By on October 6, 2011

TTAC commentator horseflesh writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Many moons ago you posted a question of mine on Piston Slap. As requested, today I can share the conclusion of the saga!

I actually wrote almost 1300 words on the story of Grandma’s Park Avenue for my own amusement, and to share with my friends. If you wanted to run all or any of the material on TTAC, you are more than welcome. I pasted it in below after the quoted old email. At the least, I hope you enjoy reading it!

Sajeev Answers:

I did enjoy it.  And quite honestly, I’d be a fool to add any extra commentary to a perfect story. So here it is:

horseflesh writes:

In October of 2010, I wrote to TTAC with a simple question: what’s the easiest way for a private party to sell a car for a good price? Today, I can present the delayed but triumphant conclusion to the story of Grandma’s 2005 Park Avenue—white with beige interior, super low miles, and only driven to the cardiologist on Mondays.

I got a lot of great advice from TTAC’s readers, with many votes going to AutoTrader and Craigslist. Still, I let the great white whale languish in my driveway for ten months. As I have always said, “procrastination pays off now.

Plus, I have to admit that I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of poling the Detroit barge down Washington State’s freeways from time to time. The hull also featured a cavernous, 4-body trunk that easily engulfed my model airplanes and other man-toys. Sure, Grandma’s Park Avenue couldn’t have felt any more numb if it was fuel injected with lidocaine, it had brakes like a freight train, it wallowed through turns like a hippo with vertigo, and it delivered an alarming jolt of torque steer when you stepped on the gas… but I was still enjoying it!

From mile 14888 to 17780, me ‘n’ Grandma’s Park Avenue had some good times on the high seas.

For one, I’ll never forget the time that I gave a German particle physicist a ride. My highly educated guest–who was a friend of my regular carpool companion, also a German–was sinking into the back seat’s leatherette upholstery when the Dynaride Suspension kicked in. The wheezing MmmrrrRRRRrRRRrrrrRRRR sound of the ride-leveling technology was no lullaby to his Teutonic senses, and he began to look alarmed. Do BMWs have ride-leveling? If so, it probably sounds like an ocean breeze, not a garbage disposal.

“Don’t worry, mein Herr,” I said. MmmRRRRrrr… “The vehicle is just leveling the passenger cabin.” MmmRRRRrrr… “That sound is perfectly normal.” MmmRRRRrrr… “The Dynaride system is capable of accommodating the fattest Americans,” I proudly added as the mechanism wheezed to a stop.

Silence filled the perfectly leveled cabin. “This isn’t my usual car,” I continued. “I only drive it once in a while. It’s really a car for older folks… people old enough to still be upset about the war.” Thankfully, the other German in my Buick managed to turn the conversation to high-energy physics, salvaging what could have been an awkward moment.

The Dynaride’s anemic groaning accompanied every engine start, but Grandma’s Park Avenue had another feature that was less reliable. I refer to the automatic headlight system, ambitiously named the “Twilight Sentinel.” Unfortunately, my Twilight Sentinel was apparently drunk most of the time, putting a more sinister figure on duty… the Twilight Assassin.

The Twilight Assassin was a cunning and ruthless foe, with the patience of the grave. He waited for night to fall… switched on the headlights, as if all was well… and then, when you least expected it, he turned them off. In the event of an attack, standard procedure was for all passengers to put their hands up and scream “TWILIGHT ASSASSIN!” until I yanked the manual headlight knob to banish the night once again. Good times!

I could have gone on dueling with the Twilight Assassin for many more months, but selling Grandma’s Park Avenue was the smart thing to do, and I resolved to get it done while the car was still in excellent condition. And in the end, I didn’t have to deal with AutoTrader or Craigslist at all, because I found the absolute best way to sell a car:

1. Buy a new BBQ
2. Invite a friend over for BBQ. Also, make sure he is an experienced used car lot sales manager.

It was one of this year’s three nice Seattle summer days when our friend Ron came over to the house to eat meat cooked over fire. Ron saw the Buick and we got to talking about my plans for it. “Let me see what I can do for you,” Ron said. “You’ll have a hell of a time selling a car like that yourself, because only Grandma wants that car and she isn’t online. So, what are the adds?” he asks.


“Add-ons. Options,” he says. I tell him the car is actually pretty light on adds, but describe the fun and excitement of the Twilight Assassin.

Ron checked out the car and quickly got in touch with a few used car dealers. “First, we’ll call Bob,” said Ron. “Let’s see what the light money is… Yeah, hi Bob, this is Ron from so-and-so of Seattle. Hey, I’m standing in front of this 2005 Park Av… White with beige guts, in the wrapper… The owners are friends of mine, an active young couple. Grandma left it to them, but they just don’t need a car like this and I wanted to help them out with an easy deal, and get them all the money in the world for this thing… Clear title, yeah. OK, I’ll text you the VIN.”

Bob’s offer was indeed the light money, but after five minutes and a few similar phone calls Ron has me another offer for $10,500, and a backup offer of $10,000. All I have to do is wash Grandma’s Park Avenue and drive it to a dealership where Keith, the used car manager will be waiting for it.

I’m happy with the price, but also curious about the business. “How much will Keith resell the car for?” I asked Ron.

“He’ll probably sell it for $14,000-16,000,” Ron answered. “If he has the right buyer, someone who really wants the car, it’s win-win-win!”

A few days later, I drove Grandma’s Park Avenue to the dealer to meet Keith. By chance, I parked next to a salesman with an older couple who were eyeballing some other bland sedan. Before I even stepped out of Grandma’s Park Avenue, the 60-something gentleman shopper in a Hawaiian shirt excitedly said, “is that car for sale?”

“Yes,” I said as I exited, “but I’m actually here to sell it to the dealer.”

“Wow, honey, look,” says Hawaiian Shirt, motioning to his wife. “It’s not even an Ultra, so it’ll run on regular gas!”

A moment later, my contact Keith was standing by my side. We introduced ourselves, and Keith gestured towards Hawaiian Shirt and said, “Can they take a look at it?”

“Sure,” I said, and gave the other salesman the key as I went inside with Keith to do paperwork. Fifteen minutes later, my business with the dealer was done. I had a big check and no more Buick.

While I was waiting for my ride, I watched Grandma’s Park Avenue pull in from a test drive. Hawaiian Shirt, his wife, and their salesman spent a long time walking around the car and talking. I took that as a good sign. I hope the dealership got $14,000-$16,000, and I hope Hawaiian Shirt and his wife got a car they love. Despite all my jokes about boats and occasional attacks from the Twilight Assassin, Grandma’s Park Avenue was a pretty good car.

That afternoon I called my grandma to tell her that I had sold her Park Avenue, and to thank her again for giving it to me when she stopped driving. I made sure to tell her that I thought the new owners were really going to love it. Grandma was happy to hear that. But I’ve never told her that I gave a couple of Germans a ride in her Park Avenue… After all, she might still be upset about the war.

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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Hawaiian Shirt finds Park Avenue Love...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Glad to see this here and get a follow up on a Piston Slap. I think the OP would really enjoy Paul’s site – Curbside Classic. At least he’d get a laugh from the insanity of the CC Commentariat.

    • 0 avatar

      @EdDan: “At least he’d get a laugh from the insanity of the CC Commentariat.”

      I resemble that remark… :)

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Don’t we all, don’t we all. It’s not hard to be enthusiastic about classic cars or new cars but heck we get enthused about an Eagle Premier.

      • 0 avatar

        @EdDan: It’s times like these when I realize I need a different hobby… ;)

      • 0 avatar

        A different hobby? Who has time for ANY hobby? That’s why I’m here and on “CC”, talking to “yous guys”!

        Memories abd experiences are fun, though. Maybe one of these days when I retire I can have a hobby, especially if I can find a car that excites me, preferably something old. Besides, I learn something new here and on “CC” every day!

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Not the best way for money but best for funny. Great read.
    “It’s really a car for older folks… people old enough to still be upset about the war”…. “But I’ve never told her that I gave a couple of Germans a ride in her Park Avenue… After all, she might still be upset about the war”

  • avatar

    A great read. Having recently sold a 8 year old Jimmy I have vowed,to never sell a car privatly again.

    I used car guy that I do a little detailing, and car jockey work for, helped me dump it. Yes he made a buck or two. Money well spent

    Like Grandma’s Buick,besides a few quirks that Jimmys have, it was a low miler lady driven, non smoker, very clean.

    At 5.00 a gallon, and with the 4.3 reputation for gas consumption,nobody wanted it.

  • avatar

    I dunno, if you are not in a great hurry to sell, why NOT make that extra money for yourself? I have sold a lot of cars privately, and it has never been very much work. I price my cars well, and I make sure they show well.

    • 0 avatar

      It comes down to how much you value your time and trouble. I’ve had plenty of customers who haven’t been happy with the trade values I’ve offered and who’ve told me they will sell their car themselves, only to have them come back a couple days to a couple weeks later and take the trade offer provided.

      There are variables in terms of what kind of car you are trying to sell, what the market is like in the area you are in, and what kind of buyer your vehicle typically appeals to, but there are certain hangups that always seem to pop up:

      1. Are you comfortable having strangers come to your home to look at the car, or do you want to take the extra time to drive to a neutral location to show it? When it comes to the test drives do you trust your potential buyers enough to let them take it on their own, or do you jump in for a ride with someone you don’t know?

      2. Can you spot a scam? Most people would happily take a cashier’s check, but fraudulent/forged/altered cashier’s and bank checks aren’t uncommon. Cash is safer, as counterfeit bills are relatively rare, and you can buy a money-tester pen to check them out, but it’s still a possible hiccup.

      3. How much time are you willing to invest? If, like many, you work anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per week you likely value your down time and want to be able to plan activities to spend with your friends and/or family. How many times are you willing to sit home on a Saturday afternoon waiting for the guy who e-mailed you from Craigslist to show up and kick the tires and/or make a lowball offer? You might sell your car the first day listed for your full asking price, or you might have to go through months of no-shows, lowball offers, and general flakes before you make the deal.

      4. Make sure you pay attention to all of the numbers. The time spent trying to sell your car on your own can mean missing the deal on, or even the chance to buy, the car you are looking to replace it with. Many states also give a sales tax credit for the trade-in. A car that you have a trade-in offer of $20,000 for is therefore really worth $21,200 if you factor the sales tax credit in (assuming it exists in your state and vehicle sales tax is 6%). There might be manufacturer special deals or offers on the new car making it even more attractive to trade – Ford has a program called ‘Trade Assistance’ on many new models right now that offers an additional $500 – $1,000 in rebate if a customer has a qualifying trade.

      After everything, yes, you can still usually get more for your car selling it yourself, but the ease of the trade-in might make it worth giving up some potential profit for some people.

      • 0 avatar

        @NulloModo: “When it comes to the test drives do you trust your potential buyers enough to let them take it on their own, or do you jump in for a ride with someone you don’t know?”

        True story. My third day selling cars. It’s April 1991, Atlanta, GA. Already hotter than Hades for this Yankee. I get into a car with a kind of odd couple, older man, younger woman. Very conservatively dressed.

        They were interested in a Nissan Sentra 4 door, I hop in back extolling the virtues of this POS. They remain totally silent. We head out onto I-85 South. Still not a word from these folks mouths. I’m thinking, maybe they don’t like Yankees. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this kind of thing.

        No, this is not that kind of issue. These folks are weird. Of course, this is before cell phones are cheap and ubiquitous as they are now. But after about 10 minutes of the silent treatment, my internal alarm bells are going off. I’m seriously considering exit strategies.

        About 20 minutes into the ride, I’m still working these folks talking to them. The young woman asks me a question- does the tape player work? I said yes. I really didn’t know if it did, I was just happy to hear her say they weren’t going to take me into the woods and kill me and eat my remains.

        With that, the older man, reached into his suit jacket and pulls out this object, and I wince, literally flinch, not knowing what it was. It was a cassette tape. He plugs it into the player and out comes “What a Wonderful Friend We Have in Jesus”…

        I sat there, a little chagrined. They took me on this ride to try and convert me to Christianity. Problem was, I am one already. Apparently, they don’t consider Lutherans an acceptable Christian sect. After some negotiation and hymn singing, I managed to get them to take me back to the dealership.

        Once I got them off the lot, I went and talked to the Big Dog salesman, he was always pulling stuff like that on people. He swore up and down that he didn’t have anything to do with it, but I never believed him.

        But, it did open my eyes to the possibilities of some people might try. I got into cars with a lot more trepidation after that, and only after an extensive interview, copy of the driver’s license and letting someone at the shop know I was leaving with a customer.

      • 0 avatar

        Could not agree more – when I wanted to get rid of my Dodge Stealth Twin Turbo, I traded it in, along with my wife’s Jetta, on a new Forrester for her. I got less than in a private-market sale, but I didn’t have to deal with young punks who might crash the thing on a test drive, or with going to the DMV and related hassles.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    ………some great tales….TTAC should consider a sub-site exclusively for car dealer stories…..I’ve got dozens, but some are unprintable, some self-incriminating, and the rest no-one would believe anyway.

  • avatar

    That was one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. This guy should be a regular TTAC writer.

    My 92 year old grandmother is still driving her 1995 Buick Regal. Not sure how much it would get on the used market as it has quite a few battle scars. I loved the 3.1L V6 in it though. Always felt really powerful to me when I’d take it to the car wash for her. And she does still remember the war because that was a huge event in her life. She’s not a fan of our Volkswagens, which is understandable since Hitler created them initially. But she does ride in them.

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