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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Car Quest Ends

I was looking forward to car shopping as much as I look forward to going to the dentist. I absolutely hate it, but it's a necessity. It had been 20 years since we shopped for an auto when we walked away with a "new" Jeep. Well, it was supposed to be brand new, but we came to find out months later that it was one of a couple of Jeeps that had been crashed into and heavily damaged by an errant driver as they lined the dealer's front lot. We were never informed of this, and since it was the first new car we ever bought, we were pretty much rubes. We had nothing but problems with it in the beginning, and until my husband took over dealing with the mechanical issues. The Jeep is still running and has been passed down to my son. We always said we would NEVER go to that dealership again, so it wasn't on our list.

Our needs have changed since 1995 so what we were looking for in a car this time was quite different. For one, I didn't have the kiddies to shuttle around so there was no need for an SUV or mini-van. My requirements were quite simple; I needed to have Bluetooth (need hands free when I'm in NYC), Sirius (Underground Garage/Lithium/First Wave stations), not large, but big enough to be comfortable inside, and have a trunk large enough to fit a body, and, it had to be black or silver. Red and white seem to be the most popular colors, but not my preference.

My husband's requirements were different; he had a list of brands I shouldn't even look at, the mileage had to be lower than that of our newest 1999 vehicle, 51,000 miles, it had to be something he could work on, and that wouldn't cost us and arm and a leg every oil change. Other than that he said this journey was all my baby. Whatever I wanted to look at was fine. He would opine, but in the end it was totally up to me.

Due to the decrease in value the moment the car is driven off the lot, I've always felt buying a brand new car was a sucker's game, so I really wanted to explore used cars, from this century,  perhaps even after 2010. The problem was I had no idea what I wanted. I was never one of those people who pulled next to a car and thought, "Wow, I love that car. I want one." The only way I would know what I liked was to start looking. The first time the search began was when a large local dealership was having a sale at the Salem Civic Center. That gave me a good opportunity to walk around and check out cars that they were trying to get rid of to make room for the 2016's.

At first I was thinking something small like my friend had up in Brooklyn. She has a Spark, which enables her to fit into parking spots that no other car would. That's an important feature to have up in NY. She also introduced me to Bluetooth, which is another important feature to have up in NY where using your cell phone while driving can cost you $150. Sometimes I forget because in Virginia you can pick up a call while driving. The Spark would be too small for me because there is no room for luggage. When I had to rush back to Roanoke, she mentioned she would drive me and I was like, "Are you kidding? I couldn't fit a third of what I brought up to Brooklyn! But thanks anyway." So that was good because I knew looking at storage would be important. I saw a couple of cars but nothing worth test driving.

Next we went to a local Chevy dealer which oddly enough didn't have as many vehicles as I thought they would. I did test drive a 2014, not the Impala, the other one,  whose name I cannot remember. Nice and roomy inside, a little larger than I wanted outside, but the deal breaker was the test drive. Every time I would make a left turn or take my foot off the gas I felt like the car was going to stall. I was informed that it's supposed to feel that way as the car slips into eco-drive, an energy saving feature which gives you a couple more miles in gas. I hated it. Pass.

As my husband is a mechanic, once word got out we were looking he had a couple of his buddies offer advice and their services. Buddy 1 said all I had to do was tell him what car I wanted and he would get it for me. I didn't feel comfortable with that. How would I know what I wanted until I drove it? It's not like ordering boots on-line and when they don't fit all I have to do is ship them back. Let's see.

Buddy 2 mentioned that if I was looking for later models Enterprise car rental sells their vehicles when they get to be about 2/3 years old. It just so happened I saw an Enterprise Sale going on in the parking lot of a local bank along Electric Road. It was a Saturday around 2 o'clock, and by that late hour, all the salesmen seem to have gone home. There were a couple of interesting vehicles, but the one that stood out to me was a late model Buick which didn't have a paper on the windows like the others did. When I went home I went to their site and sure enough, they have plenty of vehicles to sell and their highway robbery/"destination fee" was the cheapest I had seen, $199. I've seen them as high as $699! Why??? Is that the auto industry's version of a real estate rental fee? Anyway, I copied a couple of the stock numbers down, called the local office to ask about the Buick, which she said she would have to get back to me on, told her my vehicle requirements, and then set up an appointment to drive three others. I was particularly getting a good vibe from Hyuandai's Elantra and Sonata, but wasn't discounting the smaller hatchback either.

Sunday is a day of rest for car salesmen. None of the dealerships are open, at least none that I was interested in. That is crazy. If I was in the car selling business, I would definitely be open on a Sunday. Not everyone goes to church. Cater to us lapsed Catholics, etc. We're both home, and Sunday is the perfect day to go browsing. Heck, I would have even driven out to Shelor. Instead, I spent my time on-line researching.

I had received email from the lady from Enterprise and the Buick was around $23,000 and had almost 40,000 miles on it. I told her I wasn't interested but we would be there on Monday at 10 to look at the other three. Strike one was the Elantra. I really liked it, but wouldn't even sit in it after she told me it didn't have BlueTooth. Since it was a 2014, I was surprised, but she said none of the Elantras come with it. Well, that's a mistake Hyundai, I thought. I sat in the hatchback, can't remember if it was a Versa or something else (see, I am bad with cars!) but it felt too cramped and even though the back seats went down, there was not enough storage room. I asked to see the Sonata and was told it wasn't on the lot. The manager was using it and wouldn't be back until 4. Now that pissed me off as I explicitly said that was one of the vehicles I was interested in taking a test drive. I was steered towards another one but it was red and I saw point in test driving a car I had no intention of buying. There was also a 2014 Hyundai Sport that had 31,000 miles on it and was $20,000. Too much money for a used car. I'm sure I could find a new one for that price! The more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe this wasn't the way to go. These vehicles had a lot of mileage in only one or two years. They're rental cars and people probably treat them like shit. And all those strangers leaving behind their essence and bad juju made me feel, I don't know, skeevy. Pass.

Buddy 3 is a used car salesman and a friend of my husbands, so I figured I'd give his dealership a shot. As usual, I went back to the computer and pulled up three possibilities, two of them had pretty high mileage, 42,000 and 46,000, but there was one 2014, that only had 7,000! Even though it was a Ford Focus, and I couldn't help notice the look on my husband's face when I said I wanted to test drive it, that was the one I really wanted to check out. It was $14,530 and it was the best deal. So my husband spoke to him, gave him the stock numbers and set up an appointment for me the next morning. Right before I left my husband confirmed again the vehicles and on my way I went. I got lost on the way because they recently moved and you cannot see them from the street. When I finally found the lot, it was huge! I had fun driving in a golf cart.

Now when someone walks over to you and the first thing out of their mouth is, "This isn't a bait and switch," and you ask if the car you were supposed to test drive is there, and they say no, then guess what, to me, it certainly looks like a bait and switch. My husband called not an hour ago, so wtf? "The sheet" said the it was still available, but it's not on the lot. Ok whatever, as far as I know maybe the 7,000 mile Ford probably never even existed. There's still two others. I drove one of them first, don't remember what it was, but knew I hated it from the way it drove. The other one didn't really "speak" to me either, and it had almost 42,000 miles and was $18,000. Then I was steered to a 2012 Sonata. It was nice, really nice, leather seats, sun roof, Bluetooth, drove like a dream. The only problem was it had 68,000 miles and it would have cost $18,400 after tax and charges. I could not justify that. Again, I thought maybe I should start looking new.

The big thing now is CarFax which the used car dealers flaunt and try to make you think it's the best thing since sliced bread. It shows the owners, maintenance, any accidents, collisions, etc. But think about's only as accurate as what has been reported. Who's to say there wasn't an accident or mechanical problem that happened, was repaired, but never reported. I don't know how it works exactly but I'm sure it's not foolproof. Oh, but it did tell me that the 2012 Sonata was purchased in July 2011. So it's really four years old, not three.

Back to the computer. The more I researched, the more I was drawn to Hyundai, especially the Elantra, so on a lunch hour we made the drive down Peters Creek Road to First Team. We were greeted by a young man named Mathew Higgs, who upon hearing my requirements pointed out a couple of cars. I immediately was drawn to a black 2016 Elantra. We went on a test drive, a long test drive, and I was pleased. I had a million questions which he answered. He wasn't pushy and didn't get annoyed. He reminded me of my son so much. He did mention he was on salary so he could be guaranteed to eat each week and when he chuckled I heard my son laugh. Scary! Anyway, by the time we left I had the brochure, and some other reading material, along with his business card. I gave my email address so I could get a complete price. Of course the person above him called later and tried to talk me into the extended warranty from them, but I wouldn't bite. Hyundai gives a good warranty themselves and, again, my husband is a mechanic.

I received the final price and a brand new 2016 was less than what the used 2012 Sonata would be! How could I not buy a new car? Meanwhile back to the computer I went to check out reviews, and the more I read the more I kicked myself for not even looking at the 2016 Value Edition as Mathew had suggested. For a couple hundred more, it came with a sun-roof, heated front seats, telescopic steering wheel, and the inside was black unlike the other car which had beige. Black is probably better for us. It still wasn't too late to so I called him and asked him if I could test drive it the next day. No problem.

We didn't go as far on the test drive, but I already knew I loved the car. Within two hours, and after banging the deafening gong, I drove it off the lot with the paper dealer plates. Before I left, Mathew set up the Bluetooth for our phones, showed me how to use it, pointed out a lot of different features, and answered every question I had and said to call him if anything arose. Nice kid, recent graduate from VA Tech, and I totally recommend him.

It's the little things that make me happy like answering my phone from the steering wheel and  having the radio station changed with voice recognition.

I'm just glad the car buying is over. I haven't even hit 100 miles on the odometer yet. It will probably take me ten years to get to the mileage as some of those other vehicles I looked at had achieved in a year or two. It still has that new car smell, and I think the next time we head up to New York I'm leaving it in Roanoke. I'd like to enjoy it for a while before it falls prey to all kinds of big city damage.

If there's one thing I could recommend before buying a car, it's do your research. You'd be surprised at the differences. If it's used, take it to a reputable mechanic to get it checked out. Don't be pressured into buying something that's over your head, or that you're not "in love" with. CarFax has its good points but I'm not 100% convinced it tells the whole story of a used vehicle. The Kelly Blue Book is your friend, even though one of the buddies remarked to me after I mentioned the price difference between KBB and his dealership, "Oh if you look at Kelly Blue Book, you'll never buy a car." Wrong, maybe just not that used car.

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