Car Updates

You know, this whole “getting a car” thing has got to be one of the most fun and at the same time annoying experiences to go through. On the one hand, it’s fun trying cars out, picking out what you’d like and (at least to me) going back and forth with the salesman and his manager over the price. (I haven’t had any car saleswomen yet, so no political correctness for you!) The frustrating part is coordinating the sale when you’re buying from a private party. Seriously, this is getting annoying. Here’s the (basic) story:

The Wife and I have spent the past couple of weeks going from dealership to dealership, testing all kinds of cars (mostly mid-size sedans). We found a nice, 2003 Toyota Camry in the Maroone Toyota on Weston Road. At $17,999, this thing was criminally overpriced, but then again that tends to be the Maroone way: always overpriced. I was pretty confident we could talk the guy down to a more reasonable $13,500 (I’ve become pretty good at negotiating with car salesmen), so we pretty much decided that would be what we’re looking for.

During the weekend, we went to our Federal Credit Union to apply for the loan. (At 5.99% for used cars, their rates were the best we found.) This turned out to be a little disappointing, as our monthly payments for the loan we were looking for (no, not the whole $13,500, but part of it) were going to be a bit higher than I’d expected, and a lot higher than she’d expected. She was pretty disappointed.

After that, we decided to stop by a few other dealerships, if nothing else, just to walk around, look at the cars, and talk. We stopped by the Maroone Nissan of Pembroke Pines and started looking at what they had. As usual, everything was massively overpriced: they have a habit of taking the top trading value of a car, according to Kelley Blue Book, and moving it up about 50%, which in our range meant that the cars all had about a $6000 mark up from the KBB “excellent” trade-in price. (A price I can almost guarantee they didn’t pay, including clean up and re-certification.)

A few minutes passed by when we were met by Pedro, our salesman. (No recommendation for him, as I can’t see myself actually sending anyone to Maroone. In fact, if you’re in south Florida, try to avoid the Maroone dealerships altogether.) He showed us around at what they had, but the only thing they had in our range — that wasn’t 8 years old and didn’t have 85,000 miles on it — was a 2002 Nissan Altima. The car had just been brought in as a trade and wasn’t in too bad of a condition. “Good” would describe it (to use KBB terminology). It was offered at $13,900, but I knew that wasn’t a price I would pay for that thing: the KBB on it is just under $10,000, even given the 35,000 miles the car had on it.

I decided that I could probably talk these guys down, so I said agreed to test drive the car. It rode nicely, but was obviously in need of a little work, probably some tire work. The car had a sun/moon roof, so that was pretty attractive to The Wife, but to me it just meant that I had very little of the already precious head space. Mind you, it wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t good, either: that nice little feature tends to eat up precious headroom normally provided in the vehicle, to the point where taller folks like myself (6’1) generally avoid it.

After getting back into the lot, I decided to see whether I could move these guys down to $12,900 for the car. With dealer fees and taxes, that would move the car to about $14,500 total, which was well within our range.

I won’t get into all the details, but after 3-hours of back-and-forth between the salesman, his manager, and I (and about 10 calls to my dad for advice), I was only able to move the car down to $13,300. Just another $300 would have gotten that sale. The thing is, I didn’t really want the car that badly. I was actually just having a lot of fun, even though no one else there — the salesman, the manager, and The Wife — enjoyed the negotiating process as much as I did. In fact, at one point The Wife asked me, “Do you really want this car that badly?”

I smiled broadly and said, “No. In fact, I’m less interested in the car and more interested in winning. Really, I’m having a lot of fun here.” (It was there and then that I decided to start going to car dealerships to haggle over prices with salespeople whenever I was bored.)

“I think you’re the only one,” she said, sinking back into her chair.

After we were done there, we headed home and she decided to pray about it. It wasn’t 5 minutes after she finished praying that I got a call from an older gentleman, Jerzy, who was calling me back regarding my inquiry for his advertised Toyota Camry, 2004 with 38,000 miles. What attracted me to the advertisement was the fact that he was selling it for $13,500, essentially a steal when it comes to that car with those options and that mileage. (I ran the car’s VIN on CARFAX. Its history was clean, and pretty well documented.) We agreed to meet the next day. As soon as I hung up the phone and told The Wife what had just happened, she went from resignation and detachment to almost jubilant exuberance.

The next day we met with Jerzy regarding the car. We looked at it, test drove it, I did a bit of an inspection. The car was just about perfect. (The only problem was a broken spring-loaded hatch where the ash tray’s supposed to be. Whoopty-freak’n-do.) After trying it out, I told Jerzy that we would send a mechanic to check out the car (CARFAX has a service where for $99.00 they send out a mechanic to perform a 150-point inspection on the car), and if everything was clear with him we’d be ready to buy.

We went home, telling ourselves “Wow, this is our new car! Cool!” I started the CARFAX request process, but realized that we needed the seller’s home address, which we didn’t have. I found an address in WhitePages.com (using the reverse phone number feature), but didn’t know whether it was his or not since it was under another name. In any case, I decided to put that address down — I figured if they couldn’t get a hold of the guy, at least they wouldn’t charge me — and left it at that.

For the next couple of days, I tried to contact the guy back to see whether he’d heard anything from CARFAX yet, but I couldn’t get a hold of the guy. This was really starting to bother me, since I would have thought that anyone selling a car would want to get the process done and over with as soon as possible. During this time, I wrote the following on my MySpace blog:

So Close, Yet So Very Very Far…

Urgh…

So, here I am, waiting — not exactly patiently — for this guy to call me back about a car I’m interested in. The car is a 2004 Camry with about 38K miles. Beige/Beige with the basic options (it’s an SE). Nice, reliable, and generally comfortable car. Exactly what we’re looking for.

We met up with the guy Sunday to test drive the car and fell in love with it right there and then. We would have bought the car, but I wanted to first have my mechanic check it out. Apparently, my mechanic hasn’t been able to get in touch with the guy, and he hasn’t been returning my calls. (Yes, I know it’s only been 2 freak’n days, but, DAING IT, I WANT THAT CAR! Maybe… if my mechanic says it’s ok…)

My fear is that the guy sold the car and just left me hanging, which totally ticks me off. On the other hand, the guy was up in years and he may be hurt, or even dead. (Not likely, though: the guy looked pretty darn healthy.) In either case, I’m sitting here, crossing my fingers while at the same time trying to get the car out of my mind and find another one. But, hell, for $13,500 you’re not gonna find an ’04 Camry. At least not around here. Maybe in Tampa, though; I noticed (via Cars.com) that cars are a LOT cheaper up there. What’s the deal? Is it that much more expensive to get a car down here, or is it just a matter of dealers here being a bit more “money oriented”, if you get my drift. (No pun intended.)

Anyway, here I am, somewhat ticked, trying to get this stupid car out of my mind. Looking around at other cars, though, has opened my eyes to a couple of interesting deals, including a sweet deal (maybe) on a Ford Five Hundred; 2005 with 27k miles. (Used to be a leased car.) I’m interested, since the Five Hundred is essentially a large VW Passat with a Volvo S80 frame and Ford Taurus V6, 6-speed engine (it’s that part that worries me) with a Japanese transmission (on the front-wheel drive, 6-speed models; the CVT models use a French-made trans). Basically it’s super safe — a big deal in my book — has lots of head/leg room, and it’s not too bad on gas (21 city, 29 highway).

Then again, it’s a Ford, WITH a Taurus engine, which to some people is like saying “You have Cancer AND Herpes!” Everyone I know has warned me about Fords. I’m tempted to get it anyway to see why it’s supposed to be all that bad. (The Ford, not cancer and herpes.) Then again, considering I’m going to be relying on this car for long trips (I pack about 30k miles a year on my Civic), do I really want to risk reliability for comfort? (Yes, I’m much more comfy here than in the Camry or Accord or just about anything else in its class.)

[looking at phone] *sigh* Call, daing it. Call…. please?

(This was written Monday). Yesterday (Tuesday), I decided to pray about it again, simply asking that if this is the car, then things would move, but in the meantime I’d still look for other cars, just in case. This gave me a chance to get more information on the beautiful Ford Five Hundred, which I must admit, I’ve pretty much fallen in love with. Later, at around 3:30pm, I got the following email from CARFAX:

Subject:CARFAX Inspection & Road Test Confirmation **Cartagena/Receipt# 0000000000000000**
From: “CARFAX (Cincinnati)”
Date: Tue, August 15, 2006 3:19 pm

Mr. Cartagena,

We have contacted the seller and scheduled an inspection to take place
on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 between 8-5, at the following location:

XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX

A link to your CARFAX Inspection & Road Test Report will be emailed to you within 24 hours of the complete inspection. If you need further assistance, please contact the CARFAX Customer Service Center at 1-800-999-9999, Monday thru Friday, 8am-9pm (EST).

Thank You,

CARFAX

I was doing cartwheels. I still hadn’t heard from the guy, but it was nice to know that someone had.

As it stands, the inspection is supposed to be taking place today. I’m super excited about getting the results, though, because unless I see something seriously wrong there it looks like I’m gett’n me some new wheels. They’re not exactly exciting or Earth-shattering wheels, but they’re better suited for me than the 1987 Chevy Cavalier I’m driving around in now.

(By the way, if anyone reading this is interested in a car to just do some back-and-forth driving, a car with a good engine, low maintenance requirements, and doesn’t require air conditioning, email me at gnorbx@gmail.com and tell me where to best contact you. Asking price is $500.)

Wish me luck. Hopefully by the weekend I’ll have a pic posted up of my new Camry. (Also, this weekend I’ll try to type up my impressions of the other cars I’ve tried out, including the Volkswagen Passat and Jetta, Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford Five Hundred, 2003 Honda Accord and — actually, I think that’s about it for now. We settled on the Camry rather quickly, after everyone we knew — especially the Indians (with a dot, not a feather) — told us that we should go that route. Maybe I should have also been considering that 2000 Lexus LS 400 with 53,000 miles for $12,900 this guy near us was selling. Decisions, decisions…

Edit: Jerzy decided not to sell. Damn. I hate when this happens. This is the first time it happens to me, mind you, but I know I don’t like it.

Edit 2: Oh, the irony! I just saw a 2003 Honda Accord with about 46,000 miles for $12,999 at Nissan Maroone of Pembroke Pines, with the contact point being the same manager that loved me enough to not give in to my requests of getting the car for $13,000.

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