Used Car Shopping

At the start of summer, our 17-year-old daughter Valerie, made a list of tasks she wanted to accomplish. Close to the top was “Get a car” with money she had saved. The prospect of mom or dad driving her to school during her senior year made her skin crawl. You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve seen “Freaky Friday.” There’s wonderful scene in the movie when Jamie Lee Curtis drops off her cynical teenage daughter, Lindsay Lohan, in front of the school and shouts out to her, “Make good choices!”

Our first strategy in finding Valerie a car was to tell everyone we knew that we were in the market for something cheap but dependable. We thought that by just putting the word out that the ideal car would find its way to us, kind of like a stray cat that ends up in a good home. I hoped that one morning I’d open the front door and there on our doorstep would be a 2001 Honda Civic previously owned by a sweet old lady who only put 45,000 miles on it driving to the grocery store and beauty parlor twice a month.

By the time August arrived, it was obvious that plan was a fantasy and if we were really serious about finding her a car before school started, it was going to take some work on our part and we were going to have to approach it differently than we had in the past.

When Valerie’s older brother needed a car and when we replaced our 10-year-old-mini-vans, we went to the dealership. We developed a relationship with a salesperson there who worked hard for us and made buying a car ““ a shopping experience that I had always dreaded ““ quite painless.

But times being what they are, this time we couldn’t afford anything that would be available at a dealership; our $3,000 to $5,000 price range put us in the more scavenging approach to car shopping ““ whatever we could find by the side of the road, and scouring Craig’s List.

Since the first day of school was quickly approaching, we weren’t going to rule out any options, so when Steve spotted a 1993 Sent (it was actually a Sentra but the last two letters had fallen off) with a “For Sale” sign for $1,750, we decided it was worth spending some money to have our mechanic check it over ““ if only to show Valerie that we were serious about getting her a car.

It’s amazing what a teenager is willing to settle for in a car when the alternative is taking the bus or suffering the humiliation of having their parents drive them. As soon as we told Valerie that the owner had agreed to have our mechanic give it a once-over, she took ownership. All of a sudden, she was referring to this beater as “my car.”

Sadly, the diagnosis on the Sentra was not good. It would require the equivalent of open heart surgery to get it running dependably.

Steve made his way through numerous listings on Craig’s List and came up with a couple more options. We were surprised that people were so responsive and willing to accommodate our request to have the car checked-out. We were beginning to understand one reason dealerships are having such a hard time; there are lots of good options for cars on Craig’s List. It just takes some legwork to find them.

There was one more false start with an Isuzu Rodeo that looked great on the outside but was decaying under the hood. Then the third time was the charm. A delightful young couple in town was selling a 2001 Volvo. Yes, it needed some belts replaced, but agreeing upon a price was so easy and quick, that it could hardly be called negotiating.

It was great to see her Valerie proudly drive off on the first day of class of her senior year in a car that suits her so well.

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