Getting Taken for a Ride

Before buying a new car, I knew to watch for tricky salesmen, but I didn't know I was married to the sneakiest one of all.

The plan was to wait at least another year to buy a new car. Sure, my Dodge Durango was 11 years old and had more than 179,000 miles on it—two facts that would repulse most Americans who believe that newer is not only better but Godlike. But for me, those stats meant I was smart. I had no car payment and no misconceptions that my two crazy tweeners and their gaggle of girlfriends and guy friends could keep a nice set of wheels clean.

The plan, unfortunately, was smashed by a woman who found it more important to pick up her fallen purse while driving than to notice a red light on a rainy day. My revised plan: Buy a used mini-van, something to easily load the kids and their tagalongs in.

“Be tough, be tough, be tough,” I told myself. Do lots of research, know your stuff, find the lowest price, and most important, don’t let those car salesmen know how quickly you need this car because you live in the suburbs, and despite your college degree and one-time hopes of conquering the world, you now spend the majority of your time carpooling. My “be tough” voice wasn’t the only one in my head, though. As I sat researching online, my husband was nearby. He didn’t make any big speeches or call a family meeting. He would simply glance up from his TV show and say little things like, “A mini-van? What would the guys on a construction site think if I had to borrow your car and pulled up in that?” A few hours later, he’d look over and say, “You know, my car is almost eight years old, not sure how much longer it will last. Maybe at least one of us should have a new car. But, you know, do what you think is best.”

A few days later, I found myself researching new SUVs. “Be tough, be tough, be tough,” I chanted as I started calling and emailing dealers in Hampton Roads, Richmond and D.C. The revised revised plan: Go for the starter model, no bells and whistles. Talk them down below the “true market value/ market best” price I was finding online. Do not set foot in a dealership until they confirm they’ll beat that low price. Tough, tough, tough.

One week later, my plan had worked— dealers just down the road and dealers way up the road were willing to deal. I could get the price I wanted on the car I wanted.

All Hubby and I had left to do was test drive the vehicle. When this whole ordeal started, I thought it was backwards to leave that step until last, but I convinced myself that I was wisely taking the emotion, and that lovely new car smell, out of the equation.

Turns out that “wise” was not the correct way to describe me. “Waster of time” was. My selected SUV was more station wagon in feel—close to the ground with way-too-close seats. My husband wondered aloud how comfortable we’d be driving 12 hours to visit relatives up north. And whether or not we could fit groceries in the back if the third row of seats was in use.

I panicked. We had two days left with our insurance-supplied car and no plan. “Yeah, we could try to get by with one for a while,” Hubby agreed when I attempted to come up with a temporary revised revised revised plan to buy more time. “It might be a pain for you to go without a car daily or to drop me off and pick me up every day, but, well, we could try. If you want.”

Somewhere around this time, he also reminded me of the retirement fund payout he’d soon be getting from a former employer. We knew it was coming, and the plan (always gotta have a plan!) was to pay off some credit cards. Being responsible was a good plan, right? To be clear, Hubby never suggested we use the payout for a car—but when he talked about the money, it instantly reminded me of how hard he had worked at that job, putting in lots of long hours for little thanks. He had truly earned that cash, and if we did use it toward a car, shouldn’t he be able to own something cool, for once?!

With thoughts of him, “no plan” and “be tough” battling for control of my brain, I found myself saying we should stop by another dealership. A dealership with a BIG, BAD, BLOATED STICKERPRICE SUV. “Do whatever you want,” Hubby said when I pointed him down the road. “You’re in charge.”

You know what happened from there, so I’ll end my story with this final thought: Am I blaming that cute guy I kiss every day for “making” me get something I didn’t want, or did I maybe secretly want that beautiful SUV all along? It’s hard to say. Don’t all good negotiators take a subtle approach, gently convincing that you, not them, are, to quote Charlie Sheen, “winning!”? I remain confused but awfully cute in my new ride.

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