How Not To Buy A Used Car: A Single Girl’s Guide


So you are ready to buy a used car. Congratulations! This is a very adult thing to do. Consider what kind of mileage you need, and what size makes sense for your lifestyle. Consider asking your father figure to come and shop with you, but reject that because you are a third-wave feminist. Consider waiting until you have a boyfriend to go with you, but reject that idea for the same reason. Reflect on the fact that while the gays have many admirable qualities, and come in all shapes and sizes and types, as a rule they are crap at knowing things about cars, which is unfortunate since “the gays” describes nearly all the men you know. Muse about how you perfectly embody a certain stereotype — a mid-30s, middle-class, middling-accomplished chubby chick who has a lot of people in her life who know good brunch spots but no one who knows what a “powertrain warranty” is. What do trains have to do with cars, anyway? Does this mean that if your car breaks down the warranty covers train fare? Because that’s a pretty good deal.


Step 1: Look around online. Try to find a dealer whose website has an aesthetically pleasing interface for searching the used inventory. No, seriously, try. OK, when you find one you can stand, look at all of the cars. Come to terms with the fact that they all appear virtually identical to you. Struggle to pay attention and not drift off to Twitter. Google directions to a couple of places and gird your loins for battle.

Step 2: Go to the dealer’s lot that you investigated online. Decide that you will make up for your utter lack of car knowledge by being friendly and straightforward. After all, the first rule of used car buying is Give people the benefit of the doubt.I mean, we are all adults here, right? When the salesman asks you what you’re interested in, smile and say “I just want the best car I can get that is newer than 2005, has less than 100,000 miles, and costs less than–” and then stop and stutter wildly as you realize that you are about to cede all negotiating power. Name a price that is $1,000 less than what you can really spend.

Step 3: Look at some sedans. Accept the fact that you hate the word “sedan” and everything it represents. Begin to feel suffocated and menopausal at the idea of driving a four-door sedan in a neutral color that gets good gas mileage and has fabric seats that emit a faint odor of other people’s children’s juice boxes. Question the choices you have made in life thus far. Take a deep breath to ease the growing constriction in your chest.

Test drive a Jeep Cherokee with leather seats and a sunroof. Start to feel like you might have sex again some day. Bargain them down to a good price, but tell them you can’t buy right now because this is the first car you’ve seen. Leave when the manager throws your phone at you and tells you to call your dad or boyfriend to get their permission to make this deal. Spend the interminable ride to another corner of Northern Virginia wishing you’d told him to take his tiny penis and go f-ck himself.

Step 3: Let a salesman at another dealership condescend to you. Let yet another ignore you completely. Rinse. Repeat. Stretch to try and ease the knots developing in your neck.

Step 4: Go to the last dealership of the day and meet a nice young man who treats you kindly. Walk around the sedan part of the lot and feign interest in cars you can afford. Out of the corner of your eye, catch sight of something black and shiny and beautiful. Allow the power of your attraction — animal in its intensity — to blur the vision of the price on the sticker. Test drive that bad boy. Exclaim gleefully over the custom stereo with iPod dock, disregarding the fact that you do not own an iPod.

Ask if they can come down on the price. Feel sadness when they decline. Leave empty-handed, praying that your disgusting 1998 Saturn that drinks oil like water makes it back to the city.

Decide overnight that you can actually spend $1,000 more than you had originally budgeted, because true love is priceless and besides, you never get anything you want. Don’t you deserve ONE GODDAMNED THING in your life that makes you happy, even if it’s slightly impractical?

Walk away regretfully when your higher offer is refused, even though the guys at the dealership are so nice and you really don’t want to hurt their feelings. They’ve spent so much time with you! They drew a diagram of how all-wheel drive differs from 4-wheel drive and managed not to be condescending about it! You agree with them that the pretty black Jeep is a much better investment than anything in your price range. My god, the asking price is below Kelly Blue Book! Last week you didn’t know what Kelly Blue Book was, but today this fact seems meaningful.

Two days later, agree to pay an additional $250, a full $1250 over your initial hard ceiling, for a car that will surely improve your muscle tone, raise your self-esteem, take out the trash, and guarantee multiple orgasms. Pat yourself on the back for getting such a great deal. They met you halfway! On the last $500 that you said you wouldn’t pay. But paid $250 of anyway. Tough negotiator that you are, don’t buy the extended warranty, because everyone knows it’s a scam.

Step 5: Drive that baby home. Do not hyperventilate when you realize that you just spent $9,000 on a car that gets 20 miles per gallon and is too big to park anywhere near your house. Take a sleeping pill.

Step 6: Drive it to work the next morning to show Jeepy to your friends!  Allow yourself to feel a flutter of happiness when you unlock the car by standing across the street and pushing a button. That little chirp is so sweet. It sounds like the heady music of maturity and success. You are woman, hear you chirp. Jeepers was worth it! He is so pretty, and you can tell he likes you.

Step 7: Why is Jeepy shaking so hard when you idle at the stoplight? That’s weird. He must be nervous about his first trip to the office.

Step 8: On the way back out to goddamn Tyson’s Corner to drop off paperwork at the dealership, notice that Jeepy is shaking REALLY hard when you idle. And then bucking when you accelerate. Get over in the right hand lane and lament the fact that you don’t know how to turn on the hazards. Try not to vomit when you lose the ability to accelerate entirely, and are forced to creep along at 40 miles per hour.

Somewhere on Route 7, admit the possibility into your life that you just spent $9,000 — money borrowed from your 401(k) — on a car that does not run.

Explain to your friends at the dealership that they sold you a non-working car and that they should pay to get it fixed. Go blind with rage when the customer service manager tells you that the breakdown is not their problem, even though you’ve had the car for less than 24 hours, and that it wouldn’t be their problem even if you’d only had it for one minute. Try to stop payment on your check, but find that it has already been cashed. Do NOT cry — big girls don’t. Make a scene in the showroom and be escorted back to the manager’s office. Threaten to tell your “hundreds of blog readers and thousand Twitter followers*” about what a shitty deal this is, and be greeted with a shrug.

Drive away in a loaner. Try to access your inner rage and fail. Feel embarrassed and sad instead. Grit your teeth when the sames manager says that he did advise you to buy the extended warranty, but you chose not to, so… Invoke your mechanic. Mention your (nonexistent) attorney. Tell them if they give you back your Saturn and your money you’ll only post one bad Yelp review. In the end, make a split second decision to just fucking pay for the repair ($300) and get on with your life already. Accept that you were a babe in the carlot woods and they picked you off like Bambi’s mother. Kick yourself for being blinded by how very pretty Jeepy is. WAS. Berate yourself for not being a bike-sharing vegan who would never be in this position in the first place. Vow to seek revenge. Later.

*Totally not true.

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image – Phillip Pessar