Zero Down & Chocolate Chip Cookies by Diane Marquette

It’s said that some of the most traumatic events in life are death, divorce, and moving.  Add to that list replacing a beloved car.  

Recently I was faced with the daunting prospect of getting rid of my old, but increasingly unreliable car.  That car had been with me for fourteen years.  I don’t know what that adds up to in car years, but it was still surprisingly youthful in many respects.  I’d had it repainted during its middle-age years, and with a few nips and tucks here and there, it was still quite good-looking despite its advanced age.  It was a sporty little car, the kind that looks like it’s speeding even when it’s parked.

It had gotten me home safely through flooded roads during Hurricane Floyd.  It had bravely hugged the road for the twenty-five mile trip home one night on black ice.   We had traveled so many miles together that the odometer had given up counting, although I’m guessing 180,000 miles would be about right.  

Everything was fine until the car began having some serious mechanical problems.  The main area of concern was the cooling system -- radiator, thermostat, gauge, hoses, and water pump.  The same mechanic has done almost all the work ever done on this car since I first bought it.  He knew it better than I did.  But when it started spending more time in his garage than in mine, it seemed time to face the reality that its days were probably numbered.  Could I find another car that I would like as much?  Another car that would give me fourteen years of wonderful service and companionship?  I had very strong doubts.  

With mixed emotions, I began to research new cars.  I half-heartedly looked at dealer ads in the newspaper.  On parking lots, I forced myself to notice new cars.  I even listened to those annoying commercials for car dealers.  On the Internet I became educated about how and how not to buy a car.  I looked at my budget and talked to my husband.  I felt a little better prepared to begin this project, but still procrastinated.

However, after a particularly frustrating week with my old car, I decided to visit a few dealers.  Armed with my notebook, my calculator, and a lot of dread, I drove to one dealer’s lot.  It was early evening.  In the setting sun, all the new cars looked the same color.  Their windshields shouted numbers and features at me.    I was already confused and overwhelmed, and I hadn’t even gotten out of my car.  I decided it would be best to come back another time.  

Unfortunately, I had been spotted by a salesman sitting on a bench just outside the showroom.  He greeted me, and seemed friendly enough.  I decided to stay for a few minutes, telling myself I’d just look around a little bit to be polite, and then leave.  We sat at his desk and he asked just enough questions to determine my needs, my tastes, and my budget.  To my surprise, I began to feel that we were on the same side; as if we had the same goal – to get me into a new car and not pay too much for it.  

The manufacturer had been running an unprecedented promotion – zero money down and zero percent interest on financing for up to five years.  The salesman had to repeat this information for me several times before I believed it was true.  Because of this promotion, the dealer didn’t have too many cars left like the model I was interested in.   We walked out to the lot and he showed me a car that had all the features I’d requested, and many more.  After a brief test drive, I found myself picturing this car in my garage.  I made some notes, collected a few brochures, and left saying that I had just begun looking, and would possibly be in touch later.

Before leaving, I slowly drove by the new car I had just test-driven.  Was this my next car?  How would I know if it was the right one?  Should I keep looking?  Whenever faced with a dilemma such as this, I often ask for a sign that I’m doing the right thing, or maybe just a little push to get me going in the right direction.  I didn’t have long to wait – on the way home, my old car overheated.  Thank you, Lord.

The next day, I made the decision to continue shopping around.  That resolve lasted about two hours – until the salesman I’d met the night before called to say that for that day only, the price on the car I liked was reduced by several hundred dollars.  Was this another sign?  He stated that at zero down, zero interest, and now a reduced price, that car wouldn’t be there long.  It took about six minutes for me to decide.  I called him back and told him I was on my way.

Within the next forty-five minutes at the dealership, my loan was approved before the ink had dried on the application, I signed my name six times, and even met the service manager. The new car was mine!  No money down!  No interest!  Sixty months to pay!  How could it get any better that that?  I drove my new car home that evening.  I felt it was the car that I was meant to have, and never had any regrets that I had not looked at any other cars.  

The first car payment wasn’t due for six weeks.  During that time, my husband would look at my new car, and say, “Let me get this straight.  They let you drive that car away, and you didn’t pay them anything?  You didn’t give them any money at all?  They essentially gave you that car?”  And I would answer, “Yes, it’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

The salesman told me that the manufacturer would mail me a questionnaire asking me to evaluate their service during the transaction.  But the first thing I received from them was a tin of chocolate chip cookies to show their appreciation for my business.  I justified eating a few cookies in case there was a question on the form about them.  (There wasn’t.)

My new car and I have bonded.  My husband is proud (and relieved) that I handled the entire transaction without him.  And my old car?  My mechanic bought it.