I am not Tom McParland. But that doesn’t stop people from asking me for auto buying advice. Over the years I’ve sold plenty of Honda Fits, a few Civics, and some other things I don’t remember. I even sold myself on a Mazda Miata.
I have a friend. Let’s call him Kevin. We’ve known each other for years now and have helped each other through school, work, and life. He’s a great guy, kind of like the younger brother I never had.
He worked his way up the ladder and ended up landing a lucrative position a few states away. Congrats! However, moving to a new place meant dealing with new drivers, some of whom suck and one who ran into his car hard enough to total it just weeks after getting new tires and plates. Ouch.
In a fortuitous twist of fate, the insurance company wrote him a very generous check which more than covered the down payment on a new car.
After talking Kevin down from fiddling with his now totaled car, we began by identifying what he needed from a car and how much he was willing to pay. For a while Kevin wanted no car because he would just pay a coworker to drive him around and use his bike. Then he decided he wanted a grocery getter. Then he decided on a used car. And then new cars that weren’t available on the market yet.
Eventually he decided to get a car now. The criteria was simple, but practical: four-doors and hatch or sedan. The reality was Kevin would simply message me with the name of a car or post a dealer listing and I would have to say “good” or “bad”.
I would try to narrow things down things down to specific trim levels only for Kevin to shut down and ask me if he should be wanting specific features and then claiming he would buy them aftermarket.
About halfway into this, Kevin suddenly decided he needed the capacity to tow the Airstream trailer he was going to buy in retirement until I told him that it would suck ass having to fuel a giant thing for years on the off-chance that he would buy an RV. He also decided he was going to start building a battlewagon and hit up the national parks, which meant starting over from scratch. Frustrating, but at least we had a narrower subset of cars that would work, so that made it easier, right?
It became clear to me that this was another case of Kevin wanting stuff but not knowing what kind of stuff he should be wanting, which is like everything else I helped him buy.
I asked him. Surprise, surprise! Kevin had no idea what he was doing but was adding more and more cars to the list with increasing fervor. A few more cars were added to the list - the Volt and the current-gen Civic. Then the Hyundai Elantra and the Mazda 3 (again).
It was clear that the best car, given what I was told anyway, was the Subaru Outback or Forester, but Kevin was scared because cars cost money and Kevin didn’t like spending money - so Kevin was willing to compromise with the Hyundai Elantra: a car that did nothing he wanted but was really cheap.
Fuck it. I knew that buying the Elantra would result in me not hearing the end of this until the Hyundai was recycled into Chinese refrigerators, but hey, it’s his money.
Doesn’t a Forester sticker at $24k? Well, Kevin was convinced that he had to buy an upmarket Forester for the options he liked or a 3.6R Outback because he heard bad things about the 2.5...I guess there’s some truth to that. But that meant a $38k sticker and Kevin would rather have bought a Tesla. Remember this, because it helped sell a lot of Jim Beam.
By some miracle of God, Kevin managed to take a weekend to go test drive this laundry list of cars ranging from the Hyundai Elantra to the Honda Ridgeline. In some cases it meant test driving the ENTIRE manufacturer line-up of SUVs and trucks (Toyota).
I should note that Kevin did nothing at all to help narrow things down. No, he did not use the features in any of the cars he tested because it was too confusing to do it at speed. He asked me which of these cars he should buy, so I asked him which car would make him the happiest when he walked out to the carport in the morning.
It was a car he didn’t drive, the Tesla Model 3. You may be asking yourself “so why didn’t he buy a Tesla?” well that’s because Kevin did not want to pay for a Tesla. A number of our conversations went as followed:
Me: “What car would make you happy?”
Kevin: “A Tesla.”
Me: “OK, so buy a Tesla.”
Kevin: “But I don’t want to pay for a Tesla, it cost [some fractional amount] of what my house did.”
I was beginning to get frustrated because I was juggling a full-time job with an aggressive deadline looming on the horizon and a broken Volvo. But at least we had defined candidates: Kevin eventually settled on a Subaru Forester or Outback. I don’t know, he couldn’t figure out whichever one he wanted. Whatever was on the dealer lot, I guess.
For Kevin’s pathological fear of spending money, he had a shocking reluctance to do the leg work to save any of it. Kevin was paralyzed by the MSRP because it was some fraction relative to his house. With much hand-holding I explained that he should do research on forums to see what people paid, what Edmunds & CarGurus thought were good prices, and how he should keep a spreadsheet of quotes if he wanted to keep more of his money.
No, all of this was too hard. Kevin wanted all the features with the lowest MSRP and didn’t want to sort through any of it. Oh well, at least Kevin managed to get a quote from Colorado’s famous Heuberger Subaru and he picked a set of trim & option choices that he liked. We even discussed the possibility of prepaid service plans! That was forward progress.
Are you still here? Good. Because this is where the dumpster fire becomes Chernobyl.
It was around my second drink of the evening that I received a series of urgent messages.
Kevin was scared. Kevin was terrified. Kevin had cold feet and couldn’t go through with the request for an internet quote from the Subaru dealer. No, he was going to march down to the Hyundai dealership and buy that Elantra because the Elantra’s price was a smaller percentage relative to his house.
I told him
to grow the fuck up and get the fuck over himself because he was buying a car, not getting married this was an odd way to buy a car. Last I checked you can sell your car without paying alimony or child support.
More panicked texts greeted me the next morning. Kevin apparently thought that my advice to “request a quote” meant go YOLO and potentially buy a car he couldn’t afford, which woke me up faster than my morning coffee. After getting all that cleared up I learned that Kevin had a bunch of quotes from a local dealer with what he wanted that were all jumbled up.
I told him to go ask them again and get everything straightened out, helping him understand that buying out of state meant paying for shipping vs. extra taxes, etc.
A cryptic text showed up on my phone several hours later. It was a number. Out The Door? No, it was pre-Tax, Title, and Licensing, so I asked Kevin to go get the final OTD price.
Another text. Apparently the pressure of getting the final number in person was too great and Kevin signed some document possibly agreeing to buy the car…and he still didn’t know what the OTD price was. Not the best news, but he could still get that number, right?
No, Kevin decided that my instruction to get this number meant “cancel the deal and walk out of the dealership”. I was later told that they wouldn’t match his lowball offer, so he would go somewhere else. Good for him, I guess.
Another text! This time the local dealer matched the Heuberger quote, but this still wasn’t an OTD price. I asked him to get the OTD price and, with much coaxing, I learned that he didn’t get screwed! By some miracle of God he got the number that he wanted. I don’t know how, but he did. No bullshit fees or LoJack.
I was knuckles deep into the Volvo when I heard that Kevin finally bought that goddamn Subaru. The fuel pump was 1” too far back because it was missing a screw in the bracket and it wiggled loose.
I knew I should have bought a Forester XT instead...