I really didn’t want to buy a new car. Or, perhaps it would be more truthful to say, I wished I didn’t have to buy a new car. I’d grown very comfortable with the hybrid I’d owned for five years. It had all the bells and whistles I wanted (XM radio, full navigation system, rear-view camera), and it got reasonably good mileage (around 32 mpg) while going about 500 miles on a single tank of gas.
But after my last regularly scheduled maintenance, I knew it was time. That was when the friendly service technician told me that I would need to have one cylinder replaced (something about a common problem for this type of hybrid when it has over 60,000 miles on it) for a cool $3,600. I wasn’t about to put that much money into a car that was likely to cost me increasingly more in those kinds of repairs as I put more miles on it. And so I began the hunt for a new car.
Let me be blunt: I hate just about everything about shopping for a new car. Here, in relatively brief summary, is what I experienced on this latest excursion into car shopping hell.
I started my hunt by looking for a new hybrid. I liked the one I had, but it had been five years, and I was sure the advances in technology would provide more and better choices. So I went on the internet and asked “the Google” to give me a list of the best hybrid sedans.
Uh, I guess I should have narrowed my search a little. I was immediately shown to dozens of sites that all claimed to have the best hybrids identified, listed from one to ten, and each with professional ratings and consumers reviews. After studying a bunch of these sites over several weeks, I decided that TMI was making my task almost impossible.
So I reverted to plan B, which was to test drive one of the hybrid models that my good friend, a self-proclaimed expert on hybrids (even though he’s never owned one, which should have been a clue) recommended. So, I called one of three local dealers, all of whom, I should add, had been bombarding me with e-mails, almost begging me to let them sell me my new car, ever since I had first started my Google search. (Give up any expectation of privacy if you ever go shopping on the web.) That weekend, I had my test drive.
Here’s the thing about a test drive: it really isn’t intended to let you get the feel of the car. It’s kind of the equivalent of buying a house after you stop in for an open house on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, everything is very pretty, but the real understanding of what it’s going to be like to live in the house (or to drive the car), doesn’t come from that first visit (or test drive).
In fact, the “test” drive is really just a sales pitch, wherein the dealer/salesperson (I think they are all men, but I’ll go gender neutral to be p.c.) tells you all the wonderful features in the car, most of which you’d rarely, if ever, think to use if you owned the car. That’s what the modern technologies have done with the cars that are being manufactured these days. They have far more gadgets than you’ll ever need, and many won’t even be comprehensible unless you are a car technology nut, which I most definitely am not.
Anyway, I didn’t like the car. It wasn’t as comfortable (or, truth be told, as substantial) as the hybrid I already had. And the price tag was far more than I was willing to pay. Of course, before I could get out of the showroom, I was forced to listen to two other sales-types who wanted me to know what a great deal they could give me (first on a “one-time rebate” and then on a trade on my current hybrid). It was only when I claimed I was late for a golf tee time that I was able to extricate myself from the ordeal of trying to escape from car dealer purgatory.
Finally, I turned to the guy at my gym who had befriended me over the last year. He’s a car salesman and had offered to help me if I was ever in the market for a new car. I had vowed to myself that I would never turn to him, knowing that doing business with friends (or even friendly acquaintances) is bound to lead to bad results all the way round.
The first thing my gym rat pal did was turn me off of hybrids. “Too little return for the added gas mileage,” he said, “when compared to the higher sticker price.” I did the math, and it turned out he was right. The better deal was to go with a smaller gas version of the same model, thereby saving dollars on the purchase and getting gas mileage that would still be pretty good.
Partly because I was exhausted (mentally and psychologically) ,I let him convince me. And, lo and behold, his original quote was more than fair. I used the web to verify that fact. It was still a major undertaking to actually buy the car, however. First there was the appraisal of my hybrid for the trade-in value. That took over an hour (don’t ask me why.) Then there was the process of getting my credit report (another hour). And then there were the two hours with the finance manager, wherein I was “offered” the undercoat protection (NO!), the extended warranty (no thanks) and the anti-theft gizmo that was on sale for a limited time (okay, if you insist).
Six hours after I arrived, I left with my new car. It’s bright and shiny and I think the horn works. I haven’t figured out how to lock it with the keyless lock system, but I’m sure I will. And if I don’t, well, at least I have that anti-theft gizmo.