Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm No Car Salesman

We got my daughter off to college on the other coast so we found ourselves with three cars and two people. I put an ad in Craig’s List for our 1989 Acura, kept the price low because of all the work it needed, and discovered that I had 25 calls and 10 e-mails the next morning. I guess not many people sell working vehicles for six hundred dollars.

Anyway, I got all these calls from people who didn’t have working vehicles who wanted to see the vehicle immediately. One of the odd things is that you can tell someone that you’ve got 10 people who want to see the car and they’ll ask you “What’s the least you’ll take for it?” It’s especially weird when you’ve got it at one of those I just want to sell the vehicle and move on prices. Who knew that so many people want a twenty year old car? It might be yet another sign of the recession, many years ago I had a horrible time selling a Toyota Van at an almost as good price.

Ultimately, I got a call from someone local who seemed to know something about fixing them. My wife tells me that I shouldn’t care about these things, but I had this fear of passing the vehicle on to someone who didn’t know how much work it might need (the front brakes were shot) or who was on such a tight budget that he or she might run the risk and get in a serious accident. We’ve had one family member who had a serious accident in a used vehicle, so I’m apparently terrified of bad “Carma”.

Over the phone, the guy told me that he had worked on cars as a teenager with his dad. They had once bought three junked Datsun 240Z’s and turned it into one good working vehicle. He drove up with his girlfriend in a newish SUV and both were a bit more clean cut than I expected. It didn’t seem like someone who’d just had his car die. In the meantime, I had all these people calling from two hours away who were trying to figure out how to take a bus to where I live so they could see the vehicle or how they needed a car to get to work. It turned out that he was buying the car for his brother.

He hands me an envelope filled with cash and the whole transaction took about forty minutes. He didn’t even test drive the thing.

Maybe I did give someone too good a deal and I could have squeezed several hundred more dollars out of the car. I guess I’m not a business guy for a reason. On the phone, I started worrying about these people trying to arrange for someone to drive them two hours to my place and would happily volunteer all the problems with the vehicle (brakes, sensor in the starter system, alarm, the rip in the upholstery, the passenger door wasn’t original, etc.) In the meantime, I have this fantasy about passing this inanimate object on to a good home where it will be cared for and not abused. I may have actually sold it to some younger brother with multiple wrecks, etc. but the older brother seemed nice enough.

My mom, who had actually given us the car, was totally indifferent about the fact that we moved her old Acura on. My mother did drive it for 16 years. It was also the vehicle our youngest daughter learned to drive on. Less than six weeks ago, I even had my adventure at Kragen Auto Parts when I had to replace the battery so I wouldn’t have to jump start the car every morning when I drove to work for the last three weeks I planned to use it.

It served us well, but I can’t quite say that it was a member of the family. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be waking up at night a few months down the line asking “Why did we ever sell it?” Maybe, I’ll be saying “Why the heck did I sell it that cheap?”

Years ago, I had an chemistry teacher who did show me how to analyze the real cost of a car. There was, in fact, this magic point when the amount of money you had to put into maintenance exceeded the value of the vehicle. He also argued that there were many situations where you’re much better off just giving a vehicle away than dealing with the cost of keeping it running (think insurance, storage, repairs, etc.) Anyway, the price you pay or sell at is really just a minor part of the cost or value of the vehicle.

That said, I took the 2002 Honda that I reclaimed from my now at college daughter in for a tuneup, etc. this morning. You guessed it. The total bill will be slightly higher than what I sold the Acura for the day before. I wish my town had a decent bus or subway system.



At 8/20/2008 04:00:00 PM, Blogger benny06 said...

I was able to sell a beat up Chevy Nova--the redo that came out in the mid 80's-- (which turned into the Prizm) I'd had only for 10 years, but it had been through some rough winters in the Northeast. A friend of one of my housemates needed a car for just getting around town (similar to those who called and needed a car and didn't have one), nothing fancy, as theft of new cars was too expensive for insurance purposes where I lived. I put a down payment on a newer Prizm, had the older car towed by AAA, and got the license transferred and cash in one day. I got a ride to get my new car the next day. Amazing.

I ended up using the next car as a down payment for our Prius. My Prizm was still in really good shape, except I knew after 7 years, repair work would have to be done, including replacing the brakes and clutch. The car salesman gave us an offer, and in my customary role as the "bad cop" I explained that I knew what the Blue Book value was of the car. And the salesman said, but how would you know? Blue book doesn't go that far back for more than 4 years, to which I remarked, I found it online, even if you didn't. Then I offered a compromise, and they took it, because I also said that it would be a dealbreaker if they didn't accept my compromise.

In the end of the day, I got to keep my Prizm as long as I was careful with it because it took 3 months to get the Prius (which is a short time now, considering the wait list is longer). And everyone was happy.

At 8/21/2008 01:55:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I always liked the Geo Prizm as a vehicle, but I like the Prius even better.

Dealing with car dealers is a whole other world in terms of the thirty million ways they work a deal with regular folks. Recently a family member bought a used car and they seemed to buy her old car back at a surprisingly generous price which of course was worked into the sales price of the vehicle she was buying.

With selling my own cars, I just tend to be very concerned about passing on mechanical or other problems without fully disclosing the issues. I also worry about matters like wear or misuse that should figure into the price.

I've been on the wrong side of those things and had sellers take the "buyer beware" position. It's no fun and I guess I'm almost overly careful about not doing it to other people.

At 8/21/2008 05:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I drive a 27-yr-old Toyota Cressida who gets 15+ mpg in very & exclusively stop-and-start driving, I'm hysterically sensitive to vehicular issues. Vehicle issues terrorize the poor.

I am very very very good at hypermiling or eco-smart-gentle driving

At 8/22/2008 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. Pogblog,
one of the sad parts of all this is that obviously humans actually did okay without cars....It's just that we've premised our cities and work/leisure patterns on pretty much everyone having a car.

With all the energy talk, you hear zip about city planning.
A little bit of coordination and thought about what different neighborhoods need to have within walking distance would save way more oil than hundreds of thousands of Toyota Priuses.

At 8/23/2008 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Get it back so I can fly out and have a look at it please.

At 8/24/2008 04:05:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

if it didn't cost1200 dollars to get a car from Calfornia to Toronto, I'd have gladly given it to you :}

At 8/26/2008 09:35:00 PM, Blogger AHP said...

Funny story, but sad about all the desperate people. Perhaps donating it would have caused you less stress and netted you more in terms of a tax deduction.

DOn't get me started on cars though. Cars have character and cars that you like to drive are ones you become sentimentally attached to. Hence, my inability to sell my 1997 Saab 900 S aith 135,000 miles on it. It looks great, drives aolidly, and it's worth less than $2,000, but I still insture it for collision and I"ve spent $1,100 to repair it in the last 3 months. But then, what would I buy for $1,100 that would drive like it? It's more irreplaceable than my new car.

I could never consider a car as just an appliance. I haven't driven in two days, (commute to work with my bike sometimes), and I really miss driving my cars.


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