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Book puts women in driver's seat

Local author takes intimidation out of shopping for wheels


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Kristen Hall-Geisler is a Portland automotive writer who wants to help women overcome their car-buying fears. She says women must get past car buying being a guy thing.Kristen Hall-Geisler is a car girl.

Although cars are widely regarded as a guy thing, Hall-Geisler, a 38-year-old Portland writer, dishes about cars for publications including The New York Times and websites like How Stuff Works and Mental Floss.

Now Hall-Geisler has just published her first book, a do-it-yourself car buying guide for women, “Take the Wheel: A Woman's Guide to Buying a Car Her Own Damn Self.” She says the inspiration came from numerous conversations with both men and women about car buying.

“When I go to parties or networking events or whatever, men always want to tell me about the car they love most. Women often roll their eyes and say something like, 'My car is a piece of crap. I need a new one, but I'm broke, and I hate salesmen. Will you come with me to buy it?' ” says Hall-Geisler, who lives in St. Johns with her husband, Doug Geisler.

As Hall-Geisler sees it, most men aren't that much better at buying cars than women. But women think they can't figure it out and hate doing it.

“It's tougher for women to pull this off sometimes since cars have been a 'guy thing' for about a hundred years. They start off kind of agreeing with the salesperson that they're inadequate, when it's just not true,” she says.

So Hall-Geisler put everything she's learned about buying cars in a short, easy-to-read book full of humor and tips. At 140 pages, it is a quick read filled with useful tips, funny personal stories and acute observations about human behavior.

It begins by asking whether you really need a car or can get around by walking, biking and riding public transit instead. After that, it runs through the real costs of owning a vehicle, including interest, insurance and maintenance. And it explores the pros and cons of used versus new cars.

Basically, Hall-Geisler says, the best car-buying experience comes down to knowing your needs, figuring out your finances and doing your research.

"Anymore, the biggest car-buying mistake people make, especially women, is discounting their own knowledge. There is so much information available on the Internet, many buyers are more educated on the particular model, trim level and options available than the sales staff.

"But there's still an old-school tendency for car salespeople to make the buyer feel like they're about 2 feet tall and stupid," she says. "If a salesperson makes you feel small or inadequate, you can always leave and find a salesperson who will treat you like a valued human being.”

Wonder Woman

Kristen Hall-Geisler's new book is a do-it-yourself guide for women.Hall-Geisler admits she didn't start out to be any kind of car expert. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she later attended Florida State University to get a bachelor's degree in anthropology. In 1997, she moved from Florida to Eugene with the idea of going to graduate school at the University of Oregon. That never happened, however, and in 2001 she moved to Portland when her husband got a new job.

Looking for work, Hall-Giesler landed a job as a proofreader at Sports Car Market magazine, a Portland publication that covers specialty car auctions. Although Hall-Giesler had grown up in a house that frequently had more cars than people, she did not consider herself an enthusiast. But her responsibilities at the magazine slowly increased until she became the managing editor, with the power to assign stories.

After four years, Hall-Geilser quit to become a freelance writer specializing in cars. Nowadays, she spends much of her time on test drives, interviewing engineers and factory representatives, and visiting auto shows. She wrote the Guide to Exotic Cars blog for About.com for several years and became a frequent contributor to The New York Times. She also edits nonfiction books for Indigo, a local six-person firm, and volunteers at the Oregon Humane Society walking and training dogs.

Despite her growing career, Hall-Geisler is not an automotive snob. Her first car, a gift from her parents, was a Chevy Chevette, one of the lowliest economy cars ever made. She admits buying unreliable cars in the past and having a terrible experience at a reputable Portland car dealership. Her current car is a used Subaru Baja, a small four-door pickup that is practical but dorky looking.

"No one actually wants to pay my hourly rate for me to go car shopping with them, but a book is cheap and easy, and, in this case, empowering. If you buy the book, I don't need to come with you. You will be the Wonder Woman of car buying without my having to come along," Hall-Giesler says.