For the three days preceding January 30th, I didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. and was barely able to concentrate on anything except Car Matters. Purchasing a vehicle is a rare and momentous occasion for me and an occasion that I always look forward to, like a professional musician looks forward to a once-in-a-lifetime performance. And not unlike many musicians, I was incredibly nervous about it. When you keep a car as long as I do (8 to 10 years on average), during the purchase process you have to pick the right car. So I filled my head with research, statistics, option packages, production figures and bargaining strategies. Filled to the point where I was living, sleeping and breathing Charger Facts.
So when Wednesday, January 30th finally dawned and I got up ready to spend the entire day car shopping, I was bound and determined to get a right proper deal for the perfect car. All I had to do was select that car.
I’ve previously detailed my encounters with two of the pre-owned Dodge Chargers for sale in the DFW area, each of them a fully-loaded R/T Max from model year 2012. Charger One was a Tungsten Gray Metallic vehicle with almost no cosmetic blemishes but a few issues nonetheless, the largest of which was the luxury car dealer it belonged to and their typical-luxury-car-dealer fees and add-ons. Charger Two was a black beauty which immediately stopped being beautiful the instant you got close enough to realize that it was being woefully neglected and was an utter mess inside. I all but wrote off Charger Two completely, but Charger One was a nice machine and I’m sure I would have been very happy owning it.
But it was the third vehicle on my short list, Charger Three, that really had my attention. In fact, it was the first Charger that I actually put on the short list, not to mention the first from the 2012 model year (previously I had assumed that we could only afford a 2011 or older). It was from reviewing the listing for Charger Three that I realized I could actually get into a 2012, but that they were all former rentals, and the thought of buying a former fleet car had always been an utter anathema to me. But with a car so new, that still had so much manufacturer warranty left, wasn’t most of the risk mitigated? I even had an email conversation with my dad, the recognized automotive expert of the family, to get his opinion (and, as it happened, approval) on the matter.
Charger Three had a whole litany of things that made it more attractive than any other 2012 Charger for sale in my price bracket: it had the fewest miles, it had the latest build date, it had the Beats™ audio system (“custom tuned by Dr. Dre himself”), and it was Pitch Black — my favorite color (and Mrs. Oddball’s too). It was being offered by Grubbs Nissan, a family-owned dealership out in Bedford, TX, and therein lay the problem: it was about an hour’s drive away from me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down there when I could just as easily go fight for a deal on the perfectly acceptable Charger One instead.
There were also other oddities based on what I could observe from Charger Three’s listing. The asking price seemed low enough (it was cheaper than average by about $1,000) that I worried there was something wrong with it, especially when the dealership cut another whole grand off the sticker just hours before I went to look at the car. In the listing photos, one of the tires had strange brown discoloration on the tread and looked unusually worn. And when I started looking up reviews of the dealership, I found that Yelp had published only four reviews, all of which were negative and talked about bait-and-switch tactics (i.e., offer a great Internet price on a car that would turn out to be “unavailable” when you went in to see it, replaced instead by a lesser vehicle with a higher price).
However, in the end, I told Mrs. Oddball that while Charger One was nice, I absolutely could not go after it without seeing Charger Three first, despite the trip involved and the skeevy feeling I was getting about the car’s sales listing. So I made plans to set off on Wednesday morning and see Charger Three early, which would give me enough time to go back and work a deal on Charger One if my fears were proven true.
Armed with Chief Oddball’s patented Used Car Testing Kit in convenient backpack form factor, which included fluid checking rags, a flashlight for inspecting the undercarriage, a binder of documents, a USB cable to test the car’s audio input and an inspection checklist, I headed for Bedford, blasting Jerry Reed on the GTO’s stereo (I had a long way to go and a short time to get there).
Meeting Charger Three (and the Staff at Grubbs)
As I approached Grubbs Nissan, I got my first inkling of a valid reason for their low asking price on Charger Three. The highway leading past the dealership was torn all to pieces, under construction so massive that most of the exits and onramps had been completely deleted. In fact, the exit where I was supposed to get off simply no longer existed. I crawled through the stop-and-go traffic to the next exit, got off and wound my way through single-lane blacktop frontage roads fenced in with concrete walls and covered with dust. It was an utter disaster area.
When I got to the dealer, the “Construction Sale” banner hanging over the showroom offered further evidence of a need for low asking prices: the way things were going out here, it would have been a miracle if anyone had happened to make it onto the showroom floor. Sure enough there were almost zero customers, so I parked my GTO in a convenient corner space near the door and gathered my supplies.
I didn’t even have to go inside before I was met by Shone Alestock, the sales rep whom I’d made my appointment with the day before. After some friendly introductions he brought the Charger around for me to look at. It was coated with a rained-on layer of brown construction dust — the same stuff that seemed to be on everything around here — but underneath that, a coat of deep gloss black paint gleamed, as if it were waiting to be set free from its shackles of dirt. I briefly inspected the exterior, noting a small dimple on the front fascia (it looked like somebody had bumped the car against a trailer hitch receiver) before deciding to table my observations until the car could be cleaned up.
I went under the hood next, finding a much more attractive engine bay with a spotless 5.7L Hemi V8 situated in the middle of it. Fluids looked good, oil was clean and didn’t smell of fuel, so after a walkaround I decided to take the car out for a spin.
We rode around town, which unfortunately wasn’t terribly exciting thanks to the exigent construction. But I did make sure to find occasion to take the car up to 70 MPH on a relatively clear stretch of highway, which also gave me the opportunity to test the Adaptive Cruise Control (it was working fine). Back in town, I tested the auto-stick shifting, the brakes, the steering and a handful of convenience features as we wound our way through Bedford’s relatively low-speed streets. So far I wasn’t able to find anything wrong with the car, and it definitely had the most flawless interior of all the Chargers I’d looked at. Even the PRND window on the floor console was perfect, where all the others had been scratched up or even cracked.
Back at the dealer, I asked for some time to really look over the car and test its features in detail. This process took about 30-45 minutes, in which I ran through the checklist I’d made beforehand of all the stuff that needed to be checked. I ran into trouble pairing my iPhone 5 to the Charger’s UConnect 8.4N entertainment system, and momentarily thought I had found the car’s first problem until I hopped on the Internet (thank heaven for smartphones) and found a suggestion to clear out the UConnect’s list of paired Bluetooth devices. After doing that, and then “rebooting” the system by turning the ignition off and back on again, the pairing process completed successfully. (It’s kind of funny how cars are becoming more and more like the computers we use on a daily basis. To tell the truth, I’m much better equipped to troubleshoot electronic oddities like this one than anything under the hood.)
Mechanically everything seemed to check out as well. The tires seemed to have good tread (and the brown stuff I’d observed on them in the listing photos was very obviously mud from the construction dust that had gotten into everything). The brakes looked good. There were no fluids dripping from under the car or from the suspension components. The undercarriage looked brand new. The engine ran smoothly and quietly. With my inspection completed, I asked for the car to be taken through the wash so I could examine the paint more closely.
With the dirt freshly removed, I found a few more minor blemishes on the outside. There were two or three paint chips on the edge of the driver’s door and one on the quarter panel behind the rear door on the same side. There were also some scuffs and scratches on the top of the rear bumper, probably where former rental drivers had hefted their luggage before dropping it into the trunk. And another dimple adorned the left edge of the rear license plate cutout where somebody had probably backed into something. These blemishes all seemed minor and most of them were repairable, so they didn’t bother me — especially in light of the fact that the occasionally careless behavior of the car’s one-time operators hadn’t seemed to carry over to the interior, on which there was not a scratch anywhere.
Speaking of which, the car’s navigation history (conference centers, airport terminals, midrange hotels) and radio presets (CNBC, news talk) all spoke of a rental clientele consisting of mainly businesspeople. The car had operated as either a Hertz or Avis rental at Kansas City airport and had spent its entire 6-month life there, so I knew it had never seen snow. As rentals go, this looked like a fairly low-risk situation.
Having run through everything I could think of and getting green lights at every turn, and having called a Dodge dealer and verified (via VIN) that the car’s warranty was still in force, I decided that Charger Three was coming home with me.
Working The Deal
I had spent days preparing to negotiate for a fair (or even really good) deal on a Charger. I’m confident that I would have needed to use everything I’d learned from these strategies had I made an offer on Charger One. But at Grubbs, the asking price of $26,900 was fair enough that if there were no abnormal fees below the line, I saw no reason to challenge it. Before talking about the price of the car, I asked for a clear representation of all extra charges and fees so that I would know what my negotiating position should be.
I half expected the “below the line fees” to be the magic bullet where the dealer would try to take back massive profit. But Grubbs surprised me again by charging fairly reasonable doc fees and by not trying to add on any “bullshit taxes” like the $599 window tint charge being insisted upon by the sellers of Charger One. In the end, the only concession I felt compelled to ask for was a discount for the fact that the car only had one key fob instead of the original two; this was especially important in light of the fact that the memory seat and mirror positions can be linked to a key fob for greater convenience.
Another call was placed to the local Dodge dealer, who priced out a new key fob at $200 programming inclusive. Grubbs offered to meet me halfway on this cost and I decided I could live with that. With the final obstacle cleared, I needed only to sign a handful of documents and meet with a finance manager in the next building to complete the purchase. About 45 minutes later I had the keys in one hand and an envelope with my copy of the signed contract and buyer’s receipt in the other. The whole purchasing process was done so quickly that it actually took longer for the shop guys to clean and detail the car. (Of course, it helped that Mrs. Oddball and I had already pre-arranged financing before I set out.)
I chatted at bit with the sales floor manager while I waited for my Charger to be brought around after its bath and manicure, and let’s just say that some of what he said put those four negative Yelp reviews in perspective. And this jived with what I had begun to discover over the last couple of days; after reading a ton of used car dealer horror stories online to prepare for anything that might be thrown at me, it occurred to me that a lot of people are just idiots. I’d see countless complaints from buyers about how they got screwed, shortly after they admit that they didn’t read Word One of the contract they signed or did other unconscionably stupid things like purchase a car with the Check Engine light on or what-have-you. That combined with the reputation a lot of reviewers on Yelp have, and I think I can understand how those negative reviews would represent an exception more than a rule.
In the end, I was very happy with the entire car buying process at Grubbs, and enjoyed working with Shone almost as much as our old buddy Damon from Red Holman Pontiac back in Michigan. That’s really saying something.
Bringing Her Home
I had an unmitigated blast driving back to Oddball Headquarters.
The Charger’s Garmin navigation system is simply the cat’s meow. It’s easily the best built-in vehicle nav system I’ve ever used, head and shoulders above the units employed by Ford. After accidentally forgetting that I was no longer driving a TollTag-equipped car, I got off the George Bush Turnpike and reset the nav system to avoid toll roads. It quickly rerouted me through surface streets and back to a familiar port of call, and the entire way there I felt like I was driving the Starship Enterprise.
Seriously, I just jumped eight and a half years in automotive technology — our Mazda didn’t even have a 3.5mm auxiliary input on its sound system. By comparison, the Charger represented a sensory overload of features and functionality, from its blind spot detection and ParkView rear camera to its satellite radio tuner and heated/cooled cupholders. Even the steering wheel can be heated on cold winter mornings, a feature the likes of which I’d never even heard of. Under the hood, the Charger R/T’s Hemi powerplant and just-tight-enough suspension offer an excellent facsimile of a cushy luxury car ride with instant Ridiculous Speed™ available at the slightest press of the accelerator, accompanied by that unforgettable V8 sound. I was at the epicenter of a great collision between automotive power and cutting edge technology, two of my favorite things, a location known in some circles as Nirvana. Not even school dismissal time with its requisite 20 MPH traffic zones could wipe the shit-eating grin off my face that afternoon.
When I pulled into the driveway, Mrs. Oddball and Oddball Jr. heard me coming and came out to meet me, each wearing smiles as big as my own. “So beautiful!” were the first words out of Mrs. Oddball’s mouth as the Pitch Black Charger with its chrome wheels and grille came rolling into view. It was now 4:45 p.m., I hadn’t eaten all day and I had to go back out to Bedford that very evening with a coworker to pick up my GTO from the dealer lot, but I didn’t care. The Great Dodge Hunt had finally ended, and I had brought home a trophy suited for mounting. (Though I would much rather drive it than mount it.)
In the days since, we’ve gotten the car tweaked out with our settings of choice, including radio presets, memory seat configurations and all the other options offered in the UConnect system’s extensive settings menu. This morning I picked up a new TollTag and installed it, and then we all went out for a sushi lunch and then to do our weekly grocery shopping. Our son seemed to enjoy his new ride, in which I daresay he has a better view. We installed his car seat in the center of the Charger’s backseat, and while this is great for him, getting him in and out of the car is pretty tricky this way. I think I could get it down to a science, but we’re thinking we might move him back to one of the side seats until he’s big enough to sit facing forward. He’s not quite there yet.
I hinted to Mrs. Oddball that there’s never been a better time to ask me to go anywhere or do anything for her, given that I will take absolutely any excuse I can get to be behind the wheel of her new car. As a result, we may test our new car and its new TollTag by tripping down to Plano tomorrow to visit the Chinese grocery store. Later, we thought we’d cruise over to the large outdoor sports complex nearby and take our son for a walk amidst its lush greenery while most of the rest of the nation is at home preparing for the Super Bowl, which is this thing I understand a lot of people really care about.
This wonderfully successful week (one car sold, one car purchased) was capped off by an excellent annual review at work that included a sizable pay rise, as well as a car insurance rate recalculation that managed to save us almost 50%. As I joked to Mrs. Oddball last night, I think I should buy a lottery ticket before the luck wears off.
For now, I’m gonna head to bed. I’ll leave you with a gallery of pictures of our new Charger R/T, which I’ll probably be dreaming about until my next turn behind the wheel.