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cars and more money
i'm back there again.
by lee anne ramsey

[Editor's Note: This is a follow up to Lee Anne's wildly popular cars and money.]

God help me, I'm in the car zone. Again.

This time, I have a sense of humor and I'm trying to keep my wits about me and not freak out. It's not really working.

Today, after test-driving two cars and making the move to leave, some 60-year-old salesman in a Panama Jack hat who looked more like a Used Car Salesman than anyone I could have cast, explained in excruciating detail the concept of 60/40 rear seat fold down. Twice. The second time he used four fingers on his right hand and two on his left to give me a visual demo of what was in the trunk right in front of me.

And yes, I lost it.

"Sir, I do appreciate your time and the time of your salesperson to assist me in my research. However, as I've said at least four times and am going to say but once more: This weekend I am doing my research before I decide which car I want to lease, and I have been more than clear about my intentions. Last time I got fucked during the car buying process and allow me to make myself clear how much that won't be happening again. Now, If I could simply take the car from your fine young salesperson and be on my way . . . I hope you have a very nice day."

It would've been a lot more effective if my voice hadn't cracked half way through the speech.

Nonetheless, Cute Boyfriend was happy I had gotten us out of there, and said it was good practice for the next time.

I imagine I'll be giving that speech again a few more times before this process is over. You see, my car lease is up and now I have to go through this heinous process again. Am I older, wiser, more confident? I hope so. Do I still hate Cars and Money? Yup, that too.

Allow me to stop and switch gears for a moment: In order to completely understand, you have to know that I'm not even getting into the whole "stolen wheels" incident from April 2001. I have, however, been dealing with cars and money since March of 2002.

Monday, the 26th of March to be specific. I had left my car parked in a loading zone just outside my office. I thought I would only be a few minutes, but it ended up being more like a half-hour. When I went back out to the street and noticed a big empty space where my car had been; I have to admit I was not all that surprised.

Two hundred and fifty dollars and about two hours of standing in line at the Towing Office later, I had my car back in my possession.

Four hours later, I pulled into a rare empty parking spot on Divisidero Street in front of my favorite Mexican joint in anticipation of my favorite burrito. There was a guy walking up to the car in front of me, about to pull away. Imagine my surprise and dismay after I had turned off the car, flicked off the headlights, leaned over into the passenger seat to get my wallet out of my bag, and suddenly felt a small and deliberate shaking of my world as the guy slammed his car into reverse - directly into me.

Luckily, there was no damage. It was a bumper-to-bumper hit, so I let the guy leave with a tongue-lashing. (Not the good kind.) I then drove to my house, parked on the street as I normally do, and resolved to stay away from my car the next day.

The next day, you see, was my birthday. And that night, with the previous day's events a faint memory, I dolled up in my favorite "this was such an impulse purchase but I wear it whenever I want to feel good about myself" black low cut Armani halter top and a pair of very sassy sandals. Eighteen of my closest friends in San Francisco joined me for a very fun mid-week night of dinner and drinks.

The following morning, I was a little spacey, but mostly still high with the memories of the night before. I had to be at a music session in Berkeley at 9 a.m. and as I tripped down the street toward the place where I was sure I had parked my car, I noticed - veeeerrrry slowly - that it wasn't there. It was nowhere to be seen.


"Maybe I parked it somewhere else?"

As I continued to stumble around my neighborhood and walk around each corner expecting to see the car, I slowly came to the obvious conclusion:

My car had been stolen.

At first I was surprised. Then I started laughing. I mean, I hated that car! Was I supposed to be sad? Upset? That's what insurance is for, I thought. I knew that car was an Asian Mafia Magnet anyway.

A week later, after I was all set to get a big fat replacement check for my trouble, the SF police department found my car. The interior had been entirely stripped. I'll save you the details of my dealings with State Farm Insurance Company, the Department of Parking and Traffic, the San Francisco Police Department, the Office of Towing and Storage of Abandoned Vehicles, the local Hertz office, San Francisco Honda, and Don's Autobody Repair. Eleven thousand insurance company-paid dollars and one month later, I had my car back with a completely new interior and a new paint job on 80% of the panels. It looks brand new.

Oh. Goodie. Just in time for the lease to come due.

Now I have to start looking for a new car.

I swear, cars and money have taken over my life. I talk about cars all the time. I think about cars, I e-mail about cars and now, I write about cars. But, I'm getting the hang of it. And I have some information to pass on.

Lesson #1: Most car dealers think women are idiots. Use this to your advantage.

Those slicksters sit in that show room and check you out and size you up the minute you walk in the door. They see you coming and think that if you're young and pretty you must be intensely stupid. I use this to my advantage. I wear the sassiest cute girl outfit I can find in my closet. I throw on a pair of blue tinted wireless "rock star" sunglasses and bright lipstick. They figure I'm a slam-dunk and they send out the rookies to deal with me. Those rookies have been doing this for two, maybe three weeks. They figure you are a pushover and even the idiot new guy can convince you that the sticker price is the cost of the car. The rookies are fun to toy with. Flirt with them a little, smile a lot, and meanwhile waste their time driving every car on their lot. Use those newbies to get some experience. Try out some tactics.

Test your speeches.

Lesson #2: Do not allow yourself to buy a car you hate.

No matter what, you will kick yourself if you hate it. You will practically be happy when someone comes along and steals your car from out in front of your house. You will get worn down and time-crunched and exhausted, but do not let yourself buy a car you hate.

Don't let those slick salesmen convince you that you have to like the first car you drive, either. Hell, I try on the size 7 AND 7 1/2 for any pair of shoes I like - just to make sure I'm buying the right size. And that's a pair of shoes.

Also, do not buy a car you like and end up hating yourself because you paid too much. Learn to walk away. Have strength.

Lesson #3: Do your research

Even if some guy in a cowboy hat tries to "help you out" by explaining how the back seat in a Jetta folds down in a 60/40 fashion so you can fit more shopping bags in the trunk of your car (wink. nudge. grimace.) do not let them talk you into making an uninformed decision.

Edmunds.com is my personal favorite. Become absolutely intimate with this website and know how much the dealer is paying for the car you want to own. Know your facts about the car, know how much you have to spend, know how much you have to put down for drive-off fees, and don't even for a second answer the question: "So, what would you like your monthly payments to be?"

They may have a job to do, but so do you. Your job is to walk away with a car that you love, for which you haven't paid too much. And maybe you'll get a couple of good stories for your friends.

And maybe you'll get better at it.

I hope I do.

Did I mention that I never had to pay the insurance deductible? I'll tell you that story when I take you for a ride in my new car.


Lee Anne is a frustrated "contributing writer" to the Tufts Daily who has never gotten over getting dissed for a column. As a result, she feels the need to write long, somewhat amusing emails to friends and occassionally submit articles to small publications. During the day, she contributes to "what's wrong with this country" by producing television and radio commericals that make you think you are fat, skinny, hip, unhip, old, young, smart, stupid, grown-up, or just a kid again - depending on which products you buy. Her parents are real proud.

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matt morin
6.12.02 @ 2:57a

Get an Acura Integra. I hear they're great. (Just kidding.)

While I'm not great at buying cars, I've got to say I'm good at selling them. All three cars I've owned in my life, I've ended up selling for more than I bought them for.

So...what are you getting? Any finalists. And you are SO taking me for a ride when you get it.

joe procopio
6.17.02 @ 7:44a

Argh! Hopefully it's not too late:

1) Don't lease. Buy.

2) Buy a solid used car that a mechanic has seen. Offer at least $500 less than book.

3) Go for about 60K miles max. No older than 4 years.

4) Buy an entry-level car known for its engineering: BMW, Honda, MB, Lexus, Infiniti, etc.- you can get these in the $10-$20K range.

5) Take care of it. Drive it for 2-3 years and repeat.

You can actually make a bunch of money doing this. It's the only way not to lose your shirt buying a car. And I'm surprised more people don't do this - although, if everyone did it, you wouldn't make money at it.

Bonus: You NEVER ever have to see the inside of a showroom.

adam kraemer
6.17.02 @ 10:51a

I could be wrong, Joe, but doesn't your advice assume a large amount of money up front (i.e., all of it)? If I were in the market for a car, I wouldn't be able to come up with the money to buy one. But I could probably scrape together $300 a month.

lee anne ramsey
6.17.02 @ 10:58a


Hence the whole "leasing" thing.

matt morin
6.17.02 @ 11:23a

Keep it for 2-3 years?

My mother puts 80,000 miles a year on her car. My parents don't buy a car they can't get 250,000 miles out of.

joe procopio
6.17.02 @ 12:26p

No, Adam, you get a loan for a used car just like you would for a new car. Only you don't pay nearly the amount of depreciation when you re-sell.

And if your credit is too poor for a loan, it's too poor for a lease, so why bother with a lease at all?

As for driving 80K a year, OK then, don't expect to make money on a car. You drive 80K a year, for God's sake.

Most leases let you drive 10-12K per year.

And that's why I said a car known for its engineering. All the makes I listed can easily last to 250K with responsible maintenance.

jeffrey walker
6.17.02 @ 1:48p

yeah, and if you lease, they get real mad if you try to lower it or race it or anything. i was shocked at how angry they get about that stuff.

matt morin
6.17.02 @ 3:32p

In college, one of my good friends had a BMW. When we were bored, we'd go to car dealerships where the salesmen would practically fight to be the first one to greet us when we pulled into the lot.

Then my friend would say he was thinking of trading in the Beemer - and we'd go test drive all these sweet sports cars (sans salesman, because most only had two seats.)

I was always amazed they'd let us take Porsches, Jags, etc out by ourselves.

joe procopio
6.18.02 @ 10:41a

I once test drove a Miata and ran over a for sale sign up on a curb. The salesman, with me, shouted "Just drive, man, drive!" and we took off.

I didn't buy the car. Damn, that car is small.

adam kraemer
6.18.02 @ 11:02a

Yeah. I'm surprised the sign wasn't strong than the car.

tracey kelley
6.19.02 @ 7:50p

I buy my cars to own them. And I take care of them. That is how I got 5K trade-in money on a 1988 Toyota Tercel hatchback with 110,000 miles on it in 1998. I kept every bit of paperwork on the thing, too - every owner's manual and special spit-polish spray-can stuff. I'll do the same thing with my Mitsi-sport 5 years from now, when it's 10 years old. If you buy new, then you should plan to own the car for at least 7 years. You'll lose money if you don't.

And for God's sake, change the oil and air filter every 3,000 miles and rotate the tires.

lee anne ramsey
6.19.02 @ 8:09p

Two things:

1) I am a proud owner of a slightly used (as in, it's a 2002 but it has 4000 miles on it because it was a dealer demo) Volvo S40.

2) Last time I test drove cars (in 99) I got a speeding ticket because the 17 year old sales guy said "put your foot on the gas and check out the pickup" and the two dweebs in the back seat (ex boyfriend and ex boyfriend's brother) said "yeah!".

adam kraemer
6.20.02 @ 10:21a

I hope you made the dealership eat the cost of the ticket.

joe procopio
6.20.02 @ 10:47a

Congrats, Lee Anne. Nice choice. That car will either last you ten years or you can make a buck on it when you sell it.

lee anne ramsey
6.20.02 @ 12:24p

I was driving a Nissan Altima when I got the ticket - and no way was I going anywhere near that dealership again. That car was a piece of doo doo.

I love my Volvo!

lee anne ramsey
6.28.02 @ 12:14a


RE: Cute Boyfriend.

Annoying or interesting that I reference him in every column?

matt morin
6.28.02 @ 1:23a

I wouldn't say annoying or interesting. Maybe...unnecessary?

michelle von euw
6.28.02 @ 9:11a

I disagree with Matt. The Cute Boyfriend is like your signature - I miss him when he isn't referenced in your columns.

jael mchenry
6.28.02 @ 9:27a

One more vote here for "signature."

lee anne ramsey
7.1.02 @ 3:18p

Thanks for the feedback. I get a lot of both sides, but I personally like the Cute Boyfriend thing.

lee anne ramsey
7.1.02 @ 3:58p

Please note in paragraph #5 that the word "car" should be "card" as in I take the card from the salesman, not the car.


lee anne ramsey
7.1.02 @ 3:59p

For the record let me also say that I hate it that I cannot directly address the critiques I get, especially when they are filled with questions.

matt morin
7.1.02 @ 4:22p

I don't feel like I necessarily have to answer questions I get in my critique. they just make me think more about what I wrote. If someone says "Why didn't you do it this way? it makes me think about why I didn't. If I have a valid reason for the way I did it, I don't really feel the need to defend myself. And if I look at that question and think, well yeah, that way probably would have been better, then I'll remember it for next time.

Although I'm sure it's a bit different with this column, because I bet you had a million people asking "So, what kind of car did you get?"

lee anne ramsey
7.1.02 @ 4:27p

I totally agree that some questions make you think and apply those lessons to your next piece. Some questions are factual misunderstandings. Now, that could possibly be my fault for not being clear in my writing style. In one case, it was a typo. In another case, after re-reading the offending paragraph, I feel like the reader just skimmed and did not bother to actually read the words I wrote.

Irregahdless, I realize that I don't like the fact that I cannot directly address every critique without feeling like a whiny brat.

joe procopio
7.1.02 @ 4:37p

You shouldn't ever defend your writing. Writing is fluid, sure, but the words are there on paper. If you have to defend those words, then you either didn't make them clear enough or someone didn't read them correctly. Either way, defending yourself gets you no further.

Last month, the majority of people who read my column critiqued it, good and bad, as if it was a movie review when I was sure it was not. The fact is, enough people said it, so it was a movie review. I'll learn from that and move on.

lee anne ramsey
7.1.02 @ 5:05p

Well, there was a typo that I hadn't noticed until today.

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