We Bought Another Minivan (With Cash!)

Car to Minivan.jpg

We have not placed a lot of value on vehicles since we bought our Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was a mistake that led us on this financial journey eventually, and hopefully the one and only car payment we will ever have. Since then, we've had the goal of paying cash for vehicles, but other priorities kept us from actively saving to replace them.

But, 2018 being the 20th year of life for our salvage title-grand prix-high school car-given to Kelsey by her parents-now just a work-car, it was starting to act it's age (rusting through the frame, brake lines rusting and needing replaced, etc.). I have felt this downhill slide for a few years, but we still hadn't made it a priority to save for the next vehicle until last March. Since then, all extra dollars went toward a vehicle replacement fund until we could buy something to replace the car. But there are endless options in the used car market, so the next problem was narrowing down the search...

Our Goal

We put less than average miles on our secondary vehicle (currently the grand prix), maybe 5-6 thousand miles a year, which is what kept the Grand Prix running for two decades. We primarily drive our 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan as our family vehicle and Kelsey drives it to work. It's the only vehicle that has a car seat for both kids. I occasionally haul Rooney in the Grand Prix.

Our search criteria for the next vehicle...

  • $10,000 or less
  • 2010 or newer
  • 100,000 miles or less
  • Must have at least 4 doors (the two door coupe was awesome...when Kelsey was in high school)

We committed $200 a month plus anything extra that came our way (bonuses, raises, extra paychecks, end of month surplus). It didn't feel like we were making much progress throughout the year, but once we sat down to do our taxes in February, we realized we would be getting a larger refund than last year and it would significantly help us get toward our goal: $10,000 to buy a used car. 

We started looking for a car, but then started thinking about our current minivan and how it might be better to replace that for the family. It has 160K+ miles, is now 12 years old, and is where the most miles accumulate throughout the year. Plus, we did just put about $2,000 into it to replace a water pump, new tires, tie rod ends, and other maintenance repairs last summer/fall). So, we thought it would be best to get rid of the Grand Prix, find a newer minivan for Kelsey to drive to work/family vehicle, and semi-retire the older 2006 minivan while we save up again for another work car for me(hopefully in a year or so).

Our goal was never to be a two minivan family, but we’re working with what we have and in all honesty, it’s a big upgrade for me to have a key fob to unlock the doors and a newer vehicle to drive. And besides... when it comes to getting a new vehicle for the family... ladies first.

The Search

We looked on Craigslist, cars.com, Facebook Marketplace, and CarMax for used minivans with the criteria above. Oh, and Kelsey had another small request…WHITE. It had to be white… or at least she said that she would be able to make a quicker decision if it’s white... any other color would take her a lot longer to fall in love with.

It was fine with me, but we had to be patient as we looked and saw other good value minivans come and go. But, we were initially thinking that we wouldn’t make a purchase until May, so we were comfortable being patient.

At one point Kelsey found four white minivans on craigslist which we were quickly able to reduce to two options, but before we had time to really look into them, they were gone. Well, one of those vans that happened to be just a few miles away from us, came back up on Facebook Marketplace about a week later. I sent it to Kelsey and she thought it was worth looking into further.

The next step for us was to figure out where the rest of the money for the purchase would come from since we had a few more months of savings planned to hit our goal. It was listed at $9,800 and we only had about $7,000 saved (and were still waiting on our $1,185 state refund). We decided we could pull the remaining funds from our emergency fund temporarily and back fill the dollars with our state refund and be back to where we were by May.

the research

We did some research to find what the value of the van should be using Kelley Blue Book, and Vehiclehistory.com to check the VIN (if you don’t want to pay for a Car Fax, this is the next best thing I’ve found. It’s kind of generic, but will check for flood cars, ownership, accidents, etc. for free).

KBB said the average value for the van was about $9,500 and I felt comfortable trying to get a little better price on the van if it came to that.

I reached out to the owner and set up a time to go look at the van. Since it was so close to our house, I took it for a test drive and drove it home for Kelsey and the kids to look at. Kelsey sat in the driver’s seat and the kids awed at the fact that their windows went up and down.

While my role was primarily approving how the van drove and the mechanics of the vehicle, Kelsey’s role was approving the aesthetics and functionality of the exterior and interior.

After about 10 minutes of sitting in the van Kelsey said she had no reservations about buying the van. I returned the van and we began a fairly short negotiation process. The couple had a loan on the vehicle and simply wanted that paid off: $9,500. While I was hoping to get the van for a little lower price, I knew it was the average and they did come down $300 from their listed price, so we moved forward.

Interestingly enough, their bank wanted to hold a cashier’s check for five days before releasing the title, so I took cash out instead to make the transaction quicker. Just another reason to avoid car loans. The whole deal could have been taken care of between the two of us, but we had to involve their bank, to pay off the loan in order to get the title transferred.

After we had the new van, we took the Grand Prix to CarMax to sell it. With the condition it was in, I didn’t feel comfortable selling it to someone personally. Literally the week that we were looking at the minivan, the brakes started to get real bad on the car. Like, slam your foot to the floor before they would engage.

So, we gladly took the whopping $350 that CarMax offered us. It almost paid for the sales tax on the minivan purchase…

And that’s how we bought a new to us minivan. We’re super excited. It’s the nicest and newest car we’ve ever owned. The Jeep did cost us more money and perhaps in the next handful of years we’ll be able to upgrade again and have some value left on our vehicles to upgrade to even nicer vehicles.

In the past year as we’ve been saving, it’s been eye opening to realize how we have neglected the replacement of our vehicles. We’ve been fortunate that we didn’t have to purchase one in an emergency situation. That would have hurt our other plans and goals. It feels good to have a plan and acknowledge the fact that vehicles depreciate and get older, and eventually will need to be replaced.

If you’re in a situation where you’re really focusing on paying off debt, or have other goals, it’s a good idea to stretch the length of your vehicle ownership, but at some point you do need to start saving for the next purchase. Having a plan you can adjust is better than having no plan at all like we had for the previous four years.

(And lest you think we have it all together and are able to fulfill all of our dreams at once, we spent Rooney's first spring break passing around the stomach bug at home, and still haven't completely finished our basement, a project started almost five years ago)

What’s your vehicle purchase strategy?