I had grown tired. • Almost a month had passed since I started searching for a used car. I wanted it to end. It was time to make a purchase.
Ivan says: Tired? Wait until the cycle of service and repairs begins. Cars are a financial black hole.
I didn't really like any of my options, so far. Either the dealer was too shady or the price was too high. I just didn't feel comfortable. • I got up the nerve to ask Ivan to test drive one more car. I had seen it online a couple of times, but I had never considered driving it because the dealer was farther out in Tampa, and she didn't have her own lot. In her photo online, she resembled a soccer mom, with a brown bob and "I-know-what's-best-for-you" look in her eyes. I decided to give her a try.
Ivan says: Kudos to Nicole for finding these garage operations.
It was drizzling. We examined the car in a garage where she kept a couple of other vehicles for sale. While we couldn't find anything substantially wrong with the car, I had it checked out by a Volkswagen dealership just to make sure. The diagnostic cost me $100. The next day the dealership called to relay a breakdown of the needed repairs.
Ivan says: Good tip! Always have a mechanic look it over. A dealer can make a Yugo seem sexy.
The car needed a new timing belt. The coolant flange leaked coolant. Both tag light bulbs were out. The upper strut mounts were worn, as were the rear control arm bushings — whatever those are. The small and large coolant fans didn't operate on low speed.
Oh, and there was a nail in one of the tires. How did I miss that?
The total repair cost … drumroll please: more than $2,500. I almost choked. I had heard Volkswagens were expensive to maintain, but I didn't think it would be anything more than $800. Maybe I was fated to ride the bus all my life.
Ivan says: Welcome to car repair reality. Did I mention financial black holes?
I called and told the seller. She said the dealership was overcharging and that "her guy" could do the repairs for less. I was skeptical. I called a repair shop that specialized in foreign cars. They gave me a price of $1,900 based on the rundown of repairs from the dealership. They didn't think that the car would need all of those fixes, and I might not have to get them all done right away.
I thought it over and spoke to a few people, including my father, who was still trying to persuade me to wait until after college to get a car. We agreed that I would ask to take half of the $2,500 repair cost off the price. I also wanted the two front tires to be replaced. (Someone had once told me that you replace two tires at a time.)
I called the dealer, thinking as I dialed that my plan was reasonable enough.
She basically laughed at me. I was way off what she was willing to give me, she said. She swore her private mechanic, who she said worked on a dirt lot behind her office, could fix my car for $600.
I countered that the parts alone would probably cost him more than that. We continued to bicker.
She said she could take off $500. I didn't say anything.
She said she could take off $600. I made a noise like I was thinking.
She said she would replace the damaged tire. Neither of us spoke for a while.
My chest began to hurt. That would bring the price down to about $5,400. I wanted it to be $5,000, but I didn't think she was going to budge, and I was just fed up with the whole thing. She was the pro. I was the amateur. I muttered an "okay" and asked her to send a purchase order for me to fax to my credit union.
She had given me exactly half of what I wanted. Instead of $1,200 off and two new tires, I got $600 and one new tire.
Ivan says: No one gets everything, but everything's negotiable. You don't have to settle for what someone hands you.
With taxes, fees and tags, the car came out to $5,979, which would be completely covered by my loan. It took me a day to get my insurance in order and for the dealer to get the paperwork together.
The car was delivered to me at the St. Petersburg Times office. I signed the papers outside on a patio table.
After the dealer left, I stood outside and stared at the car. It was like a baby dropped off on my front step. I took a picture with my phone to send to friends, but I felt like the car and I were strangers, despite all the work I had put in to get her.
I opened the door and sat down in the driver's seat. The dealer hadn't done a great cleaning job. It still smelled like someone else. Like it wasn't yet my home. "It will just take a little time," I thought as I started the engine. "Maybe I should name her?"
I parked her as far away as possible from the other cars in the employee lot. As I walked toward the building, I felt a raindrop. I entered the lobby and smiled.
At least, I wouldn't have to wait at the bus stop.