September 25, 2011
The day I (almost) bought a car. A cautionary tale.

I was not planning to actually buy a car when I walked into the Steven’s Creek Subaru dealership. More to the point, I was pretty sure I was in no position financially to buy a car. However, I wanted to take a look at Subaru Outbacks, to get an idea of the cost etc with a view to perhaps taking the plunge in six months or so. 


Big. Mistake. 


As I stepped out of my car, an elderly salesman pounced. His name was Don, and he was perfectly nice. I immediately told him I had no intention of buying, and wanted only to take a look at Outbacks with a view to buying sometime next year. At first he showed me the 2012 model. Not what I had in mind. It was huge and boaty like the Forester, which are not my cup of tea. ‘Thanks anyway’, I said. I mentioned I preferred the older, smaller body type, and that I wanted a manual transmission. 


Oh!, he said. We might have one out the back. He escorts me to the back of the lot, where, sure enough, a couple rows of older models sat in wait. He peered into the windows of the first row. All automatic. Then the second row. Jackpot. A stunning 2008 Outback 2.5XT Limited. I think I swooned. Well, it’s great to know the car I want is out there, I said. Give me your license, let’s go for a drive, he said. 


Of course, it was love at first drive. I’d wanted one of these for a couple years. He spent the duration of the test drive telling me how incredibly rare it was to find this particular configuration. Manual. Turbo. Perforated leather seats. 


It was my dream machine.


Back at the dealer, I thanked Don for his time, and reiterated that I was not ready to buy. Why?, he asked. Well, I have no money right now. I have a great job and a great income, but my credit is not stellar. I can’t make any down payment. 


He glanced at my car, a 2003 Jetta 1.8T wagon. If you own that car, he told me, you can buy this car today. 


Um. Oh. Wow.


I glanced from my money pit of a VW to the gleaming splendor of  the Subaru. We’ll have to run the numbers of course, but why not see if we can get your financing approved?, Don said. Worst case scenario, you don’t get the car today, which is what you were expecting anyway. 


What the hell, I thought. Might as well see. The finance approving process took hours, a lot of back and forth. Basically I made it clear that no additional down payment was possible beyond the trade in value of my Jetta. While they crunched numbers and did whatever it is car dealers do, I called upon a few trusted friends for advice. I am prone to impulsive decision making. I did not want to do something I would regret in the morning. I’d been enjoying the last year or two with no car payments to deal with. Did I really want to dive back into that? I could afford it. Technically. Eventually my financing was approved. Or so they said. To me, and the friends I consulted, it all seemed perfectly reasonable. Even my parents approved of this plan.


I was told there was one caveat to my financing being approved- I must produce proof of income. Fair enough. They told me my credit was not bad, but that I hadn’t built enough to register on two of the credit report agencies. I knew this already, so was delighted to hear that my current income was enough to counteract that. 


I was excited. I was ushered into the office of one of their finance team, a guy called Erik. With him I reviewed and signed the stack of paperwork. 


I really did review it. I was nervous about small print. I am paranoid. I did my due diligence. I even asked him to clarify a number of points. Particularly the point about the dealer having the right to cancel the sale if they can’t deliver on the financing they offered. This, of course, caught my attention. 


I asked him if there was a possibility that this could all fall through. No way, he said. That’s why we need your proof of income.




I left the dealership, six hours after I arrived, starving hungry and driving the car of my dreams. 


This was a Saturday. On Monday evening, Don called.



They were having trouble getting my financing approved. They might need an additional $5000 down. 


What. The. Fuck.


I reminded Don that we spent the better part of Saturday getting my financing approved based on the fact that I could not provide any cash down payment. 


He said they were still working on it, and would call me back the following day. 


The next day, I received a call from a guy named Mohammed. Apparently the financial manager. 


Don’t worry, he suggested. We’re working on it. 


A few hours later, another call. Yes, we’re going to need an additional $5000. You can find that, can’t you?. he asked. Um, no. What the hell. How is it possible that I could suddenly materialize $5000 I didn’t have mere days before?


By this point I was pretty furious. 


I drove to the dealership. Don was waiting for me. He opened with some line about how lovely I looked. I think I actually said ‘Spare me the pleasantries. That time has passed.’ Clearly I watch too many movies. 


Anyway, We walk inside and I let him know he has 15 minutes of my time to explain to me why the financing I was approved for was suddenly unapproved. He fetched Mohammed, a rude, defensive, chauvinist of a man. Between all the ‘honeys’ and ‘sweeties’ and ‘calm down’s the guy failed to answer a single one of my questions. I got angrier and angrier. He held his hands up defensively. Hey, I haven’t done anything wrong here, he said. I’m not the one who told you your financing was approved. Well then, I said, let me speak to the manager of this dealership. That’s me, he said. Well, I said, in that case, you are responsible. You are responsible for your staff, and what they tell your customers. He laughed in my face. TELL ME WHY I WAS TOLD MY FINANCING WAS APPROVED. Told me to get out of his office.


I stormed out, in shock. I don’t think I can properly articulate how much anxiety this caused me.


The next day I spoke to Don. Apologized a little for my anger to buy a little time. I wanted time to review again all the paperwork I had signed. By this point, I had no intention of keeping the Outback. I just wanted to make sure I would get my car back and that would be that. During this time I also did a little Google research, and discovered entire 50+ page threads on Subaru forums warning folks against this dealership. It made for some pretty enlightening reading, which I wished i’d found a week earlier.


Confident in my review, I returned the Outback on the Friday. I brought a friend this time. A man. Don was cordial, clearly disappointed that I couldn’t pull five grand out of thin air, Mohammed was out that day. I took my car for a quick test drive around the block as, frankly, these guys had already proved that they were utterly untrustworthy.


My Jetta was fine. I had never been so happy to see it. I gave it a quick once over of the exterior, and notice that they had removed my license plate frame from the back plate and replaced it with a ‘Steven’s Creek Subrau’ one. Hell no. I ask Don to have someone remove it. I do not want to advertise this dealership, I said. He feigned shock that someone had attached that to my car.


While this was being done, I dealt with the paperwork required to restore balance to the universe. As I left and headed to my car, I was stopped by another salesman. He took myself and my friend to one side, and explained that he had been at this dealership for ten days. He had been sent there by the head office to deal with known issues at the dealership. He wanted to know what went wrong.


This seemed like a good thing. I told him the full story. That I felt misled. That the dealer made a promise he couldn’t uphold and that he let me drive off the lot thinking everything was good when this was far from the case. He let me know that this is a common practice. When it comes to borderline credit, dealers often decide to gamble. They gambled that the banks would see my high income and not see the lack of established credit. Sometimes this gamble pays off. Sometimes not. 


This is despicable. Completely legal but utterly abhorrent. They gamble with peoples happiness. They let you drive off the lot with your dream car, confident that all is well. Then, once you get attached to it, they ask for more.


Anyway, before I left this ‘man from head office’ reminded me that I do in fact have approved credit with them, just not for the car I wanted. They could still work with me on something cheaper. You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Had they been honest from the start, I told him, perhaps I might have walked out with a car you knew I was actually approved for. Too late. Way too late. 


He then nervously rambled on about how he hates to see people leave angry, the people ‘sometimes post mean and unfair things on Yelp’. Ahem. 


Shocked by the last ditch attempt to take my business, I finally get into my Jetta. It’s dark outside by this point. I drive away, relieved that the ordeal was over.


The next morning, in the harsh light of day, I discover two things. Two big giant fresh scratches on my otherwise dirty car. Keyed in two places, across the hood and the front passenger door. Key marks that had not been there when I inspected the car and asked for the license plate frame to be removed.


Of course, as it was dark when I finally got away from them and drove off the lot, I am aware that this is something I will not be able to prove. But I think it’s pretty clear what happened. 

This was my first experience with a car dealership. Such a shame. I still want a Subaru Outback. But one thing’s for damn sure. I won’t be buying it there. And neither should you. (according the the Subaru forums, Subaru of Santa Cruz are far more honest.)



The end.

My Jetta and my Bianchi, reunited. (and it feels so good)