Goin’ on an Auto Hunt

By Piper Bayard

We’re having a little problem where our son is concerned. The problem is that he isn’t little. In fact, he’s 6’7” and built like a tank. That, in itself, is not a problem, grocery bill aside. The problem is that now that he’s 16, he rightfully wants to drive and he doesn’t fit into any of our cars unless we have the Jaws of Life handy to peel him out. So even though we’d rather drive a car hundreds of thousands of miles just to avoid ever talking with a car salesman, here we are. Goin’ on an Auto Hunt.

This calls to mind some of the fine vehicles I’ve been proud to own. One had doors that only opened from the outside on one side and from the inside on the other so people had to go through the car, not in and out of it. One boiled through the water in the radiator about every 20 miles so I had to travel with a trunk full of water jugs. Another had a front bench seat filled with junk food bags to replace the missing stuffing so people wouldn’t get hurt on the springs when they sat down. 
And don’t even get me started on the ’67 VW Beetle. To this day, I see one of those and think, “Better you than me!”

The first time I bought a car from a dealer rather than a newspaper ad, it was from a friend’s dad. I was so green it never occurred to me that he would soak me. After all, he was my friend’s dad so I didn’t have to do my research, right? It was a great car, but I waaay overpaid. Hubby and I refer to that as the Daddy Fix Me Price. It relieves us of responsibility, but only at a cost.

After a couple of unremarkable used car purchases that didn’t leave us feeling completely fleeced, I redeemed myself for the Daddy Fix Me car. It was our first new car, and I was determined to do it right.

I saw it on the dealer’s lot. A beautiful, moderate sized SUV with AWD for mountain roads and snow. It was even red with standard transmission. Perfect! I looked inside. I sat in it, played with it, let my son crawl around in it, and I walked away without leaving my address or phone number.

Unbeknown to the salesmen at the dealership, I stalked that car for a month. I researched prices, I knew what every competitor would offer me, and I knew a place with a decent non-negotiable price for a similar car that wouldn’t waste my day and my brain space playing good cop/bad cop. I even arranged financing from an alternate source. But more, the car gods were with me. The night before I went in, I saw a late night ad by the car lot that said they would beat any competitor’s price by $500.

I got up the next morning and declared to the woman in the mirror, “It will be mine. Yes! It will be mine.” Then, armed with a pre-written check for $500 under their competitor’s admittedly fair price, with tax, I walked into the first salesman’s office I saw, put the check on his desk and said, “That car. Take it or leave it, and no, I’m not paying handling fees.”

After feeble attempts to jack me up, the salesman took the check and very seriously asked me to never tell my friends about our deal. He didn’t want to meet anyone I would send him. We now have almost 200k miles on that car.

So I’ve done it the wrong way, and I’ve done it the right way. Who knows what I’ll learn this time.

I’d love to hear your car buying stories and your car disaster experiences. When have you done it wrong, and when have you done it right? What lemon cars have you had?

I could also use your input, please. What cars do you know of that have the best leg and head room? Please only recommend cars that start every time you turn the key. I am a mom, after all.

All the best to all of you for stalking your prize.

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48 comments on “Goin’ on an Auto Hunt

  1. Jane Sadek says:

    First car – 67 Dodge Dart with push-button transmission. Favorite car – 1792 Buick Riviera. Worst car – Toyota Carolla (can’t remember the years, but late 80’s or early 90’s). Current car – 2004 VW Psaat. Along the way I had a Buick Skylark, Olds Cutlass, several Pontiac Gran Prix’s and a Jeep Grand Cherokee. And me – I let the men in my life do the negotiating. I need them to do something useful.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Oh, yeah. I had the 80s era Toyota Carolla, too. That was the one with the bent frame that almost shook apart if I drove over 45 mph.

      As for the negotiating, I’m glad hubby is happy to leave that to me. He figures as the attorney in the family, that falls into my venue. I love the looks we get when the whole family goes to the car dealer and the salesman doesn’t know who to talk to. I actually pulled up to a car dealership once with my toddlers, and the salesmen standing around gossiping directed me to Service & Repair, and then asked who I was there to see. Never crossed their minds that I was there to buy a car. I used them as part of my research and bought from their competitor because of it.

      Sounds like you’ve had some serious classics there, Jane. How was the leg room in that Jeep?

      • Jane Sadek says:

        Loved it – that was my real estate car. Not only was there great legroom – also nice headroom. I had some rather large clients and they all fit in great. I left the Central Coast of California and real estate, so the Jeep was a little much for tooling around the big city, especially when when my tiny 80 something Mom was having to climb in and out of it. Had a Jeep for a rent car recently and they are still plenty big. I was glad to get back into my VW sedan.

  2. Running from Hell with El says:

    Hmm. One of my craziest jobs back when I bolted from college and messed around for a couple of years was selling cars.

    I wasn’t that good at it but I learned all the tricks, so when friends and family need help negotiating purchases, I’m their go-to.

    I howled when I read about the VW . . . and the trunk filled with jugs of water for the broken radiator.

    Hmm. Honda Element? You can get a used one for a good price, and it kicks butt re headroom for a small SUV (it is based on the very reliable CR-V platform). Here is a look at the headroom, which is 43.5 inches in the front:

    http://www.skidmore.edu/~pdwyer/e/purchase_decision.htm.

    Good luck.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thanks for the info, El, and for the link. I wondered why I saw so many young men around here with the Honda Element when it hardly looks sporty or cool. More like a cracker box with wheels. Could be they are tall. We’ll definitely check that out, and I’ll probably be asking you for tips. 🙂

  3. My neighbor is massively tall, and he swears by the Honda Element. BUT, you’d have to find a used one most likely unless a dealer still had one on the lot, because I don’t know if they make them any more. He actually bought a second one because of this, for when his first one breaks down–he had such a hard time finding a vehicle for his height!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      LOL. We’re also a Honda family. My son can just squeeze into the ’97 civic. This is the second vote for the Element so we’ll definitely check that out. Sounds like your neighbor is a very practical man. Thanks for the info!

  4. I’m 6’0″ and I absolutely love my Kia Soul. I have plenty of leg room and head room. Of course your son is taller than me, so not sure if it would work for him. But I never feel cramped and I usually do in other cars. I was really surprised by the room in what looks like a small car. It even has lots of leg room in the back seat. Everyone is always surprised when they get in.

    The dealership kept trying to give us the runaround and had us waiting for this and that for hours. I walked out and got in the car. They came running outside and chased me down as I was driving off. I got the car at my price and payments. 🙂

    I bought the 2010 model in 06/2009. I’ve had it three years and love it as much as I did (if not more) than the day I bought it. I have to tell you though, I haven’t driven it as much as I normally would because of ankle issues (I don’t go a lot.) So I only have 13,000 miles on it. I can’t say how well it holds up to a lot of miles. Normally I’d drive it between 12 and 15K miles a year.

    Good luck with the car buying!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thanks for the info, Rhonda, and for sharing your experience. I never would have thought of the Kia, but I know that some small cars actually have a lot of interior, kind of like Harry Potter’s tent. We’ll check it out!

  5. i cannot help you or your son wif da car buying. i have a Barbie Corvette, which i use to run over da dog’s tail. he like’s it. at least dat is what i tell myself. i’m dysfunctional. i admit it. i has a justification for everything.

    my other car is a GI Joe Hummer wif da fancy stripes. it requires batteries. i can drive across the living room and yell: “ROAD TRIP” and for me, that is a true mantra. and drive around till da batteries run out.

    so, when it’s all said and done, and you get the new used new old new car, you tell your son: Be Glad it’s not a GI Joe Hummer or Pink Barbie Corvette, and shut up…..

    the tea kettle whistleth.

    I Tweet at @Samuel_Clemons

    • Piper Bayard says:

      LOL. My son would love a Hummer, but admittedly not the GI Joe Hummer. However, I can just see you with your blue cashmere scarf flying behind you on the breeze. As of an hour ago, I have a lead on a creampuff pickup. If that pans out, I don’t think he will have any complaints. Sounds like you’ve had some awesome cars, Sammy!

  6. Other than a full-size luxury van, I have no advice. I drove a 1992 Dodge B250 Van about 200,000 miles and loved it. However, I’ve never been good at getting a good deal on a car. Could you run down to Fort Worth next time I need to buy one?

  7. Dave says:

    My dad was a farmer from the Midwest and, while he didn’t enjoy buying new vehicles, he thoroughly enjoyed toying with the salespeople that were trying to sell one to him. He would dress in his old, beat up work boots, straw hat and bib overalls to go to the dealership. He would patiently ask them question after question, using his sloooowww “I’m just a dumb country boy, what do I know voice.” He would tie them up for days, if necessary, until they realized he wasn’t the one being played.

    “When anyone says he’s a country boy, put your hand on your wallet.” – attributed to LBJ

  8. tomwisk says:

    Got a 2006 PT Cruiser. Always wanted one, mainly because my sister thought it was ugly. It lurks in the garage waiting to be called again to terrorize, I mean drive me where I need to go.

  9. Safety and reliability are critical for us – cars must last. Toyota 4 runners (older models) do as good or better than supposedly economy cars – so double check that mileage before you buy anything.
    I can promise you 4 runners will protect you. My husband was rear ended while stopped by a large luxury car driven by a drunk. He was smushed between that and a Suburban. Car totalled – he was shaken but not injured – good car design. My daughter in our other older 4 Runner was hit broadside by a large pickup that ran a light and shoved her into an overpass wall. Shaken badly, but not hurt. Good car. Repaired that one and it’s still running fine – lots of miles and little repairs other than that wreck.
    I cannot say enough good things about the Toyota 4 Runners – even the really really old ones!
    (And my 6 foot dad always rode comfortably in them)
    Happy car hunting!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thanks so much, Phil. I had not heard much about the Toyota 4 runners, and you write a stellar recommendation. Safety and reliability are most important to me, as well.

  10. Rob Mahan says:

    My funny / sad / near disastrous vehicle buying experience, in a nutshell:

    I was test-driving a brand new 1993 F-150 with my wife and young son in tow. A short way down the road, I pulled into a convenience store to turn around and head back to the dealership. While waiting to pull back onto the road, a drunk driver missed the turn into the parking lot (he was going to buy more beer for the drive home) and slammed into the side of the brand new truck. Because of passing traffic, there was nothing I could do to get out of his way. The salesman arrived just as the police were loading the loaded driver into their paddy wagon. He didn’t seem to appreciate my question about a discount … so we went back and bought the other F-150 he had on the lot.

    Car with the most legroom ever:

    In high school, I had a 1966 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a 429 four-barrel, leather power seats, and a power convertible top. (I remember buying it for $350 and a home-made minibike.) I was only a shrimpy 6’0″ point guard, but the center on our basketball team was 6’9″, and he could stretch his legs all the way out in the front seat. He loved that car more than I did!

    Hope this helps, or at least entertains a little!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Both helpful and entertaining. 🙂

      I’m so glad you weren’t hurt. I wonder how often stuff like that happens when people are test driving cars. How did you like the F-150? We’re looking at one. It’s a 1992 but it’s only got 41k miles and it’s in mint condition.

      As for the Cadillac. Wow! That sounds like a seriously sweet car. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      • Rob Mahan says:

        I had the 1993 F-150 for 13 years, finally replaced it with a 2006 F-150, and loved them both. We downsized to one small sedan and a Harley, but I miss my truck!

        The 1992 you’re looking at sounds like quite a find. I can vouch for the near-indestructibility of Ford’s straight six motors that were used in the F-150s through 1996, but I’d still recommend paying a good mechanic to go through this one stem to stern, if possible, before committing to buy it.

        The Caddy was a smooth ride, as long as I had someone in the back seat to steer the rear around corners!

  11. Vila Deuel says:

    Good review for the Toyota 4 Runner. I am a Toyota person myself, but those Honda Elements are good cars and roomy. I had a friend who had one, (till he wrecked it), and there was lots of space. Yes, it looks like a box on wheels, but it is a quality import.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Between you and the other folks on here, I’m wondering about the Toyota 4 Runner myself. In fact, we went to look at a truck this morning and saw a 4 Runner on the tiny lot. We asked about it, and it was not salesman’s car. So not for sale. Sounds like the Honda Element is getting rave reviews, as well. Thanks for your input, Vila.

  12. Hi, Piper, your son is 79 inches = 2.007 meters in my money. And he’s only sixteen ? Yikes.
    On my safest car purchase turned out to be very expensive on the spare parts: In 2005 the Peugot 306/307 etc series had 6 airbags and the top saftey rating available in Oz., Trouble is the parts are all imported. (And shipping is a long way to Australia.) So repairs were a nightmare. My mechanic predcted “that car will send you broke,” and he had a point. Now the Hyundai i20, i 30 series match them in safety and so do some of the Honda range and the spare parts are made here. If your son is sixteen you have to expect some mistakes of inexperience, so the airbags question is vital. You gotta put the cranial integrity of the kids first. So a good second question is, “Where aqre these apare parts made?.”
    Your mechanic should know.
    Best wishes.
    Richard

    • Piper Bayard says:

      You make an excellent point, Richard. The best deal on a great car can get ugly in a hurry when it comes to the repairs. So I’m curious. How long did you keep that Peugot?

      • Six years, until it got written off in a hail storm. The trouble is, once you have a car, there are transaction costs in changing: you don’t get the true worth on a trade in (because the dealer has to make a margin when he resells it,) and there are state taxes (here) on the purchase.

  13. Ah, the Rolls Royce Phantom Series II convertible should suit your son. Well, at least size-wise. It might also be useful if he plans to invade a small island in the near future. Go for the bullet proof glass option just in case.

    If you finances don’t quite stretch that far, I’m living in hope some of the people who promised to drop off their old Series I models in my garage turn up soon. I’ll let you know what colors I’ve got at the weekend.

    Cheers!

  14. As a Kiwi I can’t speak for US cars – or the versions you have of our Japanese vehicles. But my extended NZ families – my wife and I, also my brother’s family and my parents – have all had good runs out of Toyotas, and have been repeat customers over decades. I recently asked a garage-owning friend of mine what he’s had least trouble with – Toyota, again. Honda beat them in some ways, but the price is higher – at least in NZ.

    Not sure if either of them make vehicles big enough for a 2.1 metre teenager, though 🙂

    Good luck with the search!

    Oh – apropos of vehicle history, my first car was a 2-door 1977 Mitsubishi Galant GT, sold in the States as the Dodge Colt, essentially a ¾ scale 1969 Dodge Charger per ‘Dukes of Hazard’, minus Daisy Duke and half the cylinders. The only time I ever heard my grandfather swear was when I bought that. He’d been shot up by Mitsubishi Zeroes while on a commando raid to Green Island in 1944. Oops…

    • Piper Bayard says:

      LOL. That was something of a vehicle faux pas in your family, wasn’t it? Did he ever ride in it?

      Thanks so much for your input. We’ve been a Honda family for two decades, but I’ve heard great things about some of the Toyota models, too.

  15. K.B. Owen says:

    You are AWESOME, Piper! Loved the way you handled that transaction.

    Just back from the beach and catching up on all the fab posts out there! Until our last two car purchases, we’d never had much money to spend, so we couldn’t get jacked up. These days, we still act as if we don’t have that kind of money to spend (frankly, we don’t see the point of wasting money). One time, our then-17-yr-old son complained, “We act like we’re poor.” We got a good laugh out of that one! Compared to some of his friends, who get the latest phone/gadget/computer, it might seem that way, but since then he’s seen a bit more of real life.

    As far as recommendations for your super-size guy, I had a VERY tall professor when I was in grad school say that the only car that ever had enough head and leg room for him was a Saab. Hope that helps. Good luck with the hunt!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I know what you mean, Kathy. Values change over time, and we just aren’t interested in too much stuff or wasting money. I’d definitely prefer less quantity and more quality.

      Thanks for your input. Hadn’t heard about the Saab but it makes sense. 🙂

  16. Dang girl…next time I am going car shopping, I am flying you out here to kick some serious ass with me. LOL!
    My step son is 6’9″ so I hear ya on finding something that fits. He just bought a Ford Escape SUV that he says is quite comfortable for his size…a full size truck also works good for him but a tad expensive…
    Good luck and keep us posted on what he gets and…the DEAL you manage!!!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Good to know about the Ford Escape and the trucks. And I would love to come out to team up with you on car buying. We can do a bit of good cop/bad cop on them. 🙂

  17. Cars and I generally don’t get along (I am 6′ and built like a linebacker). In my Camry I feel like a clown in a Volkswagen. Good luck; the Subarus I’ve driven tend to be tall-person-friendly.

  18. Coleen Patrick says:

    We got our daughter a used Police Interceptor last year. It’s a tank (plenty of leg room!), but I feel so safe with her driving it. It looks like an unmarked cop car so as you can imagine, traffic steers clear of her. 🙂

  19. Hmm… My super tall Norwegian dad (think a viking, but better looking ;)) loves his Ford truck.

  20. becca puglisi says:

    Hi Piper! We’re on our fourth Saturn in a row now, but unless you’ve got mad auto manufacturing skillz, you’re out of luck there. I bought my first car in college. My dad insisted on approving the purchase, since he knows cars and would be doing any work on it that needed to be done. First he nixed the Mustangs, Corvettes, and Camaros, since they tend to be driven hard and not taken care of. Then he knocked out any foreign cars, because they’re too hard to work on, which killed every other interesting car out there. The only semi-cool car left was a Dodge Daytona. He looked at it, took it for a test drive, and we bought it. Within a week, the c/v joint busted, the radio blew up, and the a/c was blowing hot. Good ol’ Dad. I enjoy reminding him of what a great job he did picking out my first car.

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