While many folks fear the “car-buying” experience, I look for any opportunity to embrace the challenge.
The opportunity arose for me and my family when I asked my wife to take her 1999 Lexus RX300 (125k miles) into the dealership for a routine oil & filter change (normally $30). While waiting for her car to be worked on, a service consultant emerged and informed her that there are some “issues” that she might want to address. The services they “recommended” were around some oil leaks (gasket, oil pan, etc.) – total bill: $3,000. She immediately called me and asked me what to do, hinting that this service cost exceeds 50% of the trade-in value. I checked our garage floor, and there was no leakage of any kind on the ground. However, I know that this dealership has been good to us over the seven years that we have owned this car, and are probably a key reason why the car is still in excellent running condition. Nonetheless, a big decision needed to be made, and we were not going to make up our minds over the phone. Thus, we told them to hold off on the service, and we will commence our car-buying process.
Granted, buying a car is not a task that should be made over an hour, a night, or even a week. After all, the buyer is planning to spend thousands of hard-earned dollars, and just throwing the money around is rarely any fun. The fun part for me, however, is haggling with the salesman (I would say sales people, but I have yet to meet a car sales woman). Before haggling can begin, I needed to do my homework. I spent several days researching reviews, specifications, prices, etc. on other sport utility vehicles. I used a funnelling process whereby we would start with the features that are more important to us, and eliminate all others.
The most important feature to us is safety, followed by reliability, cost of maintenance, fuel consumption, options (V6, AWD, leather, sunroof, heated seats, navigation, interior space, etc.), and finally appearance. Our population quickly filtered down to four vehicles: Acura MDX, Ford Edge, Chevy Equinox, and Lexus RX. I firmly believe in buying only used cars for the following reasons: cheaper, better fuel consumption (typically, most cars do not achieve their projected miles per gallon rating until after the first several thousand miles), less depreciation, whatever bugs the car may originally had would have been ironed out by then, and more wiggle-room in negotiating a price.
So after we had our top four choices, I made calls to our nearest dealerships to schedule test drives. My wife and I got her parents to watch our 4-year old son for the day while we went cruising. I wanted to keep the process as smooth as possible since my wife is eight months pregnant, and thus a lot of driving around could be tiresome on her. Thus, I asked each sales person to have the keys for the test drive ready upon our arrival. However, I figured that the outcome of our test-driving would be 50% chance that we would not make a purchase, 25% chance that we would buy a Lexus, 15% chance that we would by an Acura, and 10% chance that we would buy the Ford.
My research told me that the Acura MDX was rated the top midsize SUV, so I wanted her to drive the “benchmark” first. We had a 10am appointment and arrived at the Acura dealership and examined a green 2006 Acura MDX with 72,000 miles. We were most impressed with the optional third row of seating. This car had all of the options we desired, plus was certified up to 100,000 miles. My wife took the car for a spin and really enjoyed the ride, however, the high mileage turned us away. Upon our return from the test drive, the salesman informed us that they would buy her car for $6k. I thanked the salesman for his time, and told him that we would consider the offer. He gladly handed us the keys, and told us to keep in touch.
Driving away, I was glad that he complied with my request of speediness, but somewhat disappointed that he did not attempt to close the sale right then and there. My guessing is that he was sympathetic to my wife’s pregnancy, and was more interested in her getting some rest.
Our second stop was at the Ford dealership to drive the Ford Edge at 11:30am. I really wanted this car to be the choice, as the vehicle the salesman brought out to us had everything we wanted, plus at a very good price. The car even sported the panoramic sunroof – very cool! Unfortunately, my wife could not get comfortable in the drivers seat, and complained that there were too many blind spots. Additionally, the brakes were too loose, and the car seemed too “plasticy” – almost like the vehicle was made in Mexico (which is true by the way). Our test drive ended rather quickly, and we informed the salesman that we were not satisfied with the car. He tried to persuade us to re-consider, and even got his manager to talk with us. He also tried to pull the “I’ll hide your car keys trick to keep you here longer”. None of their tactics worked, as they did not even mention pricing. We thanked them for their time and headed out for lunch.
After lunch, our next scheduled stop was to be at the Chevrolet dealership to examine the Chevy Equinox. However, I knew that they did not have one with leather available, so we decided to skip that car for now. Thus, we went to the same Lexus dealership where we have been servicing our car since our purchase seven years prior. We had called ahead and asked to test drive a RX330 and/or RX350. Upon our arrival, they claimed to have none available, only a 2006 RX400h with 57,000 miles (just in) for $25,000. So we gave that a car a whirl. The drive was smooth and exceeded our expectations, but we noticed too many problems (no heated seats, the air conditioning was blowing hot air, etc.), and I refuse to buy a first year model hybrid (at least without a warranty on the battery). Interestingly, they only offered us $5,600 for our car (supposedly without knowing of the work that needs to be done).
Thus, we left for the day in our original car, still searching for the next addition to our family. But we were not disappointed, as we still enjoy the current car. However, we do know that we need to make a decision soon, as we want to some value for our car in a trade-in.