Auto Mania

As an unmarried woman of a certain age, I pride myself on my ability to be independent and resourceful in regard to whatever bumps life throws at me.  Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with very many of the extremely serious (life threatening) bumps.  But like most people, I've had my share of those minor irritants that come with being alive.

One of those minor irritants materialized a couple of months ago  - unexpected as usual and very unwelcome.  Let me explain:

In August, I took my car in for service.  Nothing major, just an oil change and a quick check on the fluids, brakes, etc.  I dropped it off in the morning, rode in to work with a friend, and waited for the auto mechanic's call about completion time and cost.  I didn't think about it again until I realized it was almost 3pm and I still hadn't heard anything.  So I called the mechanic:

ME: Hello, I'm calling about my car . . . the 1996 Ford Explorer.  Is the work finished yet?

AUTO MECHANIC: Oh Ma'am, I'm so glad you called.  You were on my call list. We've discovered several major problems with your vehicle.

ME: [CRAP, what the heck did he just say?] What do you mean?

AUTO MECHANIC: Well, it seems that your car is rapidly burning fluids, the brakes are about to go, the engine has a serious crack, the belts are . . .

[What is this guy talking about?  I came in for an oil change!!]

AUTO MECHANIC: . . . rotors are shot, oil is spilling into the  . . .

[What did he say again? Crack in the engine? What the heck are rotors? Did he say several serious issues? Why are my palms so sweaty?]

AUTO MECHANIC: Ma'am, ma'am ... are you still there?

ME: Um, yes.

AUTO MECHANIC: Okay, good. Back to this list, the fuel line is punctured  . . .

[WHAT? If my car is in such bad shape why is it still running? Why is it so hot in here all of a sudden? I think I'm going to pass out.]

AUTO MECHANIC: . . . basically, I think you are looking at about $3,000 in repairs. And, I'm not really sure that will save the car.

[Did I hear that right? Snap out of it. Get a hold of yourself. These guys are the experts so they must know what they are talking about, right? What am I going to do now???]

AUTO MECHANIC: Ma'am did you hear what I said?

ME: Oh, yes ... $3,000?  Um, hmm, um, hmm ... let me think about this for a minute.  Did you say a crack in the engine?

AUTO MECHANIC: Yes ma'am . . .  and a lot more.  Do you want me to go over the list again?

ME: NO, that won't be necessary! Let me think for a minute.  Um, I wasn't expecting this today.

AUTO MECHANIC: I understand.  You know, I think the best idea is for me to transfer you to one of our salesmen in the dealership department.  You might as well purchase a new car right now.

[SNAP ... that did it!]

ME: Do NOT transfer me to a salesman.  If I need to buy a new car, I might decide not to get one from you guys. Here's what I want you to do . . . change the oil, replace the fluids, and fix the brakes.  I'll be there in 2 hours to pick up my car . . . understood!!

AUTO MECHANIC: Um, yes ma'am. Um, are you sure you don't want me to transfer you to one of our . . .

ME: I'm perfectly sure! We can discuss the rest when I pick up the car. Goodbye!  Click

Well CRAP! I hate buying cars.  Sure it's great to have a new car.  What I dislike is the process you go through to acquire it in the first place. Those salesmen are the worst . . . ick!  Of course I've purchased my share of cars in the past.  But I realized that I had help from a man on every one of those past purchases (father, husband, friend).  That's because only guys really enjoy this stuff, right?

After I regained my composure and realized that I was still a grown-up with a brain, I dropped the idea that only guys excel at this particular task and took matters in hand.  I picked my car up and got a second opinion a few days later.  Unfortunately, it was all too true . . . my trustworthy 14 year old Explorer was really on its last leg (or should I say, wheel).  After all, it had almost 200,000 miles on it.  There was no way around it  . . . I really did need a new car and soon!  So I did what every smart person does  . . . I went to the experts for advice.  And - even though I know women are just a smart as men - I started my conversations with the guys.

My friend Ben drives a Lexus SUV and loves it.  Smooth ride, lots of amenities, comfortable seats, great maneuverability.  When I asked him what made him go with that particular car he had a quick answer.  "My wife picked it.  To my surprise, Jennifer was indeed the mastermind behind their last three auto purchases.  The secret  - do the research and test-drive everything.

I called my friend Peter next.  He buys Hondas.  Highly rated on safety and dependability. Great pricing and long lasting.  And how did he find his little gem? "Oh, my girlfriend turned me on to Hondas a few years ago. That's all she drives." Hmm, am I noticing a trend?  Peter's girlfriend said two words, Consumer Reports.  Go online and do the research.

But after talking to another handful of male friends - who promptly turned me over to their wives, girlfriends or sisters for the real scoop - I still wasn't any more confident.  My last call - before the inevitable search began - was to my brother Ed.  As usual, his advice was really great and it echoed much of the information that I heard from the ladies.

Then he said one last thing.

ED: One more thing  - and don't get angry with me for saying it, okay?

ME: Of course, I'm not going to get angry.  What's the last thing?

ED: If you have a male friend that you really trust, you should take him along with you to the dealerships.

ME: WHAT? Are you suggesting that I can't do this myself?  Do you think I need a GUY to buy my car?

ED: Oh brother.  I asked you NOT to get angry.  I'm just saying that you might do better with a guy along.  Some dealers have a habit of taking advantage of women.

ME: Okay, okay.  I get it.  Thanks for the advice and, no, I'm not angry. Luckily for Ed, we live 3,000 miles apart!

Actually, Ed's words were the best thing for me at that point.  I realized this wasn't brain surgery.  You just need to know what you're doing and the best way to achieve those results is to do your homework.  Just like me, my female friends hated to deal with car salesmen.  But they'd learned the secret ... know what you want and don't let the dealers talk you into anything different.  And then it hit me. Ed knew that what he said would get me fired up. Well, it worked.

After countless hours online - looking at various models, combing through auto websites, comparing prices, getting the scoop on the "real" price instead of the dealer's artificial sticker prices, AND researching Consumer Reports’ findings - I was ready.  I set my auto type, set my price, set my timeline, and contacted all the dealerships with vehicles of interest.  In advance of my appointment(s), I told each salesman exactly what I wanted to test drive and that I was looking at everything in the marketplace that fit my specifications. In short, I told them not to get comfortable with me because they had a lot of competition.

Over the course of three Saturdays, I test drove 22 SUVs (my vehicle of choice).  Although every salesman tried to "work their magic, “ I held firm on what I wanted.  In fact, I continued the research each day and compared and contrasted each model as I completed the road tests.  Thank you Consumer Reports for all those ratings and online videos!

The experience was exhausting but not quite as distasteful as I anticipated.  AND, I did it all myself . . . without a guy in tow.

In the end, my car of choice was sitting in the parking lot of the dealership as I arrived for my appointment.  I spotted it right away and you know what they say  - you just know it when you see it. And I had checked all the specs and ratings in advance!

To my surprise, the salesman who helped me was a WOMAN.  Fancy that.  She was just as knowledgeable as any of the guys, right to the point and very helpful.  Although she didn't get any breaks from me on my set items, the sale went as smooth as pie.

Bottom line, this is what I learned:

  • Men really don't know more about buying a car than women do.
  • Don't let anyone railroad you into a quick decision.  Take your time.  Get the facts. Make your own choices.
  • Be prepared.  If you do your homework, you hold better cards
  • Car salesmen can't take advantage of you if you know more about their cars than they do.
  • And best of all, brothers can be really cool (and useful) when you need them most!

Short Take: Wise Words

Hard Times Come Calling On The Comfortable