Any time you purchase a car, there are always unknowns. Sometimes they’re small, like not knowing which side the gas cap is on the first time you roll up to get fuel. Other times they’re bigger, like not realizing that the brakes are terrifyingly incompetent. But big or small, there will always be something you wish you knew before handing over your hard-earned cash. Yesterday, we asked what you wish you’d known before buying your car, and today we’re diving into your answers.
Do Not Buy Manual Drums
Something no car buyer today is faced with: how terrifying it can be to haul a two-ton car to a stop with manual drum brakes.
Seriously, how many Jalops nowadays have even ridden in a manual drum brake car? (My SWAG: 25%) As I’ve written before, if you feel like being Mr. Cool by buying yourself a Sixties muscle car which still sports manual drums, DO NOT BUY THAT CAR. It will kill you. I’m not kidding.
While my Charger is upgraded to disc brakes, I can think of puh-lenty of times where I was madly pumping the brakes and steering into the happens-way-too-damn-often skidding that often accompanies jamming on the drums. While drum brakes are perfectly adequate if you’re Grandma off to your hellscape job at Walmart, if you need more grip because you’re pushing the car (Who? Me with a big-block Charger?) hopefully you develop some manual braking skills before you decide, “Yes, I am Dominic Toretto now!”
Because you will die without those skills. And you killing yourself since you’re an idiot unable to heed rudimentary advice, that’s fine; but another classic Charger biting the dust—not cool.
There’s a reason cars don’t come with drum brakes any more. Powered discs are a massive improvement, one that could save your life. Don’t ignore brakes when you’re shopping.
The Long-Term Issues
Press reviews are nice for first impressions and objective data. Long term reviews are a bit better, but still doesn’t tell the whole story, especially for car enthusiasts that may do their own maintenance and modification. Granular information can only be found in forums where people have to actually own and deal with these cars using their own time and money.
Old BRZ - Having to lift the engine to change spark plugs.
Focus ST and Fiesta ST - Heat soak galore. Brake vectoring kills brakes on track. The amount of mods it takes to get them at least track competent without going in to limp mode is more than most.
When reviewing a car, it’s rare that an auto writer has the time to dig into the factory service manual. Having owned an FR-S, however, I can confirm that the standard procedure for spark plugs involves lifting the engine.
Spared Some Expense
Spare tires on modern cars. For the last 10ish years, they have not been standard. When I got my first car out of college I didn’t check that and was very upset when I open the trunk to replace a flat, only to see there’s a goop kit in there that was totally useless for the damage my tire took.
Fix-A-Flat can save you from pin holes in the tread, but it can’t rescue you from everything. Bring back spare tires.
The Parts Problem
How much of a pain in the ass it is to source certain non essential parts for older cars. and trim pieces for older cars. My 94 300zx is far from ancient but some minor items that affect my ability to use the car are a pain to find.
On the plus side, some of those little pieces can be 3D printed — untether yourself from the shackles of parts suppliers and make your own tools and trim pieces.
Take A Knee
I wish I had known that my knees have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to sports cars. Not the driving of them, but the regular getting in and getting out. “Fuck those low-seated cars! You’ll have to replace us, if you want to keep buying them!”, they have said.
My orthopedic surgeon has told me I need knee replacements, but I’m not old enough, yet. That’s either encouraging or discouraging, depending on the day and my choice of activity. We can have all the muscle we want, but if our joints don’t work well, using those muscles isn’t always fun. I’m gonna miss my ‘vette.
Getting into a low car one time at a dealer is easy enough. Getting into it day in and day out, multiple times a day, is a whole ‘nother situation.
Make It Yours
Prius good. Not just “not bad”, but good!
I had a miserable Grand Am GT for four years until early Covid 2020. Junked that and went sans auto for a couple months when I got a new job close to home, then I got a beautiful ‘99 Olds 88 from my parents. Dark blue in and out, naught but a tape deck and radio for tunes. Loved it, but it was stolen and later crashed and burned in a pursuit. Didn’t hurt anyone else thankfully, but I was without a car again. My coworker (and now friend) borrowed me his second car, a beat up light blue ‘07 Prius that had been in front and rear collisions that damaged the battery/ICE connection, but it still drove largely fine. He later sold it to me for five hundred bucks. I became a delivery driver and started makin money with it. Zip tied the bumpers up to the body, got some new interior parts from the junkyard and cleaned it up real nice, and I still have it two years later.
Look I have talked soooo much shit about the Prius in the past. How it’s an ugly loafer with no personality. Enthusiasts should spit in face of this affront to fun driving, this apex of car-as-boring-appliance and hipster trendiness. But listen. I’m approaching 300k and all I’ve done to it is replace the CV axles, new struts all around and tires. If I fix the major drivetrain issues it’ll go even longer. I’ve gone on so many awesome trips with friends and gear that the cargo area just swallows up effortlessly. Yet it’s still small enough to park in the city and it has the approximate turning radius of a shih tzu. Later models are overstyled like most Yotas imo, but the second gen’s clean lines and unadorned, un-fussed panels and shapes have aged well and really grown on me.
I slapped an “I’m Fast as Fuck Boi” sticker styled like the original Fast &Furious logo on the back window cause I think it’s funny. I’ve thought about silly shit like giving it some pumped out box fenders and finding a way to put on the deep dish ‘80s Firebird wheels I bought and making an Escort Cosworth style hatch wing for it. At the end of the day all I care about is that the cars should be fun sometimes, and I didn’t ask to get stuck with a beater Prius but I’ve made so much of my own fun with it that my mind has changed. I’ll still make fun of liberals and Obama ‘08 bumper stickers and all that, and have the bigger conversations about resource wars and the impact of cars on the planet and such, but I’ve come around on the Toyota Prius. It’s great at just being a car and doing what a car needs to do, and it has earned my respect.
The best car is the one you have, right? The Prius is a perfectly reliable, economical, and serviceable car. That alone can be fantastic.
When I was young and stupid(er) I bought a 1965 Thunderbird from a family friend who was dying of cancer and self-medicating with cheap wine, marijuana and anything else he could obtain.
I wish i had known he had attempted to fix an electrical issue by tearing out wires under the dash and bypassing the fuse block. The headlights were wired directly to the battery - no fuse, no relay - just a switch from an old shop vac screwed under the dashboard. It was ugly!
Also, once I got under the car and saw the amount of rust in the floorboards and trunk, I knew the project was well beyond my capabilities.
I wound up selling the car for parts rather than dealing with that level of rust or trying to re-splice the wiring harness.
I’ve done some auto wiring in my past, but bypassing a fuse box altogether is a new one. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s probably not the manufacturer recommended repair.
Mods Don’t Add Value
I wish the seller knew about the car he was selling to me.
‘98 Mustang GT 5-speed. Only thing the seller knew about the car was the “motor rebuilt 50k ago”. Well, the odometer was stuck on 194k, so who knows how many miles the car/engine had on it. He claimed the rest of the body was factory despite the obvious:
-cobra front bumper rattle-canned with overspray on the headlights
-aftermarket wheels (with overspray on the tires)
-drilled & slotted rotors and painted calipers
-aftermarket head unit.
What I learned after 4 months of ownership:
-some sort of aftermarket exhaust that was hung to the car with whatever you can find in the exhaust aisle at Autozone
-lowering springs with factory shocks
-half assed installed short throw shifter. No gasket or RTV was used. 2/4 bolts were backed out by hand
-rear gears are not the factory 3.27, also needed new seals and shims
-3 different spark plug brands including 7/8 being platinum plugs and one being copper
For the price I paid for a running manual V8, I don’t have any animosity against the seller. But a little heads up would have been nice
Buying a modified car leaves you with a lot of risk, but a lot of potential for reward. You don’t know how well parts were installed, if they’re of a good quality, or if the previous owner got duped and unknowingly bought knockoffs. But, if everything’s legit, you could score a deal.
EPA Test Cycling Your Patience
I wish I knew the real world fuel economy of my car before purchasing it...
My 2017 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD is EPA rated for 29mpg highway. In reality, no matter how slow and steady I drive, I have never been able to achieve any better than 28mpg. That was averaging 60mph over the course of about 100 miles of flat two lane road. On my work commute, I average about 26mpg on flat highways doing 73mph.
I still love the car, because the fuel economy is my one and only complaint. I’ve been spoiled by my MazdaSpeed3, which easily exceeds its EPA rating (rated 26mpg highway, regularly getting 32mpg). In fact, even my past 4.8L Silverado easily exceeded its EPA rating. Past experience (stupidly) led me to believe that I’d be able to achieve around 33mpg-35mpg in the CX-5 while commuting about 20,000 miles a year.
I was seeking out an EV to replace it, but I can’t yet stomach the $50k-$60k it would cost to find something similarly equipped. Especially difficult now that we’ve taken away the credits on most models.
Fuel economy is affected by an incredible number of tiny factors, making it extremely difficult to reliably model. The EPA gets close, but you likely won’t see its exact test numbers coming up on your dash.
Get Some Earplugs
Kind of wish I knew about the ambient/road/tire noise my car (2016 Mazda 6) let’s me enjoy at highway speeds. Didn’t seem to notice when I test drove it or just equated it as being different from the previous car. It’s now quite distracting and requires me to turn the stereo up louder (not always a bad thing). Of course they quieted it down in later years but still...
Also wish I knew about the ‘temperamental’ behavior of the self locking doors. Usually it will lock itself when you walk away from the car (often as soon as you close the door) but sometimes it just decides “not feeling it today bruh.” Uptown problem I know.
Sometimes, that noise can be down to the tires themselves. A stiff, sold tire will make more noise — but save you in the long run on fuel.
Knowledge Of Your Own Future
I’ve been lucky in that my Mazda2 has been exactly what I expected it to be - small, kind of slow and noisy, but reasonably fun and economical. But, I bought it about 6 months before changing jobs and no longer driving ~200km per day. If I’d known how much less I’d be driving, I probably would have compromised on the economical bit (going even further, I obviously didn’t see the rise of WFH coming 8 years ago).
Sometimes, your wishes don’t come from the car — they’re things you wish you knew about yourself before making the purchase. Buying a car, only to end up not driving it as much as you thought you would, can be frustrating — especially when it leads you to choose a car you wouldn’t otherwise have.
The internet gave me hints that owning a Gen 1 Insight is a labor of love, but holy shit.
Who would have thought that a limited production, borderline prototype vehicle that is 20 years old with over 250,000 miles that was also built for maximum lightness is a chore to keep on the road. It is also, simultaneously, difficult to find parts. Some parts, your just shit out of luck.
As cars age, rubber and plastic start wearing out. As incredibly light cars age, pieces that are machines thinner and smaller wear out even more quickly.
The Future Of Product Planning
I wish when I was car shopping about six or so years ago. That when I was decided that I would buy that low mileage manual Acura ILX for 14k that Ford would soon be discontinuing the fiesta ST and that I would (very soon) be able to buy a brand new ST for not much more than I bought that ILX for.
Of course, now Fiesta ST prices are back up to MSRP. Those halcyon days, when they were discounted on the lots, are far behind us now. A shame.
Not Remotely Known
When I bought my Magnum used in 2008, I had a preexisting habit of playing with the remote door locks as I walked away from my car sometimes. I did this with my new-to-me Magnum and the engine started up. I called the dealer, they told me they didn’t realize the car was equipped with remote start, and lock/unlock/lock is the intended combination to activate it.
I wish I had the heads up, but it worked out in my favor. No complaints.
Dealership staff not knowing the features of a car is one of the funniest thing to me. They could have advertised that remote start, used it to draw in buyers. Instead, they didn’t even know about it.
Know What You Don’t Know
Before I bought my last used car I researched the hell out of it on-line. Found all the ugly stuff. Then checked repair costs. Weighed the cost-to-benefit, liked the results. Wasn’t even the car I was specifically shopping for. Just a stunningly good deal when it accidentally popped up on my search.
No surprises so far. Love the car. Happy with the results.
The Internet makes car shopping SO much easier.
With the internet as a resource, the number of unknowns in car buying is rapidly dwindling. Anything you want to know about your next car is probably out there — you just need to know where to look.