Buying a Used Car in a Pandemic
Stay local and know what you want
In my last column, I wrote about the challenges of running an auto dealership during a pandemic.
This time around, I’m going to examine it from the other end through the eyes of a customer buying a vehicle, a used car to be precise.
Now, I wasn’t the buyer in this instance, but I know her well: she’s my mother. The other thing I’ll mention is, given my line of work and being her son, I was involved in the process. Mom and I spoke several times about prospective replacements, including topics such as safety ratings, insurance costs and specific models.
My mom, Rachel, is in her mid-70s, but she knows a thing or two about cars and knew what she was after: a late-model Mazda3 sedan. Not new, but not too old either. It had to be a sedan, in good condition and reasonably well equipped. Oh, and it had to be a manual. Wish I could take credit for that, but mom’s been driving cars with manual transmissions longer than I’ve been alive. And yes, as a car journalist, that makes me smile.
Now, you may be asking, ‘why the Mazda3 sedan?’
The main reason is her old car was a 2007 version that had faithfully served her for more than 13 years but had really begun to show its age. Despite its low mileage, it suffered from common old car problems: rust, a laundry list of repairs (control arms, ball joints, etc.) and a dated platform lacking in modern conveniences and safety innovations. Simply put, it was time for it to go.
Basically, mom wanted a newer version of the same car, but one that benefited from the leaps in technology made in the intervening decade-plus since her old car was new.
Looking back on the process, which began last September and concluded shortly after Thanksgiving in October, I’d say it went smoothly, especially given the state of the pandemic last fall. Modern technology helped a lot in this regard. Mom knows her way around the Internet and quickly located a 2017 Mazda3 GS at our local dealer, Whitby Mazda.
She made an appointment to see the car, drive it and, if all went well, she hoped to get a deal done. I volunteered to tag along, partly to make sure all her questions and concerns were addressed, and partly because I was curious about how car deals get done these days, especially in a pandemic.
The sales rep at Whitby Mazda, Jay Hatch, was great. After a brief test drive, he answered all her questions, plus a few from me, and mom decided to buy the car. Jay threw in a new set of wheel locks at no charge when the originals couldn’t be found, and he even gave her a few hundred bucks for her rusted and dented trade-in. As a former car sales guy, I was impressed.
Whitby Mazda went extraordinary lengths to follow pandemic health and safety protocols, with everyone masked up, including us. The showroom was mostly deserted, and Jay’s office was separated from us by a Plexiglas partition. We even spoke to him through an intercom on his office phone.
In the end, mom got a car she’s happy with. The heated seats and heated steering wheel are big hits from what I’ve been told, as is the backup camera.
The only sour note, really, was an insurance ordeal that prompted mom to switch providers. I’ll save that story for a future column.
In the meantime, mom’s happy with her new ride and I’m glad I was able to help.