Car Shopping For Dummies (or something)

Three years ago I was living in Mississippi when I set out to buy a new car by myself. I say “set out” like I put a ton of thought into the process, but the truth is my 10 year old volkswagen cabrio hit a really rough patch on a 90 degree day in the parking lot of the Kroger by the Ross Barnett Reservoir  and I decided to just end it. I called my parents crying because I was locked out of my car with groceries that needed refrigeration – fast. On top of that, the key and the apparatus you stick a key into had just broken off in my hand. I don’t know how much you know about Mississippi summers but I was dressed in gym clothes, holding a part of my car that shouldn’t ever be in a person’s hand post-assembly, and basically melting in the middle of Kroger’s parking lot along with my yogurt and cheese.

I was annoyed, I was hot, I was angry. I wanted a new car… immediately.

A few hours later I was teary-eyed again, but this time it was because I was facing a giant crystal-clear window… the kind some poor guy uses a big squeegee to clean… just on the other side of the glass I could see some dealership guy test driving MY car while the finance manager talked me through a page of calculations.

The guy behind the wheel of my cabrio had no idea that I’d wanted that car since 8th grade. He didn’t know that my best friend Lizzy and I both talked about Cabrios every single day of the summer we were 14. He didn’t know we each got one within a year of each other. He had no idea how many times my friends and I had danced and sang loudly while driving down roads with the top down. I tried to imagine some other teenage girl getting the car I loved so much. I sort of tuned in to the numbers on the page — monthly payments — interest — length of terms… in between thoughts about the car I was letting go. I hoped the new teenage girl would optimistically leave the top down on her way home from school on cloudy days, trying to beat the rain. I hoped sometimes she wouldn’t beat the rain… because that’s part of the fun of owning a convertible.  I signed some papers and said a tearful goodbye, as ridiculous as it sounds, to the car that got me through part of high school, all of college and move me 9 hours away to the Magnolia state.

I drove home that day in a white Chevy Cruze. It was brand new (yeah, i know.. don’t buy new cars… blah blah blah). I was proud of it, and myself for the deal I’d somehow managed to get while barely paying attention to the man across the desk. I thought I’d done alright on my own.

I wasn’t necessarily wrong.

I mean, there’s no real way to know that the new car you bought will pull six recalls in its first three years. You’re buying American. Chevy is “like a rock” or something. That sucker will run forever. Maybe true… but for me it had a life span of three years. Three years, six recalls, and one broken air conditioner in the South Carolina July heat that would cost me $1,065 to fix. I decided it wasn’t worth it and a couple of weeks ago I started looking around for something new. It didn’t take long to zero in on Honda. Honda drivers love their cars and won’t hesitate to tell you when you ask.

So I spent most of my last Saturday hanging out with my dad in car dealerships around the upstate. I’d mostly made up my mind on the CR-V, and I brought my dad along for good measure. Turns out, dads are good at this stuff. I’ll admit, at 26, I felt like maybe I shouldn’t bring a parent along to help me with my car shopping. Maybe I should be independent enough to do it on my own, but I didn’t have anything to prove. I’d already done this crap on my own. It’s my money and my transportation, and dammit, my dad is great company. He chatted with sales people. He kept me entertained while we waited. He explained what gap insurance would mean if I decided to buy it. He thought about asking questions I’d never ask. He let me put a great offer on hold just so I could drive 45 minutes to another dealership to talk to a guy who’d let me test drive a CR-V earlier in the week, because my conscience couldn’t leave the nice salesman hanging. He let me do it, because it was my deal, but not without letting me know that the one I actually wanted could potentially be gone when I got back.

Thankfully, it wasn’t. My dad and I drove all the way to Spartanburg where we sat with the nice man who’d helped me earlier in the week. We listened as he told entirely too many stories about himself (salesman faux-pas, y’all), then offered me an absurdly low amount of money for my trade in. My dad continued to sit with me when I couldn’t work up the nerve to tell him “no way” without letting him try to massage the numbers a bit more. My dad was still by my side when I finally got the hell out of there and drove two counties over, back to the original offer. He was there when I signed the papers. I signed what seemed like a million papers. He complained a little about how long it was taking and I complained about how long my name is, then we were out the door.

I was taking the last few things out of the trunk of the Cruze formerly known as mine when I said “You know, this isn’t nearly as hard as it was the last time. Good riddance.” I slammed the trunk once more, got in my new car and drove home.

My CR-V is probably not perfect, but it’s cute, and the gas mileage is great. Plus I literally fit in it better than any car I’ve ever owned… and I’m willing to bet it won’t rack up six recalls in the next three years.


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