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The Great Dodge Hunt: Money In Hand

Today I completed what has to have been the easiest vehicle sale I have ever undergone. Okay, okay: let me temper that by admitting that it’s only the second car that I’ve ever sold on the private market. But you could hardly ask for a more ideal situation: a buyer who dropped virtually into my lap, paid close to my asking price and was great to work with throughout the entire transaction. As I sit here tonight with the deal now done, there is only one car left in my garage.

It was a whirlwind weekend of prep work, exchanged emails and cleanup. On Saturday I took Mrs. Oddball’s Mazda — the subject vehicle in the aforementioned sale — to a local mechanic to renew its annual state inspection and get a comprehensive overall evaluation of the car, to ensure it was mechanically sound. The report came back with a clean bill of health for the car; in fact, the news was even better than I had expected. That set the final wheels turning as my coworker and I prepared for the final exchange of funds, and I prepared to help him jump through all of the bureaucratic hoops that would be required afterwards.

Sunday night found me up late working on the car, cleaning out all of our personal effects and then cleaning up the vehicle itself. Upon removing the NTTA toll tag from the windshield, I found myself presented with a pile of glue goop that refused to come off. Eventually it was WD-40 to the rescue; the stuff took the glue right off. Then the entire interior (and trunk) was vacuumed thoroughly. By the time I went to bed at 11:30, the Mazda looked almost as new as the day we bought it in the summer of 2004 — what now seems like a lifetime ago.

As I went out in the Mazda yesterday evening for one last run to the grocery store for a forgotten ingredient, it occurred to me that the Mazda is the car which I have kept longer than any other car in my life, outlasting my legendary ’98 Trans Am WS6 by a full year. It’s treated us very well in all that time, and I’d like to think that we treated it likewise. “I hope your next owner takes as good care of you as you did us,” I said to the dashboard, its red electroluminescent gauges aglow, as I drove home from the supermarket.

Later, after I had returned home and was cleaning our belongings out of the car, I found a pool of ice cold water beneath it, obviously condensation from the air conditioner (it was pretty humid recently and we had run the defogger). It was as if the Mazda was shedding its final goodbye tears.

God, I hate selling cars. All the damn sappy histrionics come out.

Anyway, today over lunch my coworker (the buyer) and I went to his bank and he wired me the funds for the transaction. (To both our banks’ credit, it showed up in my account just 3 hours later.) With the deal officially done, we proceeded directly to the county DMV to transfer the title and register the car in his name. I’d spent a great deal of time preparing all of the paperwork in advance, researching the total fees that would need to be paid and pre-filling forms to save time. We prepared what our calculations told us was more than enough cash to cover the sales tax and fees and hoped that he’d be walking out with a new registration sticker and full authority to drive the car.

That’s what happened, all right, after what had to have been a historically trouble-free trip to the DMV. Honestly, we had more hassle opening a toll tag account for him at the desk downstairs! The DMV rep was courteous and processed everything quickly, and even waived the “new Texas resident” fee for my coworker because he was buying a car had that been previously titled in Texas, saving him a surprise $90. Of course, we were also a party to how smooth things went by virtue of the fact that we had prepared everything in advance. In little more than 10 minutes, we were out of the office with a new registration sticker and word that he’d receive a new title in the mail within two weeks. It couldn’t have been simpler.

For my part, I learned something about Texas: here, license plates stay with the car they’re attached to. So when you sell the car, you’re expected to “sell the plates” right along with it, and the buyer simply gets a new registration is his name for that same plate number. Then, when I buy a new car for Mrs. Oddball, I’ll get new plates for it in the newly-issued design: a minimalist white plate with black characters and a black “Texas star” icon. They’re actually rather classy.

My coworker seemed pleased with how the whole process went, and I’m sure he’s quite happy to finally be able to get around independently in his new hometown without relying on friends and colleagues to pick him up and shuttle him about. He’s still got a lot to learn about the vagaries of driving in America, but that only comes with experience.

Money Locked, Wallet Loaded

While all of the above was going on, I was also preparing the resources I’d need for my final negotiations on the purchase of a new family truckster. In addition to researching and rehearsing negotiation tactics and getting the budgetary story straight with Mrs. Oddball, we got our financing in line for the car. Deciding that it would be not only convenient but also strategically advantageous if we secured financing before walking into a dealer, we applied with our bank and scored not only full approval, but also a great interest rate: 3.17%!

Now that the cash from the sale of the Mazda is in my account, we’re ready to go shopping with money already in hand and limits clearly defined. There’s no stronger negotiating position that I can think of.

I’ve decided to take the entirety of Wednesday off from work, head out in the morning and try to score a deal. First I’ll go to see Charger Three at the dealership down by the airport, after I call and verify it’s still there of course. Given its lesser miles, newer build date, better sound system and cheaper asking price — and the fact that our finance company will give us a $100 rebate if we purchase from that dealer — it’s possible that Charger Three will check out as the one to shoot for. If it does, I’ll try to do the deal right then, hoping to use my financial position and the date (we’re almost to the end of the month!) as chips in my favor. If they play games or refuse to deal, I’ll head across town and try to work a deal on the Tungsten Gray Charger One that I saw this past Friday. With luck, I’ll be driving home in one of these cars by dinner time.

Should negotiations completely break down, I’m certainly not above walking out, cooling my heels at home and waiting to see if either dealer calls me back in while I surf around for other listings. There are a lot of fish in this sea.

After a frenzied day, I’m happy to be looking down the home stretch and preparing to add our next vehicle to our stable, hopefully another that we’ll keep a great many years, just as we did the Mazda. But when it comes to vehicle age, I don’t think any of my past rides are going to challenge my GTO: I calculated that by the time I can even start thinking about replacing my own car, the goat will be over 11 years old. However, given the mileage I drive, I also calculate that she’ll have little more than 40,000 miles on her by that time, which is a pittance for a car of nearly a dozen years. I’m certain that the drivetrain is good for it, but I’m less convinced about the longevity of the goat’s interior and lesser mechanical components. We shall see.

For now, it’s time to circle the wagons and prepare to bring the Great Dodge Hunt to its conclusion. I need merely write what I hope will be the final chapter.