My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700.
The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership.
Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, he would be late. The phone always worked though, and since the Freestar had been one of my unsellable cars of the past year, I was just happy to have the vehicle out there to what I hoped would be a good owner.
If only it were so.
One day, I got a call from Mud while his chain smoking soon-to-be pregnant ex-girlfriend was screaming at him in the background.
“Steve, I’m returning the Freestar today. Me and Wildflower are splitting and…. shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!”
“Aaahhh… that’s fine. Just call me back in a few.”
The few turned out to be a day.
“Hey Steve. That Civic you have on the lot. Can I exchange that with the Freestar and just make the same payment?”
Normally I say no to these things because the math doesn’t work out and, even if it does, exchange customers often get into the habit of delaying maintenance on their vehicles. Right around oil change time, these customers will come back to the lot and ask for an upgrade. What I do instead is tell them of a place a mile down the road where they can get the oil changed for $20. The cheap price has a surprisingly nice halo effect on the affordability of the vehicle they drive, and then I never hear from them until I start having payment issues.
Mud wasn’t bad when it came to payments. But his ex-girlfriend’s smoking meant that the Freestar would need to have the interior detailed, and God knows what else.
“Bring the Freestar down and let me see what we can do.”
When I saw the platinum colored Freestar, I was both surprised and not surprised. The interior was still in decent shape. It had a faint smell of smoke, but not too bad. What did surprise me was a nice big dent on the driver’s door. That would cost some money to pop out along with the interior detail.
178,000 miles. When he had bought it from me it had all of 170,000. Or so I thought. This guy was driving close to 1,000 miles a week, and whatever I gave him, if I gave him anything, it needed to be able to handle that constant driving.
Thankfully, my brother-in-law’s Civic had more or less been overhauled before I got it. New belts, water pump, tensioner, plugs, wires, on and on. I did need to put four new tires on it, which turned out to cost only $233 thanks to my usual discount and a $100 gift card promo that the chain tire store was offering at the time.
I tried retailing the Civic for $3500, then $3300, and then $3000.
Nobody wanted it, and those that did just didn’t have the money. I had two kids in college and one older fellow tell me that they were going to get it in the next week, two weeks, when they got a settlement check, etc.
I didn’t care that much either way. Even though it was an unsellable car, I enjoyed driving thanks to my brother-in-law’s maintenance regimen. I knew it would eventually sell.
Then things started to get a bit, complicated. My sister-in-law mentioned to my wife, that my BIL hadn’t sold the vehicle for a lot of money, and that she thought it would get more than the $2000 I had paid for it.
When I hear things like this, I pretty much assume that this recent decision may not have been as smooth as I had initially thought.
I also couldn’t ask for nicer in-laws over the years. They have always been wonderful to me and my wife, and I didn’t want anything that would cause hard feelings. When their Camry’s engine blew up a couple years ago, I bought the vehicle for all of $500 with a very nice body and a perfect interior. I replaced the engine with a JDM 2.0 four cylinder, financed it, had it voluntarily repoed in Denver (owner went out there and ran out of money). I then paid $750 for it to be delivered back to Atlanta, and sold it for $3000 cash which turned out to be my net profit.
I was thinking about selling the Freestar for cash, financing the Civic, and when I got my money back out of the Civic (about $2400), I would give my in-laws the profits. They had two young kids and I figured out this money, nine months from now, would be a perfect way to balance out their monthly daycare costs that I remember paying for back in my 30’s.
It was not meant to be. At least not when it came to Dirt, I mean, Mud. He was a pathological liar along with, what I would later found out, a serial impregnator. I should have taken the keys to the Freestar, shot him, and Jersey dumped his ass in Deliverance country.
Instead I took $305. $120 for what he owed on the Freestar, $120 as a payment cushion on the Civic, and $65 for the actual cost of the detail. I forgave the dent on the Freestar because, psychologically, if you do a nice favor for someone, they tend to be far less screwy with you in the future. However this isn’t always the case, which is why I also asked him to give me the afternoon so that I can straighten it all out with my bank.
Well, the Bank of Steve has certain strict requirements. One of them is when you have a high-risk customer, you always put a GPS on that vehicle. Since I had initially planned on selling the Civic for cash, I had to take it to the mechanic shop so that we can put one in it. The cost of the unit is $129, and once we had three successful hits on the GPS, Mud got the keys.
Mud then took the car, went to Florida, and decided to play the BS game.
Instead of telling me the truth, that he had no job, he decided to tell me over the weeks, “I’ll get the money in on Tuesday.” Or, “I’ll be riding up to Georgia this weekend and I’ll get the money in and set up an automatic payment with Wells Fargo.” Every week was a new lie, a new excuse, and a new headache.
My policy with payments is relatively straight forward.
If you can’t pay me, then just tell me the truth.
If you can’t tell the truth, at least return my call.
If you can’t bother to return my calls over the course of three days, I’m going to get back my property.
And it is my property. Just because someone pays for the use of it, doesn’t mean they own it.
I get especially steamed when someone tells me, “It’s my car.” or “I already paid too much for it.” Hello? You don’t own my property. I am also not here to lecture you . My business is to provide for my wife and family and if you have some genuine catastrophic event that’s taken place, I’ll put the payments on a temporary hiatus. If you’re nice, I may even try to figure out a way to work off the balance with a side job related to your former work, so that you can become a long-term owner (and keeper) instead of a perpetual debtor.
Most of the time, I don’t want the car back. In the past I’ve had cleaning women do interior details. Small farmers pay me in chicken, eggs and tomatoes. I have even accepted lawnmower repairs, small generators, automotive repair work, assistance with transporting vehicles to and from the auctions, and minor landscaping projects.
However in this case, I wanted the car back, big time. Last night the repo company scooped up the Civic that was suntanning in Lakeland, Florida. The old cost was $250 for the repo. $65 to transfer it to a nearby auction. $20 to mail the auction the keys so that it can be loaded onto a transport truck next Tuesday, and $275 to have it hauled back to my dealership.
I hope to see it on Thursday. From there it will likely need a $65 interior detail, and $42 to relist it on Autotrader and Craigslist.
So now I have another stickshift back on the lot. The Freestar sold for $3000 cash to a Latino family thanks to my posting the Craigslist ad in Spanish. By my calculations, this guy managed to do about 10,000 miles of driving for which I netted about $700. I got nailed by Mud, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wash myself of him and move forward to the next chapter in life.