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Notes from the pre-owned minefields

April 7, 2008
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One of the really fun, spirit-deflating, back-wracking things I’ve done for the past week is shop for a car.

The venture has been physically challenging because that is largely the point of the quest: the seats of my car are shot, I have fibromyalgia and arthritis, and sitting in my car for more than a few minutes now carries a three-day recovery penalty.

The pursuit leaves me spiritually deflated because, even doing hours of electronic homework before setting out, we still waste a significant amount of uncomfortable driving time because salesmen are careless about crucial information–like model numbers.

We are past the brand and model selection stage. Researching and comfort-testing cars for one that met our requirements had narrowed our search down to exactly one model manufactured on Earth: The Camry XLE with the heated seats option. We’d driven a few, but were still looking for one with lower mileage, or fewer grape juice stains on the carpet, or one that didn’t look like it had been driven through the asteroid belt, &c.

So far, the worst leg of our high emprise was compliments of the “largest Toyota dealer in the Northwest.” I’ll translate that for you: Michael’s Toyota, of Bellevue, Washington. Michael’s Toyota is friends-don’t-let-friends territory.

For our fourth day’s expedition, my husband located two Camry XLEs at Michael’s in an internet search. He called the dealer and spoke with a salesman. He confirmed both models were definitely XLEs, not LEs–a mistake a Jaguar dealer in Fife had made with great false assurance. That incompetence only cost us a 16-mile round trip. My husband asked the salesman at Michael’s whether the cars definitely had heated seats, which are optional in the XLE and unavailable in the LE. The salesman said he would go out and make sure and call right back. Yes, both had heated seats. There was a silver one and a red one.

Above mileage and a good maintenance record, the seats were our top priority, and only the XLE has electric seat controls for both driver and passenger seats, and offers heated seats. My husband made this very clear, and the salesman assured him again: both cars were XLEs with heated seats.

So we made the 78-mile round trip to Bellevue, in good faith and a driving rain. The joints and nerves in my back orchestrated a riot, but I was motivated to find a car not only that I could ride in, but one that wouldn’t require frequent rides home in uncomfortable tow truck cabs. My present car has a secret agreement with Liberty Towing.

We hiked out onto Michael’s lot. The silver Camry turned out to be an SE, which features neither dual seat controls nor heated seats. The red one was an XLE, and we got inside and sat down. The salesman clambered into the back seat.

“How does it feel?” my husband asked.

“Great, just like all the XLEs we’ve tried,” I said. “Only there are no seat heater buttons.”

Defeat, pain, rain, and stupidity/indifference/incompetence are a poor combination to add to the stress of shopping for the most expensive car you’ve ever bought.

My husband, who is extremely slow to anger, slammed shut the memo pad with his notes from the conversation with the salesman. The salesman stammered a promise to add heat for no extra cost. He wasn’t reading my husband very well.

We left the pretty red XLE and walked back toward our Buick. “Good luck finding a car,” the salesman said snarkily.

Our own local Toyota dealer has two XLEs that actually meet our requirements, but we were still in the process of looking in other places to find the XLE with the best mileage and price. Our local dealer has demonstrated extraordinary knowledge of Toyotas and of his inventory. We will deal with him. He has been nothing but straight-shooting with us from the beginning, has pulled no switches, has made no errors about his stock.

What is deflating is that we’ve come to appreciate as extraordinary what should be expected as standard.



  1. Jane permalink
    April 7, 2008 7:40 am

    Sorry you had to venture so far only to return to “home base”…hope that you soon have that new-to-you vehicle in your driveway.

  2. Janet permalink
    April 7, 2008 12:03 pm


    Could your local dealer do a search for one with low miles? Our local mechanic will search for any car we want, but of course it may take time. I’m thinking your Toyota dealer could do the same.

  3. April 7, 2008 2:01 pm

    I’m not sure what would be “in it” for him; anyone can search for a car online these days–it’s getting to it that’s the problem.

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