I Bought a New Car! Part Four: The Deal

Oh. My. God. I do not like buying cars. Do not like it in a box, do not like it with a fox.

I found the car I wanted at a price that fit my budget at a Subaru dealer in the suburbs that also sponsors a lot of events and things at the animal shelter where I volunteer. These were all important considerations to me, so I packed my husband into the Baja. I was buying the car to fit my own budget, but he has a regular, steady, salaried income, the kind that lenders like. I have a nearly random, hard to prove freelance income, the kind that gives lenders fits. Because I haaaaaaaate waiting around in dealerships, I brought my taller half along in the hope that his pay stub would reduce the amount of time we had to sit in uncomfortable chairs on a warm, sunny spring day.

I test drove the Subaru Impreza I had pretty much decided on, and it drove just as I expected it would. It was a couple of years old, but the light tan interior was very clean, and it had all the things I wanted. I ended up trading in the Baja’s sunroof for the Impreza’s rear window wiper, but given that I live in Oregon, that seemed reasonable.

We went back into the dealership and filled out our financial paperwork, which backed up what we had told the sales guy: we have stellar credit. Just give us the loan and get us out of here already.

But no. We had to wait for the guy in the back, the financial guy, to get around to us. We had to wait our turn. I am terrible at this. I didn’t negotiate, I accepted their trade-in value (which was pretty great), I brought the guy who has actual pay stubs to present despite the fact that it’s my car and I’ll be paying for it. Please just give me the keys and release me. I squirmed in my seat like a five-year-old. I complained quietly. I sighed loudly. I pulled the dog card, pointing out that we’d been there for hours, and the dog would probably be on the brink of peeing on something valuable, like one of the cats.

And still we waited. Nothing I did or said or whined about made any difference.

When it was finally our turn, we whipped through the paperwork, signing everything with our messiest signatures. The finance guy offered us a maintenance agreement and an extended warranty, and I said no, thank you. He said okay. Then, somehow, this fat dude showed up in the doorway making sure we didn’t want the extra coverage. He said, “I’m just asking because I always get the phone calls, two days, two weeks, two years later, and somebody’s not happy.” That is a terrible selling strategy, by the way. I’m supposed to pay a couple extra thousand dollars so that you don’t get angry phone calls? You’re not going to explain to me the potential benefits of spending that money?

We were finally free five hours after we’d arrived. I felt good about the price I paid and my monthly payment, and I loved my new light blue Subaru. Because I am me, I fretted all the way home that something was wrong, or broken, or I’d messed up, but no. It all went down the best way it could. But holy shit, I hate waiting in the dealership.

The day we -- finally -- came home

The day we — finally — came home

I Bought a New Car! Part Three: The Search

(Last week, we left KHG dangling on Budgetary Cliff hoping for the perfect car to rescue her.)

All right, so after budgeting and following my own advice, a new Crosstrek hybrid was out. But I still had a healthy used-car budget to work with, and I did still like Subarus, so I delved into the local dealerships’ inventories to see what was out there.

Not much I could afford, it turned out.

So I went online. I checked eBay, and KBB.com, and Edmunds, and AutoTrader. It was useful to see what was available, even if it was outside my price range. And it was useful to see what other makes and models I maybe hadn’t considered. That blew open the doors of perception.

I work in automotive journalism. I have driven so, so, so many cars over the years. Suddenly, I was able to consider them seriously. I did kind of like the VW Touareg. Oooh, Acura made some nice SUVs; maybe I could afford a used one? I found a couple of Audi Allroad wagons I could afford, but there might be a VW wagon in our future, so that would be ridiculous. I considered a Volvo XC70, since we’d had a beloved V70 years ago, but all I could find were XC90s, which are massive beasts.

Then I found the Land Rover. The big, bad-ass, totally awesome with a roof rack on top 2003 Discovery for cheap. I would look so cool in that. The dog would look so cool. We could start fording creeks rather than using bridges like wimps. We could drive to Baja. Fuck that — we could drive to Patagonia. ZOMG, the dog’s going to need goggles.

I knew I was being ridiculous. Proof of that was in the fact that I put the question to Facebook — convince me not to buy the Land Rover, friends. Tell me to stick to my reliable Subaru guns. They did, though one automotive journalist asked which I’d rather have owned when I was on my deathbed. That did give me perspective, though not the kind Basem intended. I mean, come on. Neither of these are death-bed cars. They’re drive around with the muddy dog cars, not Aston Martins.

Part Four: The Deal

I Bought a New Car! Part Two: The Budget

(When last we saw KHG, she was realizing that the Baja no longer fit her needs and she was ready to buy a sparkly new car.)

As I shopped for cars online between interviewing Chevy Volt owners for the New York Times and editing a book about marketing, I remembered that if I was going to take this search seriously — and apparently I was — I should probably consult my own book. How much car could I, a lowly freelancer, actually afford?

Turns out, not much. But not as bad as I thought.

I turned to the section on budgeting in Take the Wheel (page 19 for those of you following along at home) and ran the numbers. The sad, sad numbers. I used only my income and my portion of the monthly debt and bills — kind as if my husband were a roommate instead of a supportive, trusting partner in a long-term committed relationship. It turned out that, by taking my own fucking advice, I could afford no more each month than I was currently paying for the Baja. My dreams of a brand-new car flew out the sunroof.

I dangled the promise of a new-to-me car like a carrot: as soon as I signed the bottom of form 1040 and paid my tax lady (who is the best), I would allow myself to actually purchase an automobile. The search was on.

I Bought a New Car! Part One: The Decision

For those of you who have already read Take the Wheel, I was in love with my 2005 Subaru Baja. It was the ideal car. I searched for it, I waited for one I could afford, I bought it and threw the dog in the back seat and drove happily ever after.

The Baja in happier days.

The Baja in happier days.

But then.

When I drove with two coworkers to a writing conference six hours east of here, we had to cram our luggage into the fourth seat and wrap our business’s booth gear in plastic so it could ride in the bed — in one of the worst storms we’d seen in a long time. When I drove to the coast with a friend and the dog, we had to cram my luggage, her luggage, and the dog gear into the fourth seat, leaving the bed empty for lack of tie-downs.

I tried upgrading the stereo, and I bought the Baja-specific in-bed bike rack. I wanted to stay in love, but it wasn’t working out. My needs had changed. It wasn’t her; it was me.

I did love the bulletproof Subaru engine and all-wheel drive, so I first fell in love with the shiniest new Subaru of all, the Crosstrek hybrid. Which was way too expensive. So I flirted with the gasoline-only Crosstrek. That flirtation lasted a couple of months, during which time I was amazingly able to convince my husband that my buying a brand-new car was a good idea, despite my position as a freelance writer and book editor (in case you weren’t aware, not one word of my job description screams “Lucrative!”).

But I wrote this book, and I did all this research, and I knew better. I knew it was time to do the math.

Part Two: The Budget

Good News! Cars Are a Wee Bit Cheaper This Year

Everybody knows that the price in the commercial or on the MSRP sticker isn’t often the price you’ll actually pay for a car. After all the hemming, hawing, and haggling, you’ll likely pay a bit less than the official price, especially if the manufacturer has incentives involved, like $1000 cash back.

Happily, the people at TrueCar track these things for us. They look at the average transaction prices of new vehicles — the final price that people are actually paying — and look at how it compares to previous years and months. The good news right now is that passenger vehicles industry wide are half a percent between November 2012 and November 2013. According to TrueCar’s research, consumers paid $30,832 on average for a new car in November 2012 and $30,634 in November 2013. It’s only a couple hundred bucks, but for me, that’s three trips including tip to Maggie, who makes my hair pretty.

Manufacturers are also offering buyers more money as incentives — but only 0.7% more over last year. November 2012 saw an average of $2,490 being handed out for new-car incentives, while in November 2013 $2,507. That not-quite-twenty bucks isn’t going to make a huge difference in my life if I’m buying a $30,000 car. But that’s an industry average; the car you’re interested in might come in on the high end of the incentive scale. Ford and GM, as of last month, were averaging more than $3,000 in incentives, for example.

Toyota Financial CEO Borst Gives Women a Career Boost

In his 16 years as president and CEO of Toyota Financial Services, George Borst created the most diverse management team in TFS history, gender-wise. For this achievement, he received the Outstanding CEO award from Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute. Borst retired in September 2013, but he’s still serving as an executive adviser for TFS.

Borst didn’t just hire women; he encouraged them to network and mentor one another, which is an important factor in women’s advancement. He was an advocate for Toyota’s resource group for its female employees, TORQUE (I do not know what that stands for, but I’d love to). Its annual conference of women from North American Toyota affiliates grew to 200 participants, nearly doubling its attendance in three years.

2013 Los Angeles Auto Show Recap: All the Ladies in the House

Ford hearts women. And their cash.

Ford hearts women. And their cash.

Here’s a quick recap after spending two days wandering the floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center for the 2013 LA Auto Show press preview:

All the Ladies in the House Equals One: I attended a couple dozen press conferences, and I noticed that only one was presented by a woman. That would be the GM lunchtime press conference on the second day, when Cristi Landy, marketing director for Chevy’s small cars, introduced two new variants of the Chevy Sonic. There were plenty of women journalists and PR people and everything else, but when it came time to tell hundreds of journalists what was new with their companies, all but one had a man tell us all what was what. (Side note: I met Landy last summer at a Chevy Spark event, and she’s super cool. She’s very supportive of girls in STEM.)

You’ve Got Money, and They Want It: There were plenty of cars with traditional masculine appeal, like the new 2014 Corvette Stingray or the massive Ford Super Duty trucks on display. But there were tons of cars aimed right at you and your pretty little wallets, ladies. Crossovers, efficient yet practical hybrids, electric cars that can fit your kids — car companies are getting hip to who holds the literal purse strings in most households in the twenty-first century. Don’t let them forget it. Buy what speaks to you and what works for you from dealerships that respect your decisions.

Don’t Dis the Models: I started attending auto shows as a freelancer in 2007. Since then, the ladies in the high heels and shapewear who stand next to the cars have learned to use their brains as well as their beauty. These women are a valuable resource for press and public alike. If you go to an auto show (especially a big one like LA, Detroit, Chicago, or New York), don’t hesitate to ask these women questions — they have committed the stats and features to memory for all the cars in their section. Do not mistake them for dumb bunnies anymore.

Take the Wheel Gets Some Portland Love

Take the Wheel is in two Portland publications this month! Check out this excerpt from the intro to the book in Portland Family magazine’s November issue. It’s an easy way to get a taste if you’re wondering what the book’s like.

If you want to know more about me, my career, my car-buying history, and more, there’s a profile of me in this week’s Portland Tribune print edition. I read the whole thing as soon as it came out, and I don’t say anything stupid or embarrassing! I know, I’m amazed too.

Mazda Gets All Designery for the Ladies

SEMA13 Mazda Vector 3

The annual SEMA show in Las Vegas is not typically a feminist hotbed. Unless you are into aftermarket auto parts — and some of us very much are — it’s not even a very female-friendly place. There are plenty of women there, but it’s an industry-only show. The public is not invited. So all the women are working, as company reps, as journalists, or as booth babes in hot pants. Yup. Still.

So it’s kind of refreshing that Mazda brought some cars to the convention center that have a huge emphasis on high-end design rather than on racer-boy aesthetics. These cars are in no way dumbed down from a performance standpoint, but they are classed up considerably. And the language Mazda is using to describe these super hot, super fast cars is directed right at you, ladies. And not in a bad way.

Take the Mazda Vector 3 concept. The press release calls the paint Soul Red, “as sultry and intense as the certain little black dress that takes your breath away.” The description goes on:

Although a pattern inspired from the runways of the fashion elite, the Vector 3 hones its attitude from the world of active lifestyle and performance wear. Fitting like a stylish pair of cross-trainers, the Vector 3 offers little fuss but commands plenty of attention.

I have some grammar issues with that first sentence, but I do not have issues with the fact that Mazda seems to understand that women car buyers want performance and high-end design as much as men buyers do. They seem to understand at some kind-of-awkward-but-well-meaning level that many women like being sexy and being active in equal measure. I give that a “Huzzah! Mostly.”