Mama’s got a new set of wheels.
It took four long, grueling months of searching to find my new(ish) car. They were months filled with highs and lows, excitement and heartbreak, comedy and tragedy. But last week it finally happened. I finally found a Toyota RAV4 to replace my 15-year-old version.
Our seemingly never-ending quest took us across five counties and two states. We phoned, emailed, stalked and Internet searched. I got mad, got insulted and embarrassed myself. My husband and I argued. We never argue. But in the end, it all worked out for the best. The road was long, but it got us where we needed to go.
All this for a car.
To completely understand my predicament, you would need to know my husband, Tim, also known as “Dr. No,” when we are in the process of making a major purchase. Just let me put it this way: we searched for three full years before finding our home. We trekked through more attics and basements, knocked on more sills and put a level on more floors than I care to recall.
During the house hunt, I cried real tears and considered a trial separation. Finally, the end result was the same. We ultimately found the perfect house — for us, anyway — and I’m happy we didn’t settle for anything else.
Long story short, I’m extremely impatient. And an impulse shopper. A house (or a car, for that matter), should not be an impulse buy. So score one for Tim.
My husband, on the other hand, has the patience of a saint. (Hence, our 23-year relationship.) He also refuses to settle for anything other than what he really wants. It can be maddening.
As a kid growing up, my father always joked that a car wasn’t even broken in until it was more than 10 years old and had 100,000 miles on it. Somehow this notion seeped into my consciousness and I actually adopted his line of thinking as my own. I also came to believe cars cost hundreds of dollars, or perhaps a few thousand. Those were the days.
So four months ago I sauntered into a car dealership and announced to an eager salesman that I wanted to see what he had in stock.
“OK,” he said, “What are you looking to spend?”
When I said less than $10,000, his eyebrows went up and he cocked his head like he had misheard me. Once he regained his composure, and saw I wasn’t joking, he started to type furiously on his computer keyboard.
“Gee, um, that’s going to be tricky. Let me see what we have,” he said earnestly, then pulled back from his computer screen when he saw the results. There were three cars. None were what I wanted.
“Hmmm, let me just take another look here,” he said, again typing away at the keyboard. He shook his head like he’d been sucker punched. “Huh. Let’s go see what’s outside.”
So I took a field trip across a sea of cars with this sincere salesman, and quickly realized that times had changed drastically since 2008 when I bought my last vehicle. In just five years, it seems, trusty little RAVs like mine have broken the $20,000 mark, and even approached $25,000. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I walked back to my rusting RAV with a serious case of sticker shock.
Back at the ponderosa, I broke the bad news to my husband.
“We’re never going to find what I’m looking for at that price,” I said, admitting defeat while doing a statewide search on my computer. “Even cars with more than 100,000 miles on them are more than $10,000.”
We accepted the reality that we would have to pay more for this car, but that didn’t mean we still weren’t looking for the best deal in the tri-state area.
And so it began. We contacted more than a dozen dealerships, and in many cases, the salesman was the one who killed the deal. If he had just stayed quiet, the car would have sold itself. But instead, we had such negative reactions to the salesmen that we fled the premises.
One day I test drove an SUV with the human version of “Grumpy Cat.” While I tried to make pleasant conversation, he snapped at me and disagreed with almost everything I said. Awkward, to say the least.
Another afternoon we drove for an hour to test drive a car, and the salesman insisted on riding along, sitting in back with our 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. It was like having an overgrown son in the back seat on a family vacation. Who does that? We offered to take them both for an ice cream, but he declined.
In an effort to avoid people, I drove through a car lot at 8:30 a.m. one Saturday, and still had a salesman in Southern Maine step into the path of my car. He appeared out of nowhere, with no umbrella, not even a rain bonnet, and stood and waited in the rain until I rolled my window down so he could give me a quick sales pitch and his business card. That’s dedication.
Next, we chased affordable RAVs on Craig’slist and in Uncle Henry’s, but these too had disastrous results. One promising offer led us to a seller who didn’t have the title to the car, and another resulted in the hard lesson that the “Walpole” in the ad wasn’t the town just down the road from us — it was in Massachusetts.
Growing up, my parents always said, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” I was starting to think they were right. That was the case with one RAV4 that seemed underpriced, but perfect. There were dozens of photos of the car posted and it looked immaculate. So what gives? We got there to find the rims were rusting, big-time.
“You live in Maine,” the salesman callously informed my husband.
“I do?” Tim replied, sounding tired.
We kicked the tires on more cars than I can remember. We inspected glove boxes, adjusted mirrors and changed radio stations on RAVs from here to Falmouth. One day I was stuck in Wiscasset traffic and looked over at the Ford dealership lot and saw a RAV4 shining like a jewel in the distance.
“Oh, what the heck,” I told myself. “It’s not like I’m moving anyway.”
Parking my car, I strolled along a number of shiny Hyundais, Fords and Hondas, checking the interiors and the prices. Maybe it was time to broaden my horizons. Then I saw the RAV4. It was nice, very nice. But unlike the other cars in that row, I didn’t see any information.
“Can I help you?” said a voice.
“Yes, do you know what year this is and what the price is?” I asked the guy with the clipboard.
“Uh, that’s a customer’s car,” he said. “It’s not for sale.”
Heh heh. Oops, my bad.
But they say it’s always darkest before the dawn, and it wasn’t long after that humiliating incident that we found my car. The salesman was sincere and hardworking. He listened to us, and was not condescending. He followed up, but didn’t push. And guess what? He got the sale. And we were happy. And he was happy. And we all shook hands and grinned like idiots. We even offered to buckle him into the back seat with Lizzie and take him for a celebratory ice cream. He politely declined.
Mama has a new set of wheels. Now Dad wants some.
And the beat goes on.