Car buying through DriveWise

I hate buying cars. Truly hate the process. My first experience buying a car was of a dealer agreeing to a price, then calling me a week later to say that the bank didn’t agree to the deal after all and that I’d have to pony up $1,000 as a down payment to keep the car. I have never been a dummy, and I got disenchanted with the car as I drove it, so I gave it back after a week of driving it all over Southern California. Ha — that well-known dealership tactic truly backfired.

Anyway, Trinity’s car has been on its last legs for nearly the past year. It had been leaking transmission fluid like a faucet — seriously, we still have transmission fluid residue all over his parking space — and with Elliott’s impending arrival, we liked the Ford Flex for its non-minivan look and its three rows of seats. But they don’t come cheap. I’d been looking for months, so I knew.

Then the bishop at our church mentioned the idea of buying a car through a car broker. It wasn’t something I’d heard of before, and I assumed it was something people with a lot of money got to do, so I dismissed the idea at the time. Then Jen’s List mentioned DriveWise, which touted itself as charity-driven auto buying and leasing. What does that mean? I pored through their website and Yelp reviews before I called them.

Alison picked up my call and let’s just say she made me incredulous — basically she would search the state for a Ford Flex for us, with the vehicle specifications and preferences we named, find us financing, bring us the vehicle so we could check it out and give it a test drive, and if we liked it, all we had to do was sign. I think I kept asking how much the service cost and it turns out that the service is free to the customer — I think how it works is that the dealerships give DriveWise a portion of the sale price in order to reach customers they might not reach because of distance. And DriveWise turns around and donates a portion of that portion to a non-profit of the buyer’s choice. How do they stay in business?

I think I called Alison the day after Elliott came home from the hospital, a Tuesday. By the end of the day, she had determined that the price range we gave her wasn’t wide enough, so she raised the price a couple of thousand to widen her search. By Thursday, she sent me two really great options to check out. Sheesh, that was fast. So fast, in fact, we weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger — it was a few days before we received our tax refund, which was our down payment. Also, the two options she sent us were priced higher than we really wanted to go, but this is the other area where Alison helped us out. We were initially going to get financing with our credit union at what we estimated would be 8% APR or higher, but DriveWise customers were able to get financing for as low as 3.5%. What?! With an APR that low, we were able to get the later-model Flex with really low mileage with a reasonable monthly payment. The loan term is long — 60 months — but we have three kids now. We’ll be keeping this car till the wheels fall off, I’m sure.

On delivery day — for the car, not Elliott — we went to DriveWise’s Van Nuys facility. First we had to go on a test drive, but that was a formality — and Alison helped us out by holding Elliott while we went on the drive. After the test drive, Alison had all the paperwork ready for us to sign. I think the whole process took an hour and a half, tops. I don’t even know if it took that long. One of the reasons I’d hated buying cars before was because it always seemed to take six to eight hours at a dealership — looking at a car, doing a test drive, filling out paperwork, waiting for the bank to approve everything, plodding through options that were all declined.

DriveWise’s customer service really shined after we took the car home. I hadn’t noticed it on the test drive, but I later saw a tiny chip in the interior side of the windshield, on the passenger side. I’ve had problems with windshield chips and cracks before, so I asked if it could be fixed or replaced. Alison contacted the dealership, and the dealership said they would replace the windshield. The dealership sent a service over to replace the windshield — and then those guys cracked the windshield mounts. So, I emailed Alison again to let her know what happened. Alison called the dealership to make sure they knew what happened, and it was a few days before the service came back to replace the mounts.

We are really happy with the car. I was telling Trinity later that I never thought we would be able to buy such a late model car, but there we were. We took it to the Strawberry Festival in Oxnard on Saturday, and had such a great time cruising in the car on the freeway, we nearly missed our exit.

So yeah — next time you have to buy a car, call Alison at DriveWise and save yourself the dealership headache.