Dena Kouremetis

Personal Blog

A Case of Being Careful What You Wish For..... in Cars, Anyway

For as much time I have spent occupying this earth, how did I not see this coming? When my daughter was about to sell her almost-new luxury car in favor of a utility vehicle, I was beside myself with concern that her stunning piece of automotive jewelry would not remain in the family.

Shame on me. I coveted her car. So she gave it to me.

My baby girl is an amazingly generous person, but aside from her nostalgia over it being her first luxury car, her main reason for simply handing it over to me was that she wanted me to be safe. I was driving a two-seater sports car that had racked up the miles and she was concerned about my treks to SoCal to see her. Deeply touched., I soon I flew down to  her half of California to drive her gorgeous car home like a person who had just won the Lotto. 

For one year I drove that car -- one that did not appear to belong in my Sacramento suburb. Did it make head turns? Absolutely. In fact on several occasions I found people waiting for me in parking lots where the car was parked just to tell me how gorgeous it was. And they were right. Every time I got behind the wheel it felt elegant. It was white, it was sleek, it had curves and it gleamed.

It also felt uncomfortable in ways that had nothing to do with looks or physical comfort. The car was huge – at least as long as many SUVs and a good foot longer than most sedans – and I was accustomed to a very used-but-nimble little 2-seater sports car. I misjudged the distance to curbs. Blind spots abounded because of its fast-back design. I trembled each time I parked it. And this was despite (and because of) a small TV dash monitor that audibly warned me how close I was to objects, including the Starbucks drive-through window.  All this was bearable, however, since I rationalized that I would master it over time. Then the deal changer happened.

After I parked the car the first night upon reaching a recent road trip destination, one of the tires went flat. Normally I would not be terrified about needing a new tire. But these high performance car tires each cost as much as a round trip business class ticket to JFK. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the tire was not really damaged and could be easily repaired, but in my mind I began to do a “pile on.” Reasons to not keep this car began to add up: the high cost of regular maintenance, my inability to get used to maneuvering the car in small spaces, the cost of insurance, the price tag on brakes and all the other things that can happen to a car that is no longer covered by a warranty – something that would happen in another 10,000 miles – and I began to understand that despite my penchant to LOOK as if I were a moneyed person, I simply was -- NOT.  I would always be a big phony driving a car I had never earned except for having given birth to a successful kid.

After discussing this with her, she was gracious and acknowledged my reasoning, thank God. And soon I began looking around for another car. I missed running around in a convertible, but this time I decided to hunt for one that had a rear seat and was a bit larger than my last one to honor my daughter's wish for more safety. So I called my old mechanic who specialized in the brand of car I liked. He told me about the models he considered the most reliable and I took it from there.

The hunt begins ...

Before you judge me for being a woman unversed in judging good car flesh, let me give you some background. I grew up with brothers, had a hustler of an ex-husband that taught me everything I needed to know about cars and had long ago learned how to buy a pre-owned vehicle. I look for flawless cars 3 – 6 years old. This means NO dings, NO prior accidents, a pristine interior, new car smell, all service records, one owner, ridiculously low mileage for its age, and newer tires and brakes. I am willing to pay high Blue BookEdmunds or Car Guru pricing for something that has had an anal-retentive owner who – believe it or not -- cares where the car ends up. I know the feeling because that is the kind of car owner I am. The looks people give me as I sit on an upturned paint bucket detailing my car wheels on my own driveway is enough to know I am not like most chick car owners.

Finding that perfect used car, however, takes patience and fortitude. I scour only warm weather states for just the color, condition, make and model I want. It’s like looking for that perfect dress in that perfect color for the occasion. Having driven a car that was clearly a head-spinner, however, I was hooked. I knew I must wear my next car with pride because I kind of got used to the attention. My bad.

After a week or so of searching locally, I found one on Craigslist that appealed to me in -- of all places -- Las Vegas, a destination we were just about to visit in honor of our ten-year wedding anniversary. How fortuitous! According to the articulate way it was described (yes, this matters to me...) it ticked off every box I mentioned and then some. But his price was high, even according to the figure various car-judging web sites that indicate what cars in “excellent” condition should command. So the dance began.

At first, I wrote the owner one of those anonymous Craigslist notes. In it, after some banter back and forth, I told him the high watermark price I would be willing to pay if the car was everything he represented. It made allowances for the extras he said were of value, but it did not reach the price he was asking. He said he was out of town, would be returning in a few days from the east coast, but did not address my potential offer. Still, he remained in communication. We agreed that I would try to see the car the evening we arrived in Las Vegas.

As it turned out, we arrived later than anticipated. To be polite, I texted the car owner that we would not make it there until the next day; if he already had a solid buyer, do not wait for me. I followed that with a frown-y face so he would know I would be sad that the car might escape my capture. The seller told me how many people had seen it and how many people wanted to see it, but said he wanted to offer me first right of refusal since I had come so far to see it. To me, anyway, that meant NO one had brought up the dollar figure I had. Then he told me someone else was coming to see it after I did. That’s when I had to (tactfully) state my terms: I would not be strung out all week while he entertained other offers on the car. If my offer was not accepted on the spot, he could kiss it goodbye.  After some time went by and dots on our texts continued to flash, he agreed and said he wanted his gorgeous little car to go to a good home. I was 90% there. Communication is, to me anyway, everything.

When I go to see a used car from a private party, I always judge the car by the neighborhood in which it resides. In this case, his house was stunning. The moment the car owner opened his 4-car garage door, I noticed that this vehicle occupied space on a perfectly epoxy’d garage floor capable of being graced with knife, fork, and a folded cloth napkin. I barely had to walk around the car once to see it was everything I wanted. We struck our deal and did the bureaucratic paperwork we had to in order to bring an out-of-state car into California. And the next day (after some hearty winnings at the craps table that paid for our entire anniversary trip) we caravanned home. As I drove my new friend home, I reveled in being able to see the front of my vehicle, how nimbly it handled and how its smaller size suited my tastes and driving capacities.

Why am I telling you all this? Perhaps it’s because I like to share stories of lessons I’ve learned as well as convince myself I am still pretty good at buying used cars. Or maybe it's just my way of admitting that not all that glitters is gold.