I am, as has been established, a small town girl. Sure, I live in a big city now, but my whole worldview is shaped by where I come from, and usually I find it serves me well. I’ve owned five cars in my life, and two of them were purchased in Hendrum, from my dad’s good friend, Wayne Hetland. Wayne didn’t stock my preferred Hondas or Mazdas or Toyotas, but when I bought from him I knew I was getting a car that was road-worthy & that if I had any problems with it, he would help me to fix it. He charged a fair price and treated me as he would want his own children treated, and I knew it. He was good man. More than once I called him, even when dealing with a car he hadn’t sold me, to ask what I should do about a light or a noise, and he was always thoughtful and told me honestly what he thought.
Still, I wanted a Mazda. In 2001, just a few days after September 11, I bought my first (and probably only) new new car. It was a black Mazda Protege, a 5 speed with a sunroof, and I zoom-zoomed all over the place. Today, it has 195,000 miles on it, and I drove almost all of them. (195,000 miles! Think of where I could’ve been!) At any rate, as you might imagine, it is a bit worn out. The rear bumper is in the process of rusting itself right off the car, and the front seat is broken (though propped up, quite nicely I might add, with a milk crate). None of the seatbelts in the backseat work anymore (except the one behind the front seat, and straddling a milk crate is no way to ride), so V has to ride in the front when we go anywhere. A couple of weeks ago, the alternator started to go out. Though I truly love this car, it was clearly time for our family to replace it.
Now, we already have the Scion, and with less than 76,000 miles on it, it’s a relative baby. It will continue to be our “go out of town” car. What I wanted, what we needed, was a reliable, comfortable car that got decent mileage (for us, that’s above 25 mpg) that was, according to my budget, under $10,000. Shaun requested it also be an automatic, so though I’ve had a stick shift for nigh on 15 years, I agreed.
I started shopping around the Fargo-Moorhead area. I’m working full time, and when I’m not working, I have grading to do, plus V, so I knew I didn’t have a lot of spare time to devote to all of this. I know enough about cars to know what I wanted, and I made liberal use of the Kelley Blue Book as I was doing my research. Since this would be the first car I ever purchased that was A. not from Wayne, and B. without a warranty, I was a bit nervous. I have a reliable mechanic whom I trust here in town, but getting a car that I may not even buy inspected would cost me about $120. I decided that I would instead use a reliable, well-known dealer in Fargo. I figured I could skip the inspection, because these types of dealerships are known for their customer service, and save myself both time and money. My sister and her husband just bought a used car from this particular dealer a few months ago, and were quite happy with the experience. Plus, they were the only people in town who had a used Mazda 5, one of the vehicles to make my short list. Corwin-Toyota it was, then.
Anyone who has ever lived in Fargo-Moorhead will be familiar with the Corwin name. They are everywhere in this town, (and also in Missouri, Idaho, and Montana, apparently), and own a Toyota Dealership and a Dodge Dealership both. In fact, they are the only certified Toyota Dealership in the FM area, so when the Scion needed dealership work, that’s where I’d taken it. I had no reason to distrust them, and when the price they offered matched the Kelley Blue Book for a car in excellent shape, I had no problem agreeing to that price, because I assumed a company of their reputation would not sell a vehicle if it was not in excellent shape. I test drove the car for just a few blocks, and things seemed fine. I had to go pick up V, but asked that they start the paperwork so we could sign things after school, and by 5:30 we were on our way home in a new-to-us vehicle. V and I started thinking up names for it.
Of course, gentle reader, you know where this is going.
Driving home from the dealership, with V in a functioning seat belt in the back seat, I was feeling pretty good. The Mazda5 is like a mini-minivan, and I liked the idea of being able to camp with V in our vehicle, and still have room for Seven and Shaun on car trips. But then I heard a little shake.
It’s nothing, I tried to tell myself, but these cruddy Fargo-Moorhead roads o’ ruts. When Shaun drove it the first time the next day, though, he heard (and felt) it too. After six days of in-town driving, during which I kept saying to myself “What could be wrong with it? I’m sure Corwin checked it out carefully. Why would they sell it to me otherwise?” I drove it Hendrum to show my familia. Outside of FM, the noise was becoming even more troublesome. If Wayne were still with us, I would’ve had him look at it, but he’s been gone for a couple of years already. Dang it.
So I brought it into the Corwin-Toyota service department that Saturday afternoon. I explained that I had driven out of town and been concerned with some noise and shaking, and since I’d just bought it couldn’t they please check it out. They tightened the lug nuts and found them fine, so checked below. “Your front struts and shocks,” the woman said, “seem to need replacing. You’ll have to call for an appointment to get them fixed.”
My stomach fell, but just a little. I had, after all, owned this car for less than a week. I had put perhaps 80 miles on it. Surely Corwin-Toyota would know the struts were worn out when I got them, and we could work something out.
I called on Monday and they told me to bring it back to service. For $1040, they could replace the front struts, shocks, and mounts.
I had paid just under $8000 for this car one week ago. The exact same price suggested by Kelley Blue Book for this car, in excellent condition. Which it clearly was not.
“Seriously? You’re going to make me pay for all of it?” I was incredulous. “Well,” the service department woman said, “we could take about 10% off. So $940, okay?” Um, no. This is not okay. I drove the car back home and vented on Facebook and to anyone who stood still long enough to listen to me. Everyone agreed the price seemed high and that they should do more than 10% off. I tried to call the manager.
Once, I talked to the manager of the new car division, who was as polite as could be but of course I was not his department. He promised the manager of the used car department would call me back. Instead, my original salesman called. I told HIM I wanted to talk to the manager, and he said, of course, I’ll tell him. Next, the service department woman called. She had talked to the manager, she said, and he offered to pay $250 of the repair.
I hung up the phone so angry I was shaking. I know, of course, that they were within their legal rights. North Dakota has lousy protections for car buyers of most ilks, but especially used car buyers. Shaun suggested he come with me to talk with them, believing (perhaps rightly) that they were brushing me off largely because I was a woman. I knew, though, if they gave me what I wanted (I was willing to pay for the parts, if only they’d provide the labor) with Shaun at my side, it would be honestly worse than it already was. It was my car, bought with my money, and by god, they should treat me fairly, even if I don’t have a man beside me. If I’d taken a rock to the windshield on the way home, or if I drove over a nail and got a flat tire, I never would have asked the dealership for help, but shocks wear out relatively gradually, and while I don’t expect to buy a used car with everything worn replaced, I know they knew the shocks were kaput when they sold me the car. And I know that despite repeated attempts to talk to the manager himself, Corwin-Toyota thought my business was worth so little to them that they would not return my calls, or offer me a fair deal.
So here’s the moral of my story, boys and girls: Get an inspection. If you have your own Wayne Hetland, buy from him, and thank him for his time, especially if he’ll carry the kind of car you like. And never, ever give one penny of your business to Corwin-Toyota in Fargo, North Dakota. Don’t even buy a gumball there. They don’t deserve any of your money, and I’m still sorry I gave them mine.
PS: Next week, I’ll be having the car repaired at my college, where students will learn how to do it and I won’t be paying the salary of people who lie to nice small town girls. Thank you for your concern.