Just the (Car) Fax

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.

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Lucille and Alice November ’12

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Lucille October ’13

20 thoughts on “Just the (Car) Fax

  1. Lucille is a lovely, multi talented, multi tasking head turner, just like her owner. There is a reason you are having to keep her, it just has not presented itself yet. Sit tight, something is coming your way!

  2. Car shopping for women has not gotten any easier over the year, that is for sure. At least the gut at the Ford dealership was more honest with you that the guy at the dealership in MA. Private sale will be the way to go. Stephanie’s description of Lucille is Perfect!

  3. I have a cousin whose hobby is helping people to buy/lease the car they need. He actually likes to do this and is very good at it. Paul has been very helpful to me and other members of my family. If you would like his number, I can put you in touch.

  4. Just do your research on used car dependability and repairs and be sure you buy a CERTIFIED used car….an NO Volkswagons. UGH…I could tell stories.

  5. First, since you financed, I would suggest you look at what is left on Lucille’s loan if you haven’t done so already. Loan’s are typically structured so that the first year’s payments are essentially to interest only so there is a very good chance you have only been paying down the capital for last year. If for ex. you borrowed $10K @ 8% for 48 years you would still owe ~$6600 after 2 years of payments. Next, if the loan balance doesn’t raise a red flag determine Lucille’s trade in, private sale, and dealer purchase price using Edmunds.com and KBB.com. Lucille has probably depreciated at least 25% (excluding accident) over last two year’s. She looks like a F150 Super Crew…so guessing 2010 XLT with 25K miles, and some options… I get $20K (ballpark) on Edmunds for a trade-in, $22K for private sale, and $24K to buy off dealer lot. If the loan and car guess are good you are down to $14K towards the replacement and financing (i.e. interest payments) start all over again. If that doesn’t stop you then go online, scout dealer lots, check prices on Edmunds.com & KBB.com for anything that looks good, then, and only then, go talk turkey.
    “Average” spread between trade in and dealer purchase price on a used car/truck is typically $2,500…more for more expensive cars so you would be better off private and the accident will be less of an issue. @ two years in with financing and an accident you might find keeping Lucille for a few more years to be the best move despite the low mpg.

    • Thanks for all the tips and info. I am on a 0% loan so that means I do have some equity. Will try to go private sale since the dealers are all difficult and time consuming, not to mention insulting.
      Thanks!

      • Dealers are nicer if there is no trade-in. If you buy from a dealer go at the end of the month. You will find them much more willing to deal especially if they need a couple of more sales to make their bonus . The bonus is a big deal since the salesman only makes about $150 for selling a car.
        If you are looking at small SUVs consider the Subaru Forrester, Honda CR-V EX, Mazda CX 5 Touring and the Toyota Rav 4 XLE… in that order. Midsized consider the Toyota Highlander V6, Nissan Murano, Mazda CX 9, & Honda Pilot… in that order. Do you see a pattern?
        Stay away from the Jeep Patriot, Compass, & Grand Cherokee Ltd V6 as well as anything Ford or British. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited will be fun but reliability and crash test results are below average so approach cautiously. Get an online subscription to ConsumersReports.org for detailed buying recommendations & reliability reports by make, model, and year. Treat the purchase like you were making a presentation… and don’t take anything personal.

      • Mata Hari, Thank You! I feel like I have my own secret, personal auto advisor. All good comments and so helpful. I had been looking at Jeeps as the ones I owned in the past were bomb-proof. But that was years ago. Why the Forrester vs. the Outback? You seem very knowledgeable and have done lots of homework in this are. I am hoping to sell the truck privately then have a better chance with the dealers at the end of the month.
        The “don’t take it personally” remark is very good advice, I do tend to get upset when I know I am the consumer and the dealers act like they are doing me a favor.

      • Forrester v. Outback is purely a dollars & sense recommendation with a touch of caution. Both are fine choices if they fit your need and your personal taste. My personal preference is Outback for the additional comfort and styling but Forrester always rates a bit higher in reliability and is less expensive. It is a tough combination to beat. If there is anything bad about buying a used Subaru is that, even new they are relatively inexpensive for what you get and the reliability rating is so high that they have damn little depreciation. That combination unfortunately makes it easy to rationalize going new for the full warranty. Once you start thinking new it is hard not to go with the 2.5 premium package and on the Outback you are getting into more bucks than I think you want to spend. So I was avoiding the temptation, and the whole slippery slope, with the Forrester only recommendation.
        The dealer’s online “ask” for any vehicle you select should be close to what you work up on Edmunds or Kelly’s Blue Book (KBB.com). If it isn’t close…don’t waste your time. If it is close to “true market value” you should be able to get $500 off the “ask” just to do the deal and if timing is right, the stars align, and you are prepared to walk away…$750 -$1,000. If you end up going new…only talk “dollars over invoice” and not “dollars down from MSRP”. You should not pay more than $1,000 over dealer invoice…$500 would be a very good deal. Be sure to check KBB or Edmunds for Mfg. to Dealer incentives that might bring your price in @, or below, dealer below. The Google reviews on the Subaru dealer in Milford are not great so if you are thinking Subaru than Nashua might be where you end up. If you get Red Venetian Pearl I would like to suggest “Rose” as her name hoping she will only take you good places and protect you well.
        Selmat jalan ‘Bu.

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