Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let's make a deal

I'm sorry I haven't written for a while. I've been busy.

On Monday, my 1997 Saturn was diagnosed with a severe disease -- a bad fuel pump. With a loved one, you might say, "Money is no object," when it comes to healing such matters. With a car -- and I'm not one of those who expresses loved a specific car -- you start making judgments. Should I spent $600 to fix a car that has gone 131,900 miles and is 13 years old?

No, I don't. We thank the folks of General Motors for putting out a quality automobile once upon a time and move on. Saturn was quite an interesting innovation in the car market once upon a time, but they seemed to forget their mission statement along the way and became just another division. Too bad -- the plastic body and the no-haggle pricing were quite attractive, and the car has run well over the years. Even better than my Renault Alliance from 1984.

Car shopping ranks right down there with root canals for bad experiences with most people. It's not like a supermarket, where the price and UPC code are on the outside. Not only do you have to figure out what sort of car you want, but a trip to multiple deals is necessary to get an idea of the market and what prices are out there for a car and for your old car as a trade-in. Asking for quotes on the Internet has helped, but a crash course, so to speak is still needed.

The catch here is that my car sometimes didn't start, so I needed a replacement fast. That's not a great bargaining position. But, as they say, knowledge is power. I read every review I could find on the Internet on Tuesday, and took a look at Consumer Reports. It's tough to get through some of the options, but after reading several sources I had an idea about what I might like.

The first test, for me at least, is actually getting in the car. I'm about 6-foot-2, and there are some cars that just aren't comfortable. My mother's Scion, for example, makes me feel like Dino on the Flintstones, sticking my head through the room in order to see. I tried a Plymouth Neon and in 10 seconds it was "thanks, we'll see you down the road." I didn't have that problem this week, at least.

We went to a few dealers, and I'm happy to report the quality of salesmen was pretty good. (Interesting that it's always a man, isn't it?) The last time we went car shopping, we encountered a man who lit up a cigarette without asking permission, and who only talked to me even though my wife was doing the decision-making. See ya.) About the only stereotype that fit was that every one asked the question, "Is there anything I can do to make a deal right now?" When we said no, the response every time was, "That's fine. They tell us to ask that." Must be part of the job handbook.

We finished up looking around on Wednesday. Thursday, I stammered over a decision between two cars that were both said to be quality machines. I finally made that decision on Friday, let the salesman know he was the winner, and watched Caller ID to make sure I didn't answer calls from other salesmen. (Not polite, but probably necessary.) And we wrapped up the transaction today.

Let's hope it's another 13 years, minimum, before we go through this again.

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