Friday, November 15, 2013


Rumor has it that 11/12/13 was supposed to be a lucky day.  And for whoever had that date in the  ‘When the hell is Debbie going to retire that Jeep?’ pool it was.  That is the day I finally caved and got a new vehicle.  Not just a new-to-me vehicle, but for the first time in nearly 2 decades a brand spanking new vehicle.  Really – when I drove it off the lot, it had 5 miles on it.  FIVE!

Bye bye old girl
What a great feeling it is to just start it and drive.  No more wondering how long after I spring it from Big Al’s yard will I drive it before something starts leaking, squeaking, dripping or skipping.  Now I don’t have to crank up the radio to drown out the funny noise (which was always way more amusing to the mechanic than to me).  Never again will I have to start every conversation with ‘Hey, if you’re headed to Southwest Harbor tomorrow, would you mind dropping me off (or picking me up) at Big Al’s?

While it is freeing, this whole getting a new car thing has been a learning experience, which I shall share with you partly because I am a helper, but mostly because I like to ramble on about me. 

First and foremost, even though sheer volume of splashy flashy full page ads in the paper make the dealerships look desperate enough to sell anyone a car, for many of us, it is not going to be as easy, or as reasonably priced as the splashy flashy ads proclaim.   In my particular circumstance, my credit is less than spectacular, a fact I shared freely and frequently with the sales rep who lost the draw and was assigned to me (we shall call him Skipper).

Skipper calmly and frequently assured me ‘I wouldn’t worry about that’ which I stupidly thought meant  ‘He knows what he’s doing, he’s sold a lot of cars', but what it really meant was 'I wouldn't worry about it because I won't be making the payments'.  I was a little excited when he introduced me to a  fresh-off-the boat gleaming black (or Center of the Universe or Winter Afternoon or Snowman’s Butthole or whatever the hell non-color name they call it) 2014 Jeep Cherokee.  He not only was not concerned about my dicey credit, he apparently glossed over the part of my email in which I explained I did not need a vehicle with all the bells and whistles.  This chariot had it all – heated leather seats, big screen satellite radio which responds to my voice command and verbally responds (two things my kids could work on), illuminated cup holders,  a storage system in the back with nooks and hooks and shelves that rival any Ikea store, more outlets than I have in the fabulously appointed bungalow, an on-board String quartet, blender, minifridge, treadmill…. The list went on and on. 

The drive was enchanting, but even I knew it was out of my range.  I decided to take charge, and be the better negotiator.  I repeated my basic needs: decent tires, seats (not leather, but something a step up from a milk crate covered in newspaper), heat, radio (sure the big screen satellite thing was nice, but the voices in my head might not like the competition from that pleasant disembodied voice coming from the dashboard), room for a couple coolers (work related, I swear), and maybe brakes.  We looked at a couple in the back lot that had just come in, he asked me what my budget was (we shall refer to it as $$$), asked if I could come up with $$$$ for a down payment, and soon presented me with a jumble of figures, all of which made my head spin.  The payment was $$$ plus 115 dollars, and the down payment was $$$$ plus 350 dollars. I was proud that I was not buying into his logic that the fuel savings alone would cover part of the payment, and the rest would be covered by what I am now paying Big Al (both true).  I stood up, put my coat on, snapped up the paper and, in my best stern negotiating voice said ‘I’ll think about it.’

When I finally returned his phone calls Monday morning, I was one tough cookie.  I even tossed in a couple phrases I learned when I used to sit in the back of the conference room during  real estate office staff meetings and play Buzz Word Bingo—see if you can figure out which ones they are.  Look, Skipper, The payment you quoted is well out of my comfort zone (there’s one).  What I can do is $$$+75 dollars, and my original down payment amount.  Going forward (and there’s the other one) I realize I will have to look at something more basic – perhaps that dark blue Patriot (or Liberty or Betsy Ross’ Sewing Kit-- they all looked the same).  And remember, my credit is less than stellar.  No worries.  After he had a heart to heart with his manager, he called back, told me we had ‘nailed it’ and I was on my way to buy a car.  Or so I thought.

I would be so very wrong.  The figure he came back with after I filled out the credit app was $$$ plus 75 dollars plus another 125 dollars.  I asked what, exactly, we had nailed in our earlier conversation.  Turns out, the figure we ‘nailed’ was for well qualified buyers. Which I was not. I was in the category that was …well…qualified?   For some reason my adult filter snapped on and I did not say what I wanted to say.  But I’ll share it with you.

Indoor voice:   Listen Skipper, if I was well qualified I would be sitting at the Lexus store right now sipping a latte and getting a foot massage while smiling cherubs embossed my name on the documentation in gold leaf, not huddled in a cubicle overlooking the Wal-Mart polishing off an Adirondak seltzer that’s been roliing around my car for a week.

Outdoor voice:  Thanks but I guess I will have to continue my search. 

After some back and forth Skipper’s manager (whom I never saw but imagine him to be some  velvet-caped overlord in a crystal cave somewhere behind the maze of used vehicles who delights dashing middle-aged hopes and dreams) agreed to turn over a vehicle to me for a monthly sum that was only $$$ plus 75 plus 60 more dollars.  I agreed, because I was hungry. After one little 'oopsie' the next day in which Skipper tried to convince me I had agreed to a slightly higher amount and had to go through the 'check with the manager' show again, I was ready to sign.

I did make a couple snarky comments about the $399 document fee – please keep in mind most of the vehicles I have purchased over the last 2 decades I have found on the side of the road, and the bill of sale has been scribbled on a cocktail napkin.  This document process was very elaborate, the documentator made it  pleasant and almost worth the admission ticket  (which is a 36 inch long multicolored form in triplicate).  After signing and signing more and making believe I understood what I was signing, I got the keys, and away we went.

You may look, but don't touch.
Now for those of you who have never leased a vehicle before, the upside is that the monthly payment is lower than purchasing;  however,  there are a couple of downsides.  First, you are limited in the number of miles you can drive without paying extra.  Now for a gal who drives everwhere (including the 7/10 of a mile to work, and the one mile to the gym)   this may end up being an issue down the road.  The second downside is that you have to take care of it.  It’s stressful.  I haven’t even shown it to my friends yet--it’s cold and flu season, and I can’t run the risk of anyone sneezing on it.  Before I let any of my pals inside, I am gonna have to check them for ticks, and sharp objects and stains and seeds and stems.  No more snacking while driving, which was one of my past times, especially on the 7/10 of a mile drive to the gym.  Of course, my wobbly coffee travel mug will never see those sparkly illuminated cup holders (yes I got ‘em – my needs are basic, but I am civilized).

 To review and praise my sharp negotiating skills – I walked into the first dealership I drove by, planning to start the search to buy a new vehicle for no more than $$$ a month, and 75 hours later I drove away in a brand new 2014 Jeep Patriot (in Granite Twinkle, thank you)  which I am borrowing for 36 monthly payments of $$$ plus $135.  
But at least for the next 3 years, if there is anything leaking, squeaking, dripping or skipping it’s probably me and should be covered by my new health care plan – the next item on my list of things to negotiate.  With my freshly honed skills, I should be able to lock in a plan that covers pre-natal visits, prostate exams, and deworming all for $1,000 a month. 
And in 2 ½ years if I start every conversation with ‘Hey, if you’re headed to….  That just means the odometer has hit 36,005.  Please be kind.

No comments:

Post a Comment