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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

Edmunds.com Takes the Bullshit Out of Car Buying

If this is for real, this would be a welcome change for all car shoppers, not just women. Though with statistics showing that we’re still not comfortable at dealerships, the new focus on truth in car dealing at Edmunds.com would be especially great for women.

According to a press release sent out in October, Edmunds.com aims to make itself the trusted middle man between shoppers and dealers. The car shopping site has partnered with dealers who say that will stop the bait-and-switch online shenanigans. They’ll tell you what they’ve got on the lot and allow you to bring in a digital or printed certificate from Edmunds.com with the price on it. The dealers are held to their end of the bargain by the online power of Edmunds.

The website tested its Price Promise idea in early 2013 and rolled it out to everybody in June. It benefits Edmunds.com by further burnishing its reputation as one of the most trusted websites on the Internet; it benefits dealers by getting people to close on promised deals, often within a few days; and it benefits shoppers by making the car buying process 15 percent faster on average. That’s 10 minutes per hour at the dealership shaved off. That alone is probably worth signing up.

Women at Chrysler Killing It at Awards

Chrysler has a lot to be proud of, women-wise, recently. Twelve of their female employees were recognized at the annual Women of Color Conference, and a senior manager was named Working Mother‘s Working Mother of the Year.

The Women of Color Conference serves to shine a light on women working in STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) fields. One woman at Chrysler, Rajani Sinha, was singled out for the Pioneer Award. She is responsible for plant supply systems, the company said, which means coordinating 14 assembly plants and 10 manufacturing plants in North America, plus coordination with new partners at Fiat to streamline the process of building all these vehicles. The Pioneer Award honors women with some experience behind them, and Sinha boasts more than two decades in information technology.

The other Chrysler women honored at the conference, which is organized by Women of Color magazine, were Technology Rising Stars, young employees who are helping to shape the future of technology.

Meanwhile, over at Working Mother, Mary Ann Kirsch was awarded the title Working Mother of the Year, which frankly sounds like this woman has her shit together. Though she’d probably tell you otherwise, because that’s what women do. We’re humble. As Chrysler Group Senior Manager and mother of three, she has advocated for flexible work hours for all parents and work-life optimization at the company. This comes on the heels of Working Mother naming Chrysler to its list of 100 best companies for working mothers in September, the 14th time the auto manufacturer has made the list.

You can check out all the Working Mothers of the Year in the upcoming December/January issue.

Poll: What Weirds You Out When It Comes to Alternative Fuels?

I’m working on a new e-book to help women navigate the strange forest of green(ish) vehicles on the market, and I’m wondering what you might be wondering.

For instance, what if anything worries you about owning an electric car? What mystifies you about plug-in hybrids? Are you down with diesels? If you’ve got questions or concerns that you’d like to have answered before the new year in a new e-book, let me know!

You can email your answers to khallgeisler [at] gmail [dot] com, or head over to the Take the Wheel Facebook page, or tweet it to me; I’m @kristenhg.

Thanks for the input, ladies!

If You Gotta Go Big: 2014 Honda Pilot Most Fuel Efficient

The days of the monster SUV are over. The Hummer is dead, and crossovers are becoming the family vehicle of choice. With gas prices high and only likely to climb higher, few people are choosing to go big if all they need to do is go home. But some of us still need a gigundous vehicle for big families, for the neighborhood carpool, for operating a drunk bus service. For this, and not though not for many daily tasks, there’s the 2014 Honda Pilot.

I'm not sure this does justice to the hugeness of the Pilot.

I’m not sure this does justice to the hugeness of the Pilot.

Honda announced that it’s latest version of the big ol’ Pilot is the most fuel-efficient eight-passenger SUV on the market these days. The EPA rated it at 17 or 18 mpg in the city, depending on which Pilot configuration you buy, and 24 or 25 mpg on the highway. (Adding four-wheel drive lowers your fuel economy a bit.)

For drivers who need to haul a lot of people with a lot of stuff, there’s no getting around monster SUVs like this or the Chevy Suburban, or maybe a straight-up full-sized van. But for all the rest of us, which is almost everyone in America, a vehicle this big is overkill. Even for people who do haul lots of people and gear and the occasional boat, the Pilot and its ilk are weekender vehicle. Drive this sucker alone to work every day, and polar bears will die. No lie. At least get a carpool together if you must commute from the suburbs to the city in a big SUV, and make everyone kick in for gas and parking.

2014 Honda Pilot

  • Fuel Economy: (2WD) 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
  • Available in LX, EX, and Touring configurations with 2- or 4-wheel drive
  • Price: $29,670 base to $41,420 with every bell and whistle

Book Review: The Oregonian

Hey, it’s my first-ever book review! And like the book itself, this review on the Oregonian’s blog by John Vincent is short and to the point. Full disclosure: I’ve known John for years, given that we have the same job in the same town, belong to the same professional group, and cover the same events. But I’m sure he was nothing but fair and objective in saying nice things about Take the Wheel.

When It Comes to Cars, Men Like Em Big, Women Like Em Useful

A while back, TrueCar.com looked at the kinds of cars men and women were buying in 2011, and what they found will shock exactly no one reading this blog. Men gravitated toward cars that at least looked sporty or toward big trucks and SUVs. Women preferred cars that could be used for work, kid taxi, girls’ night out, plant hauling from the garden center, and every other task on our to-do lists, without sucking up gasoline like teenagers and two-liters of soda.

The women’s top five:

  • Volvo S40 (2011 was its final year of production) – 58% of purchasers are women
  • Volkswagen Eos convertible
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Volkswagen Beetle
  • Hyundai Tuscon

The men’s top five:

  • Porsche 911 – 88% of purchasers are men
  • GMC Sierra
  • Ford F-Series
  • Chevy Corvette
  • Chevy Silverado

H/t to MSN Autos