Monday, August 29, 2011

Lessons in Car Buying

Beloved Spouse's Buick has driven off into the sunset. Or most likely, the salvage yard. Rest in peace, old Buick. You were a noble conveyance until the end. Except for the part where most of you didn't work and the rest was dented and/or broken.

Shown approximately actual decrepitude.
So now we have a new car. And a new car note. And a new higher insurance premium. And no garage to put it in. More on that in a minute.

In the end, the car buying process went much more smoothly than I could have hoped. Which sounds lovely, but the truth is, boring middle-aged people have a much easier time buying new cars than flighty young people. And my surprise at the ease of this weekend's transaction simply reflects my utter refusal to accept that no one sees BelSpouse and me as a flighty young couple any more. We are Stable and Upstanding. Kill me.

We were radicals back in the day. No, really.
The key to a successful vehicle purchase is working with a salesperson you don't actively want to throttle. I can't stress this enough. Since you will be spending virtually an entire day with this person, and handing them an inordinate amount of your money, it's very important that they not make you feel like committing murder right there on the showroom floor. Don't get discouraged, because most car salespeople will have your throttlin' fingers twitching within a minute.

Just like a horse, you should check
their teeth and feel their withers.
 We ended up working with an awesome Chevy salesman named David. How awesome was he? He was the only salesperson at any dealership we visited who did not speak these words: "What's it going to take to put you in this car today?" Seriously. I hate that question. Wait: I HATE that question. Better. For me, the answer to that question is, "It's going to take a freaking time machine so you can go back and not say those words, because I'm not buying a pair of shoelaces from someone who asks me that, let alone a $25,000 car."

Unless it was Kurt Russell in Used Cars.
Well, maybe not. Well, maybe.
 So Lesson One: Find a Salesman Who Is Not a Douchebag. Lesson Two: Don't Assume You Know Anything at All About the Person with Whom You're Buying the Car, Even If You've Been Married to Him for 600 Years. This is a good all-purpose rule, but especially applicable here. At this point in my relationship with BelSpouse, I've learned that any instance of my correctly surmising his mood, thoughts, tastes, preferences, or possible future actions is a lucky guess. I may as well keep a Twister spinner with me and give it a flick when I have to predict what he's going to say or do. My accuracy rate would likely double.

Right hand, indifference! Left foot, urge to kill!
We went to the dealership on Saturday to test drive a Chevy Impala. David had one on the lot, and we were going to evaluate it as a sample car and then figure out which options and such we wanted on the actual car that we would then purchase when it became available. You know, later. Because the one thing of which I was absolutely dead certain was that BelSpouse was not going to be 100% happy with the test drive vehicle and would not want to purchase it then and there.

Except that as he drove it, he got this look on his face. The last time I saw that look was when we stopped at the SPCA booth at the State Fair of Texas to see the adoptable dogs, and BelSpouse sat on the grass, and an improbable mutt with stubby legs and floppy ears climbed into his lap and gazed up at him with big soulful brown eyes. Thirty minutes later we had completed the adoption paperwork to make him ours. I knew it was going to happen, because I saw the "Gee, ma, can we keep 'im?" look on BelSpouse's face.

I'm not made of stone, people.
 So we're driving around in this Chevy Impala, and I'm noting that it doesn't have a couple of the options we had talked about wanting, like the cool buttons in the ceiling that turn the car into a giant garage-door opener or the rear seat that folds down so we can keep an eye on Precocious Daughter when we stash her in the trunk. Meanwhile, BelSpouse is noting that the odometer reads 441 miles, as opposed to the Buick's odometer, which reads nothing because it stopped working three years ago. And that the springs in the driver's seat are gently cradling his bum instead of hanging down to the floorboards. And that there is no discernible duct tape holding any portion of the car together.

In fairness, it's amazing what that stuff can do.
 But more than any of those things, BelSpouse had That Look. So when we got back to the dealership, and I said, "Well, let's go talk about what else we want for our car," it should not have surprised me that he said, "No, let's buy this one right now." But since I can't predict whether he'll like the marinade I put on the chicken breasts, all I could do for a moment was stare. I've adopted that same stare roughly 145,000 times during our marriage. You'd think I'd give up and admit I don't know this man I married at all.

Transparent and scrutable in comparison.
So we sat down and bought the car. This brings us to Lesson Three: Leave Your Checkbook at Home. This is not a shrewd negotiating technique or a way to buy more time to think about your purchase. It's a way to ensure that your garage door doesn't come crashing down on top of your brand-new car the day you bring it home.

While the dealership finance guy was sitting in the back office pretending to run our credit numbers but actually just making us sweat while he played Angry Birds on his Android for a couple of hours - you know, the standard protocol - I rummaged through my purse and realized I had no checks with me. Who the hell writes checks any more? If you look in our check register, you'll see almost nothing but entries for our hairstylist, who doesn't take credit cards. And a single yearly check made out to the Girl Scouts to cover the obscene number of cookies I always buy. Besides, if you'll recall, I was 100% positively absolutely sure we weren't actually going to purchase a car that day because I'm married to a complete stranger. So it never even occurred to me to make sure I was carrying a checkbook when we left the house.

Anyway, BelSpouse drove home to get the checkbook while PDaughter and I stayed at the dealership and played in all the Corvettes and Camaros in the showroom. Hey, how often do you get to sit in a $75,000 sports car and make vroom vroom noises? Not often enough.

After all, it was our second choice.
 Then BelSpouse called and for once said exactly what I expected him to say, which was that he couldn't find the checks. But to even the score, he added something out of the blue: "I almost just got killed by the garage door."

In a nutshell, one of the 37-year-old tracks holding our garage door had finally warped, and the little wheels fell out of the track when BelSpouse hit the opener. Not all of them, but enough of them on both sides that the whole thing was hanging rather precariously from the ceiling. The Garage Door of Damocles, if you will. The Buick was out of the garage when this happened, which was fortunate, since BelSpouse had to erect an impromptu scaffolding of random lumber to hold it up. It was 105 degrees on Saturday, did I mention that? I'm sure his surging adrenaline kept him cool while he worked.

I took some pictures of what our garage currently looks like, but I forgot to upload them, so here's a dramatization:

Possibly a bit of an exaggeration, but on the other hand, in BelSpouse's eyes, probably not.

So with this stunningly good omen for buying a new car before us, we got back to buying a new car, which now had nowhere to live until we could get the garage-fixing guys out on Monday. (No, we're not fixing it ourselves, thank you very much, every single person who has asked. I don't pay for a home warranty just so I can go around fixing things myself. It's called supporting the American economy, and it gives me an air of superiority and keeps me from getting shmutz on myself.)

The lesson here is that, had I brought the checkbook to the dealership, the garage door would have fallen off the tracks when we brought the new car home, possibly trapping or even crushing our beautiful and totally not paid for Impala. I'm going to to say I saw the whole thing coming, because you can't prove otherwise.

We ended up getting a really good price, and a really good interest rate, and the whole process went so well that when Charles the finance guy (who also was awesome once he stopped playing Angry Birds) handed us the completed paperwork, I had no idea that we had actually gone from Buying the Car to Owning the Car. I hadn't even cried yet, and it was over. It was very much like having the anesthesiologist tell you to count backwards from 100, and the next thing you know, you have no appendix. I had to check myself for scars. Wow.

So all that leaves is Lesson Four: Cars Have Become Spooky. When you go from a 12-year-old car to a brand new car, the first thing you notice is that certain advancements have taken place in automotive technology since the millennium began. We couldn't drive off the lot until we had "activated" the Impala. We've never had to "activate" a car before. We just stuck the key in the ignition and drove. First of all, this damn car starts itself. Our new car is Christine.

The consequences of spilling frozen yogurt
on the upholstery will be swift and severe.
Second, our car has its own phone number. I'm not talking about OnStar, which is freaky enough because now disembodied voices speak to us, and not the ones we're used to. I'm also not talking about the hand-free Bluetooth for BelSpouse's cell phone. BelSpouse's cell phone is a dinosaur - it doesn't even have Bluetooth. Our new car laughs at his inadequate cell phone. No, the car itself has a phone line. And if I start seeing a lot of late-night calls to Detroit on our bill, that car is going to have some 'splaining to do.

I hope Click and Clack don't charge by the minute.
 Our new car tells us what our tire pressure is, when we have to get the oil changed, whether our socks match. It tells us what song is on the radio and if the club mix is better. It gives us turn-by-turn navigation, and if we yell at PDaughter in the back seat, it notifies our parents that we're mistreating their granddaughter. It's possible I'm exaggerating a few of these features, but only because the damn car makes us feel like Valentine Michael Smith when we get behind the wheel. But since we can also steal PDaughter's iPod and plug it directly into the stereo, all is forgiven.

BelSpouse loves his new car. I love not having to worry about the Buick breaking down or bursting into flames or simply giving up and dying. PDaughter loves the new car smell. Having a car payment again...not so much. Because really, if a salesperson asks you what it will take to get you in this car today, the obvious answer is "it will take you giving me this car for free, right now, no questions asked." Which is why it's a stupid question. And why we held on to the Buick until it begged for mercy before replacing it.

And now, having stimulated the economy, I'm going to go eat some ramen noodles. For the next five years. I wonder if the Impala came with a microwave in the glove box?

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