When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part I


The inevitable has finally happened. For the first time since I began working at Cars.com, I wound up in a position where my wife and I needed to buy a new car. Not too long ago I mentioned the shopping list we had put together for our next purchase, and now I’m going to retell everything that took place in our search for a new car, right up to driving the car off the lot.

Today, I’m going to tackle how we narrowed down the cars that made it to our final shopping list. Unlike most car shoppers, I have the distinct advantage of driving dozens of new cars every year, but the way we came up with our list is pretty much the same as anyone else.

For any car shopper, there are a few things about your needs that you have to determine before searching for a new car. Is it primarily a commute vehicle, a suburban errand-runner, a soccer-team hauler? We needed something with SUV utility — a folding cargo area — for our dog and our travels. That was the No. 1 factor in our entire shopping process. Plus, we’re a couple whose second car changes from week to week as I get test vehicles of all shapes and sizes. If I get stuck one week testing a two-door roadster and we need to pick up something from Home Depot, our own car better fit the bill.

Price was second. We set a hard cap of $30,000. Even though we’re a single-car family and could afford to go higher, in the end this car is my wife’s main transportation and only gets about 8,000 miles a year.

One other factor we decided on was that the new car had to have all- or four-wheel drive. Sure, you can get through winter in Chicago with front-wheel drive, but after four years of driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, popping the SUV into 4WD and plowing out of any parking space was a delight. We can’t go back from there.

With those parameters in mind, here’s the shopping list we came up with. I also plugged these requirements into the Cars.com New Car Recommender, which returned 99 2007 and 2008 models. I whittled it down from that number (it was easy to throw out selections like the too-large and too-thirsty Ford Explorer) to the 10 below.

The crossed-off vehicles didn’t make the final shopping list after they came through the Cars.com test fleet and my wife Courtney was able to check them out for herself. What was left either met our high standards or were vehicles we hadn’t both driven. We also decided to keep an open mind and look again at the Outlander and CR-V. My main gripe with both of those was the cargo configuration. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my first venture requesting quotes and test drives online.

  • 2007 Acura RDX: This would top the list if it weren’t more than the magical $30K self-enforced ceiling. It could still win if we splurge a little.
  • 2007 Dodge Magnum: Too long — 16 inches longer than our Jeep Grand Cherokee — for the city.
  • Ford Edge: After pricing and driving it, I just don’t like it any better (and for more money) than the CX-7.
  • 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid
  • 2007 Honda CR-V
  • 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2007 Mazda CX-7
  • 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander
  • 2008 Saturn Vue
  • 2007/2008 Subaru Outback
  • 2007 Toyota RAV4: Courtney was uncomfortable driving it.

When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part II
When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part III
When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part IV

By David Thomas | July 10, 2007 | Comments (21)
Tags: Car Buying



get the saturn vue!!


You seem to speak highly of your Jeep Grand Cherokee. Can I ask why that wasn't even considered?

Yeah, that's the only time I speak highly of it. Many other readers have commented that I speak too poorly of it so I kind of refrained from explaining why we wouldn't get another one. Let's just say it has been in the shop too many times and the mileage is awful (we have a V-6 and get about 13 mpg in Chicago driving).
My wife loved that Jeep though despite the headaches.


Hey I see you don;t have Honda Element in your list i think you gota look @ it once maybe you'll like it 2..for what you looking for @ lest. with DOG...

I've never been a fan of the Element even though I think the new version is a decent transport. It's just a taste thing. I do like the new CR-V however. But at $20,000 or so for a 4wd model the Element is a good value for those looking for 4wd.

If you only drive it 8,000 miles per year I would definitely suggest getting a used car that's a year or two old. Actually I'd always suggest getting a used car, but the low annual mileage is significant because whatever you buy will depreciate almost as fast as if you were driving 13k mi/year. It becomes more of an issue the longer you own the car, but no matter how long you keep it you'll save quite a bit of money buying used. A recent used car will almost certainly last longer than you want to keep it, and if you're not putting a lot of miles on it, it shouldn't have many more problems.

I look forward to the rest of the posts - sounds like they are going to be interesting. :-)

Bonnie Gibbons

Of course it could be a different vehicle but on my vacation last summer in Scotland we were driven around the Highlands in a 2006 Honda Element. Since I was stuck in the back seat, my stomach was not going to totally undisturbed not matter what, but I was impressed at the infrequency of the carsickness episode, especially given how they drive over there. (Specifically, they don't believe in slackening your speed just because you're turning.) So that would be a vote for the element, as silly as the thing looks.

I'm a new car kind of guy. I'll take the depreciation hit for being the only owner and full warranty.

Thanks! Trust me the rest of the posts are a lot more interesting.

Didn't I say I didn't like the Element? Trust me, it's not on the list and its not going to make the list.


Awesome! We get to see how this one ends. I had almost forgotten about this series of posts.

yeah, sorry about that. It was a long process mainly due to waiting for the lease on the Jeep to end.

Any reason you bought new other than being a "new car guy"? Kind of a silly basis for a financial decision. Considering you are already selling a vehicle that you have only owned for 4 years, you are basically buying a vehicle and owning it during its largest period of depreciation. If you held on to your cars for 10+ years, I could argue for buying new. If you car-hop, buying every few years, you will retain more value in your purchase by buying a 3-4 year old vehicle, and maintenance costs won't be much different.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee comes equipped with an inline cylinder engine, the V6 didn't appear in the Jeep lineup until the Liberty and didn't appear in the Grand Cherokee until the 2005 WK.

If you are getting 13mpg in your Jeep it is not being properly maintained.


Quoting from the dealers are actually time saving and help narrow the choices of dealers down.
That's what I just did to get my new car.
However, if you still have a few different model in mind to decide, then that's a different story, because if you haven't compare them side by side, or back to back, you really can't choose one.

We live in Chicago. Trust me, the car was maintained properly. You just get very poor mileage driving in the city. We constantly mention that here on the blog as a reason for poor mileage when we test cars (Cars.com is based in Chicago) so readers know that isn't the norm in suburbia, non urban areas. You're right the 04 has an inline 6, the V6 came in 05.

We went to buy to avoid the $0 return on the end of a lease. So at the end of our payments we'll have a car worth something rather than no car being turned in on a lease. Often I think quality pre-owned vehicles are overpriced when comparing them to a new vehicle. And again I really do not like the idea of anyone else owning a car before me because you never know how they treated the car. I don't find that silly. That's just the way I am.

Yes I'll be discussing online quotes in the next two posts.


I'm curious: why no Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot? Too big (although isn't the CX-7 about the same size)?


Since I own a 2007 Santa Fe Limited (FWD), I am pretty partial to your list. I have a friend who just bought a 2007 GLS Santy (as we Santa Fe loyalists call them) with AWD and he was impressed with the AWD system, considering it is really a "soft roader". I'd bet the AWD lock (as opposed to the on demand only systems) would be nice to have, especially with all that white stuff that Chi-town gets.


I apologize ahead of time - this is a pretty dumb question but I'm thinking about buying a Honda CR-V and have two large dogs. You mentioned that the forward-folding rear seats aren't dog friendly and I was hoping you might explain why?

I've never had a cargo compartment (the dogs go in the backseat) and I'm not the most spatial thinker, so I'm just not picturing how this would work, or not work, as the case may be.

Many thanks for your patience. I look forward to reading the rest of the series!!


Glad to see the Santa Fe on your list of finalists. My husband and I (a two-kid, one-dog family) each drive one -- his second, my first. I traded in a late-model Subaru Forester. The Santa Fe is a hugely better ride, to my amazement.

Glad to see the Santa Fe on your list of finalists. My husband and I (a two-kid, one-dog family) each drive one -- his second, my first. I traded in a late-model Subaru Forester. The Santa Fe is a hugely better ride, to my amazement.


Why no Murano?

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