Next week, Bill and I will celebrate eight years of marriage. In that time, we have moved across the country together and lived together in two houses, one rented and one bought. We've had a child together, and purchased a few big-ticket items together along the way.
But, up until recently, we had never purchased a car together. Bill's been driving the same truck since before I met him, and this was the last time I bought a new car:
June 30, 2000: I was 22 and two weeks out of college. I'm smiling because that whole Y2K thing didn't pan out, and the TSA hadn't been created yet. And yes, I was thinner, but I made up for it in the weight of my eyebrows.
"Let me tell you about the features of your new Toyota Corolla. Also, nice overalls."
That Corolla has served us well. We drove it home from our wedding, with Bill in the passenger seat saying, Wow, Shannon, you're my wife now. Shortly thereafter we drove it across the country with our cat, to our new home in Chicago. We then drove all around Chicagoland finding a place to rent. Later we drove newborn Nathan home from the hospital in it, and then we drove it to and from the closing on our new house. I think it's safe to say the Corolla has been a big part of the important events in the past 12 years of our lives.
But, the Corolla was getting old, experiencing some irritating cosmetic problems (e.g., the key no longer opens the passenger's side door or the trunk; the gas doesn't open when you pull the lever, requiring you to pry it open with a small garden shovel). And it mostly still ran well--at least, after a $700 repair--but it was starting to feel a little gutless. And it was too small to haul anything.
Bill's truck is great for hauling, of course, but it doesn't even reliably start anymore.
It was time for a new car.
Now, as I said, this was my first time buying a car with Bill. Turns out we have very different approaches to buying a car. Such as:
My Approach: Check car ratings in Consumer Reports. Decide which of the top-rated cars I like. Go online to see how much it costs. Purchase car.
Bill's Approach: Decide car will be purchased someday (an ill-defined, nebulous someday), but that an exhausting amount of research must be done before selecting car. Since the thousands of options and combinations available make comparisons among cars incredibly challenging, and in many cases they are apples-to-oranges comparisons anyway, Bill's standards for car research ensure that we will never have to commit to a new car, which I suspect was his goal anyway.
Additionally, Bill suggested we get a couple of other financial affairs in order. I took care of those, and I cleaned out the garage to make space for a new car. And once I did those things, I became sort of a major bitch about the whole car thing. "Let's get a new car NOW," I said approximately a thousand times in the space of three days.
Bill waffled on makes and models. I had a few opinions of my own, of course, but Bill wore me down to the point that I was basically saying, "Just pick a make and model that you like, and I'll be happy as long as it's newer and bigger than our existing car."
Eventually we decided on the Subaru Outback, and I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands from there on out.
Now, I absolutely hate sales situations. Despite the fact that my grandfather sold cars his entire career, I am a terrible salesperson. I even hated it in high school when I had to work a concession stand as part of a school fundraiser, and I'd have to yell things like, "Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs here!"
Bottom line, I don't like selling things, and I don't like being sold things. I find sales-based activities to be very awkward interpersonal situations.
Fortunately my friend Tabitha had just bought a car a few weeks before, and she informed me that she was able to negotiate the entire purchase via email. In writing? That's something I feel comfortable with. That's why I always say I would have been more popular in high school if texting had been invented back then. (Well, and if I had spent less time selling hot dogs.)
I had hoped to do a little online research about how much the car would cost at particular local dealerships, but the Subaru people knew my game and insisted I provide them with my contact information before giving me a quote. Figuring I was free to delete their emails or not answer the phone, I gave out my information. I immediately received emails and calls from two dealerships, which I will call Dealership A and Dealership B.
Simultaneously, I gave out my information to the Costco auto-buying program, which had the very attractive benefits of giving us the haggle-free fleet price on the vehicle (whatever that is), as well as giving us a $500 Costco card for completing a sale through their program. Costco put us in touch with Dealership C, which I figured would be the winner. I felt bad for Dealerships A and B, because it didn't seem like they had a chance.
But I fired off an email to all three dealerships, specifying exactly what I wanted in a car. Costco Dealership C guy wrote back a curt and dickish sounding reply about how you couldn't get those features all together. Dealerships A and B sent back links to their websites. In general, it was hard to get anybody to give an actual dollar figure. Eventually, after a lot of taunting, the guy from Costco Dealership C sent back a short reply with just a dollar figure. No, Would you like to come in and test-drive the car? or What can I do to earn your business? Yes, his price was the best, but I didn't like his annoying Take it or leave it attitude.
In contrast, the guy from Dealership B was really friendly and attentive, answering all my questions. I liked him, and I wanted to buy from him. But I knew that the bottom-line figure was going to be the driving force behind where we ultimately purchased a car.
So, I made use of what I consider to be my only God-given skill in the world, writing. I sat down and wrote out my feelings in an email to the nice guy from Dealership B. I explained that I really wanted to give him some business because he was so nice, but that we would have to go with the Costco-based dealer if he could give a lower price.
Immediately the nice guy from Dealership B called me back. He thanked me for my compliments and said that his dealership works with Costco, too, and that they could give us an even cheaper price than Dealership C, which we were apparently referred to based solely on geography. And we could get the $500 Costco card through Dealership B, no problem.
Lesson learned: It always pays to be nice.
(Meanwhile the guy from Dealership C kind of just gave up on replying to my emails, and the people from Dealership A sent some sort of half-assed reply a week later. I really think car dealerships need to get with the times and deal more with electronic communications, but maybe I'm one of the few antisocial people who prefer email to face-to-face conversation when it comes to sales situations.)
Let me emphasize that I pretty much negotiated this whole awesome deal. I was pretty proud of myself for that, especially because Bill actually used to sell cars, too.
Of course, we hadn't signed on the dotted line yet, and I knew any small glitch could be a dealbreaker for my excessively-picky husband. For example, he already told me we wouldn't be driving away in a new car if the dealership affixed some sort of permanent logo to the back. So I was nervous.
But, after the test-drive, and the paperwork, and the refusal of the extended warranty ... we had a car! One without a permanent dealership logo affixed to the rear!
This time the "closing the sale" picture features Bill, but let me assure you that I was dressed in what I think was a lot nicer than overalls and athletic shoes.
Here it is! I love it! Note that I had the dealership add an after-market bike rack, which has already come in handy.
So, if you need me, I'll be driving around in my new car, basking in the glory of my stellar negotiation skills and getting intoxicated on that new-car smell.