If you’ve ever talked to me for more than 20 minutes, you’ll know that I am utterly illiterate in the field of mathematics. Numbers, percentages, financial speak, it all goes in one ear and out the other. It’s quite amazing really, my ability to retain absolutely zero information with a number in it. I can’t even tell time under pressure, a shortcoming my boss discovered when he asked me to read from my watch (which, as it turns out, had been wrong for months).
The reason I’m explaining all of this is because I want to illustrate just how poorly prepared I am for the car buying process. The mere sight of me walking into a dealership is the stuff of a car salesman’s dreams. Single female, mid-20s, walks in with a calculator, notepad and the definition of APR scribbled on her palm. You get the point. I’m a delicate flower, as my parents say.
I didn’t want a new car, to be clear. I was perfectly happy with my Altima. Sure, it stalled at stoplights when the AC was running, but it pepped right back up if you bounced on the trunk (another clever fix brought to you by Richard Clark). I liked my car. And, most importantly, I didn’t feel like cleaning it out.
But at the urging of several concerned parties, I decided to begin the hunt. First up: a test drive.
Now, I’d never test driven a car before, so I had no idea what to expect. Judging by its name (test drive) I assumed it was something akin to a restaurant review. Drive it, mull over every detail, and offer brutally honest feedback. So as we pulled out of the lot, I began my oral review.
“The brakes are weird,” I said, using the most technical language in my toolbox.
“It’s been sitting in the lot. They’ll warm up. Turn right,” replied the salesman.
As we continued about our journey, he began to ask some personal questions. What kind of music I liked, where I was from, where I went to high school, etc. He was pussyfooting around. And it threw me off. Wasn’t this the time to talk shop? The time to talk about what I liked and didn’t like about the car? To shoot the breeze about horsepower, brake pads and torque*?
I certainly thought so. Which is why I began to pepper the conversation with comments like, “It feels heavy,” and “The nose is a tad long for my liking.” Never show them too much interest, as my dad has probably said at one point.
When we got back to the dealership, the salesman drafted paperwork to sell me the car on the spot, as if I didn’t have a hair appointment to get to. But before I could make my exit, he started in on the trade-in.
“Okay. How many miles on your Altima, Ms. Clark?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe like one hundred something.” (Another thing to know: I can’t say big numbers with commas in them, so I do my best to avoid them.)
“Alrighty then. Last oil change?”
“It was supposed to be changed in April. I have a sticker.”
“Any special features?”
“Oh, yes. It has great sound. And tinted windows. And, you know, air conditioning.”
We continued this charade back and forth for a while. He, appropriately baffled at how I’d made it this far in life. Me, making awkward jokes and struggling to control the volume of my voice.
I ended up leaving the dealership empty-handed, though I’ve since had some better luck. I like to think it’s because I managed to seem shrewd and intimidating, but really, it’s because my dad came along for the ride.
Closing note: when it finally came time to trade in my Altima, I had to move my belongings over to the new car. Fortunately, I’d done a somewhat decent job of cleaning my car a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, these were the three items that remained.
*I haven’t the slightest clue what torque is. But it sounds impressive.