How my iPhone and Twitter bought me a car

It's a pretty sweet ride. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

The Internet helped me land this Ford Escape. It’s pretty sweet ride. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

When my 2001 Subaru Forester died on the side of the highway a week or so back, I was not excited about trying to find a replacement.

Buying a car is right up there with heading to the DMV, going to IKEA and attending your ex’s next wedding. It’s depressing. And inevitable. The load of anxiety-ridden, “hurry up and wait” BS that has marred my every interaction with car dealerships both new and used is overwhelming.

So it was with glee that I bypassed all that crap and used my iPhone, email and Twitter to buy myself a new car. Let me explain.

As I sat on my couch Tuesday night, bemoaning my fate and wondering how I was going to come up with a new-to-me car to drive my kids back and forth to school, I ran across a local dealership (Continental Auto Group) that had a prequalification button on its website. Intrigued, I filled out the short form on my MacBook Pro and promptly assumed I’d hear “no” in the morning.

It’s not that I have bad credit; I have an average credit score. I make an OK amount of money — it pays the bills — but not a whole lot is left over after all my outgoing expenses. I have a few more credit cards than I need, including one that I used to buy the MacBook Pro I’m using right now. I’m not quite overextended, but I’m not flush, either. I was turned down last week by my credit union for a used-car loan because of all these facts.

So when I got an email from a sales guy at the dealership asking for more information from me, I was cautiously optimistic. I sent back the info he asked for and we had several more email exchanges throughout the next four hours. Here I was, dealing with the financing of a car through a dealer, all from the comfort of my couch via the miracle of the Internet. I gave him details on the type of car I was looking for (all-wheel drive, must fit my children), the type of monthly payment I could afford (please keep it low), and what kind of down payment I might be able to come up with (not very much).

Near the end of our email time together, Eric and I were on a first-name basis. He asked me to come in to the dealership to look at the car he had selected for me based on my criteria — a 2006 Ford Escape that had only 50,000 miles on it and a single previous owner. Seemed too good to be true, so I headed over. He also needed a copy of my taxes from the last two years, so I dropped into TurboTax and downloaded those to email along.

Once I arrived at the dealership, Eric had all my info, but had only gotten one of the tax forms. I pulled up the email I had sent from home and emailed it again. It still showed up as a blank PDF document on his Samsung phone (ha!), so I took a couple of screen shots off my phone and sent them via iMessages from my iPhone. That was good enough to get his manager’s attention and she called the banks with the good financing rates.

I was feeling pretty good about this process so far: I’d only been in the soul-sucking fluorescent light of a car showroom for 20 minutes and I was pretty darn close to getting an offer hammered out. So I took to Twitter and sent a nice tweet about how great this process was, including the @-name of the auto dealership I was dealing with.

Minutes later, the guy behind the dealership Twitter account replied to my tweet, asking which specific building I was in (they own several dealerships on one street). A few minutes later he showed up, talking to the manager about who I was (a writer he admired and a friend on Facebook), and how he wanted to make sure they did everything possible to help me get into a car at a price point I could afford. That’s the power of social media, right there.

The worst. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

The dealer’s Dell was the worst. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

My tax return still wasn’t going through the weird email system the dealership uses, so I was ushered over to a crappy Dell PC in a corner of the showroom floor. I logged into Gmail, pulled up the tax return and printed it out, but not until after I figured out a printer jam and found a ream of paper to add to the machine. I hate printers.

While we waited for the bank to approve the deal, Eric came over, apologetic. “I’m sorry, Rob,” he said, “but we also need proof of insurance for this loan.”

No problem. I simply pulled out my iPhone, downloaded the Geico app and produced a digital insurance ID card that I was able to text him directly.

I do love technology.

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About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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