Sunday, June 29, 2008

adventures in car buying...

So at 11:00 Saturday morning I called Kath. I got her voicemail, but I left a message: “Hey, it’s me. Sooooooooooooo…do you wanna go torture car salesmen with me, or we could pull wings off flies or something? Just lemme know!”

In a little while she called back. “Where are you? You haven’t started without me, have you?”

Silly girl. Of course not.

She came by and picked me up and we were off, to start shopping for a new car for me. We’d both done our homework. Mine had begun with my reading an excellent article, Confessions of a Car Salesman by Chandler Phillips, a veteran journalist who went undercover for Edmunds and worked for a couple of months at two new car dealerships in the Los Angeles area: a high-volume, high-pressure dealership selling Japanese cars, and a smaller car lot that sold domestic cars at "no haggle" prices. This is a must-read if you’re in the market for buying a new car. It was sent to me by Kath, via B. Thanks, guys.

I like beautiful things, and this includes cars. If I didn’t have the commute and were only looking for something to tool around the neighborhood in, I’d be happily shopping for a used Boxster or a 350 Nissan Z or an Audi TT…silver, 5 speed on all models. But I have a formidable commute. It doesn’t help that I’m spoiled by the fact that Emma, my beloved 1999 VW Cabrio, still consistently delivers 34 mpg, in spite of the fact that she’s literally falling apart. Accordingly, my first choice at this point would have been a Prius (51 mpg hwy/60 mpg city). But with gas prices being so high, Prius’s have become absurdly overpriced for what they are, at least here in Texas, where even used versions of this car with over 30,000 miles are going for several thousand dollars over the sticker price of a brand new 2009 model. The same holds true for Honda Civic hybrids. So I went to Edmunds and JDPower and Consumer Reports and looked for 2008 small cars that get over 30 mpg on the highway, e.g., Honda Civic hybrid, Toyota Yaris, Mini Cooper, Mini Clubman, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Fit. Then I started looking at Safety & Reliability Ratings, and discovered that Hyundai currently has the best warranty available in the US: 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain, 8 years/80,000 miles federal emissions & performance and an amazing 5 years/unlimited miles 24 hour roadside assistance, including accident related towing. Both the Accent and the Elantra have 5 star safety ratings, too. I loved the look of the Accent hatchback, but after reading up on both cars, I decided the Elantra SE was probably going to be the better car for me, as ESC (electronic stability control) was standard on that model.

I wanted an Elantra SE, manual, with a sunroof, but I quickly discovered that the car is extremely popular, and incredibly, there wasn’t one to be had in all of Texas. I extended my search to New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Nada. I found 2 in Tucson (where Mike is living). Well, shoot. I decided I’d go around looking at cars and see what I liked, and so Kath and I set off on Saturday afternoon. It was 100 degrees outside, but Chandler Phillips’ article proved dead on: at every dealership, there were a dozen or so car salesmen (we saw just 1 sales woman), sitting or standing around outside, sweating in the horrific heat but waiting to pounce on any prospective customers. “We’re JUST LOOKING!” we’d say at each place, waving them off. Still, a number of business cards were pressed into my hand. Eventually, we ended up at a Hyundai dealership in Plano. The elusive Elantra SE was nowhere to be found, but to my delight there were a dozen or so hatchback Accents, including a couple with sunroofs. “Let’s test drive one of these!” I said to Kath. She agreed. We spotted a salesman, Jose, who appeared to be in his early 20’s, unlocking one of the Accents some distance from us.

“Can we test drive one of these?” Kath shouted to him.

“Sure,” he said, “Why don’t you go on inside and I’ll meet you there in a minute”.

We gratefully made our way to the thermally air conditioned dealership, where we picked up a brochure on the Accent while we waited for Jose. Eventually he showed up and asked, “Can I get you girls a Coke or something while I’m getting the car?”

We girls looked at each other.

“Sure,” we said in unison, but I was thinking, “You’re already losing points, Jose!”

To my disappointment, the Accent was an automatic. “Don’t you have a manual?” I asked.

“No,” Jose said, “we have no manuals”.

The car was fun to drive, and had great visibility and good features, but I had a couple of reservations about it. Although it has a 5 star safety rating, it doesn’t have Electronic Stability Control; the sunroof was located behind me in the roof rather than above me; and the car seemed a little sluggish on acceleration, a serious concern for me because most of my driving is highway driving. Plus, I really do want a manual. I’ve never driven anything else. Aside from the fact that I love the engagement of using the clutch and shifting myself, there’s substantial savings on most cars in getting a manual vs. an automatic, e.g., between $800 and $1100 on the Accent and Elantra, depending on the model, and as much as $1500 on some of the cars I've been looking at.

As we walked back to the dealership after the test drive, Jose asked, “Well, what do you think, girls?”

I wondered if he had a clue what a nails-on-a-chalkboard sensation that appellation produced in me. “It’s a nice car,” I said, “but I don’t know…I was really looking for an Elantra SE, because of the ESC…”

Jose said, “What?!?!?!” I repeated what I’d said. Jose laughed. “We have one,” he said, “in Quicksilver!”

“You have an SE?” I asked (and in the color I wanted!).

“Yes,” he said, “we got it yesterday morning”.

“But no one has them!” I said.

“I know,” he laughed. “But we got one in…”

“Can I test drive it?”

Of course”

To my disappointment, it was another automatic, and without a sunroof. Still, it was a very pretty car. I drove the loop of a couple of miles around the dealership that I’d driven before. The engine seemed more responsive than the engine on the Accent, and yet…I didn’t really like the car. I’m not sure why. Kath said from a passenger standpoint, it was much more comfortable than the Accent. We both got in the backseat, and there was lots of room back there, but I’m a single woman, living alone. If I have room in the car behind me, I'd just as soon have it be cargo space, or I could have a two-seater, because I’m not driving anyone around.

We went into the dealership with Jose, who was chuckling and congratulating himself on his good fortune in making a sale. This was a bad strategic mistake on his part. Both Kath and I were offended that he clearly thought we were “lay-downs” (customers who take whatever terms the salesperson offers), to use the term that I’m sure Jose uses with his fellow salesmen. Of course, we didn’t reveal our displeasure.

While Kath went to her car to retrieve some of the research I’d done on Hyundais, the games began. Jose asked me if I wanted to sell my car to the dealership.

“That depends on how much you offer me for it,” I said.

“How much are you asking?” Jose asked.

“Well, I know the Kelley Blue Book Value,” I said, without revealing what that was.

Jose wrinkled his nose. “The thing about Kelley Blue Book Values,” he said, “is that they don’t take a lot of things into account”.

“Uh-huh,” I said agreeably, “like what?”

“Well, trim, condition, etc.,” he said vaguely, mentioning details Kelley's DOES take into account. He then asked, “So how much do YOU think your car is worth?”

“Well, you tell me,” I said, smiling. “I’ll give you all the specifics, and then you tell me, and if I like what you offer, I’ll sell it to you.”

Jose sighed. He began asking me specifics about Emma. I smiled as I answered him. Quite frankly, if he’d offered me a thousand bucks for Emma, I’d have jumped at it. I seriously don't think anyone will buy Emma. She still gets 34 mpg, but she’s sort of like HAL in A Space Odyssey…some things work, and work well, but other things don’t work at all. And I have to admit, she’s at the point where the list of things that don’t work at all is much longer than the list of things that work, e.g., the rear right window stopped working a year ago...the motor that raises and lowers the convertible top stopped working a couple of months ago (lucky for me, the top was up at the time)...the speedometer works intermittently, because the control cluster’s gone...the AC went out a couple of weeks ago...the brakes, which I replaced at great expense a year ago, are now "wobbly" beneath my foot...a couple of years ago, the multiple disc CD player begin to play only European CD’s, not American ones…so as I barrel down the highway each day with the 3 functioning windows down because the AC doesn’t work, were I able to hear anything at all above the roaring road noise (which I'm not), theoretically I could listen to Callas singing Carmen on an EMI disc, but not Nora Jones singing Hank Williams on a Blue Note Records disc (and that’s truly a little too close to HAL in A Space Odyssey).

Kath came back in. Jose looked at her, expectantly.

“I’m just putting together some numbers here,”
he explained, and then pounced, “So how much do YOU think your mom’s trade in is worth?”

Katharine sat down, put on her horn rimmed glasses and looked at him coolly. “Don’t worry about that,” she said.

“No, I wanted to know, for running the figures…”

“That car will not figure into the negotiable price,” Katharine said firmly, meeting Jose’s eyes and holding them. “If you buy it, that will be a separate transaction.”

I wanted to laugh, but kept a poker face. I wondered if Jose was beginning to realize that these cats had claws…

Then we got down to business. I’d already told Jose how much of a down payment I was prepared to make, so I wanted some information from him, e.g., the total cost of the car, including tax, title and license, and to see what financing packages the dealership was prepared to offer. I didn’t tell Jose that unless he could beat the APR offered by my employee credit union, I wouldn’t be requesting a loan from the dealership. But instead of giving me this information, Jose asked, “How much do you want to spend per month?”

I looked at him. “What’s the car going to COST me?” I countered.

Jose said, “No, I need you to tell me how much you want to spend per month…”

I smiled pleasantly. “I need you to tell me the cost of the car, including tax, title and license, and the APR…”

Jose said he would have to go talk to his manager and also to the Financial People. Eventually, he came back with a sheet of paper with 2 sets of numbers written on it: payment ranges for 5 and 6 year contracts. If he’d asked (but he hadn’t) I’d have told him I want to finance for no more than 4 years, preferably 3. Still, I didn’t tell him that. He was showing me monthly payment amounts without revealing the APR’s or the total cost of the car, and he still “didn’t know” what title, tax and license would cost, except to say “maybe $1300”. The vague figures he was providing were for the Elantra SE.

“What about the Accent?” I asked.

He looked at me incredulously. “I thought you wanted the Elantra!” he said.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I said.

“But you looked happy driving it!” Jose said. I looked at him, and thought about reminding him that he was in the back seat while I was driving, and also saying he should see me when I’m driving a Porsche, but I bit my tongue.

“It’s a hundred degrees outside! Mom was just happy to be driving a car with AC!” Kath exclaimed.

“And a working speedometer!” I chimed in. Then I said, “I’d like to compare. What would the Accent cost?”

Kath added, “What are the invoice prices on both cars?”

Jose sighed. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Can you get them, please?” asked Kath, flashing a smile.

Jose produced the invoice prices, and I saw that in addition to the add ons, I was being charged an “advertising fee” for the Elantra but not the Accent. Interesting. I asked Jose about it.

“It’s an advertising fee, for ads,” he said.

Uh-huh. I asked if I could order the car that I wanted. Jose said “That could take MONTHS, and why should we do that without a down payment? What’s our incentive?”

“Well, what if I made a downpayment?” I asked. “Could I do that? That way, I could order a manual with a sunroof…”

Jose snorted. “I’ve NEVER had anyone do that,” he said.

Kath laughed. “Maybe at a Beemer dealership, Mom…”

“Well, we girls have gotta start someplace,” I sniffed.

In the end, I didn’t buy either car. I wanted to go home and do some more internet research before deciding. Besides, I really want a sunroof and a manual transmission. Jose warned me the Elantra SE will be sold should I change my mind. Maybe. But incredibly, dealerships aren’t open on Sundays in Texas, and as it was 7:30 Saturday night as we were finishing up, and the dealership was closing at 8:00, I was willing to take my chances.

As we walked back to Kath’s car, I tripped, fell, and sprained my ankle (just call me Grace). It’s so swollen and painful that I won’t be driving anywhere for the next couple of days. Still, sitting here this evening with my ankle elevated and iced, I’ve had time to reflect. I don’t want that Elantra SE, and if I decide I want the Accent, there are some manual ones out there with sunroofs. I made the right decision, not buying either car today...


Lisa :-] said...

Guy sounds pretty slimy for a youngster...

I can't believe you couldn't get him to tell you the total price of the damn thing.

We have a Hyundai Elantra (2003) sitting in our driveway. It was cheap, it gets good gas mileage (which is why we bought it, even five years ago.) But we have to laugh at some of the "features." It has leather seats, but they are so hard we joke that they are "leather on plywood." It's been a pretty good major problems. And by your description, it sounds like they have added some new bells and whistles to them in the last five years.

Jan said...

So sorry about your sprained ankle! I sprained mine on Mother's Day, and it healed pretty quickly. Hope yours does, too.

Shopping in such hot weather sounds miserable.

Glad you're not buying a car from the sleazy guy. Sounds like you're coming to a decision in the quiet that's been imposed upon you!

Tammy said...

Jose never knew what hit him. lol You two are quite the team. Bummer about your ankle.

P.S. I'm not taking the Lithium without further trials. This doc never mentioned blood work monitoring and one gal I know got worse.

Chat date soon?

Chris said...

This cracked me up and brought me back to memories of my father helping me buy my first brand new car. He was an incredible negotiator and had Tarik el-Asnary (I can remember his name 20 years later, isn't that funny?) in a fetal position, whimpering.

It was a life lesson for me because I was at that age where you start to think you know more than your parents. I walked away realizing my dad was the smartest man I knew:)

Erin said...

You are such a great story teller! I'm very sorry about your ankle and the car shopping experience ... but it did at the very least make for a good story. :-)

dreaminglily said...

And this is why I'm glad my dad is an ex car salesman lol I already know all the tricks and know not to put up with their BS lol They're evil little buggers aren't they? Sounds like you surprised him by actually knowing things lol


Jan said...

HEY, did you ever buy a car???

Brooke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brooke said...

"I wondered if he had a clue what a nails-on-a-chalkboard sensation that appellation produced in me."

Love the poetry in your writing. And I really just love reading your blog, period. Great dialogue.

=) Cheers