How to Buy a Car: the Latest Saga

A few year’s back, I wrote a post about How to Sell One Car and Buy Another in One Day. Even then, I knew that had been a charmed experience and hardly typical, so I thought I would add a post about our latest car buying experience, which ended well but wasn’t quite as easy as the last time.

As before, we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for to replace our beloved 2009 Mazda 5, which is beginning to show its age. We had done our research and narrowed our options to 3 main possibilities: buy a more recent Mazda 5, a Honda CR-V, or a Mazda CX-5. We liked both the Honda and the Mazda for their gas mileage and cargo space that is nearly as big as what we are used to. Now that we’re out of carpool, we don’t need a 3rd row of seats, but the cargo room with that row down has been a great feature.

After researching online, we discovered that there wasn’t anything available in our town, so we drove about half an hour to test drive a Honda CR-V with low mileage at a pretty good price. It didn’t take us too long to realize it was more of an SUV than we were really looking for. It’s a nice car, but we suspected we’d be happier in another Mazda, so we hit the road and drove another half hour or so to the next town, where there were two Mazda CX-5’s at the same dealer for us to consider.

One was a Sport and the other was a Touring. To be honest, we probably would have been fine with the Sport, though we did like the upholstery on the Touring better, and it had some features we liked, such as all-weather mats  and a 40/20/40 rear seat with a console. Both were 2016 models, and both were red. The biggest difference, though was the mileage: 1,500 miles on the Touring and 12,000 on the Sport. Both were priced well, and there was only $2,000 difference. But the Touring only had one key, so we talked to the salesperson about getting a new one and a luggage cover for the back.

Then came the sticker shock. What with the cost of the accessories, tax, and the dealer’s doc fee, it all added up to be more than we had planned on spending. We could afford it, but did we really want to? And then there was the fact that both cars were red, which was brighter than we were used to. Was this really the right deal for us? We asked the dealer for their best price, but they wouldn’t budge.

We have always heard you should be prepared to leave if you’re not satisfied, so we said we would. The salesperson went back to see if she could get us a better deal from the manager — still no dice. So we left and said we would sleep it over, knowing it would be another hour drive if we decided to get it. Better to do that than to have buyer’s remorse later, though we were sorely tempted, esp. by the Touring with such low mileage (and a Carfax report to back it up).

The next day, we researched some more, found a couple more cars in a bigger city 2 hours away, and wrote the salesperson to say we would be ready to buy the CX-5 Touring if they could come down $1000 to cover the cost of the replaced key and fees. I didn’t really expect them to do that, but I hoped they would meet me halfway, which really would cover the cost of the key and the luggage cover. But we didn’t hear from them. As it turned out, they were very busy that day and didn’t reply until the next day.

Before we heard from the first Mazda dealer on the third day, we left for the bigger city 2 hours away. By that point, one of the three vehicles we were looking at had been sold. That lit a fire under us.

The most tempting car was a 2015 Mazda 5 with about 20,000 miles on it. It was half the price of the Touring, and the deal seemed almost too good to be true. That and the distance to the dealer had kept us from checking it out sooner, but now we felt we had to. It was still on the lot, and when we saw it, we thought it really could be our car. The body was in good shapes as we’d seen in the online photos. The color was a dark blue we liked a lot. We asked about the history, but didn’t get a lot of information from the auto wholesaler where it was for sale.

But when we took it out for a short test drive, it became immediately apparent why it was priced so low. The car had a very distinctive pet odor. At first we thought it was from a very large dog, but eventually concluded a cat must have sprayed in the car. We alerted the salesperson, who claimed they had an ozone device that could get even the worst odors out. We wished him luck with that and headed on our way.

(We have pets. We understand pet odors. This one stayed with us for hours after we got out of the vehicle. It was not going away.)

The next car was a 2015 Mazda CX-5 Sport with 18,000 miles on it. It was also blue, and would have been a good deal. We noticed a few more blemishes than we wanted, but nothing that would be a deal breaker. But while we were talking about the car at the dealership, I got a text from the other dealer that they would throw in the key and the luggage cover for the Touring at no charge. It was practically a new car, but the price was hard to beat, so we left the blue Mazda CX-5 and went to a nearby parking lot to call about the red Touring. It was still available, so we took their offer.

At that point we might have been able to talk them down a little further, but we decided not to risk it. We had compared every vehicle within 200 miles (maybe further) that we could find online, and didn’t find anything close. The price was fair, and we were satisfied to get the second key and the luggage cover as part of the deal. Our trip to test drive two other Mazdas had been worth it because we were now certain of our decision. Neither car was a better option for us — and the one that seemed like it could have been the best deal turned out to be too good to be true.

Now we are the proud owners of the 2016 red Mazda CX-5 Touring. We’re happy with that choice, and even like the red color better than when we first saw it.

It’s great to be able to buy the first car you test drive, and sometimes when you do your research, you’re able to. Then there are times when it takes a little more persistence, and you have to check out all the options to know that you really are making the right choice. You can research a lot online, but you can’t tell everything from what you see. Learning that was worth the effort or we might have second-guessed our decision for years to come. And in the process, we negotiated a little better deal on the car that was already a very good deal to begin with.

Now we can work on selling the car we’re replacing!


Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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