It’s about time you got here! I’ve got so much more to teach you about buying a car!

Did you miss the first three lessons? Click here.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. It was 1990 and we had just gotten screwed, buying our little blue truck.

In 1991 we moved to Wisconsin. We still had the Dodge Shadow (the one without the cassette player) and decided that we really wanted to get something else. We weren’t sure what that something else would be, so we just started “doing research” by going around to different dealers and checking out what they had to offer. That brings me to lesson four.

Lesson #4: Don’t settle, and trust your gut.

It had been four years since we had last bought a brand-new car, and that fact plus the amount of rent we were paying on our new home (which, though small, was an actual HOUSE) made us realize that perhaps we weren’t going to find a car that we liked which was within our price range. We had a monthly payment amount in mind, and were prepared to negotiate our socks off to get what we wanted.

The problem? Cars were more expensive now, and we couldn’t budge the dealers on the price as much as we needed to in order to be able to afford something we both liked.

We ended up at a Honda dealership, and found a Civic that we really liked. Problem: it being a Honda meant the cost was higher. After we tried our best to get something for practically nothing, our “genius” salesman came up with a brilliant idea: Leasing.

Leasing a car was a fairly new concept in the early 90s, and the jury was still out at that time regarding whether it was a rip-off or not. We had been at the dealership for a while by this point and really liked the car alot (because we didn’t keep our emotions out of it: we were worn down). After listening to the terms of the lease, the main point being that our actual monthly payment was where we needed it to be, we decided to go ahead with it. I gave the salesman the keys to the Shadow and he sent it back for evaluation, because we were trading it in.

When he brought us the paperwork that had all the facts and figures on it, I started to have anxiety about the situation. And then I flashed back to a moment in the late 1970s:

We had moved to Texas, and my parents were having our home built. They chose a model that they thought would be great, and when everything was getting finalized, my mom started to freak out a little bit. I remember her telling my dad that she didn’t feel right about it; maybe this wasn’t the right house. I remember being annoyed because I was about ten and Julesie and I had been left to our own devices in this empty model home for what seemed like days while our parents talked to the people about our future house, and here was my mom having second thoughts in a major way. My parents pulled out on that house, and we ended up with another one, crabby and inconvenienced Me notwithstanding. I remember my mom’s anxiety attack over it like it was yesterday and because of it, I now put lots of faith in my own gut as well.

So I read the leasing paperwork on the Civic, and started to freak out. I looked good and hard at the amount we needed to put down, the amount we would have left to pay after the leasing period if we wanted to keep the car, and all of that other fine detail, and I decided it was NOT the right thing to do. I pulled Jim aside and told him that I couldn’t do it, and after a few minutes of him trying to talk me off the ledge, we went to the salesman and told him that we were out. He tried to change our minds, of course, but I was already set against it. He was quite persistent, and it made me angrier and angrier by the minute. I asked him for the keys to our Dodge Shadow, and he wasn’t making any moves to get them, still trying to convince us to go through with the lease. Finally, I raised my voice at him: “I WANT OUR KEYS. NOW.” He finally got the message and slowly walked away, retrieving my ticket out of that place.

It turned out to be a great decision, not leasing that Civic. For one thing, 1991 was the last year of the 2nd generation of Civics: they were totally redone the following year. More importantly, we found out within weeks of this catastrophe that I was pregnant with our first child–and those hormones probably fed some of my rage, come to think of it–and a Civic would have been too small in the end.

We ended up keeping the Dodge Shadow for two more years. In 1993 we decided that it was time to drive something that told the world we were parents: a minivan. We did some advanced investigating and decided on the Dodge Caravan. We planned to drive a little north of Milwaukee to a Dodge dealership we hadn’t visited before. We had to do our car-buying after Jim got off work in the evening, which ended up working for us in a major way, and that brings me to lesson five.

Lesson #5: Shop for and buy your car LATE.

By the time we got to the dealership after eating dinner and taking the baby to my parents’ house, it was nearly 9:00 p.m. They were due to close at 10:00, which was a happy accident for us because it basically cut out all of the “let me ask my manager” trips that our salesman would have made, had we arrived earlier.

As an added bonus, we happened to be there on the last day of September. If you know anything about sales, you know that salespeople almost always have a monthly quota. In the auto industry, not only do salespeople have monthly quotas, but the dealership has monthly quotas. Also, if I’m not mistaken, the amount of money a dealership has to pay for insurance on all the vehicles on the lot is determined at the beginning of each month, so it’s in their best interests to keep cars moving out quickly, especially at month’s end.

So, one hour prior to closing on the last day of the month equals the Optimal Time to Buy a Car. It worked for us, anyway. After finding a Caravan that had a few thousand miles on it because someone at the dealership had been driving it around town (and it was still considered “new”), we were ready to negotiate. Our salesman, who I really got a good vibe from anyway (and trust me, that doesn’t happen often for me at a car dealership), basically leaned forward across his desk and said to us, “We close in an hour and I don’t really want to be here late. Why don’t you tell me what your bottom line is and I’ll see what I can do?”

And we did. And he did. And we were out of that dealership WITH our new van by 10:10 p.m.

Wheels of progress.

It was, to that point, the best car-buying experience for us, ever.

I’ve got three more lessons for you: click here to get them!