Buying a car has never been on my top list of 'favorite things to do!' Which may be (part of the reason) why it has been over 13 years since I have done so. And since I usually run my cars into the ground 'eeking' out the last possible miles I am able to get from any of the vehicles I have ever owned, that usually puts desperation into an already challenging process. Add to that the fact that I am a single woman (with less than stellar credit), who knows 'zip' about horsepower, cylinders, ball joints and exhaust systems, and you have a recipe for disaster, making me a prime candidate for getting 'ripped' off in the process.
The last car I purchased was a new 2000 Honda CR-V, which I found after surfing the internet (another 'new' endeavor at the time, 'the internet?'). The 'internet' took much of the trepidation out of approaching used car lots and the salesmen that came with them... I could research the cars, details, dealerships and deals online without having to deal with the initial 'pressure' of talking with a dealer on his territory, and without having to initially reveal my 'gender.'
The car I found then was at a Honda dealership in Westchester County, NY., where I lived at the time. I remember taking a train down (after doing the initial research on the web) to the dealership to see the car, talk with the salesman (as slick as one would expect a car salesman to be) and drive away in my shiny new vehicle.
I can't say that was the best experience of my life. I do feel as if he was crunching most of the numbers in his favor (without my having a chance in hell to change them), and I ended up paying more than I needed to. But, after 13 years on the road, during which time I racked up over 233,000 miles, I am confident I got my money's worth out of my 2000 Honda CR-V.
I knew it was time to say good-bye when I recently brought the car to two shops for its' inspection.
- The first shop told me it would need over $3,000 worth of work to bring it back up to speed, with no guarantee that something else would fail once I spent that amount.
- The second shop passed me on the inspection for the cost of the inspection, two new tires and new wiper blades.
I thought I had bought more time. But, driving home that day, as I was contemplating where to go now for another car, the brakes completely gave out on me, giving me the scare of lifetime. Thankfully, I got home safely, was able to borrow a friend's car for the weekend, before renting a car from Enterprise that Monday. While I was at it, at least two friends recommended I look into Enterprise Car Sales. I submitted an inquiry online, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mine was a complicated inquiry.
With very little money to put down, an un-drivable car as a trade-in, a (mostly) freelancer's income and less than stellar credit, I wasn't sure anyone could help me... Nor did I even expect to get a return call, given that information. But, within 24 hours, Edward Gaskin, the Area Car Sales Manager of Enterprise Car Sales in Huntington, NY, left a voicemail message on my cell phone, and so the process began.
When he wasn't there for my return call, he had his Assistant Manager, Christopher Desteoglu, call me back (again within a timely manner) and take the information I gave him. Chris suggested I submit a credit application online and asked me the VIN# of my Honda so he could research its value. This conversation was after 5pm on a Tuesday evening. I was impressed Chris was working into the evening and without hesitation to research the information he needed to get back to me. He was professional, knowledgable, efficient, and I could tell there were many conversations behind the scenes that he was having with his manager, the banks, and other branches to get back the information he needed to satisfy t/his customer. He did the job timely and well, and came back with everything I asked him for.
I wanted a vehicle similar to what I was driving, a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV 4, that I could finance over time. If pressed, I could put up to $1,000.00 down, but I'd rather not be 'pressed.' I would consider other types of vehicles, at lower prices or with better payment options... And, of course, I wanted the best value for my 'trade-in' which according to the Kelly Blue Book was worth $2,000.00. (I didn't expect to get 2K for my un-drivable Honda, but neither did I want him to think he would be able to pull the wool over my eyes). That said, at no point ever during this process, did I think anyone at Enterprise was trying to fool me. Was I really 'trusting' a used car saleseman? Yes, in fact, I was, along with my own instincts! This time around, I was armed with better knowledge myself, better research abilities to do my own homework and better questions. That helps.
Oh, and if he could get me a better deal on the Enterprise car I had to rent in the process, I would appreciate that as well. After all, I needed to cover the cost of a rental for all the days it might take to purchase another car. I knew that might be pushing it, but, hey, it didn't hurt to ask. I impressed myself (and him) with my (newfound) 'negotiating' skills. I was determined not to be 'taken' again!
Chris came back to me within another 24 hours with an offer and a car: I would put $500 down. Enterprise would pay me $1,000.00 for my Honda (sight unseen), as a trade-in, which would be applied to the car purchase. Enterprise had also arranged (with an outside lender) to provide me with financing for a 2011 Toyota RAV 4 with 51,000 miles. The price for the RAV was just slightly more than the Kelly Blue Book value, which Enterprise posts online as their 'no-haggle' price on each vehicle offered for sale.
They gave me a Car-Fax report on the car. They provide a 7 day repurchase agreement. Drive the car for 7 days (or 1,000 miles), and if you are not satisfied, return it and they will buy it back within those 7 days. And, if that isn't enough reason to buy from them, Enterprise also offers 12-months (unlimited mileage) free roadside assistance for every vehicle sold. Really? That all sounds too good to be true, one of my friends said. It is! (both 'too good be to true' yet still, 'true enough!')
Still, I waited before I gave Chris a call back with my answer. The monthly payment I would be making would be higher than I hoped for over more months/years than I cared to be in debt. I knew it was my own fault for letting my credit drop (as well as not accumulating enough savings), and I knew there was no room for negotiating those numbers, given the situation. I also knew the consequences if I wasn't able to make the monthly payments. They would re-possess the car. This would be a serious committment, and in the end, I knew I would be paying more for the car than the car is worth, than I could get in return for the car, over more years than the car may even last me... Lesson learned: repair credit; build savings... Mmmmm....
On the other hand, this could be an opportunity to rebuild my credit. Paying off a car loan on time, would increase my credit. If I paid more towards the loan than the monthly payment required, I could potentially reduce the amount due by paying off the interest early. I could also potentially re-finance in 6 months to a year to bring the interest rates down.
What to do?
I could go with an older car, with more miles, or a less expensive car, lowering the amount I was paying monthly and over time... I checked the site for all the specials, deals and 'cars under $13,500' that I could find... I thought about what I need in a car: safety, reliability, longevity... living on the East End of Long Island, I also needed 4 wheel drive and I needed the cargo space a small SUV offered for moving around my 'stuff.' Good gas mileage would help as well... but, I didn't want a hybrid.
At the end of the day, I reasoned, if I am going to be paying my hard-earned money to be driving a car, I wanted it to be the car that I wanted, not some lesser substitute that I would not be happy with, or that might have its own set of problems and/or not last as long. After all, the Honda lasted 13 years. The cost of that car paid for itself over time. I have had lesser cars, that didn't last as long. Quality endures. I knew I wanted the Toyota RAV 4.
Just to make sure, I researched the RAV's reliability and reviews against comprable cars, which only confirmed my resolve to have it. I knew I would need to make some sacrifices (I could stop eating!) to have it... Still, all this was done without my even seeing the car, driving it, meeting Chris or knowing what my other options might be on the lot, in the week before Thanksgiving.
I called Chris back and told him I wasn't ready to committ to anything yet, but that I thought I should come down to the dealership, test drive the cars, and crunch some numbers with him... I made an appointment with him for Monday, 11/25 to do just that. By the time I met with him, I had plenty of time to convince myself I wanted the RAV, and nothing else would satisfy me. Chris introduced me to Rich Matera, an Account Executive at the dealership, who answered a few more questions, took me for a test drive, at which point, I told Rich I was ready to move forward with the RAV.
Rich left his office for a moment to consult with Chris. He came back to tell me the Toyota RAV 4 I wanted had been sold, but there was another one available. Same year, 2011, fewer miles, 44,000, blue with a gray interior as opposed to black with a gray interior. It would not have been the color I chose (after all, what's really important here?), but, there weren't too many other options now available (for that car) in that price range, in this area. I knew I had to act quickly, or this one would be gone as well. It would be $500 more, but they were able to get the additional financing for me... It was in NJ, which would require he make the trip to pick it up, but they could have it for me the next day, with no additional transfer fees for the cost to move it.
Let's do this, I replied, although I won't be able to come back until Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. No problem, he responded, and the wheels were set in motion for me to get behind the wheels of a 'pre-owned' 2011 Toyota RAV 4. I could return my rental to them at the same location that I was picking the car up, and they would have a tow truck come pick-up my Honda. Could they make this experience any easier?
Yes, in fact, and they did: They handled all the paperwork to get my 'new' car registered, ordering new license plates and transfering the insurance. All I would have to do would be to surrender my old plates to the DMV (I could've used my old plates, but wanted new plates with my new car), and I was on my way. How easy was that?
I came back to the dealership after 3pm on Wednesday, 11/27, in the pouring rain and was delighted to find my car waiting for me just outside of the entrance... the blue was actually a more 'bleautiful' color than the color looked online... and the car shone in the sparkling rain. Ed Gaskin and a few members of his team were waiting at the entrance for me and watching my reaction.
Is this my car? I asked.
Yes, it is, Ed replied.
I was 'over the moon!'
Well, it's a lousy day to be buying a car, I answered, referring to the pouring rain, but I am thrilled!
It's a great day to be buying a car!, Ed responded... to which I asked, Why is that?
I forgot what his response was to that question, but it didn't matter... his cheerful attitude put me in a better frame of mind, and he had me smiling back as well... Then came a pile of paperwork, during which time they put the new plates on, and handed me the keys. I asked about the rental return. They told me they tried negotiating a better rate for me, but they were told I already got the best possible (rental) rate I could from them on that, and I knew they were right on that as well... I had negotiated that deal as far as I could go to get that.
I breathed a sigh of relief that this process went as smoothly, quickly and seamlessly as it did, and thanked them all for making that the experience I was walking away with. Snapping a few pictures (above), I sent a picture to a good friend of mine proudly showing off my 'new car.'
I love it, he responded, as I thought of an appropriate name for my 'new' RAV 4... 'Blue Moon' immediately came to mind, as I am 'Over the Moon' with it, and it is the color of a 'Blue Moon' not to mention that it is only 'Once in a Blue Moon' that I buy a car...
The song, Blue Moon, now rings in my ears every time I drive it:
And then there suddenly appeared before me
Blue Moon - Now I'm no longer alone
The lyrics (by Songwriters: Rodgers, Richard / Hart, Lorenz; from EMI Music Publishing) fit!
I love my new car...
That evening, I drove another 50 miles (over the river and through the rain, across bridges and through tunnels, in Holiday rush hour traffic, a drive to test any vehicle!) to meet my son for Thanksgiving Weekend... I may have well been driving a luxury vehicle valued at 5x the price of my 'pre-owned' Toyota.... That's how this baby felt to me (after the long, hard road it took in life to get me here)...
As I thanked the G-d and angels in the Universe surrounding me for helping to make this Thanksgivukkah miracle happen... I felt myself riding higher, sitting prettier and feeling happier, with a new-found confidence in my 'new to me' car. This car and I were going places!
After the Sale
A few days later, I received an email from Rich Matera congratulating me on my 'newly purchased' Toyota RAV 4, and thanking me for choosing Enterprise. Nice! Then on Monday, less than a week after I drove away, Rich sent me a Thank-you note in the mail, with a hand-written message inside. Who does that anymore?
On Monday also, Ed called to make sure my Honda was ready for their tow truck to pick up. It was, and that, too, was done, when they said it would be. It was gone when I returned home that night... In the meantime, I couldn't be happier driving around in my new 'Blue Moon!'
The last and biggest (most important) test for me was when I decided to take my 'newly purchased' Toyota RAV 4 to my auto mechanic to take a look at it and make sure the car wouldn't self-destruct on the day after its 7-day repurchase option was up (always a skeptic!)... I did that on the 7th day I owned it, ready to make the drive back to Huntington, if for any reason my mechanic told me I bought a lemon. Thankfully, it came out of that test with flying colors, and a bright green flag for the go-ahead!
It passed all tests, my mechanic told me. The fluids are clear, the parts are all in good condition. Toyota is a good, reliable car... you will be driving it for many years, and for many miles to come.... Another sigh of relief! And a small price to pay for the confirmation that I, did, indeed, do good.
A big thanks to Enterprise Car Sales (in Huntington, NY) for making this the best car-buying experience I have ever had... And I am not just saying that because they offer referral fees to any customer sending new customers their way (yet another perk!).
Here are some other reasons I have researched as to why buying a used car from a Car Rental Company is a good idea:
- Rental cars are often more reliable than any other used cars, because they go through more regular checks and service maintenance throughout their life in the rental fleet.
- Most of the vehicles offered for sale through a rental car company are 1-2 years old and have between 15,000 to 30,000 miles.
- Vehicles typically go through a rigourous inspection (by independent ASE-certified technicians) before being offered for sale.
- Prices through the rental company are typically better than on a used car lot or through a private sale.
- Rental cars typically come with the balance of the manufacturer's warranty as well as a 12 month/12,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.
- Other warranties are available at additional cost.
- There are a wide variety of options (models, makes and years) available to fit individual budgets, taste preferences and needs.
As a final note, the guys made it clear to me that their service didn't end with the sale. They would be available for any questions I may have after the deal was done.
What could I possibly need from you after the sale? I asked them as I was walking out the door...
You never know, was the reply.
That night, as I parked the car for the first time, I noticed a flashing red light that concerned me. It was 7pm, just about the time they would be closing on the night before Thanksgiving. I was surprised that Rich answered his phone when I called to ask him about the flashing red light. He immediately assured me that was a security light that should be flashing, as it was part of a program that could detect if the car was being tampered with or broken into with the wrong key... Well, OK then... I slept easier that night, and for many more nights since... knowing I made the right choice in both a car and a dealership this time around.
Enteriprise Car Sales has locations all over the country, and cars offered, may be seen on their website, www.enterprisecarsales.com. I can't vouch for 'all' of their locations, though I have friends in California reporting similarly satisfying experiences.
But, if you are in the neighborhood of Huntington, Long Island, NY., that's the one I would recommend based on my own experience with them... Tell them Lisa sent you... I have a feeling I left as lasting an impression on them, as they left on me :)
ENTERPRISE Car Sales Division, 1141 East Jericho Turnpike, Huntington, NY 11743 631-385-1551 enterprisecarsales.com.