Sunday, March 20, 2011

The four levels of used car shopping

I've been out shopping for a used car for young son for the past week or so.  Used car prices were already high and the availability low and with the earthquake in Japan used car prices started climbing again.  In my efforts to find an affordable car with a reasonable chance of being serviceable I found myself, like Dante in his journey through Hell, descending ever deeper through the levels of used car dealerships.

Level One:  New car dealerships    This level is the pleasing to be in.  The facilities are clean and bright.  The sales people are cheerful and positive, attentive to your every possible need.  They ask about your day and your family.  They offer refreshments and a cool place to sit in a soft chair while you discuss your needs and desires for a used car.  The only problem is that these establishments are not really for mortals shopping for an affordable car.  Their cars are not much less in price than the new cars they sell.  This level is not for those who need an affordable car.  In fact the sales staff will soon instinctively sense that that you do not belong here and will turn away from you and leave you alone as if in a wilderness of parked vehicles.  There is nothing here in this level for the seeker of affordable used cars.   It is time to move on to the next level.

Level Two:  Nationwide used car dealerships  This level is deceptive.  It seems that a descending another level into used car hades would bring the buyer a more affordable car while giving up some of the ambiance of the new car dealership.  Ah, but not so, grasshopper.  The prices are just about the same!  The stay here was even shorter than at the first level.  We must continue to descend in the journey to find a ride for young son.

Level Three:  The local U-sell it lot and private party sellers  This level should be where the damned come together to succor each other.  The seller must dispose of his vehicle for a variety of compelling reasons.  He is motivated and in a bind because he is way behind and is willing to make a deal...oh wait, that was the Devil with the fiddle made of gold in that song.  But still the seller usually wants to sell.  The buyer wants to buy and it is the perfect representation of capitalism.   One would think in these hard economic times cars would be priced low for fast selling, but no.  Actually cars are priced high and the seller is not willing to deal for a fiddle made of gold or anything else.  I think it is because of bad times that this is happening.  The sellers need as much money as they can get due to being out of work or whatever.  In the good times folks will flip a car to go buy something more fun or bigger or flashier and not worry too much about what they are losing in the sale because they've got more money coming in.  But not now, not here, and not for me.  So we move on.

Level Four:  The corner used car lot  This level is where the cars go that level one and two couldn't or wouldn't sell.  This is where buyers go who have no cash and can't get financed by the big stores.  These are the places that have financing close to the rates that Tony the shark charges.   This is the place that the desperate go to.   These are the places with too many sad cars crowded into too small of a lot, with tattered furniture in the office with water stains on the ceiling and burned out lights in the marquee.  This is where I found myself.    I visited three of these establishments, sent forth by Yahoo cars which I searched diligently each day for possibilities.  One car seemed promising and I took an hour off of work to zoom over to the store.  I found a packed lot full to dirty cars and swarthy men in black leather coats and shaved heads passing cash back and forth.  The manager was a young woman  in tight jeans and stiletto heels who showed me the car.  It was filthy, had a major engine oil leak and the steering wheel was cocked to the right.  She assured me that all was fixable and when did I want to pay for it?  I left.   I called another place but when I wouldn't promise to buy the car on the spot without inspecting or driving it the seller told me that the car was sold and hung up on me.   In desperation I took young son to a tiny establishment to look at a 2005 VW Golf with 45k miles.  The place was owned by two middle aged Iranian brothers.  We looked at the car.  We drove the car.  We asked each other what the catch was?  It was priced fairly and seemed to be ok.  I agreed to buy the car and tried to give them a deposit.  They told me to come back the next day and do the deal.   So I did and found them in the process of showing the car to someone else!  The seemed surprised to see me but chased off the young couple and proceeded to do the sale.  The car has had a fender replaced at one time, the rear tires will need to be replaced soon, and the arm rest is missing a latch.  It was a repo and the worry is the former owner abused it knowing it was going away but it made the drive home without breaking down so maybe it is ok.

The question is this:  have I finished my journey through the levels of used car hades or have I merely stepped from the down escalator to the express elevator to the bottom with this used car?   Time will tell.......

1 comment:

  1. Hope the car is still doing well. Why on earth wouldn't they sell it to you the same day? Maybe they could tell you drive a hard bargain and were looking for an easier sell. Your descriptions of the levels was amusing. I might add something about Craigslist and how while they are "for sale by owner" buying anything on Craigslist is difficult due to people not keeping their appointments. PS- I also like that you put one of my photos up on your blog!