The dread and wonder of shopping new cars or how I spent my President’s Day weekend.
February 17, 2015
“The operation can wait. I want the E class!”
What did I do on President’s Day weekend? Why the most patriotic thing an American can do: I went car shopping!
Yes, my beloved 2008 Saab Aero is at that point in its lifespan where the updates and repairs are no longer worth it, especially considering the Saab Motor Company is defunct. Without a knowledgeable dealership, flushing the transmission (a surprisingly costly process on any car) would be even more maddening. Midas and Jiffy Lube told me they didn’t know how to do it. In addition, the new muffler I require would have to be special-ordered, parts and labor exceeding $800 dollars. And then there’s my Check Ignition light that has been haunting me for weeks. The diagnostic check at Jiffy Lube was a Saab code cryptically stating “cylinder #1.”
And so my love affair with Saab must come to an end. I spent the weekend “dating” other sports sedans, test driving 5 different vehicles and sitting in more. At night I dived onto Edmunds and Consumer Reports and various other sites to compare and contrast. At first it’s fun. And then it isn’t. Oh, to be a rich idiot and just pick the car of one’s dreams; say, for example the Porsche Panamera. Needless to say, that cannot happen if I want my children to go to college.
The Panamera. A figment of my imagination.
I did find some cars I like but rather than get into them here (plenty of websites for that), I want to write about my experience in general, because car buying is one of those endeavors that, for most of us, evoke huge emotional turmoil: excitement, passion, desire –yes! But tempered by disdain, mistrust and frustration- ugh! If you’re starting from scratch (no relationship with a dealer) and you want to do the job right, you must be prepared for all of it.
Since the beginning, competing car dealerships have always been strung together, usually on a frontage road beside the highway. This way you can go from one to the other, absolutely murdering your Saturday. The dealerships in lovely and expensive Marin County are no different. I’d made various appointments online, staggering each 90 minutes. Because I’m not shopping the low end the dealerships I visited were clean, open and modern, free from giant signs and balloons. That’s a good thing.
But you cannot avoid the salesmen; these guys all have one thing in common. They don’t want you to leave empty handed. Good or bad, they are basically copywriters who talk to you. Every aspect of your conversation is a pitch. Sometimes subtle, most times not, these men are trained to get you to drive home in one of their vehicles.
Cynically, I waited for the cliché’s to occur. The first dealership I went to pitted me with a pair of Indian men, donning cheap suits and shiny shoes. One focused on the vehicle while the other ran numbers. It was not long before I heard the obligatory “We want you to be happy, Steffan.” And “What will it take to get you in the car of your dreams?”
Well, how about removing 10 grand off the sticker? That would be awesome! That would make me happy. They were thinking more in the line of free car washes and maybe $500 dollars more on my Saab. For some reason both these dudes were perspiring. I flashed on Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross. When they brought me the wrong car to test drive I knew this wasn’t the place.
The next dealership I dealt with only one man, also from another country. (Why are they all from other countries?) His delightful English accent was mitigated by tenacity. He came off like an English bulldog. I began to get the willies when he coyly disrespected the competition. “Those are perfectly good cars, Steffan… If one is old.”
“I am kind of old,” I wanted to say. But instead I just smiled, wondering what handbook instructed him (and all the others) to keep dropping my name. Still, I liked him better than the Indian tag team. And the vehicles, according to Consumer Reports, were some of the best in their class. Hence, I put the car on my maybe list. How I got out of there without it I’ll never know. The dude gave me his card and texted me 20 minutes later. “I see you in this car, Steffan. Let’s make it happen!”
The last dealership I visited impromptu. Without preparation for me, the salesman was caught off guard. He pointed me to the car I liked and stood back. I ended up test-driving two vehicles, which I adored, and it wasn’t because of his voiceover. I just liked the cars. And I didn’t hate him. That, for me, is the magic combination.
Alas, one still has to run the numbers –a sobering event if ever there was one. But this blog has already gone too long. Besides, who in the hell wants to read about leasing options? You’ll likely walk that bed of coals soon enough.