Despite the extreme chill of the recent winter months, I've been out on car lots looking for a new car.
The car I drive, which technically is a truck, is a 1999 Toyota 4Runner I bought when it was two years old. My husband, son and daughter are all driving newer automobiles than mine. Until this winter, I couldn't have cared less.
My car is paid for, it runs smoothly and looks good, and it manages to get up the hill that leads to our garage, even on snowy days.
I bought it after my previous SUV was squashed between two very large Mercedes-Benz sedans in Atlanta as my daughter sat in it. She was fine, but it was totaled and I was forced to get another ride.
For me, buying a car is traumatizing. I just don't like it. But in 2001, I was forced to endure that trauma. This time around, as selfish as this sounds, I am buying an automobile, preferably another SUV, in order to have butt warmers.
There. I said it. I am shallow enough to admit that I am looking for a ride that has heated seats. If there are no heated seats, I will not consider it.
My sister recently bought a new car that has butt warmers, and my husband owns an SUV that has butt warmers. I am feeling left out, not to mention numbed by cold leather.
A couple of weekends ago, I neared a decision about a particular SUV. It was bigger than I really wanted, but the warmers were there as well as four-wheel drive.
Then came the negotiations and the trauma.
Why can't the salesperson I'd been talking with make me a deal? Why does a sales manager, someone I haven't established a relationship with, have to come in the picture?
And why is the "best" deal they can give me, not really that? Why can't I get an interest rate on a car loan that matches my credit score?
I had my mind set on a 1.99 percent interest rate, which I knew my credit score warranted. But it took negotiating the rate down in slim increments over the next half hour or so before we all finally agreed on what I had asked for.
Then the finance man insisted I had to sign on the dotted line right then and there.
I work under a deadline on a regular basis, which is ripe with pressure. But I never sign contracts that way.
I left the car dealership.
And my rear end is still cold.
Recently, I read new research from the Center for Responsible Lending which said blacks and Latinos have to make more of an effort to negotiate their interest rates on dealer loans than do whites, and that even then, they may walk away with a higher rate.
According to the center's report, "Non-Negotiable: Negotiation Doesn't Help African-Americans or Latinos on Dealer-Financed Car Loans," 39 percent of Latinos surveyed and 32 percent of blacks reported negotiating interest rates, while only 22 percent of white buyers did.
Now I'm even more afraid of buying a car.
What if I had taken the first rate offered to me, which was about a half of a percent higher? Over the life of the loan, how much more would I have been paying?
The center offered these tips for anyone, regardless of culture, who will be buying a car soon, maybe with his tax refund as a down payment:
■ Get pre-approved financing from somewhere else before going to the car lot. I had gotten approved by my credit union before going shopping, but I still hoped I could get a better deal.
■ Don't listen to conversation about what your monthly payments might be. Sometimes salespeople talk about that as a means of making a car loan look more affordable. Look at the entire cost of the loan.
■ Check out how much the insurance will cost you and how much license registration and maintenance will take out of your household budget as well.
■ If the budget is tight, consider saving more money before making a purchase. That will lessen the amount of loan money you will need.
I thought I had prepared well enough to bargain from a position of strength. I had gotten tips from my boss and friends, and I thought I had all my ducks in a row. But I still was turned off by the process.
I'm going to try again soon. I'm hearing that we can expect a hot summer this year. That means not only do I want seat warmers, but now I want seat coolers. Yes, they do exist.
So, dealers beware. I'll be back and better informed. Please be kind.