Recently in Personal Category

Evidently this is the week for stories of consumer woe on my blog, but in contrast to the CCP case, this story is really 90% my fault for not listening to the warnings and not being careful enough. However, this experience has basically soured the entire process of buying a new car for me, and I don't want anyone I know to go through this this if they don't have to. I have learned a very expensive lesson, but there's no reason anyone else has to.

The Setup

The story begins last weekend when I went to O'Brien Auto Park (and no, I'm not going to link to their website, but I will happily link to their largely lackluster Yelp reviews for sure). I had heard warnings about them before, but I also had friends who had bought cars there and not found them to be particularly horrible -- plus they own the dealerships for like half the car brands in town, so unless I wanted to go to Bloomington to test drive cars, I didn't have a whole lot of choice. So I went there Saturday and test drove a bunch of cars. Despite the fact that I ate up three and a half hours of his time, the salesperson I was with never tried to rush me, we seemed to get along pretty well (though that's kind of his job, so it was unsurprising), and he seemed genuinely helpful about finding me what I wanted, and not just what was most expensive. Honestly, after Saturday I had a fairly good impression of the place, which shocked me.

Monday, I sent mail to the salesman and asked what the Elantra would run me with the standard package of features with a manual transmission, and he got back to me with a quote pretty fast. Again, this impressed me, but he was trying to sell me a car, so this was not entirely unexpected. Later that day he sent me mail saying that they actually had gotten a manual transmission Elantra with the features I wanted in a dealer trade, and if I was interested to let him know and he'd save the car for me. After thinking about it overnight and comparing the prices and features of the cars I'd looked at, I sent him mail yesterday morning and told him I was interested. He told me to come by that night and they'd set me up.

So I got to the dealership around 1815 (they closed at 2000), and he took me to see the car; I took a look at it and it looked fine, and then he took me and had me look over the buyer's agreement and everything after they'd decided my Saturn was worth $500 (which was a perfectly fair assessment of the old girl). He showed me the price, which was what we'd agreed on in email on Monday, showed me how much tax, title, and license was, and then gave me the final price, which was a little over $18,000. He said someone would be with me to deal with financing and finish all the final paperwork after that, and he left me in the lobby to wait for that while he went to go take care of another customer who'd come in to get his car. Up until this point, I was pretty happy with the experience and looking forward to driving my car. I admit I was excited, impatient and not thinking straight as I should have been. I had had a pretty busy day and was eager to get home and just relax before I had to get up at 0530 this morning for another hectic day before I had to catch a flight to San Francisco on Thursday.

The Shenanigans Begin

They kept me waiting for a while, which didn't bother me too much at the time, but now I can't help but feel like it was a deliberate tactic done to take advantage of the fact that it was late, I was getting impatient, and I really did like the car. After a while, the salesman came by to ask if they'd talked to me yet, and I said no -- and he said he'd just start showing me the features of the car and how to work everything while I was waiting then, since there was no point in having me just sit there. Again, this seemed innocent at the time, even considerate, but now I wonder if it wasn't just another deliberate tactic to keep me off balance.

After we got about halfway through, the finance guy comes in and I go with him to start going over the other stuff with the car, and this is where the problems really begin. The first thing he did was to ask me if I wanted to get the undercoating and that sort of junk that you always hear them push. To be fair, he talked about it in very specific terms and told me exactly what the price would be and when I said no he didn't really push it. I suspect because this is the most common type of extra nonsense you hear about, they call it out specifically so that you think they are going to be as straightforward with everything else. Au contraire.

After that, then he started going over the financing, asking me what terms I wanted and how much I was going to put down. I was going to be putting $5000 down on the car, and I wanted a 36 month loan, on which Hyundai was offering 1.9% financing. He took that and then came back, and presented me with four options -- extended warranty options, though he never said that's what they were, making them sound like the most basic option, which I've since realized added about $4000 to the cost of the car, was the cheapest option I could get. However, it wasn't -- it was the most expensive extended warranty I could get with a few small options I didn't need (like gap insurance, disability coverage, and something else I didn't need which I can't remember) taken out. I was never presented with what the payments would be if I didn't want the warranty at all. Instead of having payments that should have worked out to about $350 a month, they were just short of $500, which should have made me realize something was wrong right away. Unfortunately, I was still not thinking straight and distracted about everything else going on right now, and I signed the paperwork without reading it carefully or thinking too hard about it.

After that, I went with the salesman again, finished going over the car, and I went home -- it was already after their closing time at this point, nearly 2030. However, on the way home, I also noticed that the digital odometer, which I hadn't seen before driving the car off obviously, clearly did not match what the forms I'd signed in the finance guy's office had said. They had read 15 miles -- the odometer read just over 500. When I realized this about halfway home, I began thinking about everything else, and started to get seriously angry, realizing I'd just been taken for a sucker.

Buyer's Remorse

So, after I got home last night I just spent a bunch of time stewing about this and talking to friends and family about getting stuck with a bunch of charges I didn't want, and mileage that was way out of whack with what I'd been told. I spent about two hours talking to my dad and trying to figure out what to do, and rereading the contracts (only 3 hours too late) I realized I could cancel them, and at least get most of the extra money back. I was pretty much resigned to having a car I could never feel really good about though, and didn't look forward to dealing with it in the morning -- especially since I had 0530 maintenance to start out the day.

So, this morning, bright and early, I went in and asked to speak to the manager about my problems, and told the sales manager how I felt about what had happened -- how there was a discrepancy with the mileage, how I felt I had been taken advantage of, how I didn't want to pay an extra four or five grand for the car. He went through everything they'd thrown on the car and I told him I didn't want it, he asked how he could make it right, and I said I didn't know. By that point, I just felt like I could never trust the car, even if they took everything off and I could get it for the base price. After going through this, he offered to take the car back entirely, void all the paperwork, and give me back my down payment and my Saturn.

It was a tough decision. I really did like the Elantra, and for all the crap that had happened I still felt like the salesman I had originally dealt with had really been good with me, so screwing him entirely out of a commission seemed a lousy way to thank him. However, if I could never trust the car again, if I'd always be waiting for the other shoe to drop, if I'd always be wondering if it was worth it, even if I had gotten a decent deal, I think I'd always be unhappy with the car, even if it ran perfectly for the next 20 years. Eventually, I told him I just wanted my money and my Saturn back and the paperwork voided. To be fair, he accepted my decision, said they'd keep the car around for 24 hours in case I changed my mind, and then the finance manager came out and showed me the voided paperwork.

They let me keep my copies of the paperwork, they gave me back my key for the Saturn and the title, and I went on my way.

The Aftermath

There may have been nothing sinister about the mileage; they had said it was a dealer trade, and they said it was a screwup where they mixed up the mileage on my Elantra and another one that was being delivered at the same time. I might have actually wanted some of the parts of the limited warranty, if they had presented it to me with all the options and with the full cost up front, instead of the sketchy way with only the payments on an option sheet. I may have been as happy with the car for the next 15 years as I have been with the Saturn. Unfortunately, because they tried to obscure things and foist thousands of dollars in extra crap on me, I just really felt taken advantage of, and now they lost a sale, I don't have a new car, and I have a bad taste in my mouth just from dealing with them. My dad, who was looking at buying a Toyota truck to replace his aging Ford in the near future, certainly won't be buying from them either.

Every time I think back to this experience now, I'm going to see everything in a bad light -- suspicious of every time I got left to sit and wait for a while, wondering if my salesman's friendliness was just a ploy, wondering if that 500 extra miles was something more sinister than just an innocent error, wondering if they had the car I wanted all along and were stringing me along with false scarcity to keep me from looking too closely at the price. Honestly, that is the biggest problem with this whole thing, because it's hard for me to even say "well, at least it wasn't all bad." I got lucky, and managed to get it taken care of before I really got screwed, but my outlook on the whole car buying process is now even more cynical than it was, and I'm probably never going to enjoy that again, even in the future. That loss of innocence (or maybe naivety is a better word) is the real price of this whole mess. I've learned my lesson, I guess, and the good thing is that I barely dodged an expensive mistake to do it.

I do still feel bad for my salesman, really; I really did get the feeling that he was being honest and truly trying to help me find the car that was right for me. Part of me hopes he was just as cynical as I feel like the finance guy was because I really don't want to think that he got screwed by some other jerk at his dealership. I'm not willing to pay thousands of dollars more for a car just to help a guy out though, and I hope that if he really was honest that he gets out of that place and finds a better dealership to work at.

My Grandfather

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Grandpa Hilberg was always "old" to me -- he must have been in his mid to late fifties in my earliest memories of him, going to see Cubs games with him and my dad.  I remember his apartment on Ashland Avenue; its smell, and how it was filled with his model trains.  I remember the creaky wooden stairs in his building and their red stained wood.  I can't remember much else though, almost thirty years later.

He moved to Montana when I wasn't much older; I won't pretend to know why exactly, but after that I saw him less, when he would come to visit or on the rare occasion of a family gathering.  I would talk to him on the phone, I always intended to go visit him sometime once I started working but somehow it never worked out; the idea of going to see him without my dad always seemed awkward, and how many people in their 20s want to go hang out with their grandparents?  I always thought there would be time later anyway -- the mortality of Grandpa Hilberg never really set in for me.

When my mom's dad died on Christmas 2003, I seemed to make it through almost unfazed.  Maybe it was because I had just changed my name and his funeral would be the first time I would meet my mom's family as I am now, and selfishly I was more worried about their reactions to that than grieving over his death.  I hadn't spent as much time with Grandpa Schroedter either, since he lived further away.  For some reason, I feel like he had reach his time -- he had done what he set out to do and now he was done, and maybe felt a bit at a loss with what he was supposed to do now.

Grandpa Hilberg was different; there was always something childlike about him to me.  He seemed to have few regrets about his life and despite the fact that I don't think he ever really had a comfortable or successful career, he never seemed bitter or upset by that.  It seemed like every time I talked to him, whether in person or on the phone, he had some story to tell about his friends or his family, and nearly every single one ended with his laugh.  I don't think I ever heard him to tell a story with a sad ending.

For someone like me, who has felt world-weary and cynical since I was in my teens, there's something fascinating about a person like Grandpa Hilberg who could maintain that kind of point of view and outlook on the world for so long.  I never really thought about his mortality, I guess, because it felt like he would never really go -- how can someone like that die?  I figured when you see death coming that has to be the ultimate downer -- when the end is near how can you maintain that kind of outlook?

Yesterday, my dad called me as I was leaving lunch and told me that Grandpa Hilberg had died that morning.  He'd been in the hospital, and I knew he was sick, but still, I never thought he would actually die -- it just didn't even strike me a possibility.  I don't think it really settled in until last night, but for the first time, I think, I'm actually feeling a strong sense of grief over someone's passing in a way I've never felt it before.  Maybe it's the fact that I'm getting older, and my parents are getting older too; for the first time I am really thinking about what it will be like when they die and realizing what that will mean.

I'm filled with regrets now, about my grandfather.  I always told him I'd come visit, but I never did. He wrote me after the first time I went to Iceland, including an article he'd read on the place, and I don't think I ever wrote back.  I talked to him on the phone, sure, but now...I was his oldest grandchild, and I think he was trying to reach out to me, and I wasn't there.  I was always going to see or talk to him later, and now there's never going to be a later.

That is always going to haunt me I think, especially when I look at how his kids turned out -- seven boys and girls who managed to turn out to be pretty great people, one of whom I'm happy to call my dad.  Whatever he and my grandmother did to raise them, they seem to have done it pretty well, and they managed to pass those lessons on to their kids, because I don't think I could have asked for a better dad than I am lucky enough to have.  After all he's been through -- with me and my brothers, with my mom and everything else life has thrown at him, he's always been there for me.  And when I think of that, I wonder if that's how my dad feels about his dad, and I wish I understood that more.  I can't help but feel a bit of guilt that I am never going to have kids of my own so that I can pass those lessons on too -- and part of me wonders if I could have, even if it weren't no physically impossible.  I can't imagine it was easy for him or for my parents to raise their kids as well as they did.

So, this weekend, I guess, I say goodbye to Grandpa Hilberg, and sorry for putting off what is now never going to happen.  I hope that he passed peacefully and as without regret as he seemed, and I hope he knew how much he meant to those of us he leaves behind.
...asking "if <something intelligible> comes out of my nose when I sneeze, is that normal?", you're on The List.

This is one of the many things I hate about being on-call 24/7 -- if I get a call at four in the morning, it might be for work, so I can't ignore it.  And, of course, at 0422 I wasn't exactly thinking straight so I ran in to check my email to see if something was going on instead of listening to the voice mail first.  Fun.
....didn't quite work out.  I've been pretty well laid out by the flu since Tuesday, though the tests still haven't come back to say whether it was H1N1 or just some other kind of influenza A.  Either way, I have felt pretty lousy for the last few days, so I apologize for the lack of any real updates since I mentioned them before.  For anyone else who is suffering from this particularly gross piece of PAX swag, I hope it passes quickly for you.

Quite unfortunate, really, since I have been trying to get my affairs in order in preparation for a possible cross-country move.  Being sick for a week has kind of thrown a monkeywrench into that particular opportunity though, so I don't know if it will still be open by the time I actually get things sorted out.  There's not too much more I can say about that here, but for those of you I've talked to and asked for advice, and who have offered your support, thank you -- it's times like these, when everything is on the line, that you learn who your real friends are, and happily, for me, they've turned out to be pretty much everyone I thought they were.

Even if this doesn't work out, though, I'm hopeful that I'll get another bite at the apple soon enough.  After five years of failing horrifically (and, at least in retrospect, humorously) to actually find a new job somewhere outside the University and the place I've called home since 1981, I appear to be slowly picking my way out.  It's a good feeling, and I have to take a sense of accomplishment away from things, knowing I've made some actual personal growth.

Back from Seattle

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Well, I don't have much time to make a real post right now, but I got back from Seattle yesterday and I'm now in a bit of a tizzy trying to get everything sorted here before I leave for Iceland later this month.  Some quick updates though:

  • Seattle was awesome.  PAX was awesome.  CCP's party was awesome.  Pictures may follow soon, I just haven't had time to go through them; unfortunately, I didn't take as many as I had hoped for a variety of reasons.
  • I really hope I don't have H1N1 (see bottom).  It would be incredibly inconvenient, but I do admit I'm getting a case of the sniffles.  If it comes up with anything else I think it will be time to head to the doctor.
  • When travelling with someone, if their schedule does not match yours, it can be very frustrating for both parties.  Likewise, some people need to learn the value of The Plan(tm). :)
  • Anyone know anything about selling a house in the fall/winter months?  Alternatively, is there anyone looking for a small, reasonably priced house in Champaign in the very near future?
Will try to have some updates soon, but things have become a bit crazy.

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