We were once a five-car family. That was when the four daughters were in college. Three of them had cars, which The Lovely Marianne and I paid for, of course. She and I had the other two cars. We all needed cars in those days.
When I retired from speaking to become a full-time, lazy writer, I turned in my Ford Escape when the lease was up and decided I no longer needed a car. Hey, we live on Long Island. The train station is a half-mile away, right in the heart of town, which has stores and bars and restaurants. Target is the same distance away in the opposite direction. So is Chili’s. So is our church and everything else a guy my age could possibly need.
And I love to walk. I even own a rain suit and waterproof shoes. So I walked for two years. Sure, TLM still had a car, and we used that when we went on vacation or visited the kids and the grandkids, but I was quite happy walking.
But then came this day when, for reasons I won’t go into, I had to catch a train into NYC at 4:30 a.m. I walked to the station in the dark and learned that some people don’t stop for red lights when most of the world is asleep. The guy missed me by this much, and the thrill of that made me want to go back to having my own car. So we went shopping.
I should mention here that TLM drives a VW Passat, which is a nice car but a bit small when you’re going to be driving to and from Florida with lots of stops along the way. TLM stands five feet tall, but her luggage, when stacked, is taller and wider than a biker-bar bouncer, so we were cramped on that trip.
Fast forward a year. When I retired, I offered my antique-heating-book collection to Erin, our daughter who had bought the business from us. She said yes and it was now my job to transport about 20 big bins of old, heavy books to Silver Spring, Maryland. The best way to do this was to rent a Dodge Caravan and put the seats down.
All went well, and during the 500 miles I drove to and from Erin’s place, I looked lovingly in the rearview mirror at what seemed like an acre of space back there. So when it came time to get me a vehicle, I decided that I needed something bigger than a Passat.
Oh, and I had rented that Dodge Caravan from Enterprise. They’re also just a mile away from our house, and when I brought the rental back, I walked home.
“They sell used cars,” I said to The Lovely Marianne.
“Are they cheap?” she asked.
“I don’t know; let’s find out.”
So we made an appointment to see Marcy at Enterprise Used Cars. Marcy was just out of college and happy to see us. She asked us what we were looking for, and I told her I was having a car-crush on a Dodge Caravan. She asked if we had a lot of kid stuff to transport, which is a logical question to ask anyone looking to buy a minivan. I explained about the six grandkids, but they all live out of state.
“I just want to drive around in my living room,” I said.
She got it.
Now the nice thing about Enterprise is it’s a no-haggle place. They give you a price and that’s the price. Oh, you can try to haggle, but the salesperson will just smile at you until you’re done. Then she’ll repeat the price. I liked that.
“Do you have any concerns?” Marcy asked.
TLM and I looked at each other.
“We drive to Florida in February,” TLM said.
“Nice,” Marcy said.
“How many miles are on this car,” I asked.
Marcy looked at her computer’s screen. “Thirty-eight thousand,” she said and smiled.
TLM and I looked at each other.
“That’s nothing these days,” Marcy said. “With these cars, it’s all about changing the oil. You change the oil on schedule and you’ll get a quarter-million miles out of a car like this.”
TLM and I looked at each other.
“But does Enterprise take good care of their cars?” TLM asked.
“We do,” Marcy said. “We don’t want to but we have to by law.” She smiled. We laughed. “You know how it is?” She laughed. Nice laugh.
What she was saying made sense and we were getting ready to buy. We were this close.
“Let’s look at financing,” Marcy said.
“My manager is tied up with another customer, but she’ll be with you very soon. Would you like coffee?”
“OK. Take a seat on the couch and she’ll call you as soon as she’s ready. It won’t be long.”
It was. We sat and waited for an hour. Marcy passed by now and then to smile and say, “Soon.”
And then it was our turn.
Cynthia greeted us and tapped her keyboard. She suggested that the best way to keep the monthly payments down was to buy the car over five years. TLM, who is more about money than I am, leaned back in her chair. When you’re retired, five years can seem like a long time, especially when it came to a used car. I could see the wheels start to turn, and not on the car.
“And I highly recommend you take the extended warranty,” Cynthia said. “There’s only a thousand miles left on the car’s warranty and things go wrong. These cars aren’t made in heaven, you know.” She chuckled. Nice chuckle.
TLM looked at me.
“How much is the extended warranty?” she asked Cynthia. Cynthia tapped her keyboard, and turned the screen so TLM could see. “That seems like a lot,” she said.
“Oh, not when you look at what it covers!” Cynthia said, pointing at the screen and reciting all the things that can wrong with a used car, rented by hundreds of unknown people who sequentially put 38,000 hard miles on it.
“It’s actually a great deal. Why, my mother bought a car from us and the axle broke the very first week. She was so glad that I had convinced her to take the extended warranty. Lots of things can go wrong with a used car, you know.”
And that was that. TLM stood, told Cynthia she needed to check with our accountant, which wasn’t true. We waved to Marcy on our way out. She was on the phone but she waved back.
And then we leased a brand-new VW Tiguan. Our saleswoman told us the monthly price for three years, explained that we’d be fully covered for every big thing that might go wrong for the life of the lease, and reminded us that the car was brand-new and smelled as good as oatmeal cookies.
So that’s how you talk me into it, and how you talk me out of it. Put me with someone who sings the praises of the product and then shuts up, and I’m going to buy. But if you convince me that this product is going to be nice to me, and then you pass me on to another person who is going to try to sell me insurance to protect me from the product that’s supposed to be nice to me, I’m going to get up and follow The Lovely Marianne out the door.
The same goes for heating products. You want to sell me extended warranties? Wait a year or so. Right now, when I’m making up my mind about spending all this money, is not the time to tell me all about how lousy my future is going to be and how none of these products are made in heaven. And please don’t tell me about your mother and her broken axle. Just don’t. It’s dumb.
Wait a year. Call me and tell me it’s time for you to stop by to service whatever it is you sold me last year because you want it to last forever. Tell me about the great service plan you have, how many things you’re going to do to keep me safe and comfortable. That works.