Parkland Press

Friday, May 29, 2020

Living the Vintage Years

Thursday, April 25, 2013 by BONNIE LEE STRUNK Special to The Press in Opinion

Older drivers: Try before you buy

Last week I did something I had not done in 29 years. I bought a new car.

To regular readers and friends who know and admire my spiffy 1984 Subaru wagon: Don't worry. I did not part with it. Perish the thought.

Actually, that wonderful old car of mine was the main reason my husband and I decided to splurge on a new one.

With more than 130,000 miles on the odometer, my little red wagon was working too hard and deserves a good waxing and some garage time.

My husband's 1991 two-door model has logged over 200,000 miles, so we are reluctant to drive it long distances.

And its low-slung style with two big, heavy doors makes it difficult to transport passengers, especially older ones.

Thus, about three months ago we began the sometimes-outrageous car search.

According to some surveys I have read, the car-buying experience is dreaded and even hated by many consumers.

We soon learned why.

A number of the situations and sales people my husband and I encountered made us sprint for the door.

One salesman, who called himself a "genius" on his business card, spent most of his time bad-mouthing other dealers, insisting we would have to provide our Social Security numbers at competitors' showrooms before any sales people would even talk to us.

This was after we had explained no credit check would be needed because we were not seeking their financing.

Needless to say, no such thing happened at any dealership.

A sales manager at another dealership flatly declared that the car we were looking for, a cayenne red Nissan Cube, did not exist "anywhere in the country." He somehow knew this without ever looking.

Well, I'm driving that non-existent car today.

Another salesman kept telling us the model we wanted was being shipped "in a few days." This dragged on for three weeks.

When I called his sales manager to inquire, I was told no such car was coming to their dealership.

The sales staff where we finally bought our car could not have been more patient and helpful.

Even though I wanted a manual transmission and they had only automatics on the lot, they wanted us to test drive the model to get a "feel" for the car.

Then, they asked both of us to drive a same-make car with a stick shift, since the drive trains of both models were similar.

When we were satisfied and were sure we wanted the car, this sales manager located exactly what we wanted in Maryland, which I believe is still in this country. A driver was sent to bring the car here.

On the day we took possession of the car, we received an in-depth tutorial on every aspect of its operation, from mirrors to gauges to wipers to heating/cooling systems to automatic door locks and seat adjustments.

Then, the salesman rode along as we drove our car and became familiar with its transmission and many gadgets.

The entire experience was stress-free and pleasant. Sounds hard to believe.

Three days later, the salesman called to ask how we liked the car and to answer any questions we had about its operation.

He invited us back for another "lesson" and for free car washes any time we are in the area.

Reflecting on the whole experience, I realized how important those test drives and lessons are, especially for older drivers.

Older people have special needs to consider when buying a car, such as slower reaction time, decreased vision and hearing, less strength and limited movement.

Cars should be easy to enter and exit. Look for seats that are higher and are adjustable. Does the seat support your back?

Does it move not only forward and back, but also up and down and tilt?

How visible is the instrument panel? Does the steering wheel adjust? Is there enough leg room for driver and passengers?

Can the radio and temperature controls be reached comfortably? What about the pedals?

Are mirrors large and easily adjustable? Can you see both sides, as well as what's in front and back?

Take time to evaluate the vehicle. Never buy a car without driving it. Comfort in the showroom does not always translate into comfort on the road under real-life conditions.

Don't let sales people rush or intimidate you. If they are not willing to patiently review every aspect of the car or let you drive it for as long as you need, walk away.

Hold out for the right car and the right dealership. Otherwise, your exciting new purchase may come with an unwanted accessory: buyer's remorse.