Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Valediction to Vinny

The auto Salesman seemed chill at first, and I played the role of "sweet brunette," the sister to "dumb blonde." Let me show you where you can plug in your iPod, he said. And here's how you set the radio. If you want, take it for a test drive, test out the city streets and even on the interstate, he said in a southern drawl only detectable when said things like "even on the interstate" instead of "even on interstate."

The 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee seemed great: 29,000 miles and the mechanic most familiar with it was a good friend of Cowboy's dad. If he gave it the OK, then soon, my car-searching days would end and all my complaints of snow-sodden cars would be left to blog posts of the past.

Plus, it was green.

When I saw it online, I just knew we were meant to be.

After four months of research, I bought my first car. The task seems simple, but really, I pretty much solved starvation and healed healthcare....

I'm prepared to make an offer, I'd said in the closet-sized office with no door, a little too public for a girl fretting her finances. I'd asked the help of Cowboy and his father: they could help me inspect under the hood and look for errors, leakage and other mechanical failures. But when it came to the negotiation chamber, I made it like Les Miserables, and chose to Go It On My Own.

I gave Salesman my numbers: this price with this and this work, I said. And I want a third-party inspection too.

"WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM, KATIE?" he asked as if I'd stolen his first-born and forced her to wear a South Dakota t-shirt.

It's my offer, I said with a shrug of the shoulders. Listen here, Mr. Southern Drawl, I thought to myself, I'm a foreigner too. North Dakotans are nice by nature, they can't help but pay a higher price for fear a lower one will make the salesman feel bad. Outsiders like us, however, go for the jugular. This is a two-person tango, I thought.

Ok, he said with a smile, I'll have to check it with my boss, but if you're serious, sign here.

Jigga no, I said,  uncomfortable signing anything. I need to know more first. I need to crunch the numbers. How much are you going to charge me for tax, title, license and those ridiculouslyoverpricedfeesthatmakenosence anyway?

It's just a preliminary offer, he said. It's not binding.

I'm not signing it, I said, karate chopping the air so as to kung-pow him into submission.

Fine, he said, taking the offer to his boss across the showroon floor and shaking his head at Cowboy and his father.

"Well," he said to them, "the nice, little quiet girl went away."

Perhaps he was trying to guilt me, but I took it as a compliment.

I may know nothing about cars except that gas goes in the side pocket and all the knobs under the hood are off-limits to a girl like me. But after years of practicing journalism, I know how to research, and I know who's advice to take and who's to trust.

I allowed Cowboy and his dad to return to the standing-room only, closet-sized office and awaited salesman's response. I don't think he likes me much anymore, I told them.

Salesman returned. He underlined the counter offer and in big circles, he'd written the name of the family friend mechanic and his 35 years of experience.

I want a third-party inspection, I said. I will not buy a car without letting someone else look at it. If that's a dealbreaker, I said, letting my voice trail and shrugging my shoulders, (the international sign of "I'm naive, take pity on me, eh Kelli M.?), then I guess it was nice to meet you.

No, no, it's not a dealbreaker, he said, suddenly kind-hearted, paternal and offering my cups of coffee. Who are you going to take it to? he asked.

I don't know, I said. But what I meant was, like hell. This state is so small, you know all the town mechanics and their mothers. I'm not letting you talk to them before I even get there.

Fine, you can do the inspection, he said. Are you comfortable with this counter offer? Well, no, I said, grabbing my parka (Yes, it's March. I know.) and heading for the door. We're late for an appointment anyway, I'll think about it and maybe we'll come back.

Sure, he said, shaking my hand, shaking his head and bidding me adieu.

Not three minutes into the drive, but my phone was a-ringing.

Katie, it's Salesman, he said. We don't want to lose you over a few hundred dollars, if your offer is what you want, we can probably do that.

Ok, I said, covering my smile, I'll think about and let you know. Throughout the appointment, I called anyone I knew with car-buying experience... my dad, my uncle, my co-worker and my friend. This car for this price, I asked. What do you think? Their advice was sound: sounds good, but try to get it lower. Fun!, I thought. Tell me how.

We returned to salesman's office a few hours later, only to find he'd reneged on his phone call. Ok, what if we met at this price? he questioned.

Cowboy lowered his eyes, ready to walk if necessary. You're biggest leverage is your backside, my dad said. And it was good advice.

I don't think so, I said to Salesman, questioning my audacity and if I'd consumed milk or mojitos with my breakfast that morning. You said, you'd match my offer on the phone.

Ok, he said, like I'd asked him to donated both kidneys to a sex offender, is that number OK with you, Big Boss Owner Man?

Yeah, fine, he said, as if we told him he could cook the hot dogs and we'd bring the beer.

That was easy, but I still wanted my third-party inspection. So Salesman filled it halfway with gas and told me to return at 8 a.m. the next day. They'd already ordered the parts I'd requested, and they'd be there in the morning.

Coolio, I said, hand me the keys.

The inspection didn't consist of much, just another Jeep mechanic taking it for a test drive and checking to make sure everything worked. He's another friend of Cowboy's (small towns are AWESOME) and therefore, someone I trust.

By the end of the day, I felt like Salesman stole the Jeep and used it to run me over, I was so exhausted. I'd come up with a plan to get new tires (since many tires expire after 40,000 miles) but I wasn't sure if I could handle the stress. I just need to sleep I thought, rolling over on a pile of papers littered with down payments, interest rates and finance charges.

I woke up the next morning exuberant and energized. Not ask about the tires, like hell, I thought, ready to climb Mount Everest if it would save me 99 cents.

Salesman wasn't too happy to hear of my last-ditch attempt to save a few bucks, and he and his boss left me sitting in the undoor-ed closet for half an hour while they deliberated. But I accepted their counter, signed the papers, and ate a chocolate chip muffin in celebration.

I should be proud, but really, I feel as though I've given in. Four-wheel drive and machine with poorer gas mileage than Vinny. North Dakota is getting the best of me, even my beloved Vinny the Volvo. Pretty soon I'll wear camo to weddings and change my phone number from (402) to (701).

Ok, maybe the second part. But never, never will I do the first.


  1. Katie, I'm so proud! Look at you buying your own car and negotiating like a pro:)

  2. You did good, girl! It is SO SO SO hard to buy a freaking vehicle. Dang. I just about passed out in the guy's office a year ago when I bought my Sebring. (And now I hate it. So much for giving up 4 wheel drive.) Then I had to drive to my AA dad's house and cry and say, "Did I do okay? Did I?" And he had to hug me until I stopped shaking and tell me that I did JUST FINE.

    So, as soon as I have the stupid thing paid off, I'm getting another SUV. Seriously. What was I thinking? I live in South Dakota.


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