Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Car Shopping for Zen Buddhist

"This, my friends," announced the used car salesman, "is a real creampuff. I am telling you, it's an EXCELLENT car for your money."

Creampuff? Did he actually use the world CREAMPUFF? I couldn't believe my ears.

"You would be CRAZY if you didn't get THIS little dreamboat," he continued. "I can sell THIS car all day long!"

Zen Buddhist was obviously starry-eyed. Being both impressionable and naive, she was already leaning toward a car that would put her over her budget. My friend Rick, his daughter, and I were there with her, knowing that if we weren't there to intervene, she'd be signing a contract which would obligate her to payments that would result in her car being repo'd within a month.

Zen hadn't needed a car until her old beater had blown up on the highway one day when she was on her way to work. The last time she'd been in the market for a car was many years ago, and she simply had no real idea what it was going to take.

"I really like that car," she said dreamily, pointing to another one. I winced. You don't let on about the car you prefer until you're down to the last moment.

"Now THAT," he began enthusiastically, "THAT..."

I tuned him out, hoping that we'd be able to convince Zen that she had to think sensibly. She was on a tight budget with no trade-in, and could never afford $300 - $400 a month plus the insurance she'd need to cover such "creampuffs" which might explode in creamy glory on the highway anyway, leaving her both with payments and no car.

We'd already gone to a couple car lots. She was terribly disappointed to see what we thought were sensible cars when she'd set her heart on something much more glamorous and expensive. We repeatedly discussed her budget with her, but Zen's mind was set: She wanted a nicer car and would somehow save money to afford it. We had to change her mind. Fast.

Zen's car had blown up several towns away, despite her putting a vast amount of money into it's repairs. It was an American-made car (thus a low-quality one) and couldn't be expected to last even half the time a Japanese-import could. So, Zen was now determined to buy Japanese and wouldn't consider another American-made car under any circumstances.

Though we understood her reasoning (and even agreed with it) we tried to convince her that an older Toyota or Honda was the way to go. By older, we meant something manufactured in the 80s or 90s, purchased from an individual instead of a dealer, and something that could be paid for outright so that she wouldn't be locked into car payments.

For two days, Zen would not be deterred. She had the extra incentive of believing that she was going to be given $1000 from her employer toward the car, which would leave her with only the regular payments. Although I had encouraged her to ask for money from them, I was still surprised when she enthusiastically told me that they had agreed to actually GIVE her the money.

Yesterday, we met her stepfather out at the first car. He examined it briefly and then told us that it was a definate NO, so we moved on. She indulged me and agreed to look at an old Toyota for $1500, which everyone was hoping would work for her, but that car was a lemon. We also looked at the "creampuffs". At this point, Zen's stepfather turned to her and simply said "It's a good car, honey, but you can't afford it." Zen was crestfallen. Having to hear this from so many people was discouraging. This is when she became more practical.

"Zen, you really went through the paper and couldn't find any good cars?!" I asked again, for the fourteenth time.

"Well..." Zen said reluctantly, "I didn't really see anything that looked good."

"Will you humor me and go through it again and see if you can find something that falls within the parameters of what you can afford?" I asked.

She agreed to.

We had to take care of a couple of things, and when we got back, she got in the car and pointed reluctantly to a couple of good cars in the right categories for the right pricing. We set off once more, to see an old JI (Japanese Import) from the 80s.

We pulled up at a tiny little house in nearby city. Although it was a small house, it was clean and well-kept. So was the JI car in front of it.

The retiree living there came out from his house, keys in hand. We cranked up the car, looked at it inside and out (it was in pristine condition) and took it for a test drive. By now it was almost 5 o'clock and the banks were closed.

We negotiated the owner to a reasonable price and sealed the deal with a handshake, telling him we'd be by with the cash the following day. "Wait a minute!" he said, startled. "You mean I just got bargained down and you're not even giving me cash right now?" We agreed that that was exactly what had just happened. We waved goodbye to each other: We had agreed to pay him the following morning once the banks opened.

Zen got on the phone with her company to make sure she was still getting that $1000 that had been promised to her. As she talked on the phone with her boss, she grew pale. I was concerned: "What?!" I hissed. She shook her head, said goodbye, and then closed her cell phone and announced that her company had decided to only LOAN her the money.

"Whew! Good thing we settled on this car and not a more expensive one, then!" I said, sympathetically.

This morning we were occupied with getting the $1000 into her bank account and obtaining insurance, tax, tag, and title. When it was all over, Zen went back home to collapse.

Zen now has a good and practical car, and we are done car shopping. For now. That is, until THIS one blows up on the highway. I'm merely hoping that that will be at least 5 years from now.


The Lazy Iguana said...

So you ended up with a Toyota or Honda huh? Good choice.

Hans said...

I'm with Lazy on this one. I just traded in my old Acura on a new Honda. For years I was a Ford guy but the design and build quality of the Japanese cars is head and shoulders above the American brands. Suprisingly the Honda was built in Ohio. Toyota is in either Kentucky or Tennessee, Nissan is Mississippi. It's not the American workers but the attitudes of the established American brands and the unions that have killed the reputation for quality.

As far as car shopping goes. I'd rather pee on a spark plug.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, I agree. I know it will be the difference between another highway breakdown and a smooth workday. ;o)

daveawayfromhome said...

My wife has a new Import. It's very nice, but at $350 a month payments, plus full coverage, I could buy a $1500-ish car (which will be OK, if sought out carefully), drive it (with liability insurance) until it dropped, leave it on the side of the road, buy another one, drive it until it dropped, and maybe even do it again.
In other words, I could buy two or three used P-O-Ss a year for what she spends on a car that may well be one of those P-O-Ss by the time she gets done paying for it.
There's something to be said for buying a new car, but most of that involves reliability. Any other reason is mere vanity, and leads to exactly what is deserved.

I had a 1980 Corolla that I abused (pizza delivery, among other things), and it still managed to go 250,000 miles before I let it go. Toyotas rock.

green said...

SO what make and model did she end up with?

I bought my first new car last August at age 37, which I posted about. A nice reliable '06 Nissan Sentra, that will retain it's re-saleability, should I eventualy choose that route. Before this I had "old", used cars, which were good, but eventually the repair costs outweighed the value of the vehicle.

I do agree with Hans, though that new car shopping on the whole, stinks.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Hans, unions huh? Yea they all suck. You should go to your boss and tell him/her that you are willing to work under the same conditions as Americans before labor unions. Weekends? Who needs those! 8 hour work day? HA! We should all be working 16. Without overtime, sick leave, vacation time, or any of that other union garbage. When you get sick and miss a day, then you get fired. No calling in. That is union laziness there!

Not all Toyotas are made in the USA. The new FJ Cruiser is 100% Japanese - parts and assembly. So are all hybrids made by Toyota. If the VIN starts with a J then it was made in Japan. My Toyota truck VIN does not start with a J. But it is still better than a Ford Ranger. A lot of the parts are from Japan. I think this is the major difference.

"American" made cars use parts from Korea, China, Mexico, and even Canada. Nothing is truly 100% made in America anymore.

Herr Krokodil said...


I don't like car salesman. I usually end up getting a few fired when I go looking for a car. I just love reeling them in and then bang, got ya.

I have a Kraut car, a Jap car, and a Honkie car. I'm very diverse and didn't even realize it.

Glad Zen is set.

Excellent post.

audible said...

I leave the car shopping to my father. I tell him what I'm in the market for and he checks listings carefully until something good shows up. Actually, I usually don't even have to ask- he has an ongoing search. It's like some masochistic hobby.

New cars are for people with money to throw away. Nothing looses value faster than a new car. And, as mentioned before, you don't know how well the car will age.

I hope Zen has good basic maintenance skills and habits. The main difference between a lemon and a real prize is the owner.

Ed Abbey said...

I learned my lesson helping a friend find a car in similar circumstances. The nice older foreign car ended up having a major problem soon after purchase. Bad luck. Unfortunately I was the blame since I talked them into it from a fancy car that they couldn't afford. Now I just tell them what I think once and let them make their own mistakes.

I've also learned another valuable lesson. Companies like Toyota also build cars for other companies like Chevrolet. You can go pick up a Chevy Prism that is a Toyota Corrola frame and drive train manufactured by them and with a Chevy body for a song and a dance because everyone knows a Prism made by Chevy is a piece of crap.