The Dealership

I went with grey because the last thing this town needs is another black Prius. 

I was anxious when I walked into a Toyota dealership late last month to see about leasing a brand new Prius. This was the first time I’d ever paid for a car and most of my expectations for the experience were based on one Seinfeld episode and a survey I’d read showing that car salesmen narrowly edged out members of Congress as the least trustworthy people in America. That said, people who work in in advertising were voted only marginally more trustworthy than Congress, so I guess you shouldn’t put too much stock in anything you read here. (Not that you did anyway.)

As The Mystery Wagon’s health waned over the past year I knew that sooner or later I’d have to take the plunge and buy a car. It wasn’t something I was looking forward to because to me, the entire car-buying game is a shit sandwich – and not just because of my well documented aversion to spending any amount of money on anything.

I wasn't going to buy a used car because at the time I was already driving a used car that was a Pandora’s box of expensive maintenance issues. I didn’t want to spend a substantial amount of money to just get a new box full of new maintenance issues for me to discover one by one.

I don't have any debt and I'm not going to take any on, so buying a new car was out of the question. Plus, even if I did have $25,000 cash just lying around I wouldn’t spend it on something that’d be worth half as much money in four years, especially when I could just invest it in 3576 chicken Baja bowls at Baja Fresh that would bring me endless joy immediately. 

This was how I decided that I wanted to lease my next car. Owning a car means nothing to me, but having a car is important because LA. This made leasing the best choice: I’d be able to drive a brand new car for three years at used car prices, all maintenance would be covered by the dealership, and I’d be able to write off all of my monthly payments on my taxes because freelancers get enough tax breaks to make Mitt Romney’s head spin.

I don’t remember how long it took me to figure out what kind of car I wanted to lease. First I did a Google search for Cheapest hybrid car and then I did a Google search for Best hybrid car gas mileage and both Google searches told me it was the 2014 Prius C, at which point I knew that was the car I wanted to lease. So I can’t say exactly how long it took, but 15 to 20 seconds is a pretty good guess, depending on my connection speeds that evening.

I did all this decision-making during the emotionally fraught 48 hours after The Mystery Wagon gave up the ghost and started bleeding antifreeze in the street. When I got the diagnosis on Monday afternoon that my car was dead my brain graciously pushed all of my complicated feelings aside for the time being so I could focus on getting a new ride ASAP.

That evening I called my accountant to fact check what I’d read online about being able to use my leased car as a tax writeoff, and at the end of our conversation he gave me the number of a friend of his who was a salesman at a Toyota dealership in Culver City. He claimed this guy was an honest, straight-shooting salesman who wouldn’t try to fuck me. Moments earlier I had been Googling queries like Common mind games used by car salesmen and Is there a list of car salesmen who won’t try to fuck me, so I appreciated this hookup.

It was 90 degrees the following morning as I made my way to the subway station for my 45-minute trip to Culver City. I had spent most of the previous night doing extensive research and price comparisons online, but as I got closer to the dealership I began to feel less and less prepared. What if my research was wrong, and leasing was actually a terrible idea? What if the supposedly honest salesman I was supposed to meet was actually just so good at mind games that he’d fooled my accountant into recommending him? What if the Prius I wound up leasing was filled with spiders?

John, my salesman, was a friendly older black man with an immaculately trimmed grey beard. After exchanging pleasantries we hopped into the Prius for a test drive, where I promptly embarrassed myself with a show of pretty terrible driving. After eight years of driving an enormous station wagon I’m used to having to stomp repeatedly on the gas and mash on the brakes to get any results. The significantly lighter, more agile, and newer Prius requires a much softer touch, so I spent most of the drive jerkily accelerating and jolting to a stop like a 15 year old trying for his learner’s permit.

“So… What are we thinking?” John asked as we walked back into the dealership, sounding not unlike a guy dropping his girl off after the third date. So… Can I come upstairs?

“I like it a lot. I, uh… Yeah, I want to buy it.” Yeah, please come upstairs and fuck me.

We sat down at his desk, he pulled out some paperwork, and I prepared myself for Mind Games.

But the Mind Games never came. There was no upselling, no drama, no last minute disasters that drove up the cost of my car. We agreed on a down payment and monthly rate that was within my range, I sat on a comfy chair beside a popcorn machine for 45 minutes, then wrote a check, signed a bunch of paperwork, and drove off the lot in my new Prius, decidedly un-fucked. The only downside is that, having met an honest car dealer, now I probably have to reconsider some of my assumptions about members of Congress. 

The window between realizing that I needed a new car and actually getting one was so small that I didn’t even have the time to freak out about it, which is usually how I prepare for major life events. And I think that’s fortunate, because if I had more time to make this decision I probably would’ve stretched the process out over the next ten to fifteen years while I compared prices and read how-to guides.

Instead, for the first time in my life, I’m driving a brand new car. It gets 53 miles to the gallon, syncs up with my iPhone automatically, and is the same shade of grey as most of my Mossimo T-shirts (because it’s important to accessorize). But my favorite feature as I drove off the lot was the knowledge that I wouldn't have to take this car to the shop anytime soon. 

Until 36 hours later, when a woman pulling her SUV out of the Russian daycare next door to my apartment smashed into my bumper and did $1800 worth of damage. Kind of a bummer, but now I know: Car salesmen are A-OK, but you've got to look out for rich soccer moms. 

Truman Capps sincerely hopes that returning this car to the dealership in three years will be less emotionally taxing than parting with his last car was.