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.