driving with girl9602 7366Buying a new family car can be a daunting challenge for moms; the auto industry tends to looks down on the female buyer as unsophisticated and is known for frequently duping buyers into over-paying. The tide is changing, however, as I learned while doing research to find my new car.
After conducting research online and visiting local dealerships, I made arrangements to stop at a few dealerships for test drives along our way to Florida for our holidays.

Visiting Baltimore for a Test Drive
We stopped in Baltimore to drive a 2008 Monaco Blue 335i. It was pouring rain and nearly 9 p.m., and the showroom at Russel Mazda was empty. But the saleswoman took me out for a test drive. The car was solid and fun, despite the rain and darkness. The car had a no-haggle Internet price of $26,324, discounted from the published (and book value) price of $29,900. After looking at the car that night, I knew what the non-negotiables were: a BMW 335i, 2-4 years old, fewer than 50,000 miles, and–most importantly–my target number: $28,000. And I hoped for Monaco Blue.

Visiting a BMW Dealer in Charlotte, NC
The next week, I drove several more cars. In Charlotte, NC, we drove a 328i at the BMW dealer. Our salesman gave us a lot of information about the 328i and the 335i, but ultimately the test drive helped us to rule out the smaller engine. Then we drove a 530i (cinnamon interior, which just didn’t do it for me) and a 2009 335i (pristine, but pricey).

I knew there were a couple in New Jersey I could look at, including a 2011 335i that Carfax and the dealer both told me had hit a deer (and was $5,000 below book value). Before and after test driving each car, I reviewed the Carfax, calculated the car’s value on the Kelley Blue Book site and checked the marketplace for competing inventory.

Car Shopping Red Flags
After driving the ‘09 335i, I thought the Monaco Blue 335i in Baltimore might be the one. But first, there were some red flags that had to be resolved: Carfax showed service at a non-BMW shop (odd, since BMW includes free service). Also, when I test drove the car, the tire pressure light was illuminated on the dash: what did that mean? Our saleswoman found the answers. The tire pressure sensor was bad, so it was replaced. Also, it’s not unusual to have additional service between scheduled service appointments, she told me (I later learned that turbo engines should have more frequent oil changes).

Back to Baltimore
We returned to Baltimore on our way home to give the car one more drive and to pass one more hurdle: have the car checked out by an independent mechanic. I’ve always heard it’s a good idea to do this, and before plunking down a huge amount of money, thought I should. So I Googled BMW repair shops, read the reviews and chose one that was located near the dealer. It was the same shop, it turned out, that had done service on the car in 2010, which I’d seen on the Carfax. When we got to the dealership, I told them I wanted to take the car to be inspected. After handing over my insurance card and signing a loaner agreement, I was on my way to Urban’s Auto Services.

Independent Car Inspections a Necessity
The staff at Urban’s was great. They pulled up the previous service records (which were slim) drove the car and put it up on the lift. They pulled the service codes from the car’s computer (again, not much to see, but BMW can erase the service codes once services is done). The workers agreed that it was a good car, and the mechanic who did the inspection even told me that it was a really nice car. That made me feel much more confident.

Buying the Family Car
Back at the dealer we had one last task: paying for the car. We wanted to pay cash, not something most customers do. After calling our bank, we decided the fastest and easiest way was by wire transfer. Once we worked out the details, it took less than an hour for the transaction to complete, and we were set to go. They printed out a temporary tag while I signed a stack of papers, and we were ready to go, my nine year old and me in the BMW, and my husband, 12-year-old and dog following along in the Toyota.

Scotty Reiss is a Cos Cob, CT-based writer and communications consultant.

Photo credit: Tim