It’s shopping time again and I’m dreading it. Oh, not holiday shopping – I love that. What I don’t like is shopping for a new car. I like to look, but the process of negotiating the final sale is torture for the average consumer.
Currently, I drive a 2008 Dodge Nitro. It’s a mid-size SUV with 4-wheel drive. It’s got 128,000 miles on it, which is a huge number, or not, depending on whom I talk to. “128,000 miles? That’s nothing. Keep the oil changed and that vehicle will last forever.” Except when I have to spend money at the repair shop for things like transmission trouble, tires and a blower motor for my heater if I intend to use my defrosters this winter.
The first step when car shopping is to pay attention to the advertising you usually ignore. Car ads are everywhere, and according to the hype, the deals are incredible. New car prices are astronomical but there are alternatives to high monthly payments. Thanks to the Millennial generation, who decided they don’t need to actually own anything, automobile lease prices appear to be extremely affordable.
It took a television commercial for a $59 monthly lease for a new Jeep to get me off my sofa and into the showroom of a local car dealership. I was on a mission. I was going to get the $59 deal or else I would sue for false advertising. Don’t they know I work for a newspaper? If the dealership didn’t honor the advertised price I was going to expose this consumer fraud and close the place down.
My wife and I took a drive to our favorite car dealership on Saturday afternoon. As we exited our car, the sharks began circling – I mean we were greeted by salespeople. Even though I made it clear I was just looking, I ended up sitting at the salesman’s desk going over figures. I was stunned when he told me the $59 lease deal was real.
“Of course it is,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to advertise that price if it wasn’t true.”
“Great! Sign me up!” I said.
“Well, there is the matter of the disclosure in the fine print. You need to put down $10,000 dollars. You need to be a military veteran with at least two medals of honor. You need to be class valedictorian as well as a member of Mensa. And if you don’t have a triple diamond credit rating, don’t even think about applying. You haven’t co-signed student loans for your two sons have you?”
I realized I was not going to qualify for the $59 monthly deal, but there were other financing plans on the table.
“How much of a down payment would be comfortable for you?” the salesman asked.
“I’ll be trading in my 2008 Dodge Nitro,” I said proudly.
“So…nothing down,” he said as he put a zero on the worksheet.
As my excitement deflated like the week-old balloons on the showroom floor, my wife offered her two-cents to let the rest of the air out.
“My husband’s not a good lease candidate,” she told the salesman. “Have you seen his car? Filthy. I won’t even drive in it.”
“Honey, do we really need to have this discussion in front of Brad?” I said. We were now on a first name basis with our salesman.
“Maybe your just old-school, Scotty,” Brad said. “You’re one of those people who like to hold onto their vehicles forever and drive them into the ground until they no longer run. We have lots of older models we can’t get rid of that might be perfect for you.”
I took Brad’s business card and told him I needed to rethink my purchase plans. Brad said he would call over the holidays to keep in touch. I think my wife invited him to Christmas dinner.
I may not be the best candidate to lease a car. I definitely don’t qualify for many of the so-called “incentive” programs. When I finally find a car, I will probably end up with something older that already has some mileage on it. You know, something like a 2008 Dodge Nitro. I can save a lot of money if I keep driving my current auto until it no longer runs. And then, like the Millennials, I can always take an Uber.