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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: The new car-buying experience

We had walked out of the Subaru dealership in the middle of negotiating for Jason to buy a car. The need for an offsite breather and some food to re-trigger ye olde brain cells had taken us to Sahara.

“So, Jason, what do you want?” I attempted to mop hummus from the front of my face, neck and parts of my hair, and wondered how I could be old enough to buy a car but still couldn’t feed myself without wearing half of the meal.

autoloanratesMy friend, Jason, sighed and stared at the paper with rates of interest and payment schedules in front of him. We had walked out of the Subaru dealership in the middle of negotiating for Jason to buy a car. The need for an offsite breather and some food to re-trigger ye olde brain cells had taken us to Sahara—one of my favorite lunch places that I never get to enjoy. So, we were sitting in Sahara’s “Pita Pad,” strategizing about what the next steps might be.

“I want $280 as an outside payment number,” Jason finally said. “It is only a difference of $6 a month, but over six years it does start to add up.”

He shook his head. “I know it sounds stupid but that’s the number I have in my head and I ….”

“Frankly, you have very good credit, so there is not much reason not to meet you on this. I say we go back, make the offer and then leave to let it sit.”

He nodded. “I’m going to say if you can do this at this rate, you have a deal.”

I have to admit it was the first time I had been involved in the purchase of a brand new car. Jason asked if I would take him up to the car lot because: (A) He needed a ride, and (B) he wanted some backup with him. I agreed partly out of friendship and partly out of curiosity.

My first car was traded as payment for a tarot reading. The second was used, and then, of course, you readers know about my current VW fixation.

Jock’s relationship with vehicles is a little different than most people. The first car he got after we got together he traded for a case of ramen noodles and some PBR.

The idea of walking onto a car lot and purchasing a car with less than 100 miles on it had never entered my mind as a possibility. 

So, why Subaru? Honestly, there was no shopping around. Jason is a fanatical mountain biker, and Subaru has a sponsorship relationship with both the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association (SORBA). To say Jason is deeply involved with those two organizations is an understatement. His love of bicycles and all things cycling makes Lance Armstrong look like a weekend rider. Fanaticism is a kind description. His involvement with local chapter Cape Fear SORBA is the only evidence I need to point to for proof.

Well, unbeknownst to me, part of Subaru’s relationship with these organizations is something they call their “VIP Program.” Apparently, active members of IMBA can purchase a new car from Subaru at dealer cost minus 2 percent. That’s haggle-free, before tags, taxes, fees, etc. One assumes this is part of Subaru’s marketing program because they are positioned as good cars for people who like the rugged outdoors lifestyle. Certainly, when I lived in the mountains, Subarus were the car of choice among people who lived up (or down) a gravel incline.

One of the things I love about Jason is he does his homework. So, when we set foot on the lot that day, he knew exactly which vehicle he wanted and even had the VIN number written down. They gave us the keys and left us alone for about 20 minutes to look at the car. This was clearly not a high-pressure sales job at this point.

The salesman came out with a dealer plate, and we went for a test drive. I have to say, in a completely non-slimy, very matter-of-fact way, he ran through all the features of the car and answered questions. I have bought used cars from private people who were way more unsettling and pressuring than this gentleman. 

From the back seat, I made a couple of points about how Jason commutes by bicycle and adding in recreational riding clocks about 100 miles a week would not likely change the purpose of this car: to haul bicycles around for races and trail events. The salesman talked a little about how different hitches fit with the vehicle, and then, somewhere around Kerr and Market streets, Jason announced he wanted the car. “Let’s go back to the dealership and have a different conversation.”

This is when it got perplexing.

They brought out a sheet of paper with the price, using the IMBA VIP Program. The total price under this plan was still about $1,200 more than Jason and I had estimated but, honestly, no real surprise. If you sell cars, you have to make money somewhere.

“Were you planning to finance? Did you want to put some money down?” he asked Jason.

“I’d like to see some financing plans, please,” Jason nodded.

When he came back with a break down of options and showed how much monthly payments would change based upon the down payment, I was pretty surprised.

“So, forgive for interrupting,” I said. “But, when you buy a house, the amount of your down payment really impacts what the monthly payment is going to be. I’m looking at this, and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between putting no money down or putting $2,000 on a down payment. I mean it’s like $20 or $30 difference.”

He nodded and agreed.

Jason was frowning.

Before we left that morning, Jason outlined he wanted to finance the car for six years at 3-percent interest with a $2,000 down payment and $270 to $280 a month in payments. Already the price was $1,200 more than he expected, and the payments were coming in at over $300 a month.

“Do you know your credit score?” the salesman asked.

“Yes, 760.” Jason answered.

“Ok, so that means you would qualify for the better rates.” Our salesman began circling numbers on the paper.

Still, the monthly payment wasn’t coming down to what Jason wanted. He filled out additional forms for them to pull his credit report, and for outside lenders to make an offer for his financing. We were not quite where Jason wanted to be; it felt like every time the salesman came back, the news was worse.

“Can I make a suggestion?” I asked Jason when we were alone again, waiting on more numbers.


“How about we go get lunch and talk about this away from here?”

“I was about to say the same thing.”

Suffice to say, we did reach a deal, and Jason got the payment he wanted with a $2,000 down payment, along with the interest rate he wanted. Now came the weird part: actually paying for the car. Every strange, bad impression I had of car salesmen came out when we moved to that office. In psychic self defense, I pulled a book catalog out of my bag to read. It went from weird to worse.

I no longer understood a word this man was proclaiming at decibels that shouldn’t happen inside a building—and I am a loud person by nature.

“This isn’t going to fall apart now,” Jason reassured me and himself. “They aren’t’ going to get this far in the sale to not let us take the car home now.”

He was right, and at The Brunswick Brawl, SORBA’s next big event, Jason will roll up in his brand-new Subaru with three bikes on bike rack and a car full of friends. Never was there a happier man

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