It’s been nearly 10 years since Peter and I bought a car. He and I come from two different classes of people. I come from the debt-averse group that scrapes together some money and buys whatever can be had for that: which usually means a used car. Peter comes from the class that buys a new car, even if a loan is required to get one. You have to replace a used car more often than a new one, obviously, so I think either group, if you don’t feel the need to be flashy, comes ahead the same. But obviously, we had to buy a car for Peter, and we decided to combine our philosophies and get a new car we could buy without having to go into debt.
Peter wanted a hatchback, since he still occasionally wants to lug big things without having to rent a van. He also wanted something fuel-efficient, but not as trendy (and thus overpriced) as a hybrid. We have a row of car dealerships very close to our house, so when I brought Peter home from his car accident, he asked me to take him to the Mazda dealership. They had a car which looked exactly like his old car, except it had a funky gear switch, kind of like the one on a manual car. Why would we want to drive as if we had a manual transmission, if we were getting an automatic? It seemed like shoulder pads or a toupee: neither of which is as attractive as what it seeks to replace. At the VW dealership next door, they also had a car exactly like Peter’s old car, though with a new name, no new features, and almost double the price he paid originally.
When I picked him up on Thursday night, we gave it another go. I took Peter to the Honda dealership, where they first ignored him and then told him the model he wanted wasn’t available. As an aside, what is it with Honda? This sort of treatment is why I bought Toyota instead of Honda in the first place. Is it the cheap (well not so cheap), reliable, geekmobile for the geeks who feel no one is good enough for them except the ones who reject them? I don’t understand “overbooked” hair-stylists, snobby restauranteurs, or the like: either you want my money, or you don’t, and if you don’t, there are plenty of qualified competitors who will take it. Obviously, Honda was a waste of our time (and in their opinion, theirs) and we found the opposite at Ford. An eager salesman tried to show us a Ford Focus: but they’d all been moved to East San Jose for a special “tent sale.” Besides, the Ford Focus hit the “station wagon” vibe too much for Peter, and even though it had an awesome price, and I think station wagons are surfer cars, Peter didn’t want what he perceived as a fogey-mobile. Unfortunately for him, the salesman took us on a ride in a Chrysler PT Cruiser. It didn’t have the negatives we’d heard about it; it was a hatchback; and unlike any of the other cars we’d seen, it had a sense of style.
The only PT Cruiser the Ford salesman could sell us was a used model, but we knew there’d be more, and new ones, at the Chrysler dealership across the street. I’d never thought about buying a Chrysler, so I’d never thought I’d find out why that dealership had a horse and buggy on its roof. As I found out, as Peter was reviewing a PT Cruiser with a salesman, this dealership is so old it originally sold horse carriages–and in time, evolved to sell cars. The showroom floor was a little car museum, with samples of cars they’d sold back to 1915.
And in this day of the internet, buying a car is a lot less annoying than it used to be. Peter put in a request for quotes on a basic PT Cruiser through Yahoo Cars. The dealership near us came in quickest and with the lowest price–unfortunately, the only colors they had available were black or silver, which was just ok in Peter’s book. Dealerships in Watsonville and Fremont had PT Cruisers in blue, though they wanted a little bit more. The Labor Day weekend, with its “get your old inventory off the lot at any price” promotion may have worked in our favor, but it also worked against our local dealer. Normally, they’d be able to exchange cars but not on this weekend. An hour later, Peter got word from the dealership in Fremont that they’d be willing to sell their blue PT Cruiser for just $80 more than the price the San Jose dealership was offering. And in fact, every dealership responded fairly quickly and with prices we considered excellent, compared to the Consumer Reports information we’d pulled.
So, this morning, we set out to buy it. Peter pulled $9,000 in actual cash from the bank–we could have pulled more, but I have some hang-up about required reporting to the IRS. There was no haggling, no hassle, though we still had to sit around in the dealership for hours. The good news is, each and every dealership had a play area for children (which has never previously been a consideration), and many of them have free popcorn, balloons, and even bounce houses. This one had popcorn as well as the childrens’ play area. It also had cheap diet Coke for me and Peter, which just made me think we should hang around car dealerships more often. I paid the balance on my credit card, which also gets me some gift certificates to spend on more books on Amazon.
Finally, Peter drove off with Neil in his new PT Cruiser. It’s still not the car I envision taking a cross-country trip in, as we hope to eventually do, but Peter mostly needs it to get to work and back. And having a car you feel good in to do that is worth the price we paid.