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0826 Shopping for a Used Car

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 826: Shopping for a Used Car.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 826. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California, United States of America, North America on the planet Earth – not Planet Hollywood!

We have a website, oh yes we do. We have a website just for you, it’s eslpod.com. Go there, become a member, really improve your English by downloading the Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialogue about buying or shopping for a used or old car. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Mario: Do you want to go with me to test drive a car I’m thinking of buying?

Danica: Sure. Which dealership are we going to?

Mario: I’m not buying a used car from a dealership. I’m buying it from a private party. Dealerships rip you off.

Danica: Are you sure about that? My sister bought a certified used car from a dealership and she even got a one-year warranty. She’s very happy with it.

Mario: Dealerships jack up the price. Buying from a private party means getting a better deal.

Danica: If you say so. What kind of car is it, and how much is the owner asking for it?

Mario: It’s a McQ Racer and the owner is asking 12,000 dollars, 3,000 dollars below blue book value.

Danica: That is a good price. In fact, that’s too good a price. Doesn’t that raise some red flags?

Mario: Like what?

Danica: Well, the car could be have been totaled and is now considered salvage. Its odometer could have been rolled back. It could have major mechanical problems…

Mario: You can be skeptical, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. If this guy wants to sell his car for much less than its value, who am I to ask questions?

Danica: You’ll do a title search and ask to see the pink slip before you buy it, right?

Mario: I think you’d better stay here. With you along, I see this great deal going up in smoke!

[end of dialogue]

Mario begins our dialogue by saying to Danica, “Do you want to go with me to test drive a car I’m thinking of buying?” “To test drive” is a phrasal verb meaning to drive a car that you are thinking of buying in order to see if you like it or not. It’s sort of doing research by driving the car and seeing if it’s something you like. Usually, you have to go to a place that sells cars, what we would call a “car dealership,” and they would allow you to go and drive the car. They have to go with you – somebody from dealership has to go with you, but you can go and test drive it; you can see if you like the car or not. The word “test” can be used to mean an examination like in school, but it can also be used to try, to experiment with something.

Danica says, “Sure. Which dealership are we going to?” Mario says, “I’m not buying a used car from a dealership.” A “used car” would be a car that is not new. It might not be old; it could be just from last year. But if someone else has owned it before you – if you didn’t buy it new – then it is a used car. Mario doesn’t want to buy a used car from a dealership. In the United States, used car dealerships have a very bad reputation. The idea is that they’re going to try to give you a bad car – give you a bad deal, cheat you somehow. Mario says, “I’m buying (this used car) from a private party.” If you don’t buy a car from a company that sells cars – a business that sells new or used cars, a dealership – then you buy it from an individual person who’s selling his or her car, and we call that person, in this case, a “private party.” “I’m going to buy a car from a private party” means I’m going to buy it from an individual. It’s not a party like you’re going to drink and dance and listen to music. The word “party” here just means person. “Dealerships,” Mario says, “rip you off.” “To rip (someone) off” or “to rip off (someone)” means to trick them into paying more for something than it’s really worth, and remember I said that’s the reputation used car dealers – “dealers” are people who work for a dealership – used car dealers have a reputation for ripping people off, for giving them a bad car or charging them too much money.

Danica says, “Are you sure about that? My sister bought a certified used car from a dealership and she even got a one-year warranty.” A “certified used car” is a car where the company – the dealership gives you a piece of paper and says this car is good, it’s in working order, everything works on it. Often, “certified” (certified) means that it is somehow official, that someone with power or authority said yes, this is what we are saying it is. Now of course, you may not believe that person, but that’s what “certified” typically means. So a “certified used car” would be a car that someone “guarantees.” They say if something goes wrong we will fix it. That guarantee, when we talk about a specific, physical product like a car, is usually called a “warranty” (warranty). A “warranty” is an agreement that a company makes with you where they say we will fix or repair anything that happens to your car over a certain amount of time. A “one-year warranty” would mean if car somehow has a problem in 6 months or in 10 months we will fix it and we will not charge you any money.

Danica says her sister has a car she bought from a dealership that has a one-year warrantee on it and she’s very happy with it. Mario says, “Dealerships jack up the price.” “To jack up the price” means to increase the price significantly, often over a very short amount of time, and in this case, more importantly, to a level that is much higher than what the business should be charging for something, much more than it’s really worth. Although, of course, this has a strange conception of economics, some people think things are worth something objective, that you can somehow scientifically determine how much something is worth. But value, as most economists will tell you, is always relative; it depends on how much someone’s willing to pay you. Well, the phrase “to jack up the price” is describing a company that will increase the price of something much more than what many people think they should. Mario says, “Buying from a private party means getting a better deal.” A “deal” here means a good bargain, where you get something for a good price.

Danica says, “If you say so.” Notice the way she says that. “If you say so” is often an expression we use when we don’t actually believe what the other person is saying, but you’re not going to argue with them. “Well, okay. If you say so.” You may not really believe them but you’re not going to continue arguing about it. Danica says, “What kind of car is it, and how much is the owner asking for it?” So, she’s asking what kind of car Mario wants to test drive.

Mario says, “It’s a McQ Racer and the owner is asking 12,000 dollars.” McQ Racer is a wonderful car; you should try to get one for yourself! “The owner is asking 12,000 dollars,” that’s how much he wants for the car. Mario says this is 3,000 dollars below blue book value. The “blue book” is a publication in the United States that lists all of the used cars and how much they’re generally considered to be worth. Blue book value is used by a lot of insurance companies to estimate how much a car is worth. Why is it called the “blue book”? Well, originally it was probably a book with a blue cover. But when someone says “blue book value” they mean the price that comes from this book that’s published every year – now I’m sure it’s online – that gives you the value of a car – the average value of a car, including used cars.

Danica says, “That’s a good price. In fact, it’s too good a price.” She means it seems too low, maybe there’s a problem with the car. “Doesn’t that raise some red flags?” she asks. The expression “to raise (raise) some red flags” (flags) means that something is suspicious, that it makes you wonder whether there might be a problem; it makes you doubt the quality of something.

Mario says, “Like what?” He doesn’t know what the problem Danica is referring to is. Danica says, “Well, the car could be have been totaled and is now considered salvage.” “To total” (total), as a verb, means in this case that the car is ruined, that the car got into a bad accident and basically isn’t worth very much money anymore. “Salvage” (salvage) is something that you are able to save from an accident. So, Danica’s saying maybe this car was in an accident and it’s not really worth the 12,000 dollars. She also says that the odometer could have been rolled back. The “odometer” (odometer) is the little part – the little machine in the car that tells you how many miles the car has been driven. It’s illegal in most states to change the odometer to make it seem as though the car hasn’t been used very much. When you change the odometer to decrease the amount of miles on it we call that “rolling it back.” In general, the phrasal verb “to roll (roll) back” means to decrease the value of something. It can sometimes mean to return something to the state or the situation where it was before. We may make some changes in our website and then we discover some problems, so we roll back to the previous version of the website. Danica says the car could have “major” or very serious mechanical problems. “Mechanical problems” would be problems with how the engine works for example, or how it is built.

Mario says, “You can be skeptical (you can be doubting), but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.” This is an old expression; it comes really from The Iliad by Homer, about the Trojan War in ancient Greece. “To look a gift horse in the mouth” means that you question why someone is giving you such a good deal or why someone, more commonly, is giving you a gift. If you remember the story of The Iliad and the Trojan War, the Greeks gave the Trojans a wooden horse, but it was a trick. Inside of the horse there were soldiers that then attacked the city once the horse was brought into the city of Troy. Well, that’s where this expression comes from.

Mario doesn’t believe Danica. He thinks this is going to be a good deal. He says, “If this guy wants to sell his car for much less than its value, who am I to ask questions?” That phrase “who am I to (do something)” means I don’t have the right or I shouldn’t ask questions.

Danica says, “You’ll do a title search and ask to see the pink slip before you buy it, right?” A “title search” is the process of seeing who legally owns the car. All cars that are driven in the United States out on the road have to be registered with usually the state government, and so you can do a title search. You can see who owned the car and make sure that there weren’t any problems with the car. The “pink slip” is an expression we use for the certificate of ownership, what we call the “title” certificate of a car. It’s a piece of paper – a document to show who actually owns the car. Obviously, if you go and steal a car and then you try to sell it to another person you usually won’t have the document – the official document that says that you’re the owner. That official document – that title document is called a “pink slip” because probably in some states the actual piece of paper used to be pink. I don’t think it’s pink in most states anymore, but we still use that expression.

Mario says, “I think you’d better stay here,” meaning I don’t think you should go with me. “With you along,” meaning with you coming with me, “I see this great deal going up in smoke!” The expression “to go up in smoke” means that it will be ruined, it will be wasted, it will disappear and no longer be available. Of course, we’re not talking about the car actually burning; he’s using this as a metaphor to say that the situation will be ruined. The deal will no longer be a good deal if Danica comes with. Mario wants to believe that this is a good car. Danica is trying to give him some advice about being careful about the car, but Mario isn’t interested in listening.

Now let’s listen, ourselves, to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Mario: Do you want to go with me to test drive a car I’m thinking of buying?

Danica: Sure. Which dealership are we going to?

Mario: I’m not buying a used car from a dealership. I’m buying it from a private party. Dealerships rip you off.

Danica: Are you sure about that? My sister bought a certified used car from a dealership and she even got a one-year warranty. She’s very happy with it.

Mario: Dealerships jack up the price. Buying from a private party means getting a better deal.

Danica: If you say so. What kind of car is it, and how much is the owner asking for it?

Mario: It’s a McQ Racer and the owner is asking 12,000 dollars, 3,000 dollars below blue book value.

Danica: That is a good price. In fact, that’s too good a price. Doesn’t that raise some red flags?

Mario: Like what?

Danica: Well, the car could be have been totaled and is now considered salvage. Its odometer could have been rolled back. It could have major mechanical problems…

Mario: You can be skeptical, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. If this guy wants to sell his car for much less than its value, who am I to ask questions?

Danica: You’ll do a title search and ask to see the pink slip before you buy it, right?

Mario: I think you’d better stay here. With you along, I see this great deal going up in smoke!

[end of dialogue]

This script was written by our certified scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse. Our scripts come with a one-year warranty. If your English breaks down in the next year, just give us a call!

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to test drive – to drive a car as research to determine whether one likes it and whether one would like to buy it

* Becky test drove one of the new cars, but she thought the seats were too uncomfortable.

dealership – a business that sells new and/or used cars, usually specializing in a specific make (manufacturer)

* They’re building a new Honda dealership right next to the Ford dealership.

private party – an individual who is selling something, not a company

* Are you sure this private party is the real owner of the jewelry? Maybe it was stolen?

to rip (someone) off – to trick someone into paying more than something is worth; to give someone a bad deal in a sale

* That man ripped us off by selling us a boat with a hole in the bottom.

certified – with an official statement about the qualifications or characteristics of someone or something

* Sandy is a certified Java programmer.

warranty – an agreement for a company to fix or replace a product for a certain period of time

* I dropped my phone in the bathtub and now it doesn’t work. Is that covered under the warranty?

to jack up the price – to increase the price of something significantly, charging much more than it actually costs or much more than something is really worth

* Hotels in university towns jack up the price of their rooms around graduation, because they expect a lot of guests.

blue book – a publication that lists the expected prices for used cars based on their make (manufacturer), model (type), mileage, location, and condition

* Blue book values are generally higher for cars that have been driven less.

value – amount; price; how much someone will pay for something

* Larger packages of food usually cost more than smaller packages, but they offer a better value per ounce.

to raise some red flags – to appear to present a warning or something suspicious; to make one wonder whether there is a problem; to make one doubt the quality or legitimacy of something

* If someone makes an offer that seems too good to be true, it should raise some red flags.

totaled – destroyed; ruined, especially in a driving accident

* Sergey got into a horrible accident and totaled his new car, but fortunately nobody was hurt.

salvage – something that has been saved from an accident

* After the house fire, the insurance company assessed the value of the salvage.

odometer – the device in a car that shows how many miles a car has traveled

* They’re planning to have a party when the car’s odometer hits 150,000 miles.

to roll back – to decrease the value of something by moving it backwards, especially when changing the value on an odometer to make it seem like a car has traveled less than it actually has; to return to an earlier state or setting

* It is illegal to roll back the odometer when selling a car.

mechanical – related to how a machine works, how something is built, and how moving parts work together

* Leon studied mechanical engineering to learn to design motors.

to look a gift horse in the mouth – to be ungrateful when one receives a gift, questioning why the giver gave the gift or questioning the value of the gift

* I don’t know why Francesca gave us such a nice present, but we smiled and said thank you. Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

title search – a process of researching who actually owns something

* The title search showed that the homeowners still needed to pay off their mortgage and some unpaid taxes.

pink slip – a vehicle’s title certificate; a document showing who owns a car

* Make sure the vehicle identification number and the license plate number are the same as the ones listed on the pink slip.

to go up in smoke – to be wasted; to be ruined and then disappear or no longer be available

* When the restaurant was flooded, the owners watched all their hard work go up in smoke.

Comprehension Questions
1. Why doesn’t Mario want to buy from a dealership?
a) Because the prices are too high.
b) Because the salespeople aren’t friendly.
c) Because they don’t have the right kind of car.

2. Why does Mario decide not to have Danica come with him?
a) Because she isn’t a good negotiator.
b) Because she’ll ruin the deal.
c) Because she doesn’t like smokers.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
certified

The word “certified,” in this podcast, means with an official statement about the qualifications or characteristics of someone or something: “Alan is a board-certified neurosurgeon with many years of experience.” “Certified mail” is a type of mail delivery service where the recipient (the person who receives the envelope) must sign a piece of paper, which is returned to the sender as proof that the document was sent: “It’s a good idea to send important documents, like college applications and tax returns, using certified mail so you have proof of when it was sent.” Finally, when used informally, “certified,” can describe someone who has a mental illness or is crazy: “Lydia is so moody and unpredictable. Are you sure she isn’t certified?”

to go up in smoke

In this podcast, the phrase “to go up in smoke” means to be wasted or ruined and then disappear or no longer be available: “During the economic crisis, thousands of investors saw their savings go up in smoke.” The phrase “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” means that if people are saying bad things about someone or something, those things are probably true: “Everyone is saying that Julia stole the money and I don’t want to believe it, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Finally, if a food is “smoked,” it is cooked or prepared in a special way that gives it a woody, smoky flavor: “Whenever they go to the coast, they buy smoked salmon and smoked tuna to eat with bread, cream cheese, and tomatoes.”

Culture Note
Certified Pre-Owned Cars

Buying a used car can be a “gamble” (something that is risky and may or may not be successful), as the buyer never knows the car’s “maintenance history” (how well something has been cared for). Some buyers “minimize” (reduce) the risk by “opting” (choosing) to buy a “certified pre-owned car” from a dealership.

Dealerships can “inspect” (review carefully) used cars and make small “repairs” (fixes) as needed to “ensure” (make sure) that they are safe and “reliable” (work as expected, without failing). Used cars that meet their “standards” (minimum qualifications or requirements) are then certified and buyers can “take comfort” (feel confident) when buying a “pre-owned” (previously owned; used) car.

Not all cars are “eligible” (able to participate in) for certified pre-owned car programs. They normally have to be of a certain “make” (manufacturer) and the “model” (type of car) cannot be more than a few years old. Their odometer “readings” (the number shown on the instrument) cannot be greater than some defined maximum value.

The dealers have to invest some money in the inspection process and repairs, so certified pre-owned cars “tend to” (usually) cost a little more than non-certified used cars. But many buyers believe the “premium” (additional amount paid) is “worthwhile” (important to have and okay to pay extra for) as they know the cars are less likely to “break down” (have mechanical problems). Many of the certified pre-owned cars have a “warranty program” so that certain types of mechanical problems are “covered” (included free of charge) for a period of time after the sale.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b