Those who have not been following this articles won’t know what’s going on here. My wife and I are now in the US to buy a muscle car, and then hit the road on an 8,000km road trip from LA to New York. We’ll be writing about our experience and how you go can to the US and buy a car and bring it home to New Zealand via our book, USA2NZ: Buy It, Drive It, Ship It.

Day 1: LA

After a gruelling 20 hours of travel, we arrived around 1pm in LA. We managed to pay just $75 for an upgrade for both of us for Premium Economy from Fiji to LA – bargain!

This not only gave us more legroom than we could use, it also meant that we were one of the first off the plane – no queues at customs for us!

How wrong we were. A few other planes had landed before us, and due to the new and improved security at LAX, it seemed to take forever to actually get through customs. Okay, it was only an hour standing up waiting, but it felt like three.

Finally out of LAX and into the rental car shuttle. Budget upgraded us to a Jeep Cherokee, which was nice of them. Actually the higher stance of the Jeep was welcome as we navigated LA’s rush hour that goes from 3pm-8pm.

Even though it has been 4 years since last in the US, I quickly settled back into being on the wrong side of the car and road.

We had our first car dealer lined up to see, and we were over an hour later than expected, so didn’t get there until 4.30pm. Not to worry as the dealership is open until 9pm on a Thursday.

Compared to New Zealand, American car yards are simply massive. It’s not unusual to find a dealer with over 500 brand-new cars in stock, with some having over 1,000.

Anyway, we arrived at the dealership, and then the problems started. This dealer knew we were coming from New Zealand specifically to look at this 2016 Dodge Challenger – a nice, brand-new 5.7 Hemi V8 in ‘B5 Blue’, 6-speed manual, 20” forged alloys running 245/45ZR20 tyres, the Super Track Pak option that has performance steering, brakes and is lowered half an inch. This car also has the RT Plus option that gives you heated and cooled leather seats, a heated steering wheel with power adjustment for tilt/telescopic, and some other nice features like SatNav. Handy in the US but useless in New Zealand.

Did I say the car was new? Well, it was supposed to be. When they got the keys and we opened the doors, I thought they had made a mistake. Even though this car was on the lot with 55 other Dodge Challengers, it looked like someone had had a party in there – front and back. The carpets were covered in crap, there were scrape marks on both driver and passenger’s door panels, and the passenger’s front seat had scuff marks on the back of the seat as well as scratches on the lower seat plastic trim.

My first question in an instant was, “how many miles has this car done?” 237 was the answer. It looked like it was a lot more, or it had been well used in those 237 miles. Still the car looked, sounded and went great! But I was really disappointed. I asked the sales guy about the scratches on the plastic trim on the seat and kick plates. His classic car salesman answer? “They will buff out”. Ah, not they won’t!!

Regardless, time to head out for a test drive. Then the salesman said, “Can you drive a stick shift?” Of course I answered, I drive one every day. “I better drive it just in case.” In case of what? So off we went around a single block. For a salesman hoping for me to buy this brand-new car, not driving it was not going to help. In fact there’s no way I’d be buying it without driving it!

We got back to the dealership and I spoke to the sales manager about my concerns – they knew we were coming to look at this car, and didn’t even clean it? To me it isn’t a new car at all. He did apologise, and sent the car off to get groomed, mentioning it would take “5 minutes”. I asked how this was possible, and he tells me he’s put ten guys on the guy to get it detailed. I’m not sure a Challenger is big enough to cope with 10 people cleaning it at the same time, but there you go.

Then, there was the whole dealership experience. I had some feeling it was going to be high pressure, and was not wrong this time. We basically had a sales guy with us the whole one hour we were there, to make sure (I expect) that we didn’t do a runner. He was like a bad smell, just did not leave us alone – ever. We did not have a time when he was not 2 feet from us.

A sleazy car salesman, Con man, retro suit wearing man with happy smile showing you his deals.

At one point while we were waiting for the manager to discuss the car with us, he got the paperwork out and started filling it in! I asked him what he was doing…”getting the paperwork ready for your new car!” He could not comprehend that we were not going to do anything in writing until the price of the car was discussed. He seemed quite bamboozled about this. I may have been the first person to question this process with him.

So today was a bit of a write-off as far as finding the perfect car goes, but tomorrow we are off to San Diego to look at some more – and to experience more of that culture that is the high-pressure American Car Salesman.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m glad you revisited us @ Cerritos Dodge Chrysler Jeep and Ram to purchase your B5 Blue. In no way did I mean to come as a sleezy sales manager… Take care and row through those gears mate! I’m actually an avid rider myself (09 CBR 1000RR, 2010 BMW S1000RR, 2016 BMW S1000RR) and a proud owner of 3 FCAU products, 13 Dodge Dart, 16 Chrysler 200C, and 13 SRT Viper GTS. You will be pleased with your purchase, the new challenger rocks.

    J.C. Smith
    Director of Internet Sales

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