20 January 2012

Car-Buying Time

No, that’s not me or the first car I bought. 
That’s my father, late-1940s.
Welcome back. In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that my only concerns about cars were their gas mileage and reliability. That makes life easy because, any minute now, we'll be buying a new car. 

How exciting! Pay a fortune for something that depreciates 7000 percent before you get it home, even if it's a short drive. OK, so maybe it’s not that exciting. Memorable? I can't remember buying my first car.

Motorcycle or Car?

I was working at the Arecibo Observatory and needed transportation. Heriberto, a co-worker, offered to loan or sell me his motorcycle, a Harley. As an undergraduate, I’d been on the back of my college roommate’s cycle, a 500 cc Horex. Why not up front?
No, that’s not me on the motorcycle. 
That’s a wishful simulation.

I climbed onto Heri’s Harley, and he showed me how to get it started. I can’t recall if I drove the cycle into a parked car or a concrete-lined drainage ditch. I did both; I just can’t remember which was first. In between the car and ditch or ditch and car, Heri showed me how the brakes worked.

No, that’s not a Sunbeam in Puerto Rico. 
That’s a Mercedes in Pakistan, 1981.
Anyway, I ended up buying a car--a very used, hardtop Sunbeam, but I can’t remember from whom or anything about the purchase. When I returned to the States, the car begged to stay in Puerto Rico and I gave in.

Car Salesmen

I’m sure, deep down, all car salesmen are good people. Unfortunately, I’ve come upon a few who felt obligated to live down to their stereotypical reputation.

My first disenchantment was trivial but a harbinger. Handing me his business card, the salesman stated repeatedly that, if I buy the car, a Chevette, from him, I would call him whenever the car needed anything. Being that this was a small city with a limited number of new car dealers, I bought the sales line and the car.

No, this Philippine sign wasn’t designed
with car salesmen in mind.
A few weeks later, when I called him with a car problem: Who’s this? Nope, don’t remember you. Why are you calling me if you want the service department?

I’ll skip ahead to my third new-car purchase. This trust buster was in the looking, not the buying phase.

We had recently moved to the Washington, D.C., area and were replacing my wife Vicki’s car. From the literature, Vicki decided what she wanted--a Honda Civic Wagon--and was ready for a test drive.

After calling a couple of dealers who told us they didn’t have the car on their lots, we reached one who said they sure did. I stayed with our toddler, while Vicki drove 30 miles in Beltway traffic, on a hot, humid, summer day, without an air conditioner, only to be told, Oh gee, we must have just sold it. But since you're here, let me show you these other cars.

In response to this brilliant sales pitch, we go out of our way to test drive new cars at that dealer whenever we’re looking. Of course we would never buy there regardless of price.

Is it me? We even had trouble at a national, fixed-price, used-car dealer. After test driving 2 or 3 cars, we were still undecided and leaving. Annoyed, the salesman told us we had wasted his time. We were too dumbfounded to suggest he seek employment with our favorite car dealer so we could test drive cars with him again. 
 
Wrap Up
 
Our last three new-car purchases were through auto-buying programs where one forgoes the pleasure of dealing with the salesmen. We’ll likely do that again. Are we paying more than we would if we negotiated directly, invoice in hand? Maybe.
 
Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again in about a week.

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