The name of the car dealer has been withheld only to protect the author from accusations of slander, but the story is true and very recent.
Let’s start with the story of my current vehicle. I drive an older Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. It has more than 303,000 miles on it. There are issues with the water pump (it has to be replaced at least once a year). The air conditioner wasn’t working for a very long time. My kids hate the Jeep because it is black and somewhat like an oven in the summer. I am embarrassed to show up for work in it because it is loud. It gets 14 miles per gallon. It has an oil leak. It also has a radiator leak. But I do have new tires, and I just got the headliner replaced. Twice. The second time, they also had to fiberglass the sun roof to stop it from leaking. There are spiders under the seats, but it is ok as long as I spray there once every six months with the spray that claims to last nine months. The tires have had some issues lately between a nail in one and a screw in another. The nailed tire was patched. The tire with the screw had to be replaced. The brakes and rotors and drums have all been replaced a couple of times. The tire guy says I need rotors again.
One day, I was getting gas at the gas station, when I was openly admiring the vehicle of a fellow gas-pumper. We had a brief automobile conversation, after which he handed me his card. He was a car salesman. I told him I was self-employed. He said I would just need to bring in proof of my income. I said I hadn’t filed last year’s taxes yet. He said it was no problem, just to bring in my bank statements as well as the printouts from Quickbooks.
On April 30, 2009, I went into the auto parts store in the morning and asked the guy in there to help me check my fluids. He told me I had NO oil and NO antifreeze. I bought a big container of oil and a big container of antifreeze and headed out to my office after he helped me with the fluids. When I got to my office, I pulled out the man from the gas station’s business card, and I called him. He invited me to come in to the lot and look at a used minivan. I agreed.
When I got there, I was greeted by every person who saw me. No one could do enough to help me, to gain my business. The person I had called was unavailable, but he did greet me and had another man show me the minivan he had told me about on the phone. The man that was showing me the cars let me test drive three of them on the used lot. The first was a low mileage 2005 model, but he said the bank wouldn’t finance that one. Then I really liked a Honda Odyssey they had (we’ll get back to this vehicle later). But he pointed out that this one was $22,000, which was out of my range. So I ended up with the original minivan the guy had told me about on the phone.
I told the guy from the beginning that I could pay about $350 a month. I don’t know if that was stretching it a little, but I figured that since it had better gas mileage, I would be saving at least half of that amount in gas I was already buying. He reassured me that I would be able to buy a car that day. I had bought three cars already, and all of those loans had been paid off, so I saw no problem other than my self-employment.
The salesmen huddled in their little “area” behind a counter inside of a sectioned-off area in the lobby. I sat at a desk looking out the window, talking intermittently on the phone, checking my email on my cell, and basically awaiting my fate. At first, they wanted to give me $500 for my Jeep, which I said from the beginning that I wanted at least $2000 for. He said they wanted a large sum down and then payments of $528 per month. I picked up my bags several times, ready to walk out the door and drive away in my Jeep, before we finally came to an agreement of $391 per month. I also made sure that the paperwork said that I was getting more for the Jeep. It said $2500 was the “trade-in allowance.” I signed the papers in a hurry because they had taken so long to get things together that I was going to be late to pick up my children from school. In hindsight, I wondered if this was part of their plan.
The used minivan was nicer than the Jeep. It had almost 60,000 miles, which was when the warranty would expire, but it seemed to be in good shape. It had air conditioning vents all over the place, which my kids loved. There was plenty of room for everyone, and I finally was able to separate the sparring children from each other so that I could drive peacefully, for the most part. I had been desperately wanting a third row of seats for what seemed like forever. This was a dream come true. And it seemed to be better on gas. I didn’t understand though, why there were two seatbelts on one of the seats in the second row, and NONE in the other seat, other than a plug. Turns out someone had put the seats in backwards. I tried calling the salesman several times. I was able to reach him at first, but then he was “going to lunch,” and promised to call me back, but didn’t. I finally brought the van in, and it took five or six men to correct the problem.
For five days, I tried to reach them to find out about the financing. I was transferred from one person to another, to no avail. Finally, on the seventh day, I reached a person I had already spoken to, who said that I could not be financed. Fine, I said, I would be right there to trade the van for my Jeep. I went in, and the girl I had spoken to on the phone sheepishly stated that the Jeep was at the auction. She told me to take the van home, and she would call me the following day when it could be traded back. Three days passed. During this time, I read the papers I had signed. I had signed them in a hurry, because I was racing out the door to get my kids from school. Turns out I had signed a paper that said that the car dealer could, at their discretion, either give me back my Jeep or give me the actual cash value for it. A friend of mine asked a lawyer, who told me about de-horsing. I called the car dealer on Monday, and the man denied that I was being de-horsed, and stated I could come in and get my Jeep anytime. I went there immediately, with my mother as a witness, and we drove around on their lot until I finally saw my Jeep, which was way in the back, with no visibility from the road. I got out of my mother’s car and opened the Jeep door. It was mine, for sure.
I went into the front, where they had initially promised me financing. The man I had spoken to on the phone immediately told me my Jeep was still at the auction. With my blood boiling, I said, “Gee, that’s funny, because I just had my HANDS ON IT IN YOUR BACK LOT.” I proceeded to give him an extensive description of exactly where my Jeep was. He retorted, “Oh that must have been some OTHER high-mileage vehicle we left at the auction.”
Then they couldn’t seem to locate my keys. I STILL only have one of the sets I gave to them. They never returned them to me. Luckily, I have a vehicle still. Other people have not been so lucky. Be careful to read everything you sign when buying a car. One of the papers even said that I understood that their promise to get me financed was speculative and that they were not promising financing. There is no specific law against the practice of de-horsing. There should be.
I realized a few things with this experience. Probably the biggest thing was never to go into a car lot alone again. And never make snap decisions, alone or not. Think about the deal. Read everything before you sign it. I was lucky in that I got my Jeep back. Others have not been so lucky. MAKE SURE THE FINANCING GOES THROUGH BEFORE YOU DRIVE THEIR VEHICLE OFF THE LOT OR SIGN YOURS AWAY. Also, the salesman had told me that it looks better to the bank if you trade in a vehicle rather than sell it to someone personally, because it shows a larger down payment. I am not sure of the validity of that statement. I think that may have been misleading. But I am not an expert on car loans, so who knows….
Another thing I learned, however insignificant it used to seem, is that my Jeep is wonderful. We have had our ups and downs (LITERALLY). But it has gotten me around, in and out of jams, and has always been there. In floods, it is high off the ground. On narrow mountain paths, it has 4 wheel drive. And even though I pay for minor repairs now and then, I don’t owe anything on it. The leather seats, cruise control, sun roof, broken stereo (it only plays cassette tapes) and stained carpet that used to make me cringe now help me heave a sigh of relief. I appreciate the old girl now. Think she’ll go another 100k?
Oh, and about that Honda Odyssey? My best friend graduated from college a couple days after my experience. Her husband bought it for her graduation present. For $19,000. That’s $3,000 less than I was quoted. I am glad they got a better deal, but I think that the price offered to one person should be the same across the board. No person should get charged more just because they have to try and finance a car. That's highway robbery (no pun intended).
Well at least someone got a nice van. She is a wonderful person. She deserves it. That’s why she is my best friend. Cheers!