There are certain milestones in your life that should bring you much joy, but for many of us, they bring nothing but frustration. Have you ever met a happy bride? Have you ever met a well-rested new parent who wasn’t covered in either apple sauce or poop? How about a new homeowner? Actually, you have met that one. I truly enjoyed the home buying experience, but then again, I didn’t buy an overpriced fixer upper in an unfinished neighborhood created by a bankrupt developer.
The most common joyful moment is the purchasing of your first new car. I have owned sixteen cars, but only four were new. The first three I bought at a family dealership, and the fourth was bought when I walked from Car Max, where I test drove a hunk of crap, to several dealerships down Route 355 in Rockville on a cold, rainy day. I think I bought it because I was tired and just wanted to go home.
Although I belong to and am president of a gay car club, I hate the new car buying experience. I always feel as if I am either being ripped off or I am not getting what I want – especially when it comes to the color.
Car number one and car number four were lemons. Let me tell you about car number one. The year was 1986, and I was a young lad making less than $20,000 a year and in need of a new car. I wanted a Plymouth Reliant. What I ended up with was a Chrysler LeBaron coupe. It had a vinyl roof and opera windows, and it was burgundy. I was talked into buying it because I was apparently getting a Chrysler for a Plymouth price. I really wanted the Reliant. I still want it.
The moment I drove off the lot, the speedometer quit working. That was just the beginning. Then the paint started peeling off the trim around the vinyl roof. It developed a rough idle they could not fix. One night a few months after I bought it, I was out with my friend Sharon, and this lovely car decided to shut off completely on the interstate. It completely shut down – everything! I remember Sharon saying, “I don’t think it is supposed to do that.” I cannot repeat what I said.
As it turned out, every time you stayed at fifty-five miles per hour for more than five seconds, the computer would completely shut down the car. You coasted to the shoulder then played with the ignition switch until the car decided to run again. The real problem is that when Lee Iacocca said, “If you find a better car, buy it,” I didn’t listen.
Would you believe of the sixteen cars I have owned, seven were Chrysler products? Apparently, I am into BDSM.
The last new car I bought was a Scion Xb or is it xB? Who cares? I really liked this car until it developed a problem Toyota would not acknowledge. The windshields would break, and every time, it would develop the same L-shape crack in the same spot. The dealership kept insisting a rock must have hit the windshield. I could believe that twice, but six times! Also, the windshield would be fine, then in the morning, I would get in my car and when I looked forward, I would see an L-shape crack.
After having the windshield replaced six times, the frame around the windshield started to rust, and rust was developing around the rear quarter windows as well. When the temperature was below forty degrees, the windshield washer and radio would not work. Why? Because there was a leak around the windshield where the rust had developed. Toyota finally admitted to the problem and reimbursed customers for two windshields, but by then I had sold the car.
When it comes to cars, I am old school. I really don’t like Japanese cars. I prefer American.
I decided at that point that I would just drive vintage for a while until a new car came along that just blew me away … or at least came in green. Speaking of which – what in the hell happened to color? Every car you see on a dealer’s lot is white, black and silver. Who wants a white, black or silver car? Apparently, everyone. And speaking of the dealer’s lot, what happened to build sheets? Now you buy whatever they have in stock, which brings us to white, black and silver.
If I had it my way, I would build a time machine, go back to 1960, buy an Ambassador by Rambler Custom Country Club hardtop station wagon in pink with white accents and transport it back to the present. But, I did not do well in physics in high school, so I am stuck with black, white and silver.
Driving a thirty-year-old station wagon was fun until little things started to go like the water pump and the transmission. For the first time since 1986, I had to call a tow truck for one of my cars, and he knocked off one of my hubcaps, which are almost impossible to replace on my AMC. The time had come for me to buy a new car and let the AMC rest and be used for Sunday drives and car club events.
Unfortunately, that meant I had to visit a dealership where I would hear those words I cannot stand, “Let me talk to my manager.” You know what they are really doing. They are out back having a cigarette while they talk about last night’s game or the tits on the customer who just paid too much for that minivan. Then he comes back and says, “This is what we can do.”
Once in Florida, a salesman made me wait three hours while he talked to his manager about an Escort wagon. He had the keys to my Plymouth Colt, which I was going to trade. When he finally returned and said, “This is what we can do.” I said, “You can give me back my keys and stick that white station wagon up your ass.” I kept the Colt another two years.
As you can see, I will walk. Over the last few months, I have visited a couple of dealerships and test driven a few cars. All were white. Ucchh. And in each instance, when they came back with a price, I would ask, “Do you have any other colors?” I never got a straight answer because they were so intent on reducing their inventory, so I walked.
What I really wanted was a compact pick-up truck in any color but white or silver. I was even considering blue, a color I hate, but my best cars were blue, and my worst were burgundy. Oh, the AMC wagon is burgundy. I should have known better.
So, I did what everyone does today; I began with internet searches for compact pick-ups. It turns out only one company actually makes a real compact pick-up – General Motors. I have never owned a GM. My family once owned a Corvair – a car I loved.
The worst part about internet searches is that before you can check the inventory, you have to give your contact information. Some people set up a temporary email address to avoid the annoying sales people. I used one of my alias emails and names from my erotic writing work. Little did they know a pornographer was shopping for a truck.
Then the emails came. Was it this annoying for our parents? No. Back in the day, you dealt with one dealer. If your family drove Chevys, they always drove Chevys, and bought them from the same dealer. You went to visit Martin and told him what you wanted. If he didn’t have it on the lot, you filled out a build sheet, put down a deposit, then waited a few weeks for your car. Or you bought a demo. Remember demos? My father bought two – a 1972 Mercury Comet and a 1967 Mercury Monterey, the prettiest car he ever owned.
Also, dealerships were family owned, and they only owned one dealership. Now they own several and sell different makes under one roof. They no longer build a car for you, but they claim they can find one. Yeah right, if they really try. And, it will only come in white.
The biggest problem is that I am not a dealer’s favorite customer. For one, I don’t need a luxury car, nor do I need the top of the line model of any car that interests me or all the bells and whistles that go with it. To me that is just more crap to break down. I just need air conditioning, a radio, a steering wheel, and pedals. And, I want any color but white.
One dealership contacted me and said they had two trucks meeting my criteria, so I called them. Here is where it got interesting. They actually did not have what I wanted but located them at another dealership of which it was not clear if they were affiliated or not. Then she said it, “Let me talk to my manager.” She then told me that in order to have a truck for me to test drive, I would have to commit to buying it. What? I have to commit to buying something I have not seen or test driven before you will have it ready for me to see or test drive? I guess the economy is so good you can dick around a customer. I said no thank you.
Another dealer had a similar model in stock, but he wanted to have me test drive a bigger truck. Did he not hear me? My driveway is too small for a big truck, and I didn’t want a big truck. I wanted a compact truck. Why can’t I ever get what I want?
This, my fellow Americans, is why I continued to drive a thirty-year-old station wagon.
Would you believe I once considered being a new car salesman? I would be lousy at it. For one thing, I would never try to talk a customer into something they didn’t want, and I would rather try to save them money than make myself money. I hate watching people spend too much money on something. I would say things like, “Do you really need to have heated seats? Wear thicker pants? Why do you need a navigation system? You will find it eventually. Why do you need On Star? If you get in an accident in this thing, you won’t survive the impact.”
My brother, on the other hand, loves to spend other people’s money on new cars, so he was determined to see me in a new compact pick-up. I was ready to give up when he sent me a link to a one-year-old GMC Canyon with only 300 miles on it that someone won in a raffle and refused to pay the taxes on it. Seriously, the taxes could not have been more than $1,100. For $1,100 you would have had a new truck. I have never won a raffle, but if I did win a truck in a raffle, I would sell my virtue to raise the money for the taxes. “Just leave a hundred on the dresser and toss me my cell phone.” Eleven tricks, new truck. Simple math.
I called the dealer because the other thing I found was that their website might indicate a vehicle is in their inventory, but when you visited them, there was no such vehicle, nor was there ever such a vehicle, except in white.
The salesman, who turned out to be the actual sales manager, said he would walk outside and touch the truck to be sure it was still there. I knew I would like him when he said that. The truck was there. I made an appointment to go see it.
When I arrived, the truck was out front ready for me to drive. The salesman, whose name was Ernest, impressed me right away. He realized I knew what I wanted, and he didn’t try to sell me up. I test drove the truck, which did not have power windows or door locks, but had all the other conveniences that are now standard equipment. It didn’t even have the styled aluminum wheels. It had steel wheels and what we called in my day, button hubcaps or poverty caps. Not once did he say, “Have you considered the Sierra or a 2012 Canyon Crew Cab?” As it turned out, he also drove a compact pick-up that although a different make was similar to what I was considering and understood a customer who just wanted a basic compact truck. We had a connection, and it doesn’t hurt that straight men between forty and fifty-five are my demographic.
I made him an offer, and for once I didn’t hear, “Let me talk to my manager.” He was the manager. He accepted it, and an hour later, I was driving home in my new black pick-up.
Ernest didn’t make much of a profit on this truck, but as a good salesman he realized that selling a vehicle and having a happy customer that day was worth it. Also, I would recommend him to a friend.
The other two sales persons, the one who wouldn’t bring in a truck without a commitment and the one who wanted to sell me something I didn’t want, did not sell a truck that day – at least not to me.
When I am in the market for another new car, I will call Ernest. I wonder if he will be working there in twenty years?
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