April 14, 2011

All-Star Panel: Single Guys and Girls Answer Your Questions

It's time to bring back our All-Star Single Panel to answer the question of the month from one of our readers. This month we are introducing a new face to the group! Many thanks to a new Ben for obliging our request to join the panel. I think you'll agree that he is a welcome addition. Some of our panelists have graciously admitted they do not have any expertise on the subject and will join us next time around. Don't forget to email your questions at any time to hsimkins@gw.edu.

QUESTION from a reader:

Cars have always been an overwhelming subject for me and have remained firmly rooted in a mysterious and masculine domain, but I feel the need to conquer this subject and become more self-sufficient where it concerns locomotive transportation.

I was talking to a lady today while getting my oil changed and she recommended foreign cars because you can do small regular maintenance yourself, due to the simplicity of design. She recommended Nissan, Toyota, and Honda. I also like Subaru.

So here's the advice I'm seeking: how to get rid of a car you still owe on when you want to downgrade not upgrade, how to shop for a used car and recommendations on the least expensive and easiest car to repair/do maintenance on.

ANSWERS from our panel:

Sharon is an incredible single woman who recently relocated to Austin, TX!

I've owned an old VW, a Toyota, and three Hondas. I've changed my own oil, done body work, and shopped for three used cars on my own. All of my years of experience have helped me feel more capable and confident when it comes to cars, so my first piece of advice would be to start reading and tinkering. Ask around a lot for an honest mechanic, and if you feel at all like they might try to take advantage, if they don't communicate with you as much as you'd like (and treat you like you don't need to know or won't understand) keep looking until you find one and don't be afraid to speak your mind if you're not happy.

Finding an honest used car salesman (oxymoron?) is very difficult, but they're around. However, the best method may be to buy a car from a private owner. In that case, you have to be a little more cautious, ask more questions, and not be afraid to ask for what you want, which could be something like requiring they repair _________ before you're willing to buy it.

I think Honda's are the best value (I think Subaru's are overpriced) most reliable, everything from the suspension to the little details of the interior. You will pay more initially, because they hold their value so well, but pay less in the long not only in dollars but in worry and time in the shop.

As far as becoming less reliant on a car, that's a tough one. So much as to do with what public transportation is available, how close you live to work, etc...

Ben is an amazing single guy living in Arlington, VA

I am by no means a car expert but let me offer what I can here. The best purchase I have ever made is a Honda Civic. My Civic is about 8 years old and the only maintenance I have ever done on the car is regular oil changes and I replaced the brakes once. Other than that is has required zero effort on my part which has been extremely nice as I see my friends with older American cars regularly gripe about replacing transmissions and clutches, etc. I highly recommend Japanese cars, especially if you are going to go used. My experience with a few foreign brands, besides the fact that they are very costly to do simple maintenance on, is the following:

VW: the little things break e.g. cup holders, interior lights, knobs etc. I almost bought a Jetta Wolfsburg edition and this was one of the reasons why I didn't. My friends with older VWs tell me the same thing. Am I a prophet of sorts for not buying one? You tell me.

Toyota: Camrys and Corollas would be great bets for used cars. Very dependable and reasonably priced and very average styling to match.<>

Honda: My new and used car of choice. Extremely reliable, affordable, gas efficient, and low-maintenance requirements. I have driven a Honda since I was 16.

Avoid used Fords and Chevrolets before the year 2005. The newer Ford Fusions for example are great cars and I request them when I am renting a car.

On getting rid of your car my rule is that if you take the metro to work every day there isn't a strong argument for having a really nice car say over $20,000. If you ride the metro and you want to get rid of your car, if you owe more than the car is worth, sell the car for the max price you can and pay off that loan asap with all the money you save from gas and maintenance.

Craigslist is a great place to put your used car. I say this from recent experience as I put my friend's car for sale on craigslist on April Fool's Day as a joke for a great price and she got 8 calls in one hour. There are definitely a lot of eyes on that site looking for cars. She got extremely upset and our friendship might be ending but look at the upside- the quid pro quo is I lost a friend but gained valuable insight to share on a blog. Is this a win? uh...yeah

Liz is a familiar face on this blog! She's a remarkable single woman living in Washington, DC.

Cars have been a tough issue for me as well! My first car purchase was at dusk. The car turned out to be much more pink than I realized in the light of the next day. (She got the nickname "lipstickmobile".) The engine in my second car went out within weeks of the purchase. But I have done one thing successfully with cars, I have never purchased a car I could not afford - even when times were tough. I paid both cars off quickly, and can say that having no car payment is totally worth it!

In terms of your question though, I don't have a lot of insight exactly, I share your problem. I hope you don't mind if I address the meta-question here instead. What do we do as a single women without ready access to certain types of help or insight? I've learned a bit in certain areas that dads/husbands typically seem to have more expertise in, but there are a few, like blessings, cars, computers, and such that I frankly don't have the time, ability and/or compelling desire to find out about. I think I've gotten a lot better in my single years about asking for help when I need it. By that I mean, I've gotten a lot better about not being apologetic and feeling terribly guilty for asking someone for a little bit of their time and knowledge. People just have to do that in life. I've learned to enjoy the relief that comes from asking someone I'm comfortable with to help me. (As you have done here! Looks like you've already got this one down.) No shame in not learning everything for yourself (oh, and also it's impossible), it's a blessing to ask for help and it increases the love in our lives.


  1. Sharon, that is so exciting! I lived in Austin and loved, loved it. Hope your moving is turning out great!

    Ben, thanks for agreeing to the join the panel! I laughed quuuite a bit reading this post. Sorry your friend won't speak to you but yes, worth it :).

  2. I have a subaru and I love it. I had a Civic in college, sold it, moved abroad (and was car-less), and bought a Forrester upon returning to the States. It saved my life in a serious car accident, so I bought another one. Love it. :)

  3. I just bought a Used Ford from McAllen TX and I love it. It needed some work, but nothing my friend and I couldn't do ourselves. Well...nothing he couldn't do. I don't know a thing about cars so I just supervised.