LOCAL SATIRE:

Louella Checks Out New Cars

by A.C. Cherbonnier

TEN YEARS is long enough to own the same car, thought Louella as she eyed her dark green Miata convertible. She felt a little guilty. It’s almost like a person, for crying out loud! You don’t suppose it senses I’m tired of it?

Her older sister Candy urged her on. “Come on—sell it! I’ll be glad to take it off your hands for whatever the dealer’s willing to give ya for it.”

“That won’t be much,” retored Louella. “You know how they act like they’re doing you a favor to take a car in trade.”

“Uh-huh. But what’s it got on it? A hundred and fifty thou? Nobody wants to pay jack for a car with that much mileage. Tell you what—I’ll give you two hundred more than the dealer says!”

Louella patted the car’s little rump. “It’s been a real good car. I’m not so sure I’m ready to part with it. Look—not a scratch on it! Never a moment’s trouble. And it gets really good gas mileage.”

“Come on, girl—you’re the successful one! You oughtta look the part!” Candy squinted conspiratorially. “Haven’t you really secretly wanted one of those BMW sports jobs? In silver? You can probably afford one easy—not that I have a clue how you get all your money. But Pop said you likely got a pile of cash from your last job—”

Louella fixed Candy with a blue-eyed glare. “That’s enough! Don’t go there about my finances, okay?”

“Okay, okay—but you can afford to get something new, and I need your wheels. So why not? You’d be, you know, stimulating the economy!”

Louella hadn’t made a car payment in seven years. There was nothing wrong with the Miata except it would soon be needing a new convertible top. But she could not deny that Candy had struck a nerve by mentioning that BMW. She felt that familiar warm desire thing growing on her. Probably a lot like how it feels to want sex, she marveled, but I wouldn’t know.

“Well, maybe it would be okay to just take a peek at those BMWs,” she agreed. “Want to come with me?”

“And get a test drive? Are you kidding? I’m in! Just let me put on my face. We’d probably better look like we can afford one, or the salesmen will ignore us.”

“You’re probably right about that!” laughed Louella. Sure, why not spend an afternoon nosing around the car dealerships? I don’t have a job, and I do have a stash of cash. What the hey.

Candy returned after changing out of her Walmart sales associate outfit. Eyeing her straw-like white-blonde hair with Baltimore roots, Louella thought, She really ought to get a professional dye job. She reminded herself that blonde maintenance costs about $60 a month, far more than Candy could afford on her $6.50 an hour.

They pulled away from the curb alongside Patterson Park and headed for Dealer Row in Timonium.

Louella tucked the Miata between two BMW SUVs. “Ooooh, don’t you just love the silky feel of this finish?” said Candy, stroking the flank of the black one while Louella peered inside the white one. “I think they must have different paint in Germany. It just looks so—glossy!”

“You know, Candy, I think you’re the one who’s a bitch in heat here! I mean, look at the finish on my Miata—it’s just as nice!”

Candy glanced at it. “Maybe so,” she said dubiously. “But if there’s no difference, why’s a BMW cost so much more?”

“Well, one thing is, they spend more on ads than Mazda does.”

“Oh, come on—people are smarter than that!”

“You think?” Louella pulled open a massive glass door and they entered the car showroom. “Now shush! Here comes a salesman!”

Middle aged, distinguished looking. Probably a cashmere turtleneck, Louella appraised. Wedding ring. Manicure.

“Are you ladies looking for anything in particular?” he purred.

“Yes, your sports car.”

“Ah! Would that be the Z-3 or the Z-4?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Probably about ten thou!” blurted Candy. She was nervous, and cracked the gum she’d been chewing. Louella glared at her.

“Actually, the prices aren’t that different,” said the salesman—Jervis Harvey, they’d learned. He did a quick appraisal of the women and glanced at his watch. “Oh dear! You’ll have to excuse me! I have to call a customer back! You ladies just take your time and look around.” He beat a retreat.

“Real good, Candy! Now he’s going to disappear on us. Thinks we’re not serious buyers.”

“So what?” Candy strolled over to the Z-3 model on display. “Gives us a chance to kick the tires without him listening over our shoulders.”

“What makes you think he’s not listening to us right now?”

“You think?”

“Anything’s possible!”

“Cool!”

Louella studied the car’s price tag. “Thirty-seven thousand dollars!” she hissed.

“Gee, is that all? I thought it’d be more like forty-five!”

Louella whisked out her calculator. “You’ve always got to do the math, girl!” She tapped in some numbers. “Would you look at that! Not counting interest, if you had a sixty-month loan on this baby you’d be paying about $617 a month!”

Candy whistled as best she could with three sticks of gum in her mouth. “Guess this rules out the plan, huh?”

“Guess you’ve got that right.”

“But they’re saying they’ll give you zero percent interest.”

“Or cash back—I saw that. But I think they add that ‘cash back’ amount to the price when they give you zero percent on the loan. I mean, they’re in business to make money, after all.”

“Guess you’re right, sis. Too bad! This car would be perfect for you. A real guy magnet!”

Jervis Harvey quietly appeared at Louella’s elbow. “I see you’ve been doing your calculations,” he beamed. “Before you rule this out, have you ever considered leasing as an alternative? It’s a lot less expensive.”

“Well, yes—but in the end you don’t own the car.”

“But after three years, you’ll probably want a new car anyway. This way, you don’t have to worry about disposing of it, either. I bet you’d be surprised to learn that about seventy to eighty percent of new cars are leased. It’s the way to go.”

“So how much would a lease be for this car?”

“Oh, let me see. I just did a lease like that yesterday. I think you’re talking about just $499 a month, plus a few fees and incidentals.”

“How about that, Lou? You’d save over $100 a month!”

“Well, not exactly,” said Louella, tapping in more figures. “If I financed that car for 36 months at zero percent nstead of 60 months, the payment would be over $1,000 a month, so we’re looking at $600 a month less.”

“Very astute!” enthused the salesman. “You see the advantage of leasing!”

“But at the end, you’d still owe a big chunk, right?”

“Well, that’s right. You would. But you could just turn it in and lease another one.”

Louella tapped her foot. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

“Take your time!”

“Do you have a sample lease I could look at?”

“Certainly!”

“What’s the interest rate on the lease?”

“Interest rate? It’s not an interest rate, it’s a factor.”

“A ‘factor’? Well, how does that factor translate into an interest rate?”

“It’s not exact.”

“Give me the approximate.”

“I guess it would be about 12 percent.”

From zero to 12 in one second, thought Louella. That’s faster than any car.

“And at the end of three years, how much would I owe?”

“We’d have to look at the specifics.”

Candy gave Louella a nudge. “Come on! Let’s let him work up the numbers!”

“First, I want a test drive,” said Louella, deciding to go forward.

“Good idea!” said the salesman. “Most people don’t make their decision until they’ve taken a drive. Once they drive one, they’re hooked—can’t wait to get into that lease and drive off into the sunset.”

“I’ll bet,” said Louella, thinking: I wonder if I’m ready for a perpetual car payment?

—TO BE CONTINUED—


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This story was published on September 18, 2003.