Auto shopping is one the most stressful activities you can actively undertake; it’s right up there with house hunting. There is nothing fun about it unless you have just hit the lottery and find yourself Maserati shopping. I have decided I need to downsize. I’m currently driving a Ford pick-up truck. It is technically three years old though I only bought it two years ago, brand new. I traded my Jaguar and another Ford pick-up. What I got was a lovely mix of the two. This truck has all the bells, whistles and creature comforts of the Jaguar, packaged as a great, big truck. When I owned my trailer and was hauling my horses on a regular basis it was wonderful. Since I am no longer competing, I sold the trailer this summer. As winter approaches I have begun to realize I just don’t need a vehicle this large and better gas mileage would be a plus.
I set off the other afternoon, armed with all my pertinent data and decided to visit a few dealerships. My intent was to trade the truck in, get out from under the payments, and pick up something smaller. I knew I would not be new car shopping, but considering the relative youth of my truck I figured I could make a trade for something equally comfortable, perhaps a year older, maybe a little more mileage, but comparable.
Route 101a in New Hampshire is miles of malls, auto dealers and fast food emporiums. I started at the Acura dealer, just to hone my skills. There were several SUV’s in the used car section that looked promising. I was perusing their sticker prices, mileage and model years when a lovely young man walked up to me smiling with his right hand extended. We were going to be best friends and make his quota for the year, in his mind. I told him what I was looking for, price range, mileage limits and the trade I was prepared to make. His smile faded as he lead in to the “office” amid shiny luxury automobiles in the showroom. He photo copied my registration and license, showed me on his computer what he had for used inventory and trotted off to discuss my situation with the finance manager. I knew this was just a warm-up. Here’s one thing I learned. Three weeks after I bought the truck, some jerk in Massachusetts side-swiped me. Luckily, his Toyota was no match for the truck. My running boards showed no sign of the destruction it caused to the driver’s side of his car. He was jumping up and down screaming, so I called the police. Even though there was no damage to the truck, there was an accident report. That comes up in CarFax. The dealer came back and said that meant several thousands of dollars off the value. There was no deal to be had.
I continued down the road to a huge Ford dealer. Not only did the salesman not introduce himself, he took one look at my numbers and didn’t even ask for my license and registration. His only suggestion was that I could probably do better selling the truck myself. At least he was honest and didn’t waste my time.
The third lot was a Volkswagen dealer with a huge inventory of all makes and models of used cars. I wasn’t even out of the truck before a plucky, twenty-something girl was extending her hand in greeting. She looked over the truck and lead me inside to do the prerequisite photo copying and form filling. By now I had my speech down to a few simple lines. “There is no point in wasting both of our time if you don’t have something that; number one – I am interested in, and number two – I can afford. Robin, as it turns out was her name, went to a vault of keys and grabbed a handful as we headed out the door. I looked over several vehicles. Nothing made my heart leap but I suspect, after my truck, there won’t be a vehicle that will meet all my criteria. They went to the trouble to remove a small Toyota truck from the silly lift that car dealerships use for “featured” autos. I knew we were not going to come to terms on the dollars when the swanky finance guy came out and told them to put that away as it was not in my dollar range. He then tried to sell me a 7-year-old Jeep that was so tired it actually looked droopy.
On to the last dealership. The sun, what little we had seen all day, faded into gray fog and the mist became heavier. I was met by the cheery Jay from Concord. He has a Hell of a commute to sell cars, let me just say. I stopped the process mid-form-filling by saying, “Show me what you have in inventory for this price.” No smooth computer screen, no offer to wander the lot, he just looked blankly at me. “I guess we are done for today. You have my info, call or write if something comes to mind.” I quipped as I straightened my spine and walked out the door.
That’s the funny thing about vehicle ownership in American society. We are either car geeks or we aren’t. I have always been one. From the 1968 Pontiac Tempest my brother gave me for my sixteenth birthday, complete with a Hurst shifter, to the first new car, a Datsun, I bought to replace my ancient Saab when it burned half-way from New Hampshire to Kentucky in 1977. I have always had cars that had names and legacies that accompanied their time with me. Shallow as it may seem, I identified with my Alfa Romeo Spider during my carefree twenties, and loved the Jeep Cherokee that carried baby car seats with such care. I will miss Lucille, my golden lioness that replaced the Jag and the pick-up with such aplomb, but it is time to get reasonable. Time to look forward and stop thinking the good old days are not what is happening right now.