Laura on Life

Marley and the ghosts of car buying

By Laura Snyder

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[August 05, 2008]  Well, after months of deliberating and saving money, we finally got our Prius hybrid. I don't want to sound like a commercial for Toyota, but this car actually gets the 54 mpg that they say it does. Whoo-hoo!

Buying a new car is such a strange experience, though. My husband already did his homework before going to the dealer, so there was nothing the sales people could tell us that we didn't already know. In fact, the test drive was just a formality to be sure that my husband's 6-foot-2 frame could fit behind the wheel without his head scraping the ceiling. In case anyone wonders, he fit with plenty of room to spare. As far as we were concerned, the sale was a done deal.

The whole car-buying experience left us feeling like Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," except that Scrooge had not yet been convinced when the ghosts came. We were. But before we could call the sale complete, Marley, the salesman, told us about the different ghosts that would be visiting us. There was no way out of this. We had to sit there and listen to each ghost before they would hand us the keys.

First, there was the ghost of Cars Past. She told us about all the different things that could go wrong. These descriptions echoed all the jalopies we'd ever driven in the past, and she warned us to take advantage of the extended warranty to avoid the same problems with our new car.

Because we were stingy, like Scrooge, and liked to gamble, not like Scrooge, Cars Past did not convince us to change our wicked ways, and we passed on the extended warranty. Cars Past gave us a look that said, "You like to live on the edge, huh?" and told us to remain seated. She would send in the ghost of Cars Present.

Cars Present was a pleasant enough fellow. He was there to show us how our new car would work. I was as stubborn as Scrooge. I knew already that it was as simple as turning it on, putting it in gear and pressing the gas pedal. I didn't need to hear any more. But Cars Present insisted on telling us in excruciating detail just how a hybrid car's insides worked -- as if I would ever find myself opening the hood with a screwdriver and a socket wrench in hand. No thanks, Cars Present. If I have any trouble, I'll just bring it back here. I can see the little pictures on the dashboard. If anything pops up, blinks insistently or bleeps annoyingly, I'll read the manual. Let's move on.

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Cars Present led us to the scariest part of our car-buying journey. We needed to talk to the ghost of Cars Future. I wanted to skip this part. If anything would prevent us from buying this car, it would be Cars Future. He was to go over just how much this wonderful car would cost us every month for the next five years. After Cars Future finally got to the bottom line, we learned that the payments were definitely doable!

"Sign here, press hard, keep a copy," Cars Future said.

We signed, we pressed hard, we got a copy. Then Marley returned, jingling his chains. No, wait. Those were the keys to our very own Prius: the car that would save us a bundle in gas and didn't cost any more than our minivan did!

We woke up the next morning, threw open the window and yelled to our neighbor who was walking her corgi.

"Hey! What day is today?"

She looked shocked to see a couple of lunatics hanging out of a window in their pajamas. "Saturday," she answered, hurrying away. She was clearly concerned that whatever we had was contagious.

Saturday! That means we can drive our new Prius all day long, I thought, as I skipped to the garage in my bunny slippers, and the gas gauge probably wouldn't move one iota! We knew that because the ghosts of buying cars had told us.


You can reach the writer at lsnyder@lauraonlife.com Or visit www.lauraonlife.com for more columns and info about her books.

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