Mr Know-it-all Buying A Used Carbymaxdname©
In these times of overvalued new cars and bleak employment outlook it pays to know how to buy a used car. Most of us are only three paychecks away from homelessness (finding the ideal location for a cardboard box will be covered in a future article). Because of this 'state of the union' being prepared to downsize from an SUV that burns premium unleaded gasoline at a rate equivalent to a space shuttle launch to a more moderate coal burning, vehicle the size and make up of a Red Flyer Wagon is imperative.
To truly appreciate the vehicles on today's market, one must make a trip to the local new car dealership. That's right new. Initially, a salesman will ask you a lot of unnecessary and invasive questions about your employment history, wages earned, and if you have a valid driver's license. At this early stage in the process it is not wise to rant loudly, in a strange accent, "I only want to learn to steer, I don't care about stopping..." Actions like this should be saved until you have taken the wheel and merged into the fast lane on the Interstate.
As for the financial queries required before the average dealer will allow you behind the wheel, use someone else's information - like a parent or someone dead. If your salesman notices a distinct age disparity and comments that "you look 25 years old, not 58," thank him or her, politely and tell them you represent the Ernest and Tava Borgnine Beauty System and would be willing to give them a complete free make over after they attend a 45 minute no-obligation seminar on the system. Rest assured your salesman will not bring up the subject again.
As you speak to the salesman try to impress upon him or her that you are not just some "tire kicking" techno-phobe. Elucidate on the marvels of the "ion-free radial fermentation" engine, asking when are they expecting to put an engine like that into their cars. Make things up. These people are salesmen, not engineers. Last week he or she was probably selling water beds so they will never know the difference.
Next will come your chance to sit behind the wheel in a showroom demonstrator. Play with every button and gadget on the dashboard. This will come in handy in a later step. Try to pull buttons off the dash explaining that you sometimes transport chimps and orangutans to the zoo and that "they just love to play with buttons."
Tell the salesman you want to look under the hood as you fumble for the hood release. Wait until they step to front of the car to unlatch the hood, then lay on the horn. This never fails to amuse the rest of the sales staff and will show your salesman you are clever enough to find the best hidden of all gadgets in a car - the horn. If your salesman shows signs of stress at this moment, press the windshield washer button. As the stream shoots over the roof onto the sales manager's desk you can innocently exclaim, "Oh, there it is!"
As you examine modern marvels under the hood point to each and every separate component in the engine compartment and ask your salesman, "What does that do?" This is done to impress upon your salesman that you aren't going to buy anything superfluous. Tell them up front, "I don't want to buy a car with an exhaust system, I want to make my own. Can I special order a car without that junk?"
Always check the primer under that factory coat of paint. A pocket knife or a key will let you get nose to bare aluminum. Ask your salesman how many different colors of primer you can get in that model. Paint is paint but primer is forever.
Now comes the road test. This is always the most fun. After you start the car turn the key again to the "start" position. As the engine makes that awful high pitched grinding noise ask the salesman, "Is that a knock I hear in the engine?"
Next, you will want to mash the accelerator to the floorboard and keep it there. As the engine begins to howl stare plaintively at the salesman and say, "This is how I always warm up a car." In mechanics' terms this is called "floating the values." This is the automotive equivalent to that moment right before the Chernobyl meltdown, but that isn't as much as fun as the look on the face of your salesman reflected in the red glow of the dashboard warning lights.
With the engine still screaming, slam the gear shift lever into "reverse" briefly and then into "drive." As the white smoke billows out of the wheel wells, explain to the salesman that this is done to heat up the tires before pulling into traffic. Maximum traction is needed, given the number of "really stupid" drivers on the road.
As you approach the onramp to the freeway make sure to accelerate hard while oversteering. This will allow the rear wheels--on a rear wheel drive car--to lose traction leaving the car in a sideways free fall. You should be able to recover quickly by steering the same direction you are sliding. If not, you will end up on the raised divider next to the sign forbidding "pedestrians beyond this point." You can then comment to your salesman, "Boy, for the price of this beast, you'd think she'd handle better." If the car you are testing is a front wheel drive vehicle it may not slide as described, but it's still good fun.
At some point you have to test the brakes. This is done by taking both hands off the wheel and slamming the brakes on full force. A maneuver like this can cause concern with the average car salesman, but explain that you used to drive in the demolition derby and usually had everything under control. This is done to evoke the salesman's respect for your professional status and to once again giggle when you see that look of terror in the salesman's beady eyes.
Testing the suspension is an important issue for any intelligent car buyer. The right side can be checked by turning quickly onto the curb where a driveway meets the street. Traveling at no less that 60 miles per hour, straddle the curb and turn quickly back into the lane. However, this test only provides some idea of one side's capabilities.
Checking the left side suspension can be trickier. Some freeways have a concrete divider than is wider at the bottom than the top. If a driver can nudge this divider, ever so gently, it will leave the left side wheels momentarily free from the "surly bonds of gravity," only to have your vehicle bounce back into traffic, abruptly. If any other driver dares to honk their horn, swerve at them quickly, and pull back just to "check this baby's response."
Last, but not least, any "good" suspension should be able to sustain a quick trip down a concrete stairway. This may evoke an irrational response you're your salesman especially if you have to share that stairway with pedestrians or other drivers testing their suspension. Explain that you may buy a fleet of cars for a movie and ask if the salesman remembers what "The Blues Brothers" did for Chrysler.
After you have returned to the dealership, walk around the car several times and then hit the windshield with your fist stating, "If it won't stand up to flesh and bone how can it be expected to stop a flying beer bottle at the 'Handguns for Jesus' rally?"
Now, you have one last card to play. Look your salesman in the eye and say, "I'm not convinced. Do you have any used cars that we can look at?" The average salesman will recognize your thorough nature and will offer you any car on the lot at a "significant price reduction" to avoid another test ride. If they are not willing to make an equitable deal remind your salesman of the nature of the "As Is" laws and tell them you don't want to "get taken."
Some salesman are truly unflappable and if you are unfortunate enough to meet any of these announce loud enough for everyone on the lot and passersby to hear, "I don't know. Let me ask my 'coven leader' what he thinks." If there is still no change in your salesman's demeanor make a furtive move like you might be grasping for a firearm. If the salesman moves to intercept your feint, scream loudly about sexual harassment or fall to the ground like you are in the throes of some diabetic convulsion. If even this fails to produce some modicum of sympathy admit you've been bested
Then move to the next lot and repeat the process until "your price" has been proffered. And if anybody asks, tell 'em Mr. Know-it-all sent ya.