Recently, I faced a daunting task that people regularly face with about the same level of anticipation as a prostrate exam. I needed to go shopping for a used car. This report will hopefully help anyone who is facing this task as well.
First, some background. My daughter is going to be spending some time out of state and we decided that her old car was not dependable enough for this trip. We want her driving something that will be a bit more dependable and reliable. So, we sold the older car and banked the money. My daughter had been saving money from every paycheck and we turned this money over to her to help the amount grow. Almost any money she got, from birthday money to tax refunds, went into the pile. Although we had another couple of months, she was ready to begin some serious shopping about two weeks ago.
I am a person of detail when it comes to these things. I build a spreadsheet with columns for price, location, color, make, model, and other such categories. There is a column for notes to include things such as how many doors, auto or manual shift, etc. I also bookmark webpages of cars we find and email the links to myself and my daughter. If we decide to go and check one out, I print out directions from Google Maps.
As we are not overjoyed with the prospect of dealing with salesmen, we schedule almost all of those on one day. This will send the slimy factor off the scale, and I will need a shower afterwards, but we will get all of this done and then can move on to where I truly want to shop – with the private seller. You may be taking your chances with a private seller, but you do so with a dealer as well. And, as anyone who has bought a car will attest, you get the better deals from private sellers.
My daughter and I zip around town, from the large dealerships to the small lots that give off an aura roughly the same as a guy standing in an alley, wearing a raincoat (and hopefully more) and whispering, “hey buddy, want a nice watch?” We are prepared with a printed list of the cars we are looking for, and are ready to shop.
Wouldn’t you know it? Every single car on our list was gone. Not just half. Every. Single. Car. In what can only be described as the worst string of luck since the guy who sunk all his savings into Facebook stock, the story was the same in every dealership. We would walk in and immediately be accosted by an eager salesman who only had our best interests at heart. After the requisite warm greeting, we would ask to see the specific car. He would look confused for a second and then say, “sure, let me go find that one.” After a couple of minutes, he would slowly walk back, shaking his head slightly. I’m sorry, he would say as if he were working at a funeral parlor, but that car was just sold. Then, as if the sun had emerged from behind a cloud, his face would brighten as he would tell us of the wonderful car he had ready for us that just so happened to be about 25% higher than we were prepared to spend. It had to be karma that this little play was reenacted time after time. Even the small lots had their version. “No, I’m sorry, that one’s gone. Watcha looking for?” After giving details including a price ceiling, they would think, and then would remember this sweet deal over in the corner of the lot, just a bit over our budget but well worth it, of course.
The worst offender was at a large dealership. My daughter and I walked in, and bam, there he was – a young man full of confidence and ready to sell me the car of my dreams. I asked for the specific car and got the look – a split-second of panic – and then the smile. “Sure, just let me find that one for you.” After the two minute wait (required by the salesman manual), he approached. He leaned in and looked around, before whispering, “what exactly are you looking for?”
I gave him the rundown of our needs and finished with the price range, emphasizing the top of the range by calling it a hard ceiling. I then asked about the other two cars they had listed. He disappeared (for two minutes, don’t you know) and then came back and assumed the lean in/whisper mode.
“Let me be honest with you. You don’t want that car.”
“No, sir. I just spoke with my Service Manager. He’s working on it and it has a blown head gasket. Just not safe.”
“You mean the car you have advertised online as ‘running great’? That car? Blown head gasket, you say. What about the other two?”
“Well, the second one, it’s down at our other dealership down the road. Oh, and I spoke to the Service Manager about it, too. It doesn’t run very well, you don’t want it either.”
I never found out why I did not want the third vehicle, because it was at this precise moment that my luck changed to that of someone who buys the winning lottery ticket five minutes after his divorce is final. The salesman remembered that his girlfriend had just bought a new car and needed to sell her old one. This was not just some ordinary old car, it was exactly what I was looking for. As he described it, it checked off every tick mark I had listed to him. Amazing, but not the best part, for when I asked him, he told me the price, which just happened to be the top of my price range hard ceiling, to the penny.
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
To think that we walked into that exact car dealership, found that exact salesman, on that exact day, needing that exact car, for that exact price. What were the odds?
The more jaded of my readers might chuckle that this was too good to be true. There will be those who believe this was my lucky day. The ones who believe that would also probably believe that the Tooth Fairy would detail the car for me.
We left after promising to call him to arrange to see the car (off site, of course, he could not be caught selling this wonderful auto at the dealership). It was definitely shower time.