Third Time’s A Charm!

We had quite a fantastic Monday night around here. After a harrowing evening of negotiations, seventeen-year-old J finally bought (with his own money) a new car that is, according to our mechanic, reliable.

It’s his third car.

Wait, what? Didn’t I tell you about getting rid of Zeus and buying a second car that proved to be a terrible decision? Oopsie.

Zeus the Neon (car #1) came down with a case of needing a repair that was much too expensive to have our mechanic fix and much too time-consuming for Jim and J to take on at home, so he sold it. And he, like his brother after he sold his first car, was heartbroken.

He purchased car #2–the car that shall not be named–with our approval but we did it all wrong wrong wrong. We were blown away by the awesome physical appearance of it and didn’t get it to the mechanic for a thorough checking-out until a week after the purchase. When our mechanic called to give us the low-down, he said “J, you didn’t BUY this car yet, did you?”

Yeah. He did.

Jim and J fixed the one thing that made the car TOTALLY HAZARDOUS TO DRIVE, and they have been trying to sell it ever since. The problem? It’s worth so much less than what J paid for it. (Ack.)

In the meantime, and for the past three months, J has been obsessed with finding another car. Naturally as time has gone on and he’s been able to take on more hours at work, his new-to-him car horizons have broadened. I won’t go into detail about the agony of this car search, but suffice it to say we’re all sick of talking about cars. Most cars out there that are in a teenager’s price range just aren’t super-great, and the ones that seem okay usually prove to have skeletons that aren’t anything we would want to take on. J was frustrated and at times willing to settle for cars that had red flags galore: I could tell you stories about this for hours (but won’t).

FINALLY, this past weekend he found a car–a 2001 Saturn–listed through a local Kia dealer. It looked pretty good and the price seemed fairly reasonable (even though I hoped we could get the price down).

Let me interrupt myself by telling you that if you have not read my experiences with buying cars, you really need to. I shared my knowledge (and mistakes) in three posts a couple of years ago:

How To Buy A Car, Part One
How To Buy A Car, Part Two
How To Buy A Car, Part Three

Especially after Jim and I helped him to buy the car that shall not be named without proper research and procedures (big FAIL), I wanted to tag along on the trip to the car dealer so we could all work together to check each other and get it right this time.

Fast forward through the test drive, which went well, to the moment when I told the salesman that we wanted to be able to have the car checked out by our mechanic before committing to the purchase. He said, “No problem, we have a five-day return policy.”


In fact, when we found out that J, who isn’t yet eighteen, couldn’t drive the car until he bought it, the salesman said he would take the car to OUR mechanic the following day if we were interested, and even before we actually made the purchase if we wanted to do it that way.


We sat down and asked him to run the numbers so we’d know how much the state of Illinois would be collecting from us on taxes, and then there was that $160 document fee (!!!!).

The final number was on the high side when compared with J’s budget. We got them to knock off about ten percent due to a minor notation on the Car Fax, and then decided to just go ahead and buy the car (since they had the five-day return policy) so J could take the car to the mechanic himself.

We waited at the salesman’s desk for TWO HOURS while the finance guy did paperwork for another customer or two (We were doing a cash sale! Ridiculous! By the time it was our turn and it took less than ten minutes, I was furious that they didn’t fit us in earlier), and then it was finally time to sign the papers.

That’s when I noticed that the Five Day Return Policy was for an EXCHANGE ONLY.


I put the brakes on immediately. I could feel J having a silent heart attack next to me.

I said, “This says we can bring the car back but only to exchange it for another car and not a refund? NO. Nope.

Jim added, “There aren’t any other cars on the lot that fit his needs.”

I said, “He’s a teenager on a tight budget. If we can’t return the car for a refund if our mechanic finds a major problem, the deal is off.”

The sales manager made a note on the paperwork that they would allow us to get a refund if we had to return the car. Deal saved. J began breathing again.

Let me stress that the dealership never outwardly lied: they always said we could bring the car back within five days. They just omitted the detail about it being an exchange-only policy. Still shady? Sort of (Okay, YES, because omitting information when you know exactly what a customer thinks your policy is when you know it is not that is wrong, period.), but in truth as a consumer when it comes down to brass tacks it’s our job to read everything before signing.

I have to say that even though I wish we hadn’t gone through that episode where I felt like, once again, a dealership was trying to bamboozle us, it is the greatest high to catch a detail like that, stand my ground, and get the outcome that I needed/wanted/expected. (Note that this is different from “The customer is always right”. I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable: my dad, a hotel manager, has people making up stories every single day in order to try and get a room credit. This was not that.) It makes me want to go buy another car tomorrow. Anyone out there need a car-buying sidekick? I’m so there.

Happy ending: our mechanic checked the car out thoroughly on Tuesday and high-fived J, telling him to celebrate because he finally “bought a good one”. This car’s going to be around for a while. I have nicknamed it “Lucky”.

Third time's a charm!


  • Patty

    If I ever have to buy a car, I am flying you into NYC to help me out! Nice catch on the refund policy…shady indeed!

    I love Saturns! I have a 2002 LS 200 and it an awesome car even now 10 years later! Wish they still made new ones!!!

    Congrats to J!

  • Tara R.

    I needed you with us when The Boy bought his car. I think it will all work out in the end, but it’s another project car. Good luck to J and Lucky, I hope they have many happy (and repair free) years together.

  • Mrs4444

    Wow. I’m so taken aback to see Weaselmomma’s back that I am momentarily speechless! 🙂

    Okay. Kendall bought a car this week, too! Sadly, there were two BIG issues with the car that did not appear until a) the drive home (horn was broken) and b) the next morning, when the car didn’t start! We took it back, and the dealership fixed both issues with new parts, and it’s finally good. I was all prepared to jack the guy up (They had to know about those issues–ridiculous!), but he didn’t charge us anything for the repairs. Keeping fingers crossed that there are no more issues.

    Congrats on your son’s new beauty! 🙂

  • Michelle

    Awww what a cutie. And I don’t just mean J. I know how much this has been a challenge for all of you. Cars and teens. Well. Let’s just say that I’m SO glad I don’t have to go there. Yet. Fingers crossed Lucky lives up to her (it is a girl, right?) name!

  • Cy

    I will definitely consult your posts if and when The Kid decides to buy a car. ‘Cause I hate that stuff!!

  • Brandie

    Yay for getting Lucky! =)
    Also, good for you for reading through the paperwork. And I agree, the way the say it is a bit shady. Maybe not outright legally wrong, but still, shady.