogue Select and a regular Rogue, and again, I’ve never driven one.

As the potential target was in San Antonio, on the 12th during my lunch break, I went to our local dealership, Douglas Nissan.  They had a 2014 Rogue Select similar to the one in I was looking at, but in the wrong color.  Now, before anyone thinks I was just “playing” the local guys, I made sure to tell the sales consultant (lovely fellow named Josh, go see him, tell him I sent you!) that I was not looking to buy that day, but trying to narrow down what my target makes and models were.  We discussed the original four that I look at while he showed me the Rogue Select, I took it for a test drive, and he gave me a great explanation of the differences between the Select and the regular Rogue.  And despite knowing I wasn’t buying that day and it was cold as crud outside, he helpfully showed me a 2016 Rogue SV to better point out the differences.

I love how the Rogue Select drove.  It was amazingly quiet, especially for an SUV, and even the road noise was minimal.  Nice comfortable seats, clear view, and I felt so much taller.  LOL  It handled well and it offered a “sport” feature that would decrease the fuel efficiency a bit in exchange for a boost to the engine.  I thought it was quite zippy as is though and I enjoyed the experience.

Unfortunately, with the Select, the cargo space was shockingly small, particularly for a compact SUV.  I planned, if I got one, to put the dogs back there when travelling, but they would have a hard time fitting comfortably.  It had a minimal infotainment system, with no Bluetooth connectivity and the seats were a manual bar adjustment, similar to my current car.  It was, essentially, a very bare bones, basic compact SUV with few perks or thrills.

Comparing it to the full Rogue, the difference was just mind-blowing! The SV, which was fully upgraded, had a larger cargo area, with movable shelves.  Awesome for groceries, hauling gardening and house project stuff, and dogs.  The seats were electric and I could position myself perfectly for seeing out the windshield without having to have my stomach an inch or two from the steering wheel (as it is in my current car). It also had a lot of the features I liked about the Altima we rented for the NC trip: built-in navigation, Bluetooth, blind spot detectors, heated seats, proximity sensors, and upgraded infotainment system. It also had a front camera and 360 view!

The only thing I didn’t like about that SV model was it was dark green, which was a nope for me color wise.  It’s probably a good thing too, my emotional response might have gotten away from me!  In the end, the visit cemented for me that the Nissan Rogue would likely be my next car, but it also gave me a much needed reality check.  I knew I would have to conceded somewhere, either up my price to $20k and deal with the $577/month payment, go for a very high mileage vehicle that would have a lower price, settle for a newer sedan for now and replace it with an SUV later, or give up on the features I wanted.

My partner suggested I just pause everything, put it out of my mind as much as I could, and then come back to it with a fresh perspective.  I agreed, particularly as I’d had insomnia most of the week.  During the weekend, I finally got some decent sleep and could then really think clearly.

I don’t need a new vehicle, I just would like one. Which means that I’m not in a hurry and shouldn’t feel like I have to just pick something.  I also decided, if I was going to do this, then screw it, I want to get the exact vehicle I want, and I wasn’t going to settle for “close enough”.  So I want a fully tricked out Rogue SV or a Rogue SL.  I want the heated seats, the blind spot detectors, the nicer screen and infotainment system.  I want the proximity sensors and backup camera.  I want low mileage and it to be Nissan Certified.  And I want it in blue (the Rogue red is too bright for my tastes).  Optional?  Sunroof, remote start, beige interior, and leather seats.  Basically this!

To get all that, I was looking at spending about $18-22k on the vehicle, depending on year, mileage, and negotiating abilities.  As I also do NOT want a $577/mth payment, it left me with only one real choice: cancel the car buying goal, for now, and instead shift to building up enough savings to make up the difference between the loan I’m willing to take out and the price I’d need to pay for my dream vehicle. So that’s what I did. 🙂