Opinion: Why I May Never Buy Another Ford Car Again
They say that love is blind. They were right.
In falling (blindly) for the sleek and attractive designs of one automaker, I somehow talked myself into believing that the red flags were nothing more than speed bumps. "Those aren't warning signs!" I told myself. "I have no reason to worry. None whatsoever."
But it turns out that before taking the plunge and pouring money into a new vehicle, I should have taken a step back, looked more closely, and reconsidered my decision.
History and Advice
"Don't buy a new car," friends and colleagues told me. "A new car loses 15% to 20% of its value the moment you drive it away."
"Don't buy a used car," my father said. He had been saying this since I was five years old. "Buying a used car is buying into other people's problems."
Both arguments were correct. In 2006, I bought a used Saturn SL2 for $3,000. By that time the car was six years old and had 50,000 or 60,000 miles on it. The seller told me that Kelley Blue Book had priced the car at $7,000. (I later saw the same model at dealerships for as much as $9,000.) But there was a crack in the door and in the windshield. The owner had inherited a new car from his grandmother when she gave up driving, and he was eager to get rid of his Saturn. He was also my uncle's neighbor, which might have helped his decision to sell the car so cheaply.
After taking possession of the vehicle, I learned that it needed roughly $500 worth of work. Okay, fine. It's a $3,500 vehicle. Still a pretty sweet deal.
For the first 18 months, it was a great car. I didn't have to put any money into it outside of replacing the brakes.
Inevitably, the next 18 months weren't as kind. But the $100 I spent here and the $400 I spent there seemed tolerable compared to what I could have been spending on a brand-new car -- or a more expensive used model.
The next few years were a bit more painful. From 2010 on, the car had nothing but problems, requiring a host of repairs that (again) were cheaper than a new car. But it was quickly becoming clear that my beloved SL2 was at the end of its life.
By the end of 2011, I learned that my gear shift -- which had been sticking occasionally since 2009 -- could permanently lock up, making it impossible to drive. The cost of repair, according to Sears (NASDAQ: SHLD), was somewhere around $1,000 to $1,200.
Early this year I discovered that I had another problem, something to do with the exhaust. That repair was also in the $1,200 range.
I was reluctantly tempted to get the latter issue repaired, particularly when my car began to make some atrocious noises. But that turned out to be another problem. Literally an hour before I planned to take my car to an auto repair shop, it died right here in the parking lot of Benzinga's HQ.
I remember experiencing a wide range of emotions that day: I was angry, frustrated, fearful of the potential expense… I even laughed a little. After anticipating my car's demise, I found it oddly amusing that my car died on the day I had planned to take it in for repair.
At least, I assumed it was dead. It turned out that I was right: the engine had serious problems and could barely start back up for more than a few seconds. The repair shop (originally a Saturn, then a Sears, now an indie shop) said that it would cost $250 just to check it out and know for sure what the problem would be, a problem the mechanic said they likely could not fix. He said the high examination charge was due to the fact that they'd have to take the engine apart. He estimated the repair would be somewhere between $700 and $1,400, depending on the problem.
In all, my repairs would cost more than what I paid for the vehicle. Clearly it was time to move on.
Though I was reluctant to buy a used vehicle, I took my colleagues' advice and looked into it. But after discovering that I would have to spend more than $10,000 (realistically, more than $12,000) for a car with well over 30,000 miles on it (most that I examined had 50,000+), I decided that I wanted something new. My thinking was that if my Saturn lasted for more than 10 years, three owners, and more than 130,000 miles, a brand-new car might just be worth every penny.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of Ford (NYSE: F) vehicles. My fandom was initially based on aesthetics alone. I loved the '90s Mustang -- it was a gorgeous sports car that put the competition to shame. But as I grew older, my appreciation for Ford vehicles became more practical. I learned to drive using a Ford van and an F-150 pickup, both of which were older models but drove pretty well. They were much nicer than the trucks and vans that Chrysler and GM (NYSE: GM) offered at the time. And while GM trucks had a history of reliability, I grew up hearing nothing but horror stories regarding Chrysler trucks. Those stories continued through college. I even heard them from three Chrysler employees.
To be fair, Chrysler seems to be turning things around. If the consumer response is to be believed, the quality of its vehicles is much higher than it was during the last two decades. Nonetheless, I wasn't interested in buying a Chrysler vehicle this year. The Dodge Dart looks nice, but it's not out yet. So even if I wanted to test drive one, I couldn't. And I wanted to buy a new car right now.
Inevitably, I couldn't help but look at the 2012 and 2013 Mustang. It's a beautiful car, no question, and I've wanted one since I was 10. I also liked the new Focus, which is much more attractive than the previous model. The Fiesta was somewhat intriguing as well. And I absolutely love the current F-150; it looks gorgeous and drives like a dream. The current Escape is also pretty darn amazing.
Yes, I love Ford cars. How could I not? They drive well and they look gorgeous. Last summer, Reuters reported that Ford ranked second in consumer quality (Volkswagen came in first). Several of my friends and family members drive and love their new Ford vehicles. The Benzinga parking lot has three Ford cars sitting in it every single day.
Nightmares and Warning Signs
Over the past 20 years, I have heard several horror stories regarding the way Ford treats its customers when they come in for a repair. Here are a few of the most troubling:
- One friend paid $1,000 to fix a noise (he described it as loud and annoying). When the car was returned, the noise was still there, only quieter. He paid for another repair a few months later, which completely eliminated noise.
- Another friend ran into trouble when she bought four new tires. Two days after the purchase, the tie rod broke. She was justifiably angry and wondered how Ford could have missed that problem. I don't think she's wrong in assuming that tie rods don't typically break spontaneously. She believed that the tie rod must have been weak/close to breaking when she got her tires, and is a problem Ford should have caught.
- When the front driver-side door jammed on my relative's Ford van, Ford told her that it would have to take the whole door apart to fix it. She was looking at a several hundred dollar repair. I recommended that she ditch Ford and go with Sears Auto instead. She did, and since she had another repair that needed to be done, Sears fixed her door for free.
While these experiences sounded like red flags, I told myself that it was Ford's repair shops that I had to worry about -- not the whole company. The cars themselves were of the highest quality, I wanted to believe.
The Hunt Begins
With so much devotion for a car company I really thought I loved, I was eager to take home a Ford vehicle. Over a five-week period, I visited several Ford dealers:
Dealer 1: Polite but did not have what I wanted. The saleswoman said she could not check the inventory of other dealers. She would not haggle and could not provide any discounts beyond the basic Ford discounts. In order to get the vehicle I wanted, she would have to order it directly from the company, which could take four to six weeks. She also tried to pull a bait-and-switch with the prices on the dealer's website, which claimed to have various SE models in the $16,000 to $17,000 range. (She wanted to sell me one at the standard MSRP of $19,000.)
Dealer 2: I asked if I could test drive a Mustang. I gave a detailed description of the model I was looking for (transmission, features, etc.). "Oh sure," the salesman said. "I just need to make a copy of your ID." He copies my ID and comes back. He then checked his inventory. "Oh, sorry, we don't have any Mustangs in stock right now. Just this one in the showroom, and we can't move it." He was vehemently against helping me find a Mustang at another dealer. He wasn't eager to order one for me either.
Dealer 3: Almost a carbon copy of the second dealer. From this point on, I stopped giving out my license until they could confirm they actually had a car in stock.
Dealer 4: This was one of the dealers that gave my friends a headache. I only went here for a test drive; I had no intention of spending any money. But the salesman was so rude and so unhelpful that I left immediately after arriving.
Dealer 5: "You want to test drive a Mustang? Here are the keys." This salesman did not ask for my license, nor did he attempt to ride along during my test drive (none of the salesman did, actually -- apparently that has become a thing of the past). I spent a good 90 minutes with this dealer, test driving a Mustang and a Focus, and inquiring about pricing, availability, etc. This salesman looked up other inventories and sent me to two other dealers. "I don't care if I get the sale," he said. Whether or not he was lying, I don't know. All I cared about was that he was the first salesman who actually tried to, you know, do his job.
Not Quite a Dream Come True
After several test drives, I realized that the Mustang -- the car I wanted more than any other -- was not for me. Not at this time, at least, especially not in the state of Michigan, where it can snow for half the year. Thus, my attention turned toward the Focus.
During my search for a new vehicle, I drove three 2012 Focuses at two different dealers. They were all fun, sporty cars that felt like an upscale version of the Saturn I had spent the last six years driving. That was both exciting and exasperating. On one hand, I loved my Saturn and hated to see it go. On the other, I wanted something that was vastly different from what I was used to driving.
I thought about going to General Motors, but I didn't really want a Malibu. I liked the Cruze but preferred the Focus.
I also thought about Mazda and Hyundai, who manufacture some of the nicest sports cars in the world. They also make a few great sedans. But I was reluctant to buy a foreign car, regardless of where it was manufactured. As my uncle says, "The car might be made here but the money still goes overseas."
Automobiles are one of the few things Americans can still profit from. I know there are many people out there who don't care about this factor, either because they don't know anyone who works in the field or because they don't understand the value of buying things that are produced domestically. But I understand that value.
Thus, I put aside my urge to drop by a Mazda dealer, ignored my desire to take a few Hyundai vehicles for a test drive, and stuck to Ford. I could (and should) have visited a GM dealer or two. But, again, I really wanted a Ford.
Great Mileage, Too Many Miles
After deciding to purchase a Focus, Dealer 5 reached out to several other dealers to track down the one I wanted. There was no obligation to buy; he said he'd get the car, I could take it for a test drive, and decide then.
On the day I came to test the car, I had to wait more than an hour for the test drive. This was odd because every other test drive I had taken -- at every dealer, including Dealer 5 -- involved a wait for no more than 10 minutes. There were excuses given ("Your car was at our other lot" and "We had to prepare it for you"). I'm not sure what "prepare" meant. But before the test drive began, I could see that it needed a wash, something the salesman had told me had already been done. No big deal -- it was a gloomy day. I can live with this. After all, the car came all the way from Grand Rapids.
Upon starting the engine, I noticed that it had more than 400 miles on it. This was a bit frustrating. Grand Rapids is roughly 150 miles away, which meant that someone, somewhere, had been driving my car for another 250 miles.
Thus, I had to make a choice: I could let these additional miles annoy me so much that I walk away and attempt to hunt down another Focus (which might have just as many miles on it -- or more), or I can accept this and buy the car.
I took it for a test drive, fell in love with it, and decided to take the plunge.
"Excuse Me, Sir. There's a Pig in My Car."
I returned the next day to pick up my car. I signed all the papers. Everything was good to go.
Then I walked outside, opened my car door, and discovered popcorn on the floor, crumbs in the cup holder, and a couple of marks (of grease? I'm not sure) on the dash.
This was infuriating. The salesman was upset and said he could have the car taken back and cleaned. But I didn't want it to be in their possession any longer. I had already bought the darn thing -- it was mine now. But in the hours before I picked up my vehicle, someone decided to jump in the front seat and devour a greasy a snack. In my new car!
Part of the reason why I wanted a new car was to have that wonderful new car experience. But I didn't get it. Instead, my experience wasn't all that different from the one I had when I purchased my Saturn six years ago. In both cases, I had to go home and grab a vacuum.
Next time around, I'll be going to General Motors first. Aesthetically, the company may not design my favorite cars. But I don't care. I regret not giving GM a chance before buying a Focus.
And though it may go against what I believe in, I will also give Mazda and Hyundai a fair shot. Their cars are awesome, regardless of where they're made or where the money goes.
Will I ever shop with Ford again? That depends. Right now, I'd say the answer is a definite "no." If, however, my Focus proves to be a reliable car that requires few repairs and runs well for several years, I might be persuaded to return to the company. Ford may have provided me with a horrible buying experience, but you can't put a price on a reliable vehicle.
Follow me @LouisBedigianBZ
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