Wheeling Dealing

Nicholas Clements

CAR BUYING CAN BE overwhelming, which partly explains why we held onto our 2002 Toyota RAV for as long as we did. When the time came to part ways, we needed to decide whether the replacement would be new or used, how much we were prepared to pay, the features we wanted and what vehicle would meet all our criteria.

These were relatively easy tasks. While I realized that purchasing a used vehicle made more sense financially, we decided on buying new. As with computers, tablets and mobile phones, it seems cars are rapidly adding new features and we wanted to be as current as we could. An aside: Our auto insurance premiums did not increase with the new vehicle. Instead, we saw a decrease over what we were paying for the 2002 Toyota RAV. This is likely because of all the safety features found in today’s new vehicles.

We researched the various models we were interested in, going to the manufacturers’ websites and to to look at reviews, retail vs. dealer costs, rebates and financing available, and so on. Eventually we narrowed our choice to five vehicles—all vans from manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda and Chrysler. The moment we dreaded was upon us: driving onto the car dealership lot.

Armed with all that we had learned from our research, we went to several car dealers, looking at the vehicles we felt would meet our needs. The salespeople didn’t seem to care much about meeting the needs we spelled out. They just wanted to be the one who sold us the new vehicle.

After spending a morning going from dealer to dealer, it didn’t take us long to decide that the Chrysler Pacifica was going to best match what we were looking for at a price that was in our range. Now it was time to meet the dreaded sales manager to finalize the price, determine the rebates and financing available to us, and to negotiate the trade-in value of the RAV.

Having done my research, I had a good handle on what the price of the vehicle should be. But, of course, the initial offer from the sales manager was significantly off. I told the sales manager where I wanted to be. With generous rebates and an offer of 0% financing, we eventually agreed on a price: $32,000.

Next, it was time to negotiate the value of the RAV. I knew that the RAV, because of its age and condition, was not going to fetch much. But the initial offer of $750 was almost insulting. It was a fraction of what I expected. Even with further negotiation, the final offer—$1,500–didn’t come close to what I expected. But I admit to caving in and accepting it. Once the ordeal with the sales manager was done, it was time to settle the deal in financing.

I walked into the glass-enclosed financial consultant’s office, expecting to sign off on the deal. Together, we reviewed the numbers. Something didn’t seem right. The numbers weren’t adding up. I disputed what the financial consultant was explaining to me. The sales manager was called in. He defended the numbers. I walked out, telling them the deal was off. The salesman, who was my initial contact, went after me. I also told him the deal was off and walked out the door.

I knew I would receive a call from someone at the dealership. Sure enough, in a few hours, the dealership’s general manager was on the phone. “What went wrong?” “I’m so sorry.” “Please come back in and let’s work this out.” I told her I would, but on the condition that I wouldn’t be dealing with the sales manager. She agreed, I returned, and the deal that I originally agreed to was made.

I hope it’ll be many years before I have to buy another vehicle. What are the lessons here? Do your research before heading to the dealership. Know what you want. Know what the price should come in at. Know what rebates and financing are available. There is so much information available on the internet these days. It isn’t difficult to find.

And one more thing: Be prepared to walk.

Nicholas Clements is one of Jonathan’s older brothers. He is retired and lives just outside Washington, DC. His previous articles include Odd CoupleHunting for Happiness and Help Wanted. Follow him on Twitter @MDScaper.

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