Barbara Van Reed
Mention the word “used car dealer” to someone and you will get a reaction. Lately, around here, Darryl Rivernider might come to mind. I met Mr. Rivernider last fall when he came into The Patriot office to place an ad for used cars. He insisted none of his cars were “salvage,” but pointed out that other used car dealers in the area do sell salvage vehicles.
You may take that statement for whatever it is worth. My next encounter with Mr. Rivernider would have been in Worcester Superior Court, but he failed to show up.
I had occasion to go used car shopping recently, and it remains a mystery to me as to how to do it well. It seems largely a matter of being at the right place at the right time.
Last week while visiting family in Modesto, California, we went used-car shopping for our daughter. We were hoping to find something for under $10,000 to replace the 1997 Corolla she’d been driving.
Our first stop was a huge CarMax lot at an intersection beginning a long block of car dealers on both sides of the road…an Automile of sorts. CarMax isn’t as well known in New England, but it’s a sizable chain, highly automated, an impressive operation with more than 100 dealerships nationally. Our sales rep said they’ve just opened a store in North Attleboro, so now you can visit one here.
There were hundreds of cars on the Modesto lot, but only five were under our price point. We checked out a 2002 Saturn SC1 with 115K miles and a “suicide door,” for just $6,599. Our sales rep was friendly, if not knowledgeable about the details of each of the cars, which is understandable with so many models and makes. Cars at CarMax have a 30-day warranty. The salesman said they could finance anything and anyone, though when pressed said that interest rates go as high as 23%.
Our next stop was Roberts Used Cars across the street. They’d been recommended to us, but we weren’t impressed, mostly because there wasn’t a sales rep in sight. Maybe we should have been pleased with this “no-one will be tailing you” approach to used car sales. But after winding and wandering through rows of randomly parked cars, we gave up trying to find something that worked and went into the office. The man on the phone made us wait until he finished his conversation, then grudgingly looked up what cars he had available for under $10,000 There were two. He waved us over to the “back wall” of the lot, and to somewhere in the third row. We never did find it.
The third used car dealer we stopped at, Modesto Supercars, had another approach. “We sell everything as is,” the sales rep told us, and if you want a Carfax, it’s $40. The ’05 Nissan Sentra he had on the lot, with 124K miles, for $7,995, might have been a good deal. Same for an ’04 Honda Accord with 122K miles for $10,900. But how do you know, really? Having a car checked out with a trusted mechanic is good advice, surely, but how many times can you do that and how many Carfaxes do you want to pay for? We seriously could have used Tom and Ray (Car Talk) with us on this tour.
We then decided to try to the used car from a new-car-dealer route instead. We visited Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Chevrolet. The Nissan owner also had the dealerships for Chrysler, Pontiac, Jeep, Hyundai and others. Kind of like a Herb Chambers of Modesto. Our sales rep drove us from one lot to the other looking for vehicles under $10,000. He showed us an ‘02 Toyota Camry with 139,000 miles for $7,968 and an ‘04 Chrysler Concord LXI with 150K miles for $5,695.
After two days of looking, we learned a lot. But the most important thing was something we wish the sales people had told us in the beginning. Banks (at least those in California) won’t finance anything older than 2005 or a car that has more than 75,000 miles on it. That pretty much ruled out everything we’d been looking at.
On the third day we bought a 2010 model year car with 41,000 miles on it. It was a little more money than planned, but it had the original warranty that’s good for ten years or 100,000 miles. It seemed to be the best solution for our daughter.
Back in the office this week, I asked The Patriot staff about their used car experiences. One recently bought a car for her teenaged son, from a private party. “I’m not sure that was such a good decision,” she said, “We’re having some problems with it.” When she told us the make, year and price, it seemed like the price was low enough absorb a couple of fixes. Another said she bought a used 2010 Malibu from a big local dealer a few months ago and is totally happy. “I love my car,” she said.
This column isn’t meant to criticize used car dealers; it’s merely to recount a car shopping experience by naïve buyers.
Here at The Patriot, we love all our car dealer advertisers, new and used.
- Wednesday, 22 February 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor