Archive for June 23rd, 2014

Adventures in Car Buying

I returned home from a summer study abroad in Rome, Italy, to discover my father had sold my first car in my absence. The year was 2000, and I was 19 years old. The car in question was named “Lucky”, and it was a silver 1989 mercedes station wagon, with blue interior, and hundreds of thousands of miles. It was also affectionately referred to as the “grocery getter” and the “shaggin’ wagon” and it had lived a rough life.  The previous year, I was without a car for more than two months because the air conditioner exploded and somehow damaged the engine. Did you know this was possible?  I did not.  The poor thing was on it’s last leg, but it was my first car, and I loved it, and my dad sold it back to his friend that we bought it from, because as much as I loved that car, the previous owner loved it more, and I needed something more reliable. A new car sounded like fun, and I did a lot of research about what sort of car I wanted, and I talked to my dad about the different options available. This was the year 2000, the stock market was booming, my brother had a full football scholarship, and I had a few pretty great academic scholarships that paid my full tuition and a large chunk of my room and board, and we both lived in Athens, one of the cheapest places in America. My dad wrote me a cashiers check for what still seems like a ton of money, and he told me to go buy a car.   At first, this seemed reasonable, and I was pleased by this empowering moment of trust and responsibility. Although my dad refused to go car shopping with me, my mom was allowed to go.  Kate and I quickly decided that buying a car was not actually that much fun.  Then I found a car that I was madly in love with, that was the same amount as the hot little cashiers check burning a hole in my pocket.  I was suddenly having a lot more fun.  Then they told me that I had to pay for the license and registration fee, I think it was something like $200.  This seemed like a pittance compared to the cashier’s check, and I should add that at the age of 19 I had yet to learn the value of a dollar. I called my dad from the dealership, and told him that I had found a car, but that I needed $200 for the license and registration.  He laughed at me, and told me that I did not have $200, that all I had was the amount of the cashiers check.  My mom already had her checkbook out, and it was like my dad could hear this through the phone, and after a pause he added, tell your mom she doesn’t have $200 either.  This made me very unhappy, and I’m sure I started whining, because it seemed so stupid to not get this car that I’d already fallen madly in love with because of a measly $200. And from the other end of the phone, my dad said, “Listen, you have a check in hand for the amount of money they want for that car, and if they aren’t willing to cover the license and registration fee, then they must not be very interested in selling the car.  Tell them that you don’t have $200 dollars, that the check is all the money you have, and walk out of the door. There are other cars in the world.” Horrified, I hung up the phone, and looked the sales person in the eye, and I told her that I, sadly, did not have $200 to cover the license and registration, and that I was sorry I couldn’t buy the car.  I know that none of you will be shocked to learn that the dealership did not allow me and my cashiers check to leave that day, and that the dealership covered the $200 license and registration.  I learned a valuable lesson about buying cars, and negotiating, and about my general ability deficit for both. I drove away from the dealership in that car, and I loved that car.  I loved that car for more than ten years, for the entire decade of my 20s.  The silver bullet and I had some good times together, we got arrested together, we took trips to DC, Alabama, Tennesssee, Florida, Kentucky, all through both Carolinas and all over Georgia, and drove out to Colorado and spent a glorious summer driving through the mountains.  The silver bullet died during my first year in Charleston, a year riff with the financial strain of owning a house in one city but living in another, an appendectomy, a new job, and a new life.  I was not in the best of places when I was forced to buy a new car – financially, mentally, socially – and I did not employ any of the lessons I learned in my previous buying experience.  At the very least, I knew that I wasn’t in the best position to negotiate, and I signed a three year lease on a Rav4 that at the bare minimum I could afford to pay.  I feel confident I overpaid thousands of dollars in that lease, and I regret not having the energy to stand up for myself in the car buying process.  The Rav4 and I had bad timing.  I was clearly not over the emotional attachment of my previous car relationship, and I resented the Rav4 as a necessary evil, and an inadequate replacement. The past three years have gone by shockingly quickly, and all areas of my life are now on much more stable ground.  Armed with my newly recovered confidence and drastically improved credit score, I was damned and determined to fully participate in the car buying experience and not let anyone push me around. I park on the street, and I work from home three days a week, and my office is less than fifteen minutes from my house.  I do not spend a ton of time in my car, and I do not park it in a particularly “secure” location, like say, a garage.  Or a driveway.  I planned on taking my time with this whole car buying thing, and I went to lots of different dealerships, and I test drove lots of different cars. I called my bank and had them pre-approve me for a car loan, to get an idea of what sort of interest rate I could get.  I finally found a car I really liked, that was within the price range of what I felt I should spend given the above mentioned factors, taking into consideration the other ways I might rather spend my money.  It was a 2012 Honda CR-V, with 23k miles, and lots of fun stuff that I really didn’t even know were options on cars.  And I liked the sales person, she was nice, seemed sincere, did not waste my time, and gave me a clear cut picture of the bottom line. Because I promised myself that I would not over react, but instead take my time and investigate all of my options, I left that Honda dealership (Hendrick), and I drove to the other Honda dealership (Stokes).  It seemed like the thing to do, me being such a savvy shopper and everything.  Things did not go so well at the second dealership. I walked in, I told them how much I wanted to spend on a car, I told them three things I needed the car to have, and what sort of credit score I thought I could obtain.  A sales girl who was trying very hard but who clearly had ZERO authority or knowledge showed me about twenty different cars, none of which had a price on the sticker, and she was able to tell me the price of maybe two out the twenty. She told me she used to sell cosmetics, but that she recently started selling cars.  I was not shocked by this statement. She easily wasted an hour of my time walking around the lot looking for something she rarely found. Then we went inside, and I sat at a desk for a good 45 minutes while she tried to get the prices on the cars, during which time she asked me who else would be helping me buy the car.  Seeing as how I was there alone, and had made no mention of anyone else helping me buy the car, and since I had discussed what I anticipated spending, etc, it is not clear to me why she assumed someone else would be helping me buy the car, but it definitely threw me off.  Later I found it to be insulting.  I’m a grown ass adult, I shouldn’t have to tell you that I’m also an attorney for you take me seriously.  I may have left out the part about being attorney at all the dealerships, because it really shouldn’t matter, I should be taken seriously anyway. Then, a man came in with three pieces of paper, listing the prices for three different cars.  One car was $4k more than how much I said I wanted to spend, one was $5k more, and the third was $7K more.   I looked at the man, and I told him that all three of the cars were outside of my price range, and I repeated to him my price range, and my car criteria. He then said he would be right back, and disappeared.  Fifteen minutes later, another man returned, with the same three print outs.  He told me that these were the cars that were available, and that if I was worried about the price, that I should get a 72 month loan, because that way I could actually get what I wanted. I wanted to tell him that even though my finance education is limited, that a 72 month loan on a depreciating asset didn’t sound like a deal to me. Or that if I was going to buy a car at that price, it wouldn’t be a Honda CR-V (apologies to all the CR-Vs out there, you really are a lovely little car).  Instead, I told him that what I actually wanted was a car at my stated price, and not one that cost $7k more. I told him of the car from the other dealership, the year, model, mileage, price. He disappeared. The first man returned ten minutes after that, with a print out from the internet of the cars matching my description in the local area, and explained to me that there was no way that the other dealership could have given me such a price, and that the car I was describing did not exist.  I told him I was not going to argue with him about what happened to me earlier that day. I repeated my car buying criteria, calmly and firmly, and I asked him if he had a car like that to sell me.  He said, no, and then launched into another pitch about the three cars on the print outs.  I cut him off, and I said, Okay.  And I think he thought I meant, okay, I would buy one of his stupid cars, because his face lit up momentarily, while I was taking a deep breath to keep my head from exploding.  After head exploding preventative deep breath, I said, “I’m sorry you do not have a car available that meets my criteria, I appreciate your time.”  I shook his hand, and the hand of the clueless sales woman, and I left.    Furious. I honestly was not aware that I could be insulted so many different ways in such a short period of time.  I’m willing to admit I may have a bit of a chip on my shoulder due to the fact that I feel like I was taken advantage of on the Rav4, but really, I think what upset me the most is that a lot of these tactics would have worked on me, in a different setting, at a different time, and I found this rather frightening. I felt targeted, that if I hadn’t been a youngish woman, I would have been treated very differently.  I felt like I had just been on the worst date of my life, or like I just got out of the worst interview of my life (both of which were harrowing experiences). I ended up going back to other Honda dealership, and getting that car.  I even negotiated them into paying for the closing costs, which felt like a huge win, and like a sign that I’d picked the right car, the right dealership.  Now if I can only get the stupid Toyota dealership to call me back and tell what the F I’m suppose to do with this RAV4 I don’t need anymore.  I feel like I’m sending the Rav back into foster care.  It really wasn’t a bad car, but our relationship was doomed from the start.  I have high hopes for my new car relationship, I think we are going to be happy together for the foreseeable future.

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