Sunday, June 29, 2008

adventures in car buying...

So at 11:00 Saturday morning I called Kath. I got her voicemail, but I left a message: “Hey, it’s me. Sooooooooooooo…do you wanna go torture car salesmen with me, or we could pull wings off flies or something? Just lemme know!”

In a little while she called back. “Where are you? You haven’t started without me, have you?”

Silly girl. Of course not.

She came by and picked me up and we were off, to start shopping for a new car for me. We’d both done our homework. Mine had begun with my reading an excellent article, Confessions of a Car Salesman by Chandler Phillips, a veteran journalist who went undercover for Edmunds and worked for a couple of months at two new car dealerships in the Los Angeles area: a high-volume, high-pressure dealership selling Japanese cars, and a smaller car lot that sold domestic cars at "no haggle" prices. This is a must-read if you’re in the market for buying a new car. It was sent to me by Kath, via B. Thanks, guys.

I like beautiful things, and this includes cars. If I didn’t have the commute and were only looking for something to tool around the neighborhood in, I’d be happily shopping for a used Boxster or a 350 Nissan Z or an Audi TT…silver, 5 speed on all models. But I have a formidable commute. It doesn’t help that I’m spoiled by the fact that Emma, my beloved 1999 VW Cabrio, still consistently delivers 34 mpg, in spite of the fact that she’s literally falling apart. Accordingly, my first choice at this point would have been a Prius (51 mpg hwy/60 mpg city). But with gas prices being so high, Prius’s have become absurdly overpriced for what they are, at least here in Texas, where even used versions of this car with over 30,000 miles are going for several thousand dollars over the sticker price of a brand new 2009 model. The same holds true for Honda Civic hybrids. So I went to Edmunds and JDPower and Consumer Reports and looked for 2008 small cars that get over 30 mpg on the highway, e.g., Honda Civic hybrid, Toyota Yaris, Mini Cooper, Mini Clubman, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Fit. Then I started looking at Safety & Reliability Ratings, and discovered that Hyundai currently has the best warranty available in the US: 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain, 8 years/80,000 miles federal emissions & performance and an amazing 5 years/unlimited miles 24 hour roadside assistance, including accident related towing. Both the Accent and the Elantra have 5 star safety ratings, too. I loved the look of the Accent hatchback, but after reading up on both cars, I decided the Elantra SE was probably going to be the better car for me, as ESC (electronic stability control) was standard on that model.

I wanted an Elantra SE, manual, with a sunroof, but I quickly discovered that the car is extremely popular, and incredibly, there wasn’t one to be had in all of Texas. I extended my search to New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Nada. I found 2 in Tucson (where Mike is living). Well, shoot. I decided I’d go around looking at cars and see what I liked, and so Kath and I set off on Saturday afternoon. It was 100 degrees outside, but Chandler Phillips’ article proved dead on: at every dealership, there were a dozen or so car salesmen (we saw just 1 sales woman), sitting or standing around outside, sweating in the horrific heat but waiting to pounce on any prospective customers. “We’re JUST LOOKING!” we’d say at each place, waving them off. Still, a number of business cards were pressed into my hand. Eventually, we ended up at a Hyundai dealership in Plano. The elusive Elantra SE was nowhere to be found, but to my delight there were a dozen or so hatchback Accents, including a couple with sunroofs. “Let’s test drive one of these!” I said to Kath. She agreed. We spotted a salesman, Jose, who appeared to be in his early 20’s, unlocking one of the Accents some distance from us.

“Can we test drive one of these?” Kath shouted to him.

“Sure,” he said, “Why don’t you go on inside and I’ll meet you there in a minute”.

We gratefully made our way to the thermally air conditioned dealership, where we picked up a brochure on the Accent while we waited for Jose. Eventually he showed up and asked, “Can I get you girls a Coke or something while I’m getting the car?”

We girls looked at each other.

“Sure,” we said in unison, but I was thinking, “You’re already losing points, Jose!”

To my disappointment, the Accent was an automatic. “Don’t you have a manual?” I asked.

“No,” Jose said, “we have no manuals”.

The car was fun to drive, and had great visibility and good features, but I had a couple of reservations about it. Although it has a 5 star safety rating, it doesn’t have Electronic Stability Control; the sunroof was located behind me in the roof rather than above me; and the car seemed a little sluggish on acceleration, a serious concern for me because most of my driving is highway driving. Plus, I really do want a manual. I’ve never driven anything else. Aside from the fact that I love the engagement of using the clutch and shifting myself, there’s substantial savings on most cars in getting a manual vs. an automatic, e.g., between $800 and $1100 on the Accent and Elantra, depending on the model, and as much as $1500 on some of the cars I've been looking at.

As we walked back to the dealership after the test drive, Jose asked, “Well, what do you think, girls?”

I wondered if he had a clue what a nails-on-a-chalkboard sensation that appellation produced in me. “It’s a nice car,” I said, “but I don’t know…I was really looking for an Elantra SE, because of the ESC…”

Jose said, “What?!?!?!” I repeated what I’d said. Jose laughed. “We have one,” he said, “in Quicksilver!”

“You have an SE?” I asked (and in the color I wanted!).

“Yes,” he said, “we got it yesterday morning”.

“But no one has them!” I said.

“I know,” he laughed. “But we got one in…”

“Can I test drive it?”

Of course”

To my disappointment, it was another automatic, and without a sunroof. Still, it was a very pretty car. I drove the loop of a couple of miles around the dealership that I’d driven before. The engine seemed more responsive than the engine on the Accent, and yet…I didn’t really like the car. I’m not sure why. Kath said from a passenger standpoint, it was much more comfortable than the Accent. We both got in the backseat, and there was lots of room back there, but I’m a single woman, living alone. If I have room in the car behind me, I'd just as soon have it be cargo space, or I could have a two-seater, because I’m not driving anyone around.

We went into the dealership with Jose, who was chuckling and congratulating himself on his good fortune in making a sale. This was a bad strategic mistake on his part. Both Kath and I were offended that he clearly thought we were “lay-downs” (customers who take whatever terms the salesperson offers), to use the term that I’m sure Jose uses with his fellow salesmen. Of course, we didn’t reveal our displeasure.

While Kath went to her car to retrieve some of the research I’d done on Hyundais, the games began. Jose asked me if I wanted to sell my car to the dealership.

“That depends on how much you offer me for it,” I said.

“How much are you asking?” Jose asked.

“Well, I know the Kelley Blue Book Value,” I said, without revealing what that was.

Jose wrinkled his nose. “The thing about Kelley Blue Book Values,” he said, “is that they don’t take a lot of things into account”.

“Uh-huh,” I said agreeably, “like what?”

“Well, trim, condition, etc.,” he said vaguely, mentioning details Kelley's DOES take into account. He then asked, “So how much do YOU think your car is worth?”

“Well, you tell me,” I said, smiling. “I’ll give you all the specifics, and then you tell me, and if I like what you offer, I’ll sell it to you.”

Jose sighed. He began asking me specifics about Emma. I smiled as I answered him. Quite frankly, if he’d offered me a thousand bucks for Emma, I’d have jumped at it. I seriously don't think anyone will buy Emma. She still gets 34 mpg, but she’s sort of like HAL in A Space Odyssey…some things work, and work well, but other things don’t work at all. And I have to admit, she’s at the point where the list of things that don’t work at all is much longer than the list of things that work, e.g., the rear right window stopped working a year ago...the motor that raises and lowers the convertible top stopped working a couple of months ago (lucky for me, the top was up at the time)...the speedometer works intermittently, because the control cluster’s gone...the AC went out a couple of weeks ago...the brakes, which I replaced at great expense a year ago, are now "wobbly" beneath my foot...a couple of years ago, the multiple disc CD player begin to play only European CD’s, not American ones…so as I barrel down the highway each day with the 3 functioning windows down because the AC doesn’t work, were I able to hear anything at all above the roaring road noise (which I'm not), theoretically I could listen to Callas singing Carmen on an EMI disc, but not Nora Jones singing Hank Williams on a Blue Note Records disc (and that’s truly a little too close to HAL in A Space Odyssey).

Kath came back in. Jose looked at her, expectantly.

“I’m just putting together some numbers here,”
he explained, and then pounced, “So how much do YOU think your mom’s trade in is worth?”

Katharine sat down, put on her horn rimmed glasses and looked at him coolly. “Don’t worry about that,” she said.

“No, I wanted to know, for running the figures…”

“That car will not figure into the negotiable price,” Katharine said firmly, meeting Jose’s eyes and holding them. “If you buy it, that will be a separate transaction.”

I wanted to laugh, but kept a poker face. I wondered if Jose was beginning to realize that these cats had claws…

Then we got down to business. I’d already told Jose how much of a down payment I was prepared to make, so I wanted some information from him, e.g., the total cost of the car, including tax, title and license, and to see what financing packages the dealership was prepared to offer. I didn’t tell Jose that unless he could beat the APR offered by my employee credit union, I wouldn’t be requesting a loan from the dealership. But instead of giving me this information, Jose asked, “How much do you want to spend per month?”

I looked at him. “What’s the car going to COST me?” I countered.

Jose said, “No, I need you to tell me how much you want to spend per month…”

I smiled pleasantly. “I need you to tell me the cost of the car, including tax, title and license, and the APR…”

Jose said he would have to go talk to his manager and also to the Financial People. Eventually, he came back with a sheet of paper with 2 sets of numbers written on it: payment ranges for 5 and 6 year contracts. If he’d asked (but he hadn’t) I’d have told him I want to finance for no more than 4 years, preferably 3. Still, I didn’t tell him that. He was showing me monthly payment amounts without revealing the APR’s or the total cost of the car, and he still “didn’t know” what title, tax and license would cost, except to say “maybe $1300”. The vague figures he was providing were for the Elantra SE.

“What about the Accent?” I asked.

He looked at me incredulously. “I thought you wanted the Elantra!” he said.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I said.

“But you looked happy driving it!” Jose said. I looked at him, and thought about reminding him that he was in the back seat while I was driving, and also saying he should see me when I’m driving a Porsche, but I bit my tongue.

“It’s a hundred degrees outside! Mom was just happy to be driving a car with AC!” Kath exclaimed.

“And a working speedometer!” I chimed in. Then I said, “I’d like to compare. What would the Accent cost?”

Kath added, “What are the invoice prices on both cars?”

Jose sighed. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Can you get them, please?” asked Kath, flashing a smile.

Jose produced the invoice prices, and I saw that in addition to the add ons, I was being charged an “advertising fee” for the Elantra but not the Accent. Interesting. I asked Jose about it.

“It’s an advertising fee, for ads,” he said.

Uh-huh. I asked if I could order the car that I wanted. Jose said “That could take MONTHS, and why should we do that without a down payment? What’s our incentive?”

“Well, what if I made a downpayment?” I asked. “Could I do that? That way, I could order a manual with a sunroof…”

Jose snorted. “I’ve NEVER had anyone do that,” he said.

Kath laughed. “Maybe at a Beemer dealership, Mom…”

“Well, we girls have gotta start someplace,” I sniffed.

In the end, I didn’t buy either car. I wanted to go home and do some more internet research before deciding. Besides, I really want a sunroof and a manual transmission. Jose warned me the Elantra SE will be sold should I change my mind. Maybe. But incredibly, dealerships aren’t open on Sundays in Texas, and as it was 7:30 Saturday night as we were finishing up, and the dealership was closing at 8:00, I was willing to take my chances.

As we walked back to Kath’s car, I tripped, fell, and sprained my ankle (just call me Grace). It’s so swollen and painful that I won’t be driving anywhere for the next couple of days. Still, sitting here this evening with my ankle elevated and iced, I’ve had time to reflect. I don’t want that Elantra SE, and if I decide I want the Accent, there are some manual ones out there with sunroofs. I made the right decision, not buying either car today...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

the long, hot summer...

So the AC died on my car a couple of weeks ago. I’d take it in to have it fixed,'ll be 10 years this fall since I got that car. As much as I love it (and I do), with my heavy commute I need a new car, and I'd rather put the money it would cost to have the AC fixed into a down payment on a new(er) I’ve been driving with the windows down, reminding myself that cars didn’t used to have AC. Uh-huh. And a few hundred years ago there was no indoor plumbing either, or modern dentistry, etc., etc. There’s no future in going down that particular road...

Most of the time, I mind the noise more than I mind the heat. Tonight I got a call from a friend as I was driving home, and we talked only briefly, in part because he commented that between the trucks and the motorcycles zooming loudly past, it sounded as if I were at NASCAR. Of course I said I was; that that’s my real job. I make it easier on myself by driving very early and/or rather late. The combination of 5PM Texas sun and traffic is the worst, and the one I try to avoid. I’m rambling, I know, but there is a point to this, and it is...there is a sort of timelessness to the heat. Tuesday we had severe thunderstorms that took out the electricity in big parts of Dallas, my neighborhood included. When I came home Tuesday night, the traffic lights near my house were out, and once I actually got home, every electrical appliance in my house with a clock was blinking. The AC was off, a casualty of the circuits being tripped, I guess. But I noticed it was relatively cool and fresh outside, so rather than turn the AC back on, I opened windows and started a couple of fans as I set about resetting all the clocks was kind of nice. It’s been hot during the day, but I’m not here during the day; I’m at work, which is, of course, pleasantly cool. And in the evenings, with the temperature in the low ‘70's, I’ve been opening windows and enjoying the fresh air. It won’t stay like this, I know, but I intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

And while it lasts...I’m drinking ice tea and enjoying the feeling of cool air being blown across my shoulders by a fan as I listen to music and write. Just a couple of the many timeless pleasures of summer...

Monday, June 16, 2008

innocents abroad...

So we went to the airport and had a great visit with Mike, on his way back to Tucson after a month spent traveling in Europe. It is one of life's great pleasures (and one not afforded to everyone) to see your children grow into bright, interesting, funny, sophisticated young adults. I was delighted to hear that among their many adventures, they'd spontaneously attended the opera, where they heard Carmen...I'm always happy to learn (and I have with each of my 4) that exposing them to operas and symphonies and museums when they were younger "took"...

And here's a pic, courtesy of Mike's friend, Brooke, of a wine tasting Mike, Brooke and friends attended at a cellar in Villany, Hungary. Mike is barely visible, way in the back, on the right...oh, to be 22 and traveling the world, making new friends, with everything still before you...

Welcome back, Mike!

playing hooky...

I’m playing hooky.

Workaholic that I am, that’s HUGE for me. And what prompted this...deviation from my usual habits? First and foremost, Mike will be at DFW airport this afternoon for a 3-hour layover, from 2:30 until 5:30, on his way back from a month in Europe. I haven't seen him since Christmas, and Anthony and Chris are going to the airport to see him, and I want to go too. I could have gone in very early today (say 5-ish) and worked until 2:00, then headed for the airport, which was my original plan...but when my alarm went off in the wee hours of this morning, my stomach was rocky. Usually when that happens, I just take some OTC stomach med and go on in, but it occurred to work I have nothing scheduled for today, in contrast with the rest of the week, which is hectic, to say the least...and the AC on my car is out, and the temp is supposed to hit 100 this afternoon...need I say more?

So I’m home, playing hooky...and this not-commuting could become addictive...and while I’m at it, here are before & after deck redo pics:


Deck being powerwashed


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Forget Going Private...

Thanks, guys.

I appreciate the comments everyone left, saying they'd like to keep on reading.

I'll admit my knickers were in a knot - my younger brother Dave said he was amused by how mad I clearly was - but after giving it some thought, and discussing it with Dave and a couple of other friends/family, I’ve decided I’m not going private after all. The person upset by some of the things I wrote wasn't someone whom I'd invited to read my words in the first I’ve decided I’ll keep on writing right here and I will, as always, write what I damn well please. And if anyone reading this doesn't like what I write, there’s a very simple solution: stop reading and lose the addy.

Nuff said.

And that said, I guess I'll ease back into the water with a simple, mundane, Things I Did This Weekend

1. I pressure washed the deck outside my front door;
2. I mounted the medicine cabinets in my bathroom - the tile guy discarded the mounting bars, so I had to get new ones before this could be done (thank goodness for the 'net);
3. I put the trim piece on the cabinets in my bathroom;
4. I took A to Adair’s for Father’s Day, where we shared a pitcher of Shiner, had their fabulous cheesburgers, and listened to a bunch of C&W singers jamming on a Sunday afternoon;
5. I put the first coat of stain on the pressure washed deck (pics to follow soon)
6. I did laundry & ironed clothes while watching Father of the Bride (the original black & white) on Turner;
7. I made a big pitcher of ice tea (and the house smells pleasantly of mint).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

going private

Well, shoot.

I had no idea my words were so...compelling. But it's come to my attention, they ARE.

And I will be damned if I will be censored, so hey, I'm outta here. Well, so to speak.

This is my last public post. For what it's worth...I may be writing more, and more FREELY, than ever...but next time I post here, readership will be by invitation only; y'all will have to be on The List to read what I've written; lurkers and the unwashed public will see a note saying this blog is PRIVATE. This'll just be so much noise to most of you reading this; I've already started sending invitations to friends and family. If you've received one, you'll still be able to find me right here, and if I haven't already sent you an invitation and you'd like one, just ask, either in comments or email me - you won't be denied. But your hearts out...