What My Car Said About Me

Time for a very shallow article! Should this really be in a real estate blog? It would be better in a teen magazine. In the end, it is about people’s impression of you and your business.

Not me…or my car

I had just graduated from high school. I was driving a red Nissan pickup but needed something more suited to taking me across the state for college. It was time to go car shopping. Let me tell you: I really can’t think of anything I less want to do than go shopping for cars. Prepare for endless vehicles with slightly different features, walking around a big cement parking lot in the heat with a salesman trying to be just annoying enough that you will buy a car already, and let him get on to the next customer.

My Dad helped me in this process and so we went to a used car dealership. There, I found out that a new car dealership was actually not the worst place in the world. At the new car dealership, a wise buyer does a bunch of research and can go in armed with prices and features necessary. At the used car dealership, you take what they give you or you walk away (as quickly as possible).

The salesmen give you a few minutes to look around before sauntering out to help you find the vehicle of your dreams. At a car dealership, it is caveat emptor, buyer beware. You know that the salesman’s job is to get the best deal for the dealership, not the best deal for you. You come in with your guard up and have a healthy fear that you will be tricked.

We ended up settling on a Red Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera circa 1993 with a bunch of scratches on the side. $5,000, what a deal!

You’ve seen this before. Picture it with dents in the hood.

Driving the Oldsmobile said that I was a discerning owner not worried about driving my grandpa’s car, and would pay no mind to door dings and spilt beverages. I could drive it in a ditch and not worry about the dents. The perfect car for a college kid.

Dad has some mechanical knowledge but we didn’t know what to check in a used car. The great deal we got would make up for any problems in the future. $5,000 cash and I was on the road.

It is unfortunate that we didn’t do some of the diligence that one gets for real estate purchases.  When buying a house, you are not a structural engineer, plumber, or electrician. You have no idea what’s under the hood, so to speak. You get an inspection, get insurance, any other specialists that are needed to help you make a good decision. Most cars are not as expensive as houses, but they are still a significant investment. Yet, we rely on the word of the used car salesman. It is baffling to me.

I drove the Oldsmobile for a year and the next summer between home and college, she threw a rod and I hitchhiked with a trucker to the next town. It would be $5,000 for a new engine or $3,000 for a remanufactured one. My generous parents helped me with the three grand plus a hotel room and I was back on the road the next day.

We talk about getting lucky with purchasing a car. If we weren’t lucky, then ‘we bought a lemon’. But we don’t say the same thing about a house. If something goes wrong with a house, we pay to get it fixed and if it was something big, then we are upset that we didn’t know about it before purchasing. We regret not doing our ‘due diligence’.

I drove that Olds for the next twelve years with only a few minor breakdowns, except that the remanufactured engine broke but was under warranty. The driver’s automatic window opener stopped working. I ran a wire from the cigarette lighter over the floor to the window switch and it started working again. The hood collected some dents from being sat on. The roof sank in a little from being sat on and started collecting water and would look dirty. That car continued to drive me through medical residency. I would never valet that car because it was too embarrassing. I ended up walking about as much as driving, with as far away as I had to park. I didn’t want to give people rides in the Olds because it was so beat up, inside and out.

The last straw was a silly one. It failed to start up one day and, finally, I had it. I had personally learned how to fix so many problems with that thing and I decided that I wasn’t going to fix one more. I put it up on Craigslist for $500, sold it for $400 as-is. The buyer got a new battery, put it in and drove off, probably to some happy college parties. I like to think the Olds lives on to this day, dents, scratches, exposed wires and all.

All of my college parties were like this.

I started making money and bought a used pickup which I still have today. I never did buy the expensive flashy new vehicle that a lot of doctors need.

There are some professions that need a nice-looking car and the purchase of a car for a real estate agent is a difficult one. That vehicle needs to say, “The owner is successful,” without saying, “The owner is greedy.” The vehicle gives an outward impression much like a person’s clothing. I didn’t realize that when I was younger. I dressed nice but drove a beat-up car. The car said I must have poor financial skills. The agent driving a junk car must not be able to sell houses.

What kind of car does the wealthy investor need? The investor probably doesn’t drive an expensive car. The investor knows that is a poor investment. He might buy a lemon that blows up in a year. He drives a car that looks nice and gets him where he needs to go. He doesn’t have to impress anyone. If it breaks, he can buy a new one without batting an eye. I’m not going to tell you what type of car to buy, but expensive or cheap, do think about what your car will to say to others. People will judge you.