Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stupid, Costly and Unnecessary: Lessons I learned While Buying A Car

I've always been a mobile person. When I was 16 I bought my first car, a 1978 Datsun b210. Since then, I've rarely been without a vehicle. They've almost all been used, most of them purchased through dealers with a smattering of private owners. I've done it enough times that I know most of the hoops and what to expect.

My experience with Honda of Seattle was an entirely different level of hell that I didn't see coming. The worst part is, there were multiple times where either my bank or Honda of Seattle could have made things so much easier on everyone. Instead, there was yelling, frustration, hours spent on the phone, much of it on hold and one less customer that Honda of Seattle will see repeat business from.

Let's start at the beginning. I'd sold my last car awhile back. Since my partner and I were sharing a car, working at my new job had become a bit of a juggling act with our schedule. After a few months though, I'd saved up a decent chunk of money and I felt I had enough to afford a car payment on something reasonable.

I decided to contact my bank, BECU (Boeing Employees Credit Union) and apply for a car loan. I got a "pre-approval" for a loan for a much larger amount than I really needed. There was an attached list of stipulations for the pre-approval which I only glanced over, because I didn't even know what car I wanted yet. (NOTE - This was where problem number one occurred. I'll come back to it.)

I found a decent little Honda at Honda of Seattle that met one of the primary loan conditions - that the car be under 150K miles. It was a 1999 Honda Civic. After a little more shopping around and a brief mental cool down, I decided to make the leap.

My partner and I drove down and took the car for a test drive. My last car had been a 96 Civic, so I was familiar with the model and new what to look for. Having said that, I also expected a dealership to be upfront about any potential issues or problems. They were not. The salesman told me that the AC 'ran cool, not cold' and that they 'didn't want to do a Freon charge because it would jack up the sticker price significantly'. Okay, not a big deal. Upon test driving, we found that the AC wasn't 'cool' it was just a fan. That's alright. This is Seattle, I can survive without cold air.

Next, I told them that I had a pre-approved loan from my bank. They said they had a 'easy' service where they would handle talking to the bank and make all of the arrangements. I provided them with my info and waited. When he returned with the paperwork, he did something that set off my sleazy alarm. There was a large piece of paper with numbers on it that was mostly covered up by a brochure of some sort. I immediately felt like the brochure was hiding something. He went over numbers in the far right column, talking about services, taxes, fees, insurances, blah blah. Total cost came to $8660. Now, that might not seem like much until you consider that the sticker price on the car was $4990.

He casually said there were other 'packages' available. All of which were laid out underneath the brochure. The most well-hidden column came to $5600. I gave him an un-amused look and took the cheapest package.

Not long after, I drove away in my new Honda. They'd been a little on the sleazy end, but things had gone pretty smoothly all things considered and I left happy with my new purchase. This however was where the dealership had royally screwed me.

A day passed.

I got a call from Honda of Seattle asking if I'd enjoyed my experience with them and if I was satisfied with my car. I said I was. Although, I'd also discovered that the alarm system and locks were wonky. I'm still not sure if anything will actually set the car alarm off. They could have mentioned that to me.

Another day passed.

Off from work, I decided to take a trip out and buy a new phone. Yay, new phone to replace my barely working Galaxy S2! I got everything changed over and it was all good.

I got a call from Honda of Seattle, but I was working. They didn't leave a voice mail. The next day they called while I was still in bed but again didn't leave a voice mail. It was later that day I realized that I hadn't set up my new voice mail. I did so.

The next morning I had an email from my salesman saying that my loan had not been approved. I had to provide proof of a $2500 charge off. Or I could refinance through Wells Fargo and pay a higher monthly rate and forget the whole thing.

WHAT? I already signed all of the agreements. They'd told me that they would handle communicating with the bank. Why would you give someone a car if you hadn't approved their loan?

I called my salesman - got voice mail. Called him again later. He explained that BECU had declined my loan because I had an unpaid credit cards from a few years back. Okay, great, but why was I finding out about this days after I'd driven away with the car? He didn't have answers and told me I'd have to talk to the bank. So much for the dealership handling the situation.

My bank was only slightly better. They pointed out that one of the things on the list of conditions for my loan approval was 'proof of charge offs', which, to be honest, in the context of a loan application, I had no clue as to the meaning of. But ...okay. My next question to him was "Instead of telling me that I'm pre-approved for a loan with a bunch of asterisks on it, why not tell me that you're NOT approved for a loan UNTIL these conditions are met?"

Silence. "But it says on there ...."

Yes, I know what it says on there. It's misleading. So I asked him, if the charge off was cleared, I'd be approved for the loan? Yes, he says. Especially since it was for so much less than the $9000 they'd originally approved me for. He also mentioned something briefly about having qualified for $4300 once I was cleared of the charge off. But honestly, I wasn't listening at that point because I was thinking about my credit score and the charge off.

Now, my credit card debt was something I could write an entirely different blog post about. It's the only outstanding debt I currently have and it's been sold to a third party collector. After contacting them, I was told that I could pay off the debt of $2500 for a single $805 dollar payment. I considered it. It would severely deplete all the savings I'd worked on, but it would get me my car and clear my debt in one swoop.

The problem? The debt collector would 'post my payment immediately and send me a letter that it was paid.' Wait...Will my bank and the dealership have access to this information immediately? She didn't know. I called my bank. It was fuzzy. They weren't sure when they would learn that it was charged off. 'As soon as we get confirmation.'

I was not falling for that.

I called the dealership and spoke with someone in the finance department. I hoped  for supportive and friendly from him. I expected courteous and professional. What I got was rude and accusatory. This man basically took the stance that I was trying to put one over on him and that the situation wasn't his problem. All I had to do was take the Wells Fargo financing at a mere $10 more a month and this problem would be solved. Never mind the fact that I didn't want to bank with Wells Fargo because I hate big banks and that $10 over 48 months is an extra $480 dollars. I'm sure that's pocket change to that man, but to me, it's a lot of money.

I asked him repeatedly, why they'd given me the car if my loan hadn't been approved. Things escalated back and forth to yelling. He accused me of giving him a bad phone number because he couldn't leave a voice mail. Like I was ducking him. I couldn't get a straight answer. It was always things like 'I've been doing business this way for 25 years!' Well, it's a dumb ass way of doing business.

In the course of the yelling he revealed that the bank had only approved me for $2900, regardless of the charge off. It was the first time that number had been mentioned to me. I tried to get him to answer me where all of the rest of the money was supposed to come from if I'd only been approved for $2900. I also realized that my bank had mentioned something about a $4300, which also wasn't enough for the price of the car. It was all just a choreographed shit show.

My bank messed up. If they'd been just a little more helpful and a little more straight forward, I wouldn't have even gone out shopping for a car.

The dealership messed up. They gave me a car, had me sign paperwork that they KNEW wasn't valid. Then they acted like it was my fault when things didn't go they way they'd told me. Of course they didn't! Everyone was bullshitting everyone else.

I messed up. I should have read and understood the fine print on my pre-approval and understood that nothing is as it seems when dealing with banks or car dealerships.

There was only one winner in this whole scenario and it's easy to spot who it is. The finance guy at Honda of Seattle spelled it out perfectly. 'I contacted them when you're loan didn't go through because we do millions of dollars in business with them every year. They don't usually help with loans this small but they did you a favor.'

Wells Fucking Fargo.  Guest surprise villain!

The salesman droned on at me for a good five minutes about how wrong I was and how this was all my fault and if I'd just come in and sign the paperwork it would all be over.

"Fine. Enough. I'll be there soon." I hung up, went in and signed the new loan. They won. The alternative was to give the car back and start the process over, which would have been something I could have handled if I'd not already put a tank of gas in the car, paid for insurance, dealt with registration (a service that Honda of Seattle actually handled for me at the point of sale, which is darkly hilarious) and adjusted my schedule with Jen so that we no longer had to rely on one car.

All of it - and I mean all of it - would have been at least vaguely okay, if the jack ass at Honda of Seattle hadn't been such a self righteous, arrogant prick.

My bank lost out on a loan, I'm thoroughly pissed at everyone involved, Honda of Seattle got their sale but certainly lost a customer. Wells Fargo on the other hand gets the money. And that's today's lesson.