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Oklahoma Joe: This isn’t your dad’s car-buying experience

Joe Hight

Ever since I was young, buying a car has been an experience.

About every three years, my father, Wilber Hight, wanted, as he would say, to buy a new car. “New” means anything beyond the car we owned. He would go to Austin Chevrolet in Guthrie ready to negotiate. I accompanied him occasionally for entertainment.

“Don’t be afraid to leave if they don’t offer you a deal,” he would tell me, among other tips for negotiating that “deal.” However, we never went out because we were on good terms with the local dealer. But be prepared, he warned, just in case.

This process continued when I married Nan. We developed a good-bad-bad routine of buying both used and new cars, Nan negotiating much better than me. She learned it from her father, Henry Bloch, who had the same car-buying philosophy as my father.

I wonder what my father or my father-in-law would think of the current market.

Microchip shortages and other issues have created shortages of available cars. Car dealerships, once full of new and used cars, have less to sell or trade. Online marketers are also now offering the option to order a car and have it delivered to your dealership or straight to your driveway.

The problem with shopping online: There’s no fun in test-driving a new car or seeing if the car fits you. And you lose the art of face-to-face, mostly friendly negotiations.

Nan and I always prefer to research the cars we want, determine the trade-in value of our current car, and then shop at local dealerships. We did this recently while looking for a “new” car for Nan. But we discovered a whole new world, and it wasn’t a Disney tune either.

“Most years, winters can be a good time to buy a car. Prices generally drop as dealers move from model year to model year, and they are eager to sell older, obsolete vehicles,” a Kelley Blue Book article recently stated. “However, for most of the past year, there has been no good time to buy….

“New car prices have been skyrocketing since late spring. Record prices have instead pushed some potential car buyers into the used-car market. Meanwhile, used car prices have risen even faster than new car prices.

As for Nan and I, our first surprise came when we were told we had to schedule hours for test drives. I had always been used to doing test drives when arriving at a dealership, but with the shortages the dealerships might not have the cars we wanted to try.

Our second surprise came when a salesperson told us that some type of 2022 car would have to wait until June. “We have a long list of people waiting,” he said. “But I can schedule you a test drive with a 2021, if you wish.”

Then, at another dealer who had a popular and highly rated model, we were told the price would be $10,000 above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, known as the MSRP.

At that point, Nan and I took the advice of our fathers: we went out.

Eventually, after searching for days and dealers, we found one who was willing to negotiate a fair trade and price for Nan’s “new” car. We also met a friendly salesman named Monroe who was willing to hang out with us even after the sale.

Our fathers would have been proud.

Joe Hight is a director and member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, a publisher who spearheaded a Pulitzer Prize-winning project, the Chair in Journalism Ethics at the University of Central Oklahomapresident/owner of The best of books author of ‘Unnecessary Sorrow’ and senior editor/editor of ‘Our Greatest Journalists’.