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Nathan's column: Let me talk to my manager

There are a lot of important skills you should have when you’re preparing to buy a new car. You should know how to do some research. You should be able to negotiate. And, obviously, if you’re going to test drive a car with a manual transmission you should probably have at least a basic grasp on how to drive one.

I encountered the shifting issue the last time I shopped for a car. It had been a while since I’d driven a stick, and after stalling the car the first time I tried to pull out of the lot — and then again the second — I sent the saleswoman clawing for the arm rest when, from a dead stop, I decided to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic.

We made it with room to spare. I didn’t buy the car, though. I couldn’t give my hard-earned money to someone who wasn’t willing to have faith even in the face of my demonstrated shortcomings.

The most important skill of all, though, seems to be patience. Lots and lots of it.

I’ve gone to two area car dealerships in the past month. I’m on a mission to replace my 10-year-old Mazda before it collapses around me, and if there’s a common thread between them — and there definitely is — it’s the waiting.

So far I’ve test driven four cars and spent roughly 37 hours wandering the dealership while my salesperson took care of whatever mysterious business happens whenever a someone wanders into the back room of a car dealership. Communing with the car-sales gnomes, maybe.

I waited while they copied my driver’s license. I waited while they retrieved cars that, based on the time it took to pull them around, must have been parked somewhere in the vicinity of Lonsdale.

In the amount of time I waited for trade-in evaluators to tell me my car wasn’t worth enough to get me a decent bike from Target I probably could have run to Target, bought that bike and ridden it home. But it was kind of cold. So I waited.

It wasn’t really a surprise to find out my car has no trade-in value. That little blue car is has carried me more than 209,000 miles. It is on its third transmission and its suspension is soft enough that going over just the right bump in the road gets the whole thing bouncing like its on hydraulics.

All that meant that once the evaluator finally showed up, the rejection process was mercifully short. He took it for a drive, and I’m not sure he made it out of the parking lot. He said all the creaks and rattles made him nervous.

Chicken. You don’t need to fear the noises in my car. You just need to find the right speed to synchronize them to the radio. It’s a little tougher when you’re listening to This American Life.

After waiting for my trade-in evaluation Monday — if he’d sent it in a text, it would have basically been a bunch of LOLs and maybe a frowny emoticon —I waited some more for a manager to provide financing information. Apparently entering some numbers into a computer program is more challenging than I’ve been led to believe.

Once the numbers had been explained, the salesman asked if I wanted a copy of the financing information. I did, but I might not have if I’d realized it would take another five minutes. The dealership’s copy machine couldn’t have been slower if it was just a bunch of monks in the back room with quills and pots of ink.

I’m a pretty patient person, but I was ready to walk out a couple of times. I don’t know how anyone ever shopped for a car in the days before smartphones. What would I have done without Facebook? Read brochures?

I suppose my experience might not be typical. There may very well be salesmen and dealerships that roll you right through. Who can make you an offer without reconfiguring the national debt.

That would be great. And if they exist it would be nice if they could make be a good deal. My car won’t stop making noises, and they really don’t go with this CD I just got.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606