Nasty Feeling About My New Used Car
Ok. I finally did it. I bought a used car. I say "never again", but I know that I probably "will again". I hope that I remember this experience, learn from it, and follow my own advice for next time.
Like many others, we had been milking our current car to death. It was a 2001 Ford Focus ZX3 and we loved it. We loved it so much, that it had over 182,000 miles on it. With every high-dollar repair, we swore to look for a replacement. And, finally we got one.
My goal was to shop for a replacement car when I "had time". I didn't want to rush into a purchase. My hope was, that the replacement for the Focus, would last for many years to come.
And so, I began a long search.
Every day, I would check car listings. When I found a likely car from a private seller, I asked if it would be ok to have our mechanic check the car out, prior to purchase. Surprisingly, many people objected to this (or, perhaps, not surprisingly -- there might be a reason WHY people are selling a car!).
I decided it was "safer" to buy from a dealer. But, when I found a dealer listing, I would obsessively check the dealer ratings and reviews. More often than not, the terrific bargains, were offered by dealers who had terrible reviews and/or an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau.
I have faith in Carmax; however, its prices are high -- and the vehicles matching our criteria never seemed to be where we needed them. They were transferable, of course - but, for a fee, of course. (Carmax will likely get my business next time).
Finally, I found a likely vehicle at a local dealer. The dealer had relatively good reviews. I reluctantly traveled to the car lot, stressing about the entire process.
My salesperson was relaxed and low key. I liked that. The car was "OK" not great - but OK. The price was acceptable. The car met my criteria. I decided to pursue it....
That's when the vulture feeding started. Although the dealership advertised "no hassle pricing", the total cost (once taxes, tags, fees and dealer charges were added) was more than I wanted to spend.
Fortunately, I thought, I have time and I have other options to explore. I was offered $500 for the trade-in of my beloved Focus - which was probably fair, but which equaled the repair bill of two weeks ago.
I finished (I thought) with my salesperson - and asked for a copy of the price sheet to take with me. At that point, I was told to wait. The manager arrived upon the scene, and pressed "what would it take for us to earn your business today?".
I responded that, what I really wanted, was a little time to go home and think - and to explore more options. I should have stuck with my answer. The manager, of course, then started knocking down the price, if I would make the decision "right then". I got sucked in, by the most common pressure tactic in the books. My mistake.
What happened to the "no haggle lowest pricing:????" We haggled, and ended up with another $800 added to the trade-in value, and agreed on a deal.
Now - I asked. What kind of inspection did this vehicle go through? I was told that they did a "150 point inspection" of every vehicle being resold.
There were signs throughout the dealership advertising a "7 day no question exchange policy". No specific terms were listed. When I asked for specifics, I was quickly told that if I decided I didn't want the car for any reason, within 7 days, I could bring it back for full credit towards the purchase of another vehicle.
I took our new vehicle home, happy that I had found a dependable replacement for my teenage son to drive. The car was parked in the garage for 48 hours. Then, I took it out for errands.....
I noticed, when navigating a turn, that occasionally there was a grinding sound. That wasn't so good. When I returned home and parked the car, I heard a repetitive clicking sound in the engine. Then, I noticed a puddle of oil on the garage floor. Not good.
I didn't sleep that night - stomach churning. I agonized over spending so much money for a replacement that appeared to be less dependable than the Focus. I struggled with the direction to take. I called the salesman, who told me to call the service department. Service told me that their schedule was full; when pressed, they agreed to "fit me in", if I could have the car there by 8:00 a.m.
I arrived at the dealership at 7:40. I was at the dealership for 5 hours. During that period, the service department, supposedly, evaluated the vehicle. They claim to have done almost $500 worth of work. Although the work was "comp'ed", I was feeling less confident about the dependability of my new purchase.
I spoke with the sales manager, who assured me that the vehicle would last for years -- and that I had made a good choice.....
I finally retrieved the vehicle and drove it home again. I thought it was running well. That is, until I turned the last turn before home. And I heard the grinding again. Then I parked the car, and heard the repetitive clicking/chugging in the idling engine.
Depressed and frustrated, I contacted the dealer. I informed them that I had lost confidence in the car, and that I wanted to take advantage of the 7-day exchange. They confimed that a return, was not an option.
Then, I questioned the details of the exchange policy. The dealership was one of many "Koons" family dealerships in the Northern Virginia / metropolitan Washington area. Although all the cars, from all the locations, are listed on the website -- I was told that, if I wanted to exchange the car, I could only do so at the single location (where I had made the original purchase). When I asked if I could keep the credit (for the return), until the dealership had another vehicle meeting my criteria, I was told "no". I was informed that I could either keep my purchase, or exchange it for something currently on the lot. Period. Unfortunately, there was nothing on the lot that suited our needs.
I was even more frustrated when I was told that "you should expect problems with older cars". That's true to a point. But, when you pay almost $9000 for a used car, and when you're assured that it's undergone a rigorous inspection - I think it's reasonable to expect that you won't have problems within the first 75 miles driven off the lot.
I feel that I am between a rock and a hard place here. I don't like to raise hell. And, this is really my fault. These are lessons that I hope I learn for the next purchase (which is hopefully years away). These are lessons that I hope readers will remember, the next time that you shop for a car:
-Car shopping is not a pleasant experience. There will be pressure regardless. Don't succumb to the pressure. Go home. Eat. Sleep, Think about a decision. Any big car purchase should require at least two separate trips to the dealership.
-If there are incentives, such as the exchange policy, ask for details. PRESS for details. Don't assume. And don't accept general, vague answers. Get the details in writing. Complain about vague advertising (which, in fact, I have -- i.e. complained to the parent company about the vagueness and misleading nature of the ads).
-If you are buying a used vehicle, take it to another mechanic to get it checked out prior to making the commitment. It's well worth the reassurance, to spend time and money, to assure that you're getting what you're bargaining for.
I'm not sure what I'll do now. I have learned a lesson. But I have learned it the hard way. And I am not sure that I've met my goal, of securing a reliable car for my child. I am planning to take it to an independent mechanic at the beginning of the week. If the assessment is bad or expensive, I'm at war...........