Zoom zoom.

I’ve put my poor WRX through a lot of abuse over the years. Other people have helped.

Barry launched it off a hill, got a half-rotation in the air, landed on pavement (going backwards), and ran over a small tree after losing control during a high-speed power slide (it still drove just fine, but the steering wheel was cocked at a 45-degree angle). Jeff rammed it into the back of an SUV. I rammed it into a guard-rail on Pie Trip II, then drove it over 7,000 miles almost nonstop around the country. Loren and I both did our best to destroy it on haggard, boulder-strewn dirt roads in Bumfuck, Arizona (we failed). Some coward rammed into the rear bumper in the parking lot at my apartment complex and fled.

To this day, not counting the damage caused by Jeff’s accident, the only mechanical problem the car has ever had is that the A/C blower fan makes an unhappy noise on its highest setting. That car is beefy. Unfortunately, it’s also expensive. And the insurance premiums are insane. And I’m poor. So I’m finally letting it go. It’s been a good car. I’ll miss it.

My original plan was to be a hippie for a month or two and ride my bike everywhere, then pay cash for a boring used Honda or Toyota and enjoy not making car payments every month. But, like the fool I am, I started doing research. Damn you, Intertron. You and your information.

While looking for cheap cheap cheap new cars that aren’t made in Korea, I was startled to discover the Mazda3 Sedan. In a sea of Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, and Dodge Neons, the Mazda3’s styling really stands out. It doesn’t look like a cheap car at all. In fact, it looks kinda sexy. Instead of saying, “I may be a piece of crap, but I’m all odd-looking and unique!” like all these other newfangled “youth-oriented” budget cars, the Mazda3 seems to say, “Hey Volkswagen, your shoelaces are untied.” I was intrigued, but I still figured I’d better do the responsible thing and get something cheaper, no matter how boring. So I tried to put the Mazda3 out of my head.

But then I started seeing them on the road. They’re not common cars yet, but it seemed like they just kept popping up wherever I went. Then I saw one parked near my apartment. It was like some extremely determined Mazda marketing team was stalking me and planting sexy Mazda3s where I’d see them.

A few days ago, USAA sent me one of those pre-approved car loan checks that you activate by calling an 800 number, then fill out and give to a dealer to buy a car. “Sneaky bastards,” I thought. “Now even my bank’s in on it!”

Yesterday I stumbled across a listing for a used 2005 Mazda3 with 6,000 miles on it. It was exactly the color I wanted inside and out, with the exact options I wanted, and for about $1,000 less than Edmunds said it should be selling for. Those sneaky Mazda marketing stalkers won; I dropped what I was doing and drove to the dealership to check it out.

Sadly, they had sold the thing over the weekend and just hadn’t removed the listing yet. Still, I figured I might as well test drive a new one while I was there. The thing felt like an Audi or a Jetta, not a budget Mazda. It was nice. It handled incredibly well, the ride was surprisingly comfortable, and I couldn’t get over the fact that the interior was, frankly, a lot nicer than my WRX, even at about half the price. When we got back, the salesman started the “Step into my office and we’ll make a deal” dance. “Aw, what the hell,” I thought, and went.

We walked inside, sat down, and the evil bastard started throwing credit applications and other miscellaneous forms at me, which I refused to fill out. He threw a fuss (“It’s standard operating procedure!”, “It’s required by law!”, “It was my cancer-stricken grandmother’s dying wish!”, etc.), but I said very firmly that if I bought a car I’d be financing it through USAA, so there was no reason for me to fill out a credit application with a Wells Fargo logo on it, especially not before agreeing on a price, no matter how many imaginary laws I was breaking.

He finally relented and asked me to make on offer on the car. I figured I’d start with something absurd and work my way up, so I offered him $400 over the price of the used car I had originally been interested in (which, as I said before, was already priced lower than it should have been). So my offer was about $2,500 less than the sticker price, before taxes and fees. I figured he’d laugh and treat me like a moron and I’d get pissed and leave, which is usually what happens whenever I set foot in a car dealership, but he didn’t. Just had me sign that ominous piece of paper saying I’d make a deal if they could meet that price (although it actually didn’t say anything at all, oddly enough), then went to talk to his manager.

When I got tired of waiting, I stood up, stretched, and took a step toward the door (I was actually just going to look out the window). Lo and behold, the salesman appeared out of nowhere, as if by magic, and valiantly began making smalltalk. I sat back down. We waited some more.

I noticed the box on his desk labeled “blocker keys” and asked him if they had much of a theft problem. An enlightening conversation ensued, during which I learned that cars get stolen “all the damn time” because the salespeople are lazy and frequently leave them unlocked, sometimes even with keys inside. I also learned that they don’t block off the side entrance at night, and that they only have one night security guard, and that he’s too fat to chase anyone. And I learned that, since their inventory is insured six ways from next Tuesday, the dealer basically doesn’t care if a car gets stolen every now and then.

All very interesting.

Eventually, the manager came over. I was expecting a gruff, unhappy fellow who’d give me a song and dance about how I was trying to rob them blind and whatnot, but he was very nice and friendly. He started out by asking me what branch of the military I was in (the salesman had apparently told him I was financing through USAA). I told him I’d probably be buying a Hummer if I was in the military, since they seem to have a “bring your own armor” policy these days. Teehee. But he didn’t seem as amused as I was, so I added, “My dad was in the Air Force.”

He said that they give USAA members their “fleet price” (who would need a fleet of Mazdas?), which just happened to be almost exactly what I had offered them. It was also only barely above invoice (according to Edmunds.com), which was something I thought I’d have to fight for tooth and claw. Interesting.

I have no idea if I could have talked them even lower, but I wasn’t going to push my luck, so I told him he had a deal and bought the car. I was even more surprised when they didn’t try to sell me an extended warranty or any other extras. I drove off in the car I wanted for the price I wanted with relatively little hassle. I was amazed.

And that’s the story of how Uncle Wonko got himself a nicer, newer, shinier (albeit slower) car than the WRX at half the price and saved several metric ass-tons on insurance to boot. Yeehaw.