"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

May 3, 2018

Po' Folk Car Shopping

I said I’d describe my journey, warts and all. Yesterday I definitely dodged a car salesman’s attempt to rope me in to a contract way beyond my means. Here’s what happened:

I’m getting tired of being scammed on Craigslist, or else not grabbing my Trimline cord fast enough to rope a great deal. I recently mentioned that I have $3000 with which to work (for EVERYTHING), maybe a bit more, which you know won’t buy much nowadays for your primary means of transportation.

I flip-flopped between Owners and Dealers; disappointing no matter how often I hit Refresh. Here in Oregon trucks are popular, as you can imagine, but I’ve already owned two F150s. Rather than opt for a roomy van, SUV or even a large station wagon I want to go small. I'm tired of feeling like I’m driving a Mack truck every time I go grocery shopping, and I don’t plan on living in my car. I already have an RV for that, even if it can’t go very far.

I also may have mentioned that my credit is in the toilet, thanks in large part to my last partner, who left me holding the proverbial bag when he vanished. We were together long enough to qualify for a Common-Law marriage somewhere, but that didn’t do me a bit of good when the creditors came a-callin’. Ho-hum, slime under the bridge.

Back to the car. My banker recently told me I qualified for a CREDIT CARD, but I laughed and told her they must be mistaken. NOBODY’s giving me credit; not even Walmart, and they get most of my business. I don’t want the temptation of a credit card, but if my bank’s willing to take a chance on me, then a greedy car dealer might, too.

I found formulas in which you can figure your payments different ways.  Wait; what?  For only $65 a month, no down payment, I can get a car? Next thing I’m checking inventory at dealers in the area. I was hoping to avoid the 29% interest rate outfits, and on one site I decided to click on the Qualify Now and Save Time button. I submitted my personal information and waited for a call.

Ted hadn’t seen my application, so I proceeded to divulge more information than you probably would have, but when you’re begging you lose your pride. I told him I half expected them to disapprove me, so not to feel bad if he called back with bad news. Yes, the car on the page (where I clicked) was nice, but not my ultimate choice. First I need to know whether I qualify for a loan and for how much; then at least I’ll know what to look at. That made sense to Ted, too, who remarked that they could get me in to an appropriate car, not too much and not too little.

We discussed two similar models for the same price, and the one with the split doors in the back did sound nice. Only one owner, lower mileage than the model on the page I clicked. They had different features, but I figured if I qualified I could go down and compare them in person.

Could I come in today for a test drive? It was already afternoon and he'd be off the next couple of days, but I said it might take me that long to make arrangements for someone to cover my shift and maybe give me a ride. If I take my own beast I’ve got to tie down, close up, pull off and yank out the umbilicals, even just to go 10 feet. That’s the problem with Craigslist ads; and another plus for me to just head to a dealer with multiple car options where I’m already qualified, or can be.

I may need a car but there’s not a gun to my head, yet; and I’m trying not to make impulsive decisions so much anymore. Besides, I’m not even sure what I want. But I was curious whether I’d qualify for a loan. If I did at this particular dealership, my chances greatly improved I might elsewhere, too.

Turns out the dealer has THREE similar models with the same price tag. I poured over webpages making comparisons while I waited, and in case you don’t know already, Amazon has a handy little category for checking car specs and reviews (like everything else they sell), under Vehicles. My first thought: “Amazon’s selling CARS now?!” until I realized it was a rating with suggested prices for both Dealer and Private sellers. I know there are other websites, but they’re all over the place and Amazon is easy. Naturally.

Ted called back before 5. “Good news,” he announced. “You’ve been approved.”

GREAT!  For how much?

For the next 5 minutes Ted explained how many favors his Manager, the Credit Department and the Bank were willing to perform on my behalf, because I don’t have Bad Credit, I have NO Credit, which is worse. But they want to help so much that the owner dropped the price of the first car to under 12K to help me qualify, so with just $4,500 down my payments will be $227.45.

Gulp. “For how long?”

"60 months." You can imagine my reaction.

“I thought you said a car payment of $200-300 was do-able,” Ted improvised.

When I only get $900 a month? And who claims I have $4,500? Is one-third of their income the percentage people dedicate to car payments nowadays? If I come up with another $1,500 cash my payments would be closer to my top-desirable payment of $150, which is scary enough, but coming up with six grand? Might as well hope to go to the moon.

“What about the other models?" If I go out on a limb like that, I'd better pick the one I like best.

Ted became a tad testy. They were making their offer on the first model I clicked on (the oldest of the 3), never mind the others or what we discussed.  All of a sudden Ted was a different person, reminding me how lucky I am that they are willing to help someone like me at all.  He backed down and remarked that this loan would make my credit report look much different in a year. Yeah, but to what, "She welched on her one shot?"

From Value Penguin:  "Consumers with high credit scores, 760 or above, are considered to be prime loan applicants and can be approved for interest rates as low as 2 or 3%, while those with lower scores are riskier investments for lenders and generally pay higher interest rates. Scores below 580 are indicative of a consumer's poor financial history; individuals in this 'subprime' category can end up paying auto loan rates that are 5 or 10 times higher than what prime consumers receive, especially for used cars or longer term loans."

I said I had to consider their generosity and would call in a day or two. Ted kept on until I agreed to have my name penciled in on Saturday’s calendar, but I woke up and began writing because I was miffed. What an idiot…I didn’t even ask about the interest rate because I was so grateful they said yes.

On the website  the owner decided to be nice and drop the price of the car in order to help others like me, too. Jeez, but I'm gullible. Early on I’d pleaded, “Please think of me as you would an Aunt, Grandmother or Mom’s best friend…and hopefully help steer me in the right direction, since I’m pretty clueless about cars.” That’s worked in situations before.

What was I thinking?  Let’s see, after the down payment takes all my cash and then some, the loan would be for about $8,500.  Payments of $227 for 60 months equals $13,620. So the interest rate would be… I found an online calculator for that…wait, no, that can’t be right, 20%?  Any car salesmen or bankers out there?  I’d anticipated 29% usuary from some of the local Bad Credit No Problem places; one reason I mentioned to Ted that I felt more comfortable going to their dealership.

People with a credit score of 500-589 average 15.25% for a 60 month loan.  People with a credit score like mine don't even show up on their charts. If anyone wants to be my banker at 10% interest, shoot me a message. If I'm correct, we'll both make out.

To Ted:  "You mean, you’ll only give me a loan on THIS particular car? But there's another brand on the lot for $7900 (before any down payment), what about that one?" But Ted says it’s their one offer, take it or leave it, so I’ll have to tell him no thanks and everyone's disappointed.

Well, I'm back to Craigslist, but at least the exercise was worthwhile because I got a ‘Yes’; maybe not the right ‘Yes’ but an encouraging ‘Yes’ nevertheless.

So which dealer was I talking to?  Surprise…BMW, and I was looking at Mini Coopers, because I figured if you’re gonna aim, might as well aim high.

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