Fly fishing rod

Look for comfy seats and avoid blue sea monsters: Car buying guide for seniors

My grandfather was a Dodge man.

His retirement car was a 1956 Dodge 4-door sedan. It was comfortable, solid and powerful. It was what they called “a good driving car”.

He liked to take my grandmother for Sunday walks around Tacoma. More importantly, he used it to tow his fishing boat to his favorite lowland lakes. His favorite was American Lake, but we went all the way to Mineral Lake up the Mountain Highway, or to Long Lake, Pattison Lake and Black Lake in Thurston County. Grandfather was a meat fisherman. There was little finesse in his fishing. Fly fishing was something that was done on another planet. He was a troll. He had trolling rods with heavy reels, and he was trolling “a yard and a half”, which was a series of flashing spoons that were supposed to be irresistible to the trout (which more than likely were planted there this spring (there.) These were made by the Les Davis Tackle Co. which in Tacoma was a religious institution. Behind the meter and a half was a 10# leader followed by a small lure. It was the lure that changed until he found something that caught the trout. There were spinners, flatfish, spoons and assorted gear designed more to catch anglers than trout.

He lived to fish and his world revolved around my grandmother, the boat and the Dodge.

Then my grandmother died. She was the nicest woman in the world and she was Norwegian. As sweet as she was, always ready with a quarter for us kids to buy comics and candy from, if someone threatened one of her kids, she turned into a ferocious bear. Losing her was one of our family’s worst tragedies.

Grandfather had to live alone.

One day my mother came home and announced, “I’m so mad I could spit!” It was like a volcanic eruption warning. My little brother started crying and the dog, its tail between its paws, started scratching at the door, moaning.

It looks like grandpa went car racing. For some reason, he decided he had to trade in his trusty Dodge for something newer. Maybe he just got bored and decided to throw some tires at the local dealership. He ended up bringing home a monstrosity.

An evil, unscrupulous car salesman sinner, certainly not a Lutheran, had sold him a used 1961 Dodge Polara. It was then that Chrysler’s stylists, exhausted from the excesses of the 1950s, had to start taking hallucinogens. It was big and ugly. It looked like a mutated creature of the deep, with a gaping grill-like mouth and inverted fins like an eel. And it was baby blue. It was a six-cylinder, so it was underpowered, and worse, it was a stick. A three on the column.

Grandpa was profoundly deaf, so he couldn’t hear the engine revving to know when to change gears. Therefore he drove it second all the time, spinning, dragging, spinning, dragging,

Mom tried to convince the dealership to take the car back, but even her Category 6 stubbornness didn’t work. Grandfather was, after all, sane.

One of my wife Peggy’s first cases as a senior citizens attorney involved a man with severe dementia. This gentleman had a lot of money and received some good monthly pensions. His daughter hired Peggy because he kept disappearing and losing tons of money. He used to go to a car dealership where he bought a new car. Then he would forget where he had parked it, even forget that he had bought it, and return to the dealership where they were happy to sell him another one. He would also forget to make his loan payments, so the car would be repossessed by the dealership. He would go back, and they would sell him another one. Peggy planned to charge the dealership with financial abuse of a vulnerable adult, but, sadly, the case ended before she got that far.

Speaking of dealerships, a few years ago Peggy and I wanted to see if it was worth upgrading our 2104 Forester to something newer. At the local Honda dealership, where we tried a CRV, the salesman was very professional, helpful and patient. He accepted with grace and diplomacy that we were not ready to buy. We were impressed.

At another dealership, where we had to wait for someone to help us. The sales area was a bull pen. It was a Saturday afternoon, and all the workstations were full. After being assigned to a salesperson, we had to sit and wait while he copied our driver’s licenses, checked our credit rating, immigration status, criminal history, blood types, and voting record. While we waited, we saw a vendor near us working with a young couple. He was pounding on the table, flushed in the face, yelling at them. I thought that was an interesting sales technique.

Finally, we were assigned a young intern and we went for the test drive. The intern buried his face in his phone the entire ride. When we were done, he started, “So, what’s it going to take to get you in that dream car?”

We told him, diplomatically of course, that we didn’t like the car, we didn’t like the dealer and we didn’t like it, and backed out of the showroom.

He called me for the next three Sunday mornings in a row. I finally told him that if he didn’t stop calling me, I would call his boss and the attorney general’s office. So he called me back the following Sunday. That’s when I just blocked his phone number.

Today’s cars are generally safe, comfortable, and efficient, unlike my grandfather’s baby blue sea creature, which was unsightly, underpowered, and unlikely to let you escape an accident. So how do you choose the best one for you?

My first thought, from my dealership stories, is to buy one where you are treated with respect and deference. How you are treated matters. You’ve been around long enough to deserve respect. Bowing to you should be a well-mastered and mandatory sales technique. Never feel uncomfortable turning on your heels and stepping outside. I did that, leaving a smart-mouthed lizard, gaping at his manager, “What did I do?” There are many competing dealers and you don’t have to put up with games.

If you find a vehicle you like and a dealer you can work with, chances are you’ll end up in the “nearest” office, or whatever it is called. His job is to get all the paperwork signed, answer all the questions, and arrange the financing. He might also try one last time to empty your wallet. They might try to sell you add-ons, such as extended warranty, fabric protection, VIN engraving, or alien invasion insurance. The dealer profit margin on these add-ons is huge. If there is something you really want, keep in mind that these are available on the secondary market at deep discounts.

Here’s a tip – some dealerships will charge a $150 documentation fee. By law, these fees are not required and you can insist that they be waived. See the Washington State Attorney General’s website for more information.

The first thing I look for in a vehicle are the seats. Comfortable seats. To verify consumer reports, Car and driver, and for something reliable and interesting. Next, see if the seats are comfortable. It’s essential. Are they wide enough, are they tall enough, are they soft enough and supportive enough? The comfortable seats are a feature often overlooked in auto tests. You want to be able to exit the vehicle gracefully. You don’t want to have to limp across the parking lot after a simple trip to the grocery store.

I don’t think you can go wrong choosing from the major automakers. I would, however, suggest staying away from anything made in England or Italy. The English have given Western civilization many wonderful things, but food and cars are not among them. Sleek and luxurious, yes, but I’ve never forgiven England for the days of British Leyland, where reliability depended on the mood of the spirits.

When it comes to Italian cars, do you really think you’re going to get into that cute Fiat or out of a Ferrari without the help of a winch? Please.

And at all costs, avoid the blue sea monsters.

— By Ralph Sanders