Monday, May 19, 2008

The Car-buying Husband

I went car shopping on Friday. I had a good idea of what I was looking for, had done some on line research and even knew the dealers I would be visiting. The three cars I would be looking at were the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 3 and the Honda Civic.

I started at the local Toyota Dealer. There I asked to be helped by the oldest salesperson on site. Actually, at their dealership they use a program that has "Product Specialists" who work with the customer through the car search, qualification of needs, and the demo drive. Then if you are interested in buying they turn you over to a closer (they call them managers) and the deal proceeds forward.

The gentleman who helped me (remember he was the oldest on the lot) was seven years my junior. Man, just once I'd like to be in a situation where I wasn't the oldest. Anyway....

I explained to him that I had sold cars, that I was there to test drive the Toyota Corolla in both stick and automatic transmission and what equipment I preferred. He found a pair of cars and away we went. I took the Corollas out on I-40, around town a little and got a good feel for the cars. I found them to be the most solid feeling of all the cars I drove that day.

They were also the most boring. While it felt good to be in a well built little car, the Corollas where uninspired in design and performance. The automatic made up my mind for me that I would be purchasing a 5-speed no matter what brand I chose. I'm looking for economy, but not boring. The Corolla was surprisingly roomy, for a small car. It did have some road and wind noise at speed on the Highway. Every small car I drove that day had some noise on the interstate.

After driving the two vehicles, getting info about sticker price, options, and deals, I left for the next lot. I told my "Product specialist that if I purchased a Toyota I would buy one from him and that I would follow-up with him and let him know the outcome of my search.

Adjacent to the Toyota dealer is the local Mazda dealer. Here I met a young man with whom I had worked during my stint as a car salesman. He found a Mazda 3 in the color and equipment I liked and we took it out. I should note that during this day of car hunting I took the exact same test drive route 5 times. It gave me an excellent opportunity to compare the ride, performance and feel of each vehicle under controlled conditions. The little Mazda 3 was the sportiest looking of all the cars I drove that day and also the loudest. Interior noise at speed was more than I felt comfortable with and in addition the car exhibited some front end shimmy which we attributed to the tires.

Though we have owned Mazda products and like the sporty look and feel of Mazdas, I said goodbye after the test drive and went on to the Honda Dealer. I learned while talking with my friend that a manager we had worked for had been arrested in an FBI sting at another car lot. It seems the car business continues to be as flaky as ever, with new scams and more ways of cheating the public invented or re-invented each year. I liked this person very much and had even been to a party at his house. It hurt to think he had messed up so badly that he ended up in the can.

The Honda dealer's internet car sales dept and I had been in contact the day before. I forgot to bring my salesman's phone number with me and instead just showed up at the dealership around noon. This particular dealership was having an awards banquet given by their head office and my salesman treated me to barbecue chicken, salad, baked potato with roll and soft drinks. It was a great lunch. We ate it in his office while he looked in his inventory for the car I wanted to drive . He found a two door and 4 door Civic with a 5-spd for the test drives. I drove both of them and decided against the coupe.

The Civic impressed me for the following reasons:

1) Comfortable ride and good pep

2) Very modern styling inside and out (the sleekest of all the cars I drove)

3) At speed (over 65mph) you didn't really notice how fast you were going. This was evident at lower speeds as well. I will have to be careful around town in the 35mph zones. The car is so stable and quiet you just don't realize you're getting after it.

4) The car came standard with the right equipment for me.

5) The deal I was able to make seemed fair (though not great - I could have held out for a couple hundred more bucks in discount, but I really didn't feel like it)

6) I have previous experience with the dealership's service dept and they are top notch

7) I am looking forward to +35mpg with this vehicle

The cars we drove were not the right color so we hunted for a Galaxy Gray (gunmetal grey) 4 door with a five speed.

We found the car I eventually purchased and it had the other equipment I wanted as well, which was power doors and locks, remote entry and cruise control. When I test drove this car (my 5th circuit of the same route that day) I thought it pulled to the right. I told the salesman and we put it in the service dept when we came back in. It took a couple more test drives after they adjusted the front tire pressure and checked the alignment before I liked it, but they got it right.

During this period my salesman had to go pick up his kid and I took the Civic home to Vicki. She drove it around till she was comfortable with it. She had driven a five speed in our Miata back in the early 90s and wasn't sure she'd remember how. She did just fine. In fact she enjoyed the 5-speed as much as I did. She drove back to the dealer and we waited for our salesman.

At this point we started talking numbers. Since I had done some homework on the net we cut to the chase and the manager of their internet dept offered to sell me the car around $800 below sticker. This price was $350-$450 over invoice which gave them a little profit and still gave me a deal. In addition I opted for Honda finance at 2.9% for 60 months. This made for reasonable payments with little interest costs. Of course they did try a little numbers scam which my wife and I caught during the paperwork signing. The sales manager got involved, knew they had been caught and fixed it with out admitting to what they had attempted. Both Vicki and I knew what was going on; I had been in the business just long enough to know you can't ever let your guard down when buying a car.

In fact, after attempting to sell me add-ons at the negotiating table, they took another shot at us in finance. Here they wanted to sell us extended warranties and numerous other worthless extras. I told the finance geek we would not be buying any and then he pitched something we actually liked. This particular dealership offers a prepaid maintenance program that covers all services including the 60,000 mile one. With Honda you have two $400 services and several $100 services in the first 60,000 miles. The deal he offered made sense and we took it so we won't have any expense for oil changes, transmission service, or whatever for some time. It made an 11 dollar difference in our payment and saved us somewhere between $500 and $900 dollars.

We finished in finance, took delivery, stopped for dinner and then came home. I called both the other salesman, told them what I liked and didn't like about their vehicles, told them why I made the choice I did and gave them some numbers, so they would know what the competition was doing. In addition, I thanked them for their time and let them know I would recommend them personally if I knew of someone looking for their brand of car. If you spend time with a car salesman, remember to have some respect for that. Unless they were rude or obnoxious, a follow-up call to let them know what you bought and why is better than nothing. They will of course be dissapointed you didn't buy from them, but they knew when you left the lot the chances of you returning were minimal.

Vicki's got the Civic today (Sunday), she just drove off to work in it. I added a picture or two I took of her this morning. She looks good in this little car.

I will be working hard starting Monday at my new job and won't have much time for blogging. Thanks to all who have come by to read and comment. I'll check in here in the near future, but daily entries are probably not going to happen.

The Daily Husband


Dianne said...

Hi there Vicki!

Looking good in your new car :)

Will look forward to some news on the new job when you have the time Richard.

As always - I wish you - and Vicki - the best.

Richard said...

Thanks Dianne, she does look good in it doesn't she?


Anonymous said...

HI Vicki and Rich,Vicki sure looks nice in the new car.It's a beautiful car.Talk to you soon.

Richard said...

Thanks anonymous person.