Welcome to all new postdocs at Caltech!
Let's be clear - especially at the start there are some (non-scientific) challenges you'll have to face, but as many before you'll eventually make it. To help with that the CPA blog offers you some guidance and suggestions based on others' experiences.
Where to look for a used car
It's always a good start to make some research and answer some questions yourself: What kind of car would you like? Are there any reliable brands or model? What is your price range? Which cars fit into your budget? After having answered these questions you can start actually looking for a car - but where?
There are many postdocs or other international employees at Caltech and JPL, some of them already leaving to other places thus having to sell their stuff. As a result, there are online resources where you can find offers from one of you colleagues: CPA Facebookgroup and Caltech's Market Place (You can register by email with "International Relocation Marketplace" in the subject line. It may take 1 or 2 weeks to be added.).
In addition, there a public online resources like Craigslist, Carfax, Kelly Blue Book, Cars.com or others. There you may find keen deals too but you have to be considerate to find a good one. Furthermore, these sites will offer you a good orientation about prices.
Another option is to go to a car dealership - there are plenty in and around Pasadena - either from specific brands or for used cars in general.
Paying the bills
If you're looking for a loan you may ask your bank. In addition you may consider the special offer for Caltech employees from CEFCU. The CEFCU also provides you a special service based on their partnership with the car buying service Autoland: A consultant will help throughout your car buying experience.
A similar service is offered by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Please note: If you're from another country and have no credit history yet your options may be limited. A lack of a proper credit history for example may require cash payments for bigger purchases like cars.
Facts and check-ups
When you're interested in a specific car, ask for the carfax. That's a report about the history of the car and it includes possible accidents, services, replacements and so on. Besides, it may give you an impression about how the previous owner was taking care of the car.
In addition, it would be wise to bring the car to a dealership to have a technical service. In most places you will be charged for that kind of check-up but it is worth it to not have any bad surprises (and more money spent on repairs).
How to deal with the paperwork
So, you found a car, the check-up went well and you are about to make your payment. What is next? Now you have to deal with some bureaucracy at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
If you're going to buy at a dealership you may let them do the paperwork for you. Even if it costs a little extra you should consider it.
If you buy a car from a private party, you have to do the paperwork yourself. More precisely you have to fill in the title (you and the vendor have to sign, enter the paid amount and the mileage) and register the car at DMV within 10 days. It may help you save some time (and nerves) if you arrange an appointment at the DMV. Otherwise it may take you several hours.
What about insurance?
Speaking of DMV - as a non-American citizen it would be wise to make another appointment regarding your driver's license. It is possible to register a car without a Californian driver's license but then you are limited to specific insurance companies (like Progress) which are usually more expensive. So try to get your California driver's license as fast as possible to get a better insurance deal. To save time fill out your application online and prepare yourself.It is helpful to compare insurance companies online (e.g. Nerdwallet, The Zebra). In general you may find a good offer at American Automobile Association (AAA). If you need other insurances as well, the company may offer you a discount if you combine them.
Written by Carolin Marie Merten