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On Buying a Car – SpokaneFāVS

On Buying a Car - SpokaneFāVS

On buying a car

By Steven A. Smith

When was the last time you bought a car?

If it’s been a few years, your next purchase will have some surprises in store for you, mostly positive ones.

Last week was car-buying week in the Smith/Savalli household.

Frequent readers may recall that I wrote about my 2014 Mustang convertible last November, that it was time to let it go.

I then said I would replace it in the spring, with something just as fast and impractical, but with an automatic transmission so my dear Carla could drive it.

Well last week, after solving our 2021 tax bill, I started the search.

Surprise #1:

There are no new cars on the market. Any. Yes, you read that right. For all intents and purposes, the international shortage of computer chips has reduced new car manufacturing to a trickle. The dealerships I checked with had no new cars on their lots, only sold used cars, and when they get a new car, it’s pre-sold. The wait for a new car can be six to 10 months, longer for some models, we were told. And you pre-purchase on sight.

If we were to buy a car this spring, it would be used.

Surprise #2:

To buy this used car, there is no need to leave home, no need to roam the dealership grounds. I chose to shop using Auto Trader, the top rated automotive shopping app. After entering a few criteria, from preferred models to preferred prices and financing options, the site listed used cars for sale in this market. In total, there were hundreds of them. But I narrowed down my search considerably with my preferences listed.

A simple click on a listed vehicle provided an enormous amount of information. A click on the Carfax link provided even more, including details of previous owners, vehicle maintenance and reported damage ranging from minor to devastating. Another link provided an estimate of the car’s value by Kelly Blue Book and whether the listed price was too low, too high, or fair.

For a few days, I tracked six or seven cars and used Auto Trader information to generate additional research, including Consumer Reports reliability ratings.

I have never started a car buying process with more detailed and useful information.

Surprise #3:

Almost all dealerships now operate by appointment. We were able to contact select dealers via email and schedule an appointment to view our selections. This reduced unnecessary cruising time.

In the end, we made three appointments on Saturday at three dealerships.

Surprise #4:

All in all, there is no more haggling over prices. I can’t remember how many cars, new and used, I’ve bought over the years. The interactions with the sales staff were always stressful.

A long time ago, a dealer accused me of trying to leverage my job as a journalist to get a better deal. He threatened to call my boss. Car purchase as extortion.

It was my worst car buying experience, but not by much.

The times have changed. Buyers now know way too much, one dealer told me. They know everything about the car, including its value. Many dealerships list a car for a documented value plus a reasonable markup. When you buy from them, it’s one price, take it or leave it.

It changed everything.

Surprise #5:

Instead of fighting with our dealership, we knew the details of the deal from the start. And using Auto Trader, we pre-arranged our financing. We ended up discussing the weather, the cars we had owned, and the kids.

I’m not sure buying a car can be a pleasant experience – there’s too much money involved. But at least this process wasn’t painful.

Surprise #6:

Ultimately, I never felt like I was in a race with the dealership to see who might be more unethical.

Last fall I had considerable trouble with the online company that purchased my Mustang. It was a terrible experience and put me off online services that buy or sell directly. Online, it is possible to buy a used car from anywhere in the country and have it delivered to your doorstep. But given my previous experience, I have to believe it’s best to at least see the car, inspect it and take it for a test drive.

Last Saturday, a few hours after our arrival at the dealership, we left the lot with our new used car.

But I said at the beginning that the goal was to find a car to replace my Mustang. But I have to be honest. The car we bought was not my first choice or even my second. It was the first car we looked at and as soon as she saw it in the field, Carla said it would be ours.

In the good old days of haggling, her jumping up and down and shouting “I want it, I want it” would have compromised our bargaining position. No problem in the current environment.

So that was the car we bought. Carla loves it and immediately took steps to customize it to her liking.

She says she will drive him to work once in a while, which she is more than willing to share with me.

I adore my wife. But I know better.

The new car will be more his than mine in the end. I will be driving our old Toyota RAV4. It has been heard for years, squeaks, with a few scratches and knocks. It makes funny noises, spits and coughs. The brakes are soft.

You can still say about me. So it’s a good match even though it’s not the muscle car I was hoping to buy. What can I say ? It’s as comfortable as an old shoe and at my age it should do the trick.

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