Archive for Sunday, September 10, 2000

Shopping for a car is harder than paying for it

Jest for Grins

September 10, 2000


Every eight years or so, Ray and I go car shopping. This summer, we were forced into it by our car's air conditioner failing in the midst of a heat wave. After weeks of locally intense looking, test-driving and price-negotiating, we finally found a car we liked. Unfortunately, it wasn't the same car. Ray didn't like the color of the car I liked, and furthermore, he said, the seats were too hard. I didn't like the shape of the car he liked, and also, I contended, it smelled funny.

The process of purchasing a car is complicated by the fact that we no longer shop for brand new automobiles. Been there, done that. I still remember the new 1961 Falcon we ordered, waited weeks for delivery and drove for only six months before trading it for a 1956 Chevy convertible because a Volkswagon Beetle passed the Falcon while Ray was resolutely trying to prevent it.

Nonetheless, even though we now look for late-model, low-mileage cars, we are as picky as if we were ordering a Rolls Royce. Ask any of the car salesmen with whom we dealt at least those you can locate who are still in the business after encountering us.

It is really too bad we didn't meet a stereotypical "used car salesman from hell" who might have deserved what we put our salesmen through, but all our salesmen although I'm using the masculine term, one was an extremely competent female were really nice, not pushy, not patronizing.

Speaking of patronizing, when my friend Bonnie was perusing a sales lot for a car, she noticed a salesman watching her from inside the dealership, plainly expecting her to come inside. She outwaited him and when he finally waltzed out the door and asked if he could help her, she inquired, "What can you tell me about this car?"

"It's blue," he said curtly, and just in case she hadn't gotten the message or perhaps because he thought she was colorblind added, "and it has a blue interior." I would have bet cold hard cash that no one could converse with Bonnie for half a minute without recognizing her intelligence and business competence, but this guy's next question proved that he couldn't recognize in someone else what he, himself, didn't possess. "Will your husband come with you next time?"

"He will if I ask him," Bonnie replied. Another of Bonnie's attributes is that she is diplomatic, so she didn't tell the salesman as I might have done that he'd be ice-skating in hell before there would be a next time.

Once Ray and I finally agreed on what brand of car to buy our two main concerns are safety and comfort we shopped every Lincoln dealership within a 50-mile radius in search of the perfect car. My favorite part of the whole process was when one salesman asked us if we had a trade-in and Ray said, "Yes, a '92 Chrysler Imperial with 168,310 miles on the odometer."

"Are those actual miles?" the salesman inquired.

"If they weren't," I laughed, "the mileage would be considerably lower, don't you think?"

We finally found a beautiful car, low miles, all the bells and whistles, bought it and headed home. Cruising down the highway, Ray watched nervously as the driver's side mirror heated and memory-programmable began vibrating. Finally it shook loose, dangling from three colored wires. While Ray held the mirror in place with his left hand until we could stop and secure it with rubber bands, I called the dealership and said we were returning. Driving back to the Metro-area, we passed a guy in an old klunker. He glanced at our sleek and shiny auto and grinned widely. "You know what he's thinking?" I said to Ray. "He's thinking, 'Sure, I may be driving a piece of junk, but at least my mirror isn't held on with rubber bands!'"

The service manager was waiting for us at the door. Within five minutes the mirror was fixed and we were homeward bound. We have to take the car back next week so the dealer can take care of a minuscule little spot on the finish he agreed to fix. I'm waiting to see what they'll say about the deep scratches at the back of the car where the garage door's hinges hit it as I closed it behind me the first time I drove it into the garage. Who knew that a Lincoln is that much longer than a Chrysler?

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