Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Red Tape for a Red Car

This past weekend, we received the replacement for our 2004 Saturn VUE.

At eight+ years of age, the Saturn was starting to make some alarming noises and had some alarming handling characteristics (a really horrible shudder at about 72MPH and tendencies to buck when attempting to hold speed, uphill, in the 25-30MHP range). So, back in September, we'd decided "this car's probably going to be very expensive to try to keep for much longer: time to look for a replacement".

We didn't need a vehicle the size of the VUE. The VUE had been bought when we were trying to have kids. Now, with no kids or ability to have kids, we only needed a vehicle suitable for holiday trips with two 50lb bulldogs. So, while a Fiat 500 would be well too small (though, having test-driven one, they are quite nice), we still wanted something smaller and more fuel-efficient than the VUE.

"More fuel-efficient" wasn't a major challenge. Even when brand new, the VUE got 18 city/25 highway. In the past year, it had been averaging around 17MPG with mixed-use (though, primarily city) driving.

  • While a car with the mileage of a Prius would have been nice, they're utterly joyless cars - purely utilitarian.
  • While a Tesla S would have been a rather nice choice, the $85K for the range and other options we wanted made that choice a non-starter.
  • The concept of the Chevy Volt was nice, but, for a $40K+ vehicle, it felt really cheaply made.
  • Most of the other hybrids and EVs suffered similar problems to the Prius and the Volt.

Having been well-impressed by the A3 TDI sport-wagon I'd driven for over a month while working in Germany, we sought out one of them. Unfortunately, Audi had decided to discontinue making it after October of this year. All that was available were the ones already stateside. All of the A3's within an eight-hour radius of the DC metro region were: A) automatic transmissions (*ick*); and, B) some boring shade of silver/grey/white/black/beige (double *ick*). We really wanted a stick-shift and we wanted something that wasn't one of the boring colors that seems to have taken over northern VA in recent years. We also really wanted the sport wagon, not its sedan replacement. So, the Audi fell off our list.

Our next contender was something from Mini. They have decent fuel economy. Even more, for that fuel economy, we didn't have to compromise on performance or comfort. They were a bit lower on fuel economy than we wanted (26/32 for the Cooper S variants) and a bit more expensive than we'd been hoping for. But... At any rate, after taking several different Mini variants out (tried the classic Cooper, the Clubman and the Countryman, each in two-wheel and all-wheel drive variants and turbo and normally-aspirated variants), we decided we wanted a manual Countryman. For the options we wanted, they didn't have anything on the lot. Much like all the other Northern VA dealerships, most of what they had were automatics and in colors we weren't interested in. So, we opted to order one.

Then the waiting began. For three weeks, the order status (on the Mini Owner's Lounge) stayed stubbornly on "order submitted; awaiting scheduling". Then, one day, it changed to "slated for production" ...but stubbornly stayed in that status for a further 2+ weeks.

It seemed odd that it would be scheduled but not produced for so long. So, I called our salesman to see if he had a more granular view of its status. He checked his system and saw that it had actually left port!

On the one hand, it was great knowing we were on the home stretch. On the other hand, it just ratcheted up the pain of anticipation. Every day, I logged into the Owners Lounge to see if its status had changed. The magical "at the distribution center" status update finally happened. So, I called my salesman to see how long it would be till it was on the lot.

I know when I'd ordered my last car, it came into the port of Baltimore and was at the dealership three days later. I was hoping for the same, especially given that such a timetable would have meant we could have had it in time to take our Thanksgiving roadtrip in the new car. Alas, it got hung up at the processing center. We were due to leave for my mom's house on November 20th. It wasn't due into the dealership until the evening of the 21st. DRAT!

We slumped off to PA sans new car. Was an enjoyable, relaxing trip. Good company and good food. Donna and my mom did some Black Friday shopping, but Donna was eager to hurry back to DC to try to pick the car up as early as possible. I told her, "even if we leave now, it will be dark by the time we get there" (early sunset of a daylight savings time day!) and I don't pick up new vehicles in anything but full daylight. Too many things can hide in low-light conditions.

We got up Saturday and did our normal morning farmer's market run. Upon hurrying home, Donna pestered me to ping our salesman on when we could come pick it up. I sent him a text message and we sorted it out that we'd meet around 12:30.

We headed over to the lot at the appointed time. I'm glad that I'd insisted on a full-daylight pickup. When we got there, I noticed that the racing stripes had some bubbling and peeling (and some other shipping blemishes). Turns out that all those striped Minis you see out there have those stripes applied at the distribution center rather than the factory. They're hand-applied, not machine applied. I was disappointed at both the application errors and the fact that they were a post-shipping, manual application rather than part of the paint-job. Oh well.

So, we did all the paperwork on the car, but left it at the dealership for them to fix. They dropped it off Monday:

Donna took the picture with her phone. Framing's a bit squished, probably due to her excitement. Any way, it's a nice little car. Unfortunately, it's still not free and clear...

When we'd done the paperwork, Saturday, we couldn't find the title-release for the car. No major problem, normally: just go to the DMV and get a copy from them. Today, Donna headed down to the DMV to do just that. Unfortunately, the DMV didn't have a record of ever having received the title-release from the lien-holder. Joy.

Went online - pulled the VIN number from our insurance company's web site and looked up the phone number for the bank we'd financed the VUE through. Wouldn't you know it: the bank we'd financed through had changed ownership. When I called the new bank, their automated system couldn't find our record by either VIN or SSN. So, I did the "find the human" dance with the new bank's call-tree.

Eventually, I got hold of a nice woman. She informed me the reason that I couldn't use the automated system to get my account info was, having paid the car off nearly four years previously, it was no longer in their online system. They'd have to pull the record from their archives. She'd found the vehicle information and was requesting the restore. They'd mail it out and it should be at our house in 3-5 business days. I thanked her for her assistance and hung up.

Given that the dealership was expecting to have the turnover paperwork, this week, I called them up to let them know "ran into an issue - won't be able to do the DMV paperwork for another 3-5 business days". They seemed to be cool with it. Probably isn't the first time they've had this happen. But still can't get this all sorted out till at least next week.

On the other hand, the loan paperwork for this car won't even have gotten into my new bank's hands for nearly two weeks. I'd tried to login to their electronic loan system, last night, but they had no record of me. Turns out, they typically don't have the stuff available in their loan system for up to two weeks from the purchase date. 

"Waiting for procedures" seems to be not only the story of my work life, it's the story of my personal life, as well. Fmeh.

No comments:

Post a Comment