Passing of the torch, or: How not to buy a Hyundai

Josephine the Truck on her first little road trip, to Saint-Sauveur.

There are two things you should never have when you’re car shopping: weak credit and a vagina.

The vagina I was born with and am quite fond of. The credit I trashed spectacularly in my 20s then, once the debts were cleared, I turned my back on like an ex, doing nothing to restore my standing in the banking world.

Nevertheless, when the exhaust inside Joe the Truck’s cabin started smelling like thousands of dollars in repairs, I was optimistic. I had two paid-off-early loans in my recent history, a little down payment, and the intention to return to the city’s most honest used-car salesman, who had introduced me to Joe more than four years earlier.

Maybe he was complacent because he’d made a sale the second he picked up the phone. I told him the make and model I wanted, how much I was going to spend and was ridiculously honest about my lack of credit: “I know the interest rate will be higher,” I told him right away. “This is what I’m willing to pay monthly.”

I was preapproved and off he went to find me the next Joe the Truck. It took six weeks. Trusty Joe took us to South Carolina and back before a car that matched my specifications was found and then … my loan application was rejected. “I’ll fix this,” he promised, without explaining what had happened to my preapproval.

Here are the other things he never did:

  • Tell me the year of the car he’d secured.
  • Tell me the mileage of the car he’d secured.
  • Tell me any damn thing about the car he expected me to put $14,000 on.

He secured me a new loan, at around 28 per cent interest. I had to walk away, and I really thought that was the end of it.

I put a few hundred dollars into Old Joe and we holidayed in Cape Breton.

joe cape breton

That damn smell was getting worse and so was my attitude toward Joe, who had always been my faithful companion in adventuring. It was clear it was past time for him to retire as a family vacation vehicle and so the shopping began again.

I found the perfect Santa Fe online – luxuriously splendid and at an insanely perfect price. But when I called the dealership, the car had already been sold. The salesman who spoke to me could easily have sold me a different Santa Fe except, on hearing my vagina-accented tones, he said, “I have a car that’s similar, but it’s blue.” Here’s a tip, car-selling friends of the world: Not all women purchase their cars based on the colour. Jerk.

Naively, I thought things couldn’t get worse. Facing my financial fears, I purchased accounts with credit companies so I could see into my history and confirm I was debt-free. That’s how I discovered the first car salesman – the city’s most honest – had run eight credit checks on me. Eight. Within the space of weeks. Can I just throw that number out again: Eight times. Imagine what that does to the credit of a person who has no credit.

I printed the documents and took them with me to the nearest Hyundai dealership. We pulled into the parking lot in a cloud of Joe fumes, frustration and a pale rainbow of hope.

When we were introduced to a female salesperson, tension eased from my shoulders. Someone with ladyparts would understand me! She wouldn’t talk down to me, because she knew women can understand cars, too! It was all going to be okay. It was all going to be okay.

She showed me the cars, all right. She walked me around the lot and let me look into the windows. She had the keys with her, but she didn’t unlock the car I was interested in and she certainly never offered a test drive. That’s on me: I was cowed and nervous about the money and didn’t want to upset her. I let a woman take advantage of me just because she was a woman. That’s on me, too.

I was upfront about our finances and made sure she saw the printouts. When she handed us off to the finance person – another woman! – I made sure she understood I had not authorized that my credit be checked eight times.

thetwo“I want a second-chance loan,” I told her, because I know the ropes. When she said she wanted to try for regular credit, since I have no debt and make okay money, I pointed out the pokes on my account. “I can’t get it. Let’s just do it my way.” So she talked down to me a little bit and I let her do what she wanted after securing a promise that she’d check my credit only one time. I made a second deal with her: If the interest rate was too high, I would take my second-choice car, not my leather-seated first choice.

The whole thing didn’t go off the rails for at least 48 hours. It was when a second finance offer called to say he had to run our credit again that I started to feel sick. Then angry – he berated Melani like a child for allowing our credit to be run eight times. He came to the very edge of calling her an idiot.

When the interest rate and payments came back too high, we fell back on our Plan B: We’d take the second car. Except, no, they refused to do that – they’d approved the loan for the expensive one, they’d have to start all over again and weren’t we already irresponsible enough for allowing our credit to be checked over and over? Okay, so, we’d turn down the $1,000 certification, then. Oh, no, we couldn’t do that, she told us – she’d have to crank up our interest rate to make up the $1,000 on the vehicle I’d not haggled on to begin with. It was already 22 per cent.

I detailed everything in a written complaint to the dealership and Canadian headquarters, including being yelled at by the finance officer. I got a terse letter back from the president of the dealership: “It’s very unfortunate that you think about Prestige this way, we treat all customers equally.” If you treat all of us this way, I emailed back, you might want to consider sensitivity training of some sort.

When I took the car despite all my misgivings, because my credit was so bashed about I knew what would happen if I attempted to go anywhere else, the original salesperson said cheerfully, “Aren’t you happy? You have a new car!” When I said no, I was not happy, she was mystified.

I approach people with honesty and like some kind of chump I expect the same in return. Don’t worry, I’m starting to get over it.

In the meantime, we welcomed Josephine the Truck into our lives. She’s bigger than Joe, and she’s kind of fancy, but she doesn’t have the same soul. She’s a little bit hipster and a little bit standoffish. We had a rocky start, as you can see, so we’re having some trouble bonding. But we’ll get there. No matter how many roads it takes.

Postscript

When the paperwork was done and the keys in my hand (once I’d signed, I was allowed to sit inside the car), I had thought I was done with the dealership. The saleslady told me she’d made me an appointment to have Jilly’s car seat installed, but when I arrived the mechanics had no idea what I was talking about. No big deal – I did it myself.

I had to go back this week to have my winter tires installed, only to discover the tires they’d sold me with the car were the wrong size. If I’d just had to deal with the mechanic, who was the nicest, most respectful person I spoke with there, things would have been fine. But the saleswoman showed up and made me an offer: “For an extra $200, I can set you up with brand new tires right away!”

That’s when I popped my cork. By the end of my breakdown I was offered the new tires and installation at no cost to myself. That was nice but, as you can imagine, too little, too late.

Do I think I would have been treated differently if I were a man? Yeah, I really do. I recognize that my passive nature had a huge hand in my experience, but I can’t think of one man who has been yelled at by a financial officer or encouraged to purchase a car based on its colour.

I love driving a Santa Fe, but I am finished with Hyundai.

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