And the heavens opened up and a choir of angels sang ‘Hallelujah’

It really happened. It can be done. Yours truly can buy a car. And if I can, you definitely can, because I’m not good at it, remember?

Almost exactly a month ago I started car shopping. As of last night at about 8:45 p.m. – when my stomach was growling because I thought I’d have been home for dinner soon after we went back to the car lot TWO AND A HALF HOURS EARLIER – I officially became the owner of a 2008 Toyota Yaris.

Yes, it’s the one I told you about the other day. And I said we weren’t gonna talk about it then. But now we are.

It all started last week, when I checked back on Cars.com to see if by some miracle I could afford a car that wasn’t in as bad of shape as my Focus was. Lo and behold, there it was – the silver Yaris. It’s a car I had never even thought of getting, until I realized I was dumb to think I could afford an SUV and plus, Baby Einstein had gotten one and it was really cute. And, let’s face it, I’m a Car Copier. I got a gold Focus after my sister, Rachel, got a silver one and now, Sami and I have the same car – only they look NOTHING alike. Promise.

So the Yaris, which had been just above my price range but right in my mileage range for a few weeks, had been brought down $1,000 in price. Yeah, don’t get excited though, because there’s sooooooo much more that you have to think about. Tax, title, fees, financing, warranties and CAN’T I JUST TRADE YOU CARS?!

We took the Focus into the dealership Sunday afternoon, check engine light and broken heater and all and asked about the Yaris. It was already parked out front waiting for me to test-drive it – I’d called ahead – and it took me about 45 seconds into driving it to realize I wanted it. Dad, in the passenger seat, reminded me that I “wasn’t interested in it.” Remember? There’s that whole game that has to be played…

So yeah, so I hate this car, right? That’s what I’m supposed to be acting like – and we even looked at a bunch of other cars on the lot. The Yaris was the only one we drove. Then, because the guy who I talked to on the phone was WAYYY too busy for us, apparently, we dealt with Rodney.

Rodney, despite being named Salesperson of the Year for about every month in 2006 and 2007 (as evidenced by a bunch of plaques saying so on the wall behind him), has since lost his personality. He helped us out but it seemed to be a big pain in his ass to do so. He had them look at my car and started giving us numbers for payments that were gonna be $100 more than I could do, unless you know, I don’t want to buy groceries ever again..

Now, instead of last time, when I sank lower and lower in my chair with every word the guy said, this time I was ready. They told me they’d only give me $1,500 for my Focus, I talked them up to $2,000. This whole time, however, Rodney the Sweetheart had to keep going back and forth from us to what my dad and I referred to as the “Dons” or “Godfathers” of the car lot – men in different colored button-downs then the salespeople that sit in a glass office that you have to take stairs to get to. They’re also the ones that hover around while you’re getting bugged and if the sales guy isn’t doing the trick they swoop in and say basically the same thing as the other guy did, they just try to act like you’re crazy for not buying.

So. Don Corleone had my credit info and my other necessary information to talk about affording this car. Then they came back with some more numbers and I dropped the bomb – my bank had offered me 4.2% interest to finance with them. Rodney thought that was stupid. But he took that back to the Godfather, who said, “Talk to your bank and then come back tomorrow.”

I left lil’ Focus as collateral and said my good-byes to it and took the Yaris home for the night. I started telling everyone it was mine already even though I had signed NO official paperwork at that point.

Monday, I talked to the bank. Even though someone told me a week and a half ago that they could give me these amazing interest rates once I had a VIN number for my car – that didn’t prove to be true. They gave me HORRIBLE rates, basically punishing me for the fact that I have a) never financed before, b) awesome credit and c) went to college and had to use student loans. Thanks, bankers!

Here’s where it gets awesome though. Last night, Dad and I head back up to the car lot to finish the deal – or give the car back, which is the thought going through my mind the whole time. Seriously, kids, I have crummy luck. My hands were oddly sweaty and my stomach was hurting and I just wanted to get it over with. I put my head down, because I was TIRED. Dad yelled at me.

Rule No. 1 of car buying: DON’T LOOK LIKE YOU’RE CRYING EVEN IF YOU’RE JUST TIRED.

Then, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, they came back with an interest rate HALF of what my bank was going to give me, making my payments pretty much exactly where I wanted them to be. I WAS BUYING A FRIGGING CAR!

As we headed over to the other building to finish financing – and be bugged about warranties, which I decided to get because we talked them down to a really low amount on the extra cost it’d add to my payments (lots of “No” and sending the guy out of the room for a minute so Dad and I could talk) – Dad and I high-fived and he told me I’d done a good job this time and been a good negotiator.

BOOYAH.

Three agonizing hours later after signing my name on what seemed like a million forms, my car was washed, cleaned and ready for me to take home. It’s mine and it’s cute and it’s (KNOCK ON WOOD) not nearly as close to falling apart as the Focus had gotten to be. And as we were leaving, Sweet Rodney was nowhere to be found. He was tired and had been there since 9 a.m. and decided we weren’t worth a good-bye and “thanks for buying a car from me.” Thanks, Rodney.

So I bought a car. By myself. No one gave me money to help with a down payment. I said no as many times as I could until they gave me a good deal and most importantly, there was considerably less “HELP ME” blinking signals aimed at my Dad.

I’m really a grown-up now.

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Yep, still looking for a car

I wish I could tell you I have a new car. I’d like to tell you that it’s gray – or blue or black or red – and cute and affordable and has low mileage. And that when I bought it, with no one’s help, I’m the one who haggled with the car salesman and never let on that I even wanted the thing.

Alas, none of the above is true.

I partially blame Kia, who in their commercials, tells me that if I have a job and $199, I could get a car. Well, I have a job. And $199. I went to Kia. And still, no car. Speaking of Kia though, Fritz called me back this morning and swears he has a bunch of good stuff in my price range – and they’re 2009s, no less. Bet a million bucks one of them is a van that may or may not have been wrecked.

I haven’t called Fritz back, mainly because when I got the chance to – after work – he was already gone for the day. The other reason is because I feel this lump in my stomach every time I think about having to start the negotiation process all over again – or maybe the lump is the BLT from Subway I had today. Wasn’t that great. Bleh.

TANGENT ALERT – When I lived in O-town, there were about four choices for lunch: Hometown Pizza, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s and Subway. I got Subway all the time and once decided to deviate from my regular order of a turkey sandwich and order a BLT, and to order said BLT over the phone – they delivered, how crazy is that? Never deviate from your usual. It can only end badly.

BLT means bacon, lettuce and tomato. No, I don’t think you’re dumb. I’ve just found that I need to explain myself sometimes, EVEN WHEN THE INGREDIENTS ARE IN THE NAME. So. I order over the phone and say, I want a BLT on white bread.

Ok. Easy enough. Then she asked me what I wanted on it – you know, a normal person would believe that meant besides the three ingredients already implied by the order of a BLT. So, I said, “just mayonnaise.”

Imagine my surprise and utter confusion when I unrolled my sandwich after it was delivered and found that it contained only bacon and mayonnaise. What. in. the. hell? I still don’t get it. I guess once you get past the B, those other two letters could mean anything, and they just didn’t want to chance getting them wrong.

“Could she mean Bacon, Lima Beans and Tabasco Sauce?”
“I don’t know, just stick with the bacon. Oh, and she just wants mayonnaise, don’t forget that.”

Yeah…

What was I talking about? Buying a car? Oh. Still haven’t. And every time I get in the Focus I sit there for a second with my eyes closed and say a little prayer that it lasts just a little longer, I just need to save a little more money. I ignore the fact that stuff keeps happening to it.

The latest? Heat’s broken. Well. I say broken, but it still kind of works, when it’s turned up to the highest level. I now blink about 80 more times a second when driving home in the cold because if I don’t, I think my contacts would dry out and fall right off of my eye.

I check Cars.com every day, hoping there’s some crazy car salesman out there who has a 2008 Kia Sportage automatic with less than 30K miles that they wanna just see if they can sell for the exact amount I can spend.

I’ve branched out and resigned myself to the fact that I may never own an SUV, at least not until I win a contest where one is the prize. I am looking at cars, a few different models, in fact, but I’m still being kind of picky.

Did I mention there are other parts of car shopping that suck? Like financing? Yeah.

So I’m basically where I was the last time I talked to you about car shopping, which is nowhere, except that I’ve found a couple more Web sites to look through.

And I’m practicing my zombie look before I go talk to anyone in person again. Be proud, Dad!

You CAN read my p-p-p-poker face

Recently added to the list of things I can’t do – which already includes waking up before 6 a.m., hiring a reporter, calculus, watching any more of the Saw movies and singing Ashlee Simpson songs alone at karaoke – is car shopping.

I’ve owned two cars in my life, the first bought as a Christmas present for me the year I turned 16 – it had 109K miles on it and no automatic anything and the CD player didn’t work when it got cold – and the one I drive now, which I paid half of when my parents helped me buy it in ’04. I should note that my current ride was purchased after 2.5 years at college with no personal mode of transportation and lots of bumming rides. My parents went out and picked it out, brought it home and said, ‘do you like this?’ and we went back to the dealership and bought it.

Dad did all of the negotiation that time. My only involvement, besides driving the thing, would be contributing the little bit of money I’d saved from working at Hallmark, Victoria’s Secret and the front desk at Southwest Hall for a short time until I was fired for falling asleep for .85 seconds one day at FIVE IN THE MORNING.

I didn’t pay much attention to Dad’s negotiation techniques because I thought the lil’ Focus would last forever and even when I went back to get another one, it wouldn’t be that bad, Dad would help me out or I’d have a boyfriend or husband to do the negotiations on my behalf, I’d just supply the money and/or the credit.

Fast-forward to yesterday. I’m 25, single, and my poor little Focus has just about crapped out. It’s up to 110,000 miles, it has a crack in the front and the fuel pump had to be replaced this summer. The check engine light has been on for 3 weeks and there’s a stain on the passenger side door from where a former roommate – who I will only refer to as the DEVIL INCARNATE because we have not spoken since the day I moved out of where I lived with her in McLean Hall at Western and she’s the meanest person alive – attempted to push a full cup of coke out of an almost closed window while drunk. Oh, and the other day, the handle broke on the driver’s side and my dad had to take it to the shop, driving AND holding the door shut with his other hand.

Yeah. It’s time.

So yesterday, we started the process of shopping – my youngest sister and I both need cars and we started at the Kia Store because I really want a Sportage. Correction – I want a BRAND NEW Sportage, but let’s be realistic. I haven’t gotten my tax refund yet, or sold my car, or taken a good look at my financial situation for the next few months to know if I had the slightest wiggle room on a monthly payment. Like I said, started the process.

We met a nice man named Fritz who just so happens to have a daughter that’s mentioned in the sports pages of the paper I work for on a pretty regular basis. He was nice – and not in that slimy way that car salesman are, actually – and I test-drove two Sportages, the first of which he should have never let me in because I liked it a lot until I found out it cost almost twice as much as I could spend.

Then, after my sister test-drove a smaller car, I got sucked into trying out the other Sportage, the one that was my favorite color, in my price range AND was a manual transmission which is fine because I can drive stick. What’s the problem there, right? So I drove it. And liked it. I’d prefer an automatic because driving stick sucks in stop-and-go traffic and after the test-drive my left foot already hurt because it wasn’t used to being bent that way while I drive. But for the price and the color and the fact that my Focus HATES ME right now and is conspiring against me, I was interested.

But hey, guess what. You don’t act interested when you like a car. And you don’t act uninterested. You act like a zombie.

No, seriously. You do. Which is foreign to a girl like me, who needs an Ace Bandage to cover up that giant heart on my sleeve. If you’ve known me for longer than 38 seconds, you know exactly how I feel when I feel something – sad, mad, happy, uncomfortable, whatever – because it’s written ALL OVER MY FACE. I’m emotional. Sue me.

So. As Fritz listened to me say I couldn’t do this unless the payments were X amount – not even $5 higher – he proceeded to offer me a decent amount of buckaroos for my current POS, sight-unseen. Then, he tried to get me to sign stuff, saying if he could get the payments where I want, would I sign? Would I buy a car today? (DID I MENTION IT WAS THE FIRST DAY I WAS SHOPPING???)

Being the inexperienced car-shopper I am, I looked at my dad, who was looking at his iPhone and he made a face at me and said “You’re an adult, this is your money.” That, kids, is not what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to say “Fritz, unless you can knock three thousand bucks off that price, we’re walking” or something else bad-ass like that. But he didn’t. And then, I did the apparently worst of all things to do while car shopping, I SHOWED EMOTIONS. Because Fritz was basically telling me I was kind of too poor to buy this car but they could maybe work it out but I needed to be realistic and drive a van or a grandma car or a car made in 1995 to afford it with my stipulations.

I put my head on the table – go ahead and judge me, but it was depressing to hear I couldn’t buy a car yesterday even though I WASN’T GOING TO BUY A CAR YESTERDAY.

Every time Fritz walked away to “work on the numbers” my dad told me to stop being so obvious about how I was feeling. Because when you are buying a car and they tell you you are gonna have a hell of a time trying to buy the one you want with your current finances, “you are NOT supposed to put your head on the table and cry.”

I didn’t cry.

We went one other place yesterday, and I think I did better that time, mostly because they only showed me cars I had no interest in – i.e. looked like a boat or was a car I know someone drives that is twice my age. Plus, both of the guys we dealt with at the second place had less personality than a rock, so it wasn’t hard to act like I was ready to leave the whole time.

I’ve looked at the money and the possibilities and I’m gonna wait a couple months before I go back out with intent to buy – thank God for Internet. But, next time I go, I will remember the following rules (and you should too if you want to get it right):

• When it comes to facial expressions and any sign of outward emotion, be a zombie.

• Say no 99 percent of the time. Don’t even accept anything to drink, then they will know you’re tough.

And finally, and maybe most importantly:
• Work out a code with your dad ahead of time so when you look at him and blink three times in rapid succession he understands that means “HELP ME OUT HERE!”