Adventures in Car Buying

My 2012 Ford Fiesta never gave me any serious trouble. I bought it brand new – the dealership took care of regular maintenance, a local mechanic dealt with the few urgent matters that came up, and a regional chain of tire stores handled tire replacement. Other than tires, brakes, and a new battery, nothing needed replacement – or even tinkering.

So when the “Check Engine” light turned on this February, I was a little bit concerned. The car was getting on in years and miles, so…. I brought it to a nearby parts store that offered a free “Scan for the fault code” service. The report produced said it was something that didn’t make much sense to me (I forget exactly what it was). The car was still running well, so I figured I’d keep an eye on things until my next scheduled maintenance, which wasn’t too far off.

After a while, though, the light turned off. “Hooray!” I thought. “It was just a sensor glitch, or something equally innocuous.” After another week or so, it came back on. Then it turned off for a few days. Then it came back on – and this time, there was an obvious and major problem The car didn’t seem to be able to run in any gear other than “reverse” or “first” (or “low”). My local mechanic ran the diagnostic, and said the “transmission control module” was shot.

Time to call the dealer….

As it happened, Ford was aware of the problem – and had been aware of it for some time. So the good news is that they’d take care of the cost of the repair. The bad news is that the problem is so widespread that there’s a nationwide shortage of replacement parts, and it would be several months before I could expect to get one. They actually recommended trading it in.

No thank you. Ford has pretty much given itself over to trucks these days, and I need a small car – not a truck. Time to start car shopping.

In the meantime, I’d get a rental so I could take an already scheduled weekend getaway and stock up on groceries. No telling how long I’d be relying on taking the bus to and from work. Fortunately, there’s a route with a stop a bit less than a mile from my home, and another stop two blocks from where I work. A frequent enough schedule, too. Still, when you’ve gotten used to having a car (and it’s one that you actually OWN), it’s very stressful to suddenly have to rely on others for transportation.

It happens that there are quite a few dealerships within walking distance (a mile and a half) from where I live. So I went online to see what they have to offer. I settled on Hyundai; they have a decent reputation for quality, and have offerings in my price range (I have enough saved up so I could buy something outright instead of having to finance – if I wanted to obliterate my savings, that is). The Elantra is their base model, and is perfect for my needs. And the dealer lists a “pre-owned” one with low mileage and a color that isn’t white, black, or gray.

What is it with car colors? You’re hard pressed to find any with an interesting or fun color anymore. Everything is some minor variation on white, black, or gray. And the names they come up with – “Shimmering Pearl”. “Magnetic” – jeez. They are obviously trying desperately to be unique and different, but it comes off as silly.

With a day off for a dentist appointment, I figure I’ll hop on to the dealer’s website and indicate my interest in that particular car. Very quickly, I get a call back. “Can you come in later today?” Well, I hadn’t planned on it, but OK. Turns out the particular car I was interested in wasn’t there (then why had it been on the website for over a week?); would I be interested in this other one (a 2021 Elantra SEL)?

I was rushed through everything so quickly that I really felt like the car was being forced down my throat. If it was so great (barely 2000 miles on it!), why haven’t you sold it already? Befuddled and working from a serious disadvantage (I needed a car), I agreed to buy it. I came back the next day with a down payment, and was zoomed through the financial part of the deal. “You’ll get this and this coverage, sign here and here, and we’ll cover these repairs, initials here, sign here, this service is included, sign here, your monthly payments will be this much, sign here….” I honestly have NO IDEA what I was signing. And I still haven’t looked at any of the paperwork….

By the way, there should be a “Car Buying Checklist” if there isn’t one already. Not the stuff about how to compare prices, how to negotiate, etc. – but “Have your insurance info (agency, contact number, policy number) with you. Make sure your credit report isn’t frozen. If trading in, have a copy of the car’s title….” That sort of thing.

The car has SO MANY electronic gadgets and bells and whistles (and that doesn’t even include all the safety features) that I expect to spend at least an hour reading the manual and figuring things out (“Oh, so that’s the parking brake!”). The sun roof is nice, but do the seat adjustments really have to be electronic? The outer door handles look weird when you’re opening the door – if it wasn’t the same on all doors, I’d swear something was broken. Given how fast the thing was foisted on me, I really have to wonder if there’s something wrong with it.

Wish me luck – I don’t want to have to go through this again.


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