How Not To Buy A Used Car: A Single Girl’s Guide

So you are ready to buy a used car. Congratulations! This is a very adult thing to do. Consider what kind of mileage you need, and what size makes sense for your lifestyle. Consider asking your father figure to come and shop with you, but reject that because you are a third-wave feminist. Consider waiting until you have a boyfriend to go with you, but reject that idea for the same reason. Reflect on the fact that while the gays have many admirable qualities, and come in all shapes and sizes and types, as a rule they are crap at knowing things about cars, which is unfortunate since “the gays” describes nearly all the men you know. Muse about how you perfectly embody a certain stereotype — a mid-30s, middle-class, middling-accomplished chubby chick who has a lot of people in her life who know good brunch spots but no one who knows what a “powertrain warranty” is. What do trains have to do with cars, anyway? Does this mean that if your car breaks down the warranty covers train fare? Because that’s a pretty good deal.


Step 1: Look around online. Try to find a dealer whose website has an aesthetically pleasing interface for searching the used inventory. No, seriously, try. OK, when you find one you can stand, look at all of the cars. Come to terms with the fact that they all appear virtually identical to you. Struggle to pay attention and not drift off to Twitter. Google directions to a couple of places and gird your loins for battle.

Step 2: Go to the dealer’s lot that you investigated online. Decide that you will make up for your utter lack of car knowledge by being friendly and straightforward. After all, the first rule of used car buying is Give people the benefit of the doubt.I mean, we are all adults here, right? When the salesman asks you what you’re interested in, smile and say “I just want the best car I can get that is newer than 2005, has less than 100,000 miles, and costs less than–” and then stop and stutter wildly as you realize that you are about to cede all negotiating power. Name a price that is $1,000 less than what you can really spend.

Step 3: Look at some sedans. Accept the fact that you hate the word “sedan” and everything it represents. Begin to feel suffocated and menopausal at the idea of driving a four-door sedan in a neutral color that gets good gas mileage and has fabric seats that emit a faint odor of other people’s children’s juice boxes. Question the choices you have made in life thus far. Take a deep breath to ease the growing constriction in your chest.

Test drive a Jeep Cherokee with leather seats and a sunroof. Start to feel like you might have sex again some day. Bargain them down to a good price, but tell them you can’t buy right now because this is the first car you’ve seen. Leave when the manager throws your phone at you and tells you to call your dad or boyfriend to get their permission to make this deal. Spend the interminable ride to another corner of Northern Virginia wishing you’d told him to take his tiny penis and go f-ck himself.

Step 3: Let a salesman at another dealership condescend to you. Let yet another ignore you completely. Rinse. Repeat. Stretch to try and ease the knots developing in your neck.

Step 4: Go to the last dealership of the day and meet a nice young man who treats you kindly. Walk around the sedan part of the lot and feign interest in cars you can afford. Out of the corner of your eye, catch sight of something black and shiny and beautiful. Allow the power of your attraction — animal in its intensity — to blur the vision of the price on the sticker. Test drive that bad boy. Exclaim gleefully over the custom stereo with iPod dock, disregarding the fact that you do not own an iPod.

Ask if they can come down on the price. Feel sadness when they decline. Leave empty-handed, praying that your disgusting 1998 Saturn that drinks oil like water makes it back to the city.

Decide overnight that you can actually spend $1,000 more than you had originally budgeted, because true love is priceless and besides, you never get anything you want. Don’t you deserve ONE GODDAMNED THING in your life that makes you happy, even if it’s slightly impractical?

Walk away regretfully when your higher offer is refused, even though the guys at the dealership are so nice and you really don’t want to hurt their feelings. They’ve spent so much time with you! They drew a diagram of how all-wheel drive differs from 4-wheel drive and managed not to be condescending about it! You agree with them that the pretty black Jeep is a much better investment than anything in your price range. My god, the asking price is below Kelly Blue Book! Last week you didn’t know what Kelly Blue Book was, but today this fact seems meaningful.

Two days later, agree to pay an additional $250, a full $1250 over your initial hard ceiling, for a car that will surely improve your muscle tone, raise your self-esteem, take out the trash, and guarantee multiple orgasms. Pat yourself on the back for getting such a great deal. They met you halfway! On the last $500 that you said you wouldn’t pay. But paid $250 of anyway. Tough negotiator that you are, don’t buy the extended warranty, because everyone knows it’s a scam.

Step 5: Drive that baby home. Do not hyperventilate when you realize that you just spent $9,000 on a car that gets 20 miles per gallon and is too big to park anywhere near your house. Take a sleeping pill.

Step 6: Drive it to work the next morning to show Jeepy to your friends!  Allow yourself to feel a flutter of happiness when you unlock the car by standing across the street and pushing a button. That little chirp is so sweet. It sounds like the heady music of maturity and success. You are woman, hear you chirp. Jeepers was worth it! He is so pretty, and you can tell he likes you.

Step 7: Why is Jeepy shaking so hard when you idle at the stoplight? That’s weird. He must be nervous about his first trip to the office.

Step 8: On the way back out to goddamn Tyson’s Corner to drop off paperwork at the dealership, notice that Jeepy is shaking REALLY hard when you idle. And then bucking when you accelerate. Get over in the right hand lane and lament the fact that you don’t know how to turn on the hazards. Try not to vomit when you lose the ability to accelerate entirely, and are forced to creep along at 40 miles per hour.

Somewhere on Route 7, admit the possibility into your life that you just spent $9,000 — money borrowed from your 401(k) — on a car that does not run.

Explain to your friends at the dealership that they sold you a non-working car and that they should pay to get it fixed. Go blind with rage when the customer service manager tells you that the breakdown is not their problem, even though you’ve had the car for less than 24 hours, and that it wouldn’t be their problem even if you’d only had it for one minute. Try to stop payment on your check, but find that it has already been cashed. Do NOT cry — big girls don’t. Make a scene in the showroom and be escorted back to the manager’s office. Threaten to tell your “hundreds of blog readers and thousand Twitter followers*” about what a shitty deal this is, and be greeted with a shrug.

Drive away in a loaner. Try to access your inner rage and fail. Feel embarrassed and sad instead. Grit your teeth when the sames manager says that he did advise you to buy the extended warranty, but you chose not to, so… Invoke your mechanic. Mention your (nonexistent) attorney. Tell them if they give you back your Saturn and your money you’ll only post one bad Yelp review. In the end, make a split second decision to just fucking pay for the repair ($300) and get on with your life already. Accept that you were a babe in the carlot woods and they picked you off like Bambi’s mother. Kick yourself for being blinded by how very pretty Jeepy is. WAS. Berate yourself for not being a bike-sharing vegan who would never be in this position in the first place. Vow to seek revenge. Later. TC mark

*Totally not true.

image – Phillip Pessar


More From Thought Catalog

  • Sarahreynolds00

    This is so sadly true – I have to have my dad or brother come with me (even to the carwarsh!) or I’ll get talked into buying God knows what. I especially liked steps 6 & 7 :)

  • Anonymous

    Not all single women are unable to buy a vehicle by themselves. But thanks for lumping me in with you.

    • Emil Caillaux

      It’s a guide. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

      • Anonymous

         What works for me would be disregarding the whole thing.

        But do more women really need to reinforce the stereotype that women can’t buy a car with a man there to protect them from making bad decisions?

      • patreeeesh

        “Oh hey this article doesn’t relate to me, I must talk shit and disregard the fact that Thought Catalog was created for entertainment and not as a life manual, as well the fact that it was NOT created solely for my sake or happiness.”

        Good job!

      • Anonymous

        This article promotes stereotypes of women as unable to stand up for themselves and needing a partner (“single girl’s guide”) to keep them from making stupid choices.

        How dare I consider that words have meaning and people take things at face value!

      • Anonymous

        I totally see where you’re coming from and I always hope for women to be represented as the self-sufficient, intelligent human beings that they are, but from my end, I definitely got the vibe that this was intended to be taken as a satire. She was telling her own story as a spoof “guide” as a front for her recounting all the horrible silly mistakes she made and seemingly regrets. To me, it seems pretty obvious that she’s not trying to represent all women, but some women who might also not be so car-savvy (like me!). I really don’t know much about cars either, and I fear making the mistakes that she made (I’ve never owned a car and have never had much of an interest in cars). While I have done my own research and will continue to educate myself before I get my first car, I think when the time comes, I’ll definitely seek advice from my fiance and/or dad because they simply know a lot more about this topic than I do! Anyway, just thought I’d put my perspective out there :)

      • Anonymous

        I fully understand that this is not a set-by-step guide for buying a car, and I do in fact appreciate humour.

        But posts like these are not just self-deprecating, they feed into and promote unfair stereotypes. I might forgive it if it were funnier or made some overall point, bit instead it just paints women as unable to stand up against a car salesperson, stick to a budget, or resist the temptation of shiny things. And we come off as persnichety, as soon as the Jeep has one problem (that could have been looked into prior to purchase, I’m sure), it isn’t “pretty” anymore.

      • Emil Caillaux

        Then you should disregard the whole thing. Problem solved.

      • Anonymous

         Or I could choose NOT to stay quiet when I feel something unfairly portrays my gender. So I made the choice, expressed my opinion and acted fully within my rights.

  • anon

    Omg. The patronizing crap I had to go through before and after buying my car last month! Getting called sweety, darling, cutie all the way up until I started negotiating hard. Being told “that’s just how subarus sound when they start” only to take it for a second look and fuckin right, the battery fails the load test. What is it about car stuff they brings out the sexist crap?

    • Steph Carcieri

       Because apparently a lot of women, much like the author of this article, buy used cars without doing the proper research or having basic auto knowledge.

      If it makes you feel any better, car dealerships often try to goad military men into trying out muscle cars they can’t afford because they think they’re all ‘roid raging overcompensators.

  • Kasey

    TC, publishing articles that reinforce patriarchal stereotypes is so 4 decades ago… also, when I wasn’t offended, I was bored.

    • Anonymous

       I am not always bored by TC, but this article (and other recent ones of a similar tone toward women) are bullshit.

    • Veronica

      So if a guy published this same article (shifting the gendered nouns a bit for it to make sense), would it be fine? This is a story of something that actually happened to one specific person, it seems, not a claim that all girls actually have this experience.

      • Steph Carcieri

         I think the problem a lot of people are having with this article lies in the emphasis on the author’s gender.  The subtitle is “A Single Girl’s Guide” and the first paragraph discusses whether she should have brought a heterosexual male with her since they would presumably know a lot about cars, being a heterosexual man and all.  Because of that, a lot of people see this as the author attempting to represent single women buying a used car.  I doubt that was her intention, however.

      • Anonymous

         I’m also unimpressed with the stereotypes about: a) not being able to stand up to a salesperson; b) being unable to stick to a budget; c) being distracted by a “pretty shiny” thing; and then, d) being completely turned off by it within 24 hours.

      • Veronica

        Ok, I agree that the emphasis on gender in the title is perhaps pushing stereotypes and that’s no good. But those four things above (not being able to stand up to a salesperson, etc.) are apparently actual aspects of Ciara’s car-buying experience. Yes, a story about a woman doing all these things IS perpetuating negative stereotypes about women, but, like, it’s a story about a specific thing that actually happened, chosen out of the many woman-buys-a-car stories because it happened to the author herself. You could argue when Ciara (or any of us) goes out into the world she is a representative of her gender but I don’t think we should all have to be model women competent at everything or else we’re letting half of humanity down. That’s way too huge a responsibility. And arguing against the publishing of anecdotes that happen to align with a negative stereotype, particularly when the author freely admits that her behavior a) happens to align with a stereotype and b) is negative (in the sense that her car-buying did NOT go well), is sexist in its own way. I still don’t have any problem with this article beyond the potentially generalizing “Single Girl’s Guide” subtitle.

        TL;DR besides the subtitle, she’s not implying her actions are representative of all women so all seems well here.

      • Anonymous

        I agree we’re all representatives of our gender in the real world, but not all of our actions can be attributed to gender.

        But I feel that with the subtitle and this quote (“Consider asking your father figure to come and shop with you, but reject that because you are a third-wave feminist. “), the author is presenting this as a gendered issue. She could have titled it as “How Not To Buy A Used Car: Learn From My Mistakes” and it would have been about her personally, not about women buying used cars in general.

        Maybe I’d forgive these points if I could see some humour in or a point to this article, but I don’t. All I’m seeing is a women talking about how women can’t do blue jobs.

      • Anonymous

         If it’s not a claim about all women, it shouldn’t have been subtitled “A Single Girl’s Guide”.

        Women who can buy a car on their own are not unicorns.

  • patreeeesh

    Lol and out come the feminists with sticks up their asses

    • Anonymous

       And following them, the assholes whose best insult is “feminist”.

      • patreeeesh

        Lawls didn’t intend “feminist” to be an insult–maybe you should check yourself for thinking that way. Did you miss the other half of that comment, or did that stick up yours blind you for a sec? Oh hey, you can actually support women’s rights and still be humorous! Did you know that? Or the fact that maybe the writer wasn’t conforming to your personal preferences but merely retelling a personal anecdote?

        Retract your claws girl. There are feminists withOUT sticks up their asses–try it sometime.

      • Anonymous

         Here’s an idea: instead of insulting me about the “stick my [my] ass”, why not keep your argument focused?

      • patreeeesh

        My comment: The feminists with sticks up their asses come running to save the day in response to this article
        Your response: These feminists with sticks up their asses are followed by the “assholes” who use “feminist” as an insult.
        My refutation: My insult was not the fact that you are a feminist, but the fact that you have a stick up your ass, and the fact that you are unable to chill the fuck out and realize that this is merely a piece that is meant to entertain and probably share the writer’s personal experience. Or the fact that you could be a feminist and still manage to be a decent, likeable human being

        Here’s an idea–the argument IS about the stick up your ass. 

        Another one–if you seriously supported women’s rights, maybe you should take your ass to city hall and then unleash that feminist with a stick up her ass, instead of on a website meant for entertainment purposes where you will ULTIMATELY never convince anybody to think differently than they do now. MAYBE you can actually DO something with your life. And that stick up your ass. 

  • Golden Boy

    Jesus! Here, I’m going to write a better advice column in less than 100 words.
    1. Ever heard of Carfax? Use it for every car you plan to see.
    2. Pop the hood and check the engine for mismatched metals. Clean steel connected to rusted orange parts–no bueno.
    3. Check underneath the car for rust; too much rust might be signs of a salvaged wreck that’s sat around a long time. Umm, no bueno.
    4. Check the VIN tags on the car(dash, hood, doors, trunk) to make sure they all match. Inconsistencies signal a salvaged vehicle. This is an old dealer trick. There, I feel better now.

    • Anonymous

       So simple, even a woman could do it!

      (not snarking, this is great advice)

    • Lucca

      I think her point was that she went about it all wrong. The title is “How NOT to buy a used car…”

    • Jade Mitchell

      None of these tips are very good.

      You don’t ask for the Carfax on a sub-$10,000 car (do it independently, if at all) – it makes you look like an amateur. Carfax says that you should “ask for the Carfax” because it makes them money.

      Hearing “mismatched metals is bad” is a first. If they are mismatched, it means that the part has been replaced. Buying a car that has been maintained and repaired when necessary is desirable.

      Inconsistencies with the VIN mean that the part has been replaced. Inconsistencies absolutely do not signal a salvaged vehicle.

      Two identical vehicles – the VIN on one of the engines does not match the dash. The other does. The former would be more desirable (from a longevity/reliability standpoint), because it has had it’s engine replaced at some point.

  • Jade Mitchell

     Befriend a mechanic. Go to one of those smaller shops – learn his/her name, and go there as often as possible. (oil changes, wiper blades, that little rattling sound, etc.)

    When you’re buying your next car, you’ll have someone in your corner that can look at the vehicle before purchase and tell you if it’s a good deal. Not to mention, they’ll be more inclined to tell you that the “$500 repair you need” to get the car running can also be performed by adjusting a few bolts – on the house. :) -be sure to tip!

    Make sure to use the term “out the door” as well – dealers hate it. This price reflects the sale price of the vehicle, taxes, and all other fees. If you find something you REALLY like, take down the make and model and search AutoTrader and Craigslist – you can probably find the same thing for a bit cheaper.

    Best of luck!

    • Anonymous

      Love the befriend a mechanic advice! Might be a little difficult to do when I have yet to buy my first car! Haha

      • Jade Mitchell


        Always worth it, though! Slipping the guy who changes your oil (when you have oil to change) a fiver can pay off exponentially.

  • sychan

    This was absolutely the most hilarious thing I’ve read. And because I have a brain, I wasn’t offended, like some women. It’s a guide, on How NOT to buy a used car. Which means, don’t act like a ditz. Not saying all women ARE ditz.

    • Anonymous

       If the advice is “don’t be a ditz” and women aren’t the only ones who need to be told, why is the subtitle “A Single Girl’s Guide”?

      • Awfully_Aud

         It’s subtitled “A Single Girl’s Guide” because unfortunately, lots of women still get treated like idiots or ignored when they go car shopping without a male.
        She is not saying that she made the bad choice of car because she was female, but rather commenting on how the dealers treated her because she was female.

      • Anonymous

         But this isn’t just about how the dealers treated the author, it’s how she behaved herself.

        She made a budget that she didn’t stick to when she was distracted by something “pretty, shiny”. She says she didn’t ask for help because she’s a third-wave feminist. Since when is feminism about not using your resources just because they have a penis?

        These are fine mistakes to make. But attaching the subtitle made it about single girls in general and paints us poorly.

  • Lindsey

    I loved this. As a single lady buying a used car in Nova, I can relate.

  • Andrew Rowland

    Cannot believe a guy told you to get your dad or boyfriend on the phone to give you permission? Sight unseen, I might have sucker punched that guy in the face if I overheard him say that to a lady. What dealership was it? edit: not gonna stalk that guy, just dont want to give the dealership my bidness

    • Hilarity in Shoes

      It totally happened, exactly like that. I left out that they also employed some subterfuge to keep my wallet so I had to drive back the next day and get it. It was some VW dealership in Springfield (the armpit of the DC metro area). 

  • NOVA

    Being a woman from Tysons Corner, I couldn’t relate to this article anymore. I loved it!

  • Michaelwg

    This was outstanding.

  • Waicool

     its a jeep thing… i never did understand.   i enjoyed the stick up your ass part the best.

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