Unhealthy Coping Strategies and Car Shopping: A Dangerous Combination

It’s a surprise Saturday post! Or, I should say, it’s a Friday post that needed an extra day to come together!

It’s been a busy start to the school year. September is always a bit of a wild ride with getting to know a new class, remembering to pack a lunch, and adjusting back to the daily grind, but this September was particularly busy. One week into the school year, my car died.

The Ally/dude-spouse and I had been preparing to replace our beast of a vehicle. The week prior, we had actually started checking out dealerships, going on test-drives. It was as if our car knew it was destined for a trade-in, and in one final act of vehicular vengeance, slew itself in our back lot in much the same way it had a little over a year ago (during what was supposed to be a romantic weekend in Saskatoon).

I wish I could say I handled this with grace and dignity, but those would come later. At the time, I lost it. I’m not a person who handles sudden changes in their personal life well. Professionally, sure, I can improvise. Get challenged by a student in class? No problem. Break-up a fight? I got it covered. Take control of a room? I’m your lady. But create even the slightest ripples of instability in my personal life, and I’m a mess, and I was definitely a mess the day the car died. The Ally was out of town and had no way of getting home; I had to be in Regina the next day for an appointment; there were no rental places or garages open. I was a mess.

I have two more methods for dealing with stress after my initial freak-out. The first is to aggressively attack the situation with as many solutions as I can think of. The second is to withdraw entirely – physically, mentally, emotionally. Every waking thought is spent fixating on what needs to be done and how I will do it, replaying through scenarios of increasing unlikelihood until the situation is resolved. Neither of these methods are particularly healthy, and I’m working on them, but if the past three weeks are any indication, I still have a lot of work to do.

After securing a rental vehicle and making it into Regina for my appointment, the Ally began our search for a new car. We decided to go with new because of our lack of resources and know-how about vehicles. I wanted a warranty and security; he wanted me to have some stability. We were both looking forward to having a reliable vehicle.

Nevertheless, the process of buying a new vehicle is just about the most absurd thing I have ever done. No lie.

I did my research beforehand: I consulted websites and blog posts with car-buying hacks, I consulted with relatives and friends who have worked with and around cars; the Ally and I went to numerous dealerships, test-drove so many vehicles that by the end I had to go back for extra test drives because I couldn’t remember which was which; we finally picked the vehicle and went in to start talking finances and then walked out, discontent with the offer and the prospect of starting the whole ridiculous process over again.

And it is a ridiculous process. No, it truly is. New cars are a huge investment that can have any number of hidden fees associated with them, where people conceal the numbers so you never know exactly what you’re paying for, and once you do, you can actually begin the process of negotiating a lower rate of financing or free goods and services. There’s not as much room for negotiating on a new vehicle as a used one, but there are still plenty of things that can apparently be said or done to leverage add-ons with the purchase.

I mentioned my unhealthy coping strategies and stress management techniques. Whatever I felt when the car died was nothing compared to how I felt when we were trying to shop for a vehicle and then negotiating for a vehicle. I’m pretty sure I kicked the Ally a bunch of times in my sleep. When I could sleep. Mostly, I just lay awake staring at the ceiling trying not to think about how much a rental vehicle was costing us.

When we finally did go into a successful deal with a dealership, it ended up being the one that gave us the least run-around. The one that purposefully didn’t go into negotiations with us the same day as our test drive, the one that gave us a fair quote to actually look over, discuss, pour through the numbers. This was a place in town that came with a reputation. I don’t delude myself into thinking that this wasn’t a business transaction for them. They were selling, I was buying. However, as far as sales pitches go, giving me and the Ally space and time to make our decision was an effective strategy. That we also loved the vehicle was very important.

I usually close my lifestyle posts with a list, and I don’t really want to do that this time. I want to sum up two things that saved my butt during this process and leave it at that. The first thing is to walk away. Walk away and don’t look back until you are good and ready to do so, and if that time never comes, then accept it and move on. The second thing is a phrase, THE phrase, in fact: Is this your best offer? This purchase is bank for a dealership. They want you as a consumer a lot more than you want them as a dealer. It is not rude to make them work for your money, and asking, “Is this your best offer?” is the most polite way of challenging them to step-up and earn your business.

My coping strategies may not be the greatest. I may have a long way to go before I can rest easy when my personal life goes through upheaval. But I can tell you that I looked every one of those dealers in the eye and asked if the numbers they gave me was their best offer, and I didn’t stop till I got to the dealership where their offer really was the best.

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