My story starts, innocently enough, in April. Most of the country was on lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic — my home state of Ohio was one of the first — but the 7-year itch that afflicts me was particularly bothersome.
Pandemic or not, I felt compelled to buy a new car.
As restaurants, hair salons and other retail establishments closed down, we know businesses that sell and service vehicles were deemed essential. And even though I was working from home — as I am today — and driving very little, in my mind, it was essential for me to replace my 7-year-old vehicle with a new model.
- This article appears in the July 20 print edition of Tire Business.
I figured, and rightfully so at the time, car dealerships that remained open would have a glut of vehicles they were eager to sell to a dwindling group of customers willing to buy, despite the economic uncertainty.
So many dealerships, so many deals. While I entered the process convinced I was going to purchase a 2020 model, one dealership offered me $12,000 off the sticker price of a new 2019 model, at 0% financing. Sold.
That's where the story gets more interesting.
The dealership offered me around $6,000 to trade in my vehicle, a 2013 Audi A4 with 108,000 miles. Since I had sold so many of my previous vehicles before, I figured this would be the easiest of all.
I listed it for under $9,000, about midway in the range of where (Kelly Blue Book, Edmund's, NADA) said it should be valued for a private party sale.
Who wouldn't jump at the chance to purchase a one-owner luxury vehicle, with many of the most sought-after amenities (navigation, backup camera, premium sound system, Bluetooth, etc.)? Especially one in excellent condition, with a clean title, maintained meticulously?
Turns out, almost nobody.
Well, let me rephrase.
Many appeared to be interested. Here's how almost every communication exchange began, whether via text, email or Facebook messenger:
"Is this still available?"
After the perfunctory yes, here's what the majority of "interested" buyers responded.
"Will you take $6,000? CASH?"
I usually replied: "Thank you for your interest, but I've already turned down $8,000." Which I had done numerous times.
Here's what I wanted to respond, facetiously: "Cash? Really? Gee, I was thinking you would pay me in S&H Green Stamps."
I listed the car in late May. Even with the pandemic, I thought, worst case, I would sell it before mid-June.
After all, the last car I offered privately, a Subaru Forester, was sold and picked up less than three hours after it had been listed. And I got my asking price (although it was less expensive than my Audi). And it was older, with more miles.
Here's a sampling of my experiences:
- I drove 50 miles to meet an interested buyer halfway between our cities. On Father's Day. He was 90 minutes late. He drove the car and loved it. But he said the backseat was too small.
- I sold it to a gentleman for a price we both were happy with. Or at least I thought I had. He called the next day to ask for his $100 deposit back because of a family situation. I obliged.
- Several prospective buyers pulled out because I hadn't replaced the timing chain.
I must admit: I knew very little about a timing chain. Several buyers balked at buying a used Audi with the original timing chain.
I called the service manager at the dealership where I almost always serviced the vehicle. The timing chain was fine, he told me, according to an inspection done during my last visit, a week earlier. But he also said they recommend changing it at around 100,000.
The dealership hadn't recommended it prior to this, however.
Fellow dealers, I ask you: Would you replace a timing chain, even if it is still working properly? Why or why not?
I don't recall ever replacing a part that works as it should — particularly one that costs $2,000 to replace — just because it might fail.
"If it ain't broke," a brilliant philosopher once said, "don't fix it."
I did sell the car. Remarkably, I sold it to a man in California ... who bought it for his mother ... who lives in Pittsburgh (100 miles away) ... and who is a nurse, doing essential work.
I delivered the car to her last week. The price was a few hundred less than I had agreed to with that previous buyer, but it was significantly higher than $6,000 — and more than $8,000 that a handful of buyers had offered.
The story ended two months after it began.
Now comes the fun part: What shall I order with all of these S&H Green Stamps?