Today I drove Stephanie to the local gas station and garage to meet the man who would take her car to the junk yard. (Her car broke down yesterday, in case you missed it.) He got out of the cab of a large white truck and walked towards us, a US Marines ball cap covering wavy gray hair, chin length and tucked behind his ears.
He looked at the forlorn little thing in the corner of the parking lot and muttered, “Engine’s not working so she’s only good for parts. She’s worth about $250.”
“Okay,” Stephanie said.
He pulled a large wad of bills out of his back pocket and handed her two wrinkled hundreds and a fifty.
“That can’t be safe! Must have been at least $3000 in his pocket!” Stephanie commented after he was gone.
And then we were off for the afternoon to car shop. Her car budget is no more than $2000 out the door.
Stephanie has some help in the search. Her old friend, Toby, who is a mechanic, tentatively offered to spend his lunch break tomorrow checking out some cars for Stephanie (as long as his girlfriend doesn’t get too mad about him talking to her, that is).
And Stephanie’s dad texted to say that he’d keep his eyes open for something. “Just don’t go buy the first POS you see,” he cautioned.
“He wants me to buy a new car,” Stephanie told me. When she called him to ask if he knew of anything for sale, he said that she should just buy new and pay car payments.
“But I can’t afford the interest, Dad!” she said, exasperated.
“Try Craigslist,” he suggested.
Though Craigslist is cheaper than a dealer, that’s how Stephanie got ripped off on her last car, and so we thought it might be worth it to check with Jim, a Toyota salesman that my dad used to work with and that my family has used for the past fifteen plus years and trusts very much. (Fun fact: his wife also took my wedding photos.) We explained the situation, and Joe was eager to help, although he was at first unsure if there would be anything for $2000 that he would deem reliable enough to sell to Stephanie. He kept stressing that he doesn’t want her to end up at the same place that she has ended up so many times before—out a couple grand with a car that breaks down after mere months of use. But he understands the limited resources and said he’d do his best to find something.
Turns out, given his years in the business and his personal relationship to my family, he can pull strings to do things like knock a 1999 Toyota Camry sticker price of $3974 down to around $2500 out the door.
This is practically miraculous given our other experiences of the day.
When we had gone to the Honda dealership next door and told them the price range Stephanie was looking for, the guy looked us over and then without even looking it up, said, “No. Our cheapest car is around $4000—probably more like $4500 with fees and tax.”
The salesman at the Kia dealership down the road had us test drive a 1995 Buick Regal whose engine gasped and chugged like a train. Its sticker price was almost $3000, and so he suggested that Stephanie find a co-signer or that she take advantage of some alternate financing. He assured her that despite her bad credit she could probably get approved for a special kind of loan (the acronym of which is escaping me now), although he cautioned that the interest rate on that loan could be as high as 24 percent.
The whole experience amazed me. I didn’t realize how knowing Jim, my family’s long-term car salesman, could make such a big difference when car shopping. (Social capital, anyone?)
Stephanie is still looking for something that will work for her. Jim is keeping his eyes peeled for something good, and in the meantime, he’s offered to look at anything she finds through a private seller and give her his opinion, in case she needs to use that option instead of his dealership.
Wish her luck!