Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Breakdown, Lowdown Car Headache Blues

“J Dawg, it’s going to need a water pump to stop the coolant leak, it’s got a ball joint that’s about to fall off, and the brakes are grinding metal on metal. Its also got an oil leak and that’s just the stuff I can see”. That was the start of the call from our local mechanic two days before Christmas about my sons 9 year old Dodge Stratus. He continued to tell me he could fix most of it (except the oil leak) but, it would cost about $1,300 and there was no telling what else he would find once he started opening things up. He finished with “it could also have a warped head gasket”. That was enough.  He recommended that I don’t put any more money into to the car and I immediately concurred. I told him to “button it up” and we’d be down to pick it up.

Such was the start of my Christmas. I was about to leave for FL in a few days and now had to deal with helping my unemployed college student son get a replacement vehicle. The headache started right after I hung up the phone. This fall I had just spent about $9K on unplanned house repairs, had recently written a $6K check for the rent in FL, and still had the knot in my stomach from the monthly credit card bill, which listed the latest spending spree from my wife. Now I was looking at spending more unplanned thousands on a used car for my 29 year old son, who should be handling this on his own.

I immediately huddled with my son, gave him a minor outburst about getting a job, and then we both started surfing the web for used cars. I found a dealership nearby that had a number of cars listed in my price range. They had one in particular, a 2005 Ford Focus with 38K miles, which looked pretty good. I called to make sure they’d be open on Christmas Eve and we made plans to drive over in the morning. I hadn’t dealt with this particular dealership before, but their reviews on the web were ok. What we were about to experience at this dealership would be bizarre, frustrating, deceptive, and really idiotic. It would be the worse experience I’ve ever have trying to buy a car. It would be so bad, it was funny.

We arrived at the dealership and were greeted by Frank. Frank looked like he was in his mid 50’s and looked more like a pharmacist than a used car salesman. He was pleasant, but looked a little nervous and uncertain. I told him we were there to look at the 05 Ford Focus they had advertised on their web site. Frank took some info down about us, what we were looking for, and then got up and told us he needed to “go up front” to see what they had. He returned and told us that they were looking to see what they had for Ford Focus’s and walked off.  Both Liam and I sensed that there was something not quite right with Frank. We found that he didn’t speak in full sentences, but instead he used open phases and unfinished sentences. We also found that whenever we asked him something he needed to “go up front” to find out the answer. Frank returned and told us “they’re bringing it around” for us. I said, “Great, you have an 05 Focus?”. Frank just sort of nodded and mumbled something about a Focus. We then saw him walk out and motion for us to join him outside.

Frank brought the car around and it looked to be the same color as the 05 Focus they had listed on their web site. Liam and I got in the car with Frank and I immediately noticed the odometer was reading 79307 miles. I asked Frank if this was 05 and he said no, it was an 03. I asked about the 05 and he told me that this was a Focus and that was what we wanted right?. “No”, I told him, I wanted to see the 05. He said something about having over 500 cars on the lot and that “they’re” still looking for it and he was not sure if they still had it, but that we should take this one for a test drive. I said no, we were not taking this for a test drive. We got out of the car and I looked it over. He assured me that they had thoroughly gone thru the car and had put well over a $1,000 into this car, including new tires. I popped the hood to check the fluids and did a quick inspection of the car. I told him I was not interested in this car. It had transmission fluid that looked like maple syrup and smelled like varnish, the oil was dark brown, it had a small oil leak, and the radio didn’t work. He assured me all these would be fixed if I bought the car. I asked him again that I’d like to see the 05 if they have it. He beckoned us to come in and that he’d “go up front” to see what they had.

By this time, I started to get the feeling that we were wasting our time with Frank. He returned and mumbled something about the 05 not being on-site. “So you don’t have it?” I asked and he said “Right, we had to get rid of it because it had some type of mechanical failure.” Great. I wished he had just told me that up front. He told me that they had several other cars in my price range and beckoned us back to his office so he could show them to us on their web site. We sat down and Frank mumbled something about their web site being new and not being sure how to use it. He fumbled with the keyboard and Liam ended up showing him how to get to the web site and scroll thru the cars. We viewed the cars and I asked him about a couple to which he responded, “We don’t have that one”. “How can you tell?” I asked and he pointed to the status indicator which said “Incoming”. In fact most of the cars he was showing us said “Incoming”. I stated to him that “it looks like you don’t have any of the these cars” to which he responded “right” and promptly got up to say he needed to “go up front” to see what they had. Their web site was advertising cars they don’t have! Brilliant!

Now the alarms were really going off in my head that told me to get the hell out of this place because I was really wasting my time dealing with this moron. Frank had to be the worse salesman I’d ever encountered. He couldn’t communicate, couldn’t give us a straight answer, and had to “go up front” each time we posed a question to him. I could only think that he must be new at the job or that he was the owner’s hard luck brother in-law, because it didn’t look like he’d ever sold a car before. Every time he said he had to “go up front” I saw him go into the sales manager’s office. Liam and I got up and went to wait by the door indicating our intent to leave. This time he returned to tell us that the manager had a special deal for us. They had an 07 Chevy Cobalt with only 41K miles and that they were willing to sell to me for $9,000. He told me the car had just come in and that the manager had made this special concession just for me because it was Christmas Eve. Lucky me. Out of courtesy, I said “Ok, Frank, I’ll take a quick look at it, but it’s a little out of my price range, and I’m not a fan of Chevy’s”. He told me to hold on and that he needed to get the keys. Frank then did a quick feint move towards the cabinet which holds all of the car keys and then asked Liam and me to join him in his office. He said he wanted to show me the Car Fax report on the car. I told him I didn’t want to look at the car fax, just show me the car. He then confessed that the car was coming in on a trade and they didn’t yet have it at this dealership. I asked him where it was and he told me it was “in transit”. I asked what they meant and he said he had to “go up front” to check. He quickly returned and said that the car should be here on Saturday and no later than Monday. He told me that if I made a deposit on the car, I’d have the first shot at buying it when it comes in. This was unbelievable. Frank wanted me to give him money on a car he couldn’t show me. By this time, I should have just got up and walked out, but since they had wasted my time, I decided to extract some enjoyment for revenge. “So Frank, in transit; does that mean the car is in California and is on a train to here?” I asked. “No, no, no,” he said. It was probably at one of their other dealerships. “But, Frank, you don’t technically have the car do you? And I’m not going to give you a penny on a car you don’t have.” I said. I told him to call me the minute it comes and we’d hurry down and take a look at, which was the last thing I planned on doing. Liam and I got up to leave and Frank said (again) “let me go up front and get you a business card”. We walked to door and out came the man from “up front”. He introduced himself as “Jay” and asked us to join him in another office. Jay was the sales manager and he actually spoke in full sentences. He came across as a nice guy introducing himself, asked some personal questions about us, trying to make some friendly chit chat. Jay told us how great this Chevy Cobalt was. He told us it was coming in off a trade and that it was in mint condition. So Jay, “where’s the car?” I asked. He answered “Here’s the deal, a couple recently came in and traded it in for a new Chevy. The new Chevy had a defective part that we needed to back order so we gave the couple the option of keeping their trade in until their new car was ready.” I then peppered Jay with questions so I could see him hang himself with his answers. “So, Jay, do you have the title to the Cobalt?” “No”, he said. “Have you actually signed the paperwork on the sale on the new car?” I asked. “No” he said. “So the couple hasn’t really bought the new car and they’re still driving around in their Cobalt?” I asked. “That’s correct” he said. I will give Jay credit for being persistent and creative in trying to get me to fork over some money. He told me that if I gave him a retainer on the car, I would have the first right to buy the car when it comes in. I responded with “Jay I’m not going to give you any money on a car you don’t have or own”. We got up to leave and Jay said, “Hold on. Let me at least get the color and tell you what it is”. Unbelievable, Jay thought that once he told me the color, I would whip out my check book and say “Well now, why didn’t you just tell me it was the new Chevy Orange up front. That makes all the difference in the world. Here, let me write you out a check for the whole amount!” Liam and I walked out and did everything we can to hold our laughter until we got in my truck. We didn’t get a car that day and wasted about 90 minutes, but at least my head ache was gone.

These morons were advertising cars they didn’t have, tried to sell me a different car, tried to sell me a car they don’t own, and then thought I would give them money once they told me the color of the car they don’t own. I wished Jay would have asked me what I did for a living because I would have facetiously told him that I worked for the Attorney General’s office investigating deceptive cars sales practices. I would have enjoyed watching his grin disappear and the sweat bead on his fore head until I said “Just kidding”.

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