Saturday, April 8, 2017

Buying a Car in 2017: Hand to Hand Combat with 11 Car Dealerships

Note: Feel free to ask questions or give me feedback in the comments or via twitter: @WindAddict.

Car salesmen hunt like spiders. An innocent car shopper stops to peek at a car. A salesperson in a polo and khakis trots out to greet their prey. Fresh meat! Soon our shopper has tangled in a web made of words. The more the shopper struggles, the more they tangle in the web. Eventually, the shopper tires of bone-grinding handshakes, back slaps, and ear-grinding speeches. The shopper makes a desperate move for freedom. The shopper drops a large pile of cash and — tires screeching — escapes in a new car.

We all know the sales-arachnid connection if asked. But we don’t really understand it until it’s 8:23pm and our driver's license is being held hostage. Where's the forsaken sales person with the stupid driver’s license? You cross and uncross your legs. You get up and pace the tiny office like a bear in a cage.

Slowly it dawns on you that, like an airport, the environment of the dealership has been carefully purged of any dangerous objects. There is nothing sharp or heavy we might use to launch a mission to recover a drivers license. We're in a place where nobody wants to land: at the mercy of a car salesman.

I Hope the real tale of my car buying experience will help you can escape a gruesome fate. Learn from my mistakes and experiments that let me research and buy a new car for a reasonable price. And I did it all without too much suffering. In a world of legally-mandated middle men, what more can we hope for?

Why a New Car?

In this case I'm not your role model for economic decisions. I bought a new car. Please don’t buy a new car. For most folks, a new car costs too much. You won’t get much more value over a used car. This is especially the case if you need to take a loan. Even if you pay with cash, I’d discourage buying new if the car will cost more than 10% of your net worth. Wisely invest your money instead. 

In my case, the primary motivation for a new vehicle was safety. I wanted something with a 5-star safety rating, blind-spot monitoring, a rear camera, and collision prevention. I could have achieved this with a used car. I chose not to go that route because of excuses. I had access to an extremely low-interest loan. Additionally, reductions in the cost of safety technology had reduced the amount of savings offered by a used car.

What I mean to say is that I fell in love with some aspects of the 2017 Highlander and made up some excuses to justify it. So it goes.

The Test Drives

When I started this adventure, I wasn't sure what car I wanted to buy. I had a short list of vehicles (more on that later), but I knew that I needed to experience each vehicle to make my decision. That left me no choice but to visit car dealers.

I wanted something with similar capabilities to my Element: something that could carry a windsurfing rig or dog and get reasonable mileage. I did the usual research: Edmunds.com and ConsumerReports.org. The top SUVs in the Consumer Reports rankings were the Audi Q7, the Toyota Highlander, the Subaru Forester, and the Kia Sorento. I eliminated the Audi based on the price — and I wasn’t sure I wanted a conspicuous luxury badge. The others I planned to visit in person.

The experience of visiting dealerships ranged from amusing to torture. When I asked to see a Sorento at the Kia dealer, we had to wait a few minutes for the sales guy to find the key to one. Finding car keys seems like an ordeal at most dealerships.

After a wait, the salesperson let us inspect the Kia’s inside, but didn’t offer a test drive. He probably didn’t think I was a serious buyer. Maybe it was the speech I gave each dealer I visited while researching prospects:
"Hi, I’m in the process of researching a car to replace my Honda Element. I’m going down the rankings in Consumer Reports and checking out the cars. I’d like to take a look at the ABC with the XYZ package."
The speech probably wasn’t what the dealer wanted to hear. It told them that I wasn’t buying today, I didn’t know what make or model I ultimately wanted, and I was an educated consumer. It probably also implied that I would shop around. But it was honest. Even though I knew that many of these sales people would try to pressure me, convince me, and probably even lie to me, my honesty let me feel good about myself. 

I think my speech gave me a few tactical advantages. First, it let me see how I was treated when the sales person was doubtful of a sale. If they treated me poorly now, I would know what to expect the rest of the sales process would be like.

Next, being honest about my intent allowed me to not feel guilty for using a sales person’s time. If the sales person spent time with me, they knew the deal, and they consented to it. That point might seem strange, but feelings of guilt put you at a disadvantage. You don’t want a sales person to be able to apply pressure during negotiation: “Oh, but I’ve spent so much time helping you, why are you asking for an unreasonable price?”

The first Subaru dealer I visited presented a similar experience: feel free to take a look, but we won’t offer to let you test drive. This sales guy was a character: he told a gruesome story about a wrecked Forester and implied that the turbocharged Forrester was only suitable for insecure young men. At least he gave me a colorful brochure, something none of the other 6 dealerships I visited offered me! He also clued me in to the cool youtube videos of Subarus driving up roller ramps that only allow one wheel to have traction. Pretty cool!

The first Toyota dealer I visited actually offered to let me do a real test drive — the only test drive offered my first day visiting dealerships. If you want to test drive a car, many dealers will make you ask. This dealership eagerly asked me if I'd like to test drive. They didn't have any brochures, but a drive is better than a brochure.

Finally, I visited a Mercedes-Benz dealer to see the GLC300. It was on the Consumer Reports list too (albeit a bit lower ranked than the others). After visiting Kia, Subaru and Toyota, I was curious what the luxury car dealership would be like. The car looked pretty cool, but no test drive was offered. That didn't seem like a very luxurious experience. The sales folks all had nicer watches and fancier clothes than I own, so perhaps they didn't think someone wearing a t-shirt could afford a Benz. That's OK -- I didn't think I wanted a luxury-branded car.

Using Scripted Answers at the Dealer

To make my life easier I tried to script my replies to sales people. I did this in person, in email, and on the phone. I don’t meant that I memorized lines like an actor. I just prepared responses to common questions used in sales and negotiating. For verbal questions I didn’t give word for word responses — I simply kept to the same outline.

When I encountered a new question, I’d make note of it and come up with a good response I could recycle. Unless you’re a great negotiator, you need to prepare for dealer negotiation tactics in advanced. The wrong response can cost you time, money, or simply offer a sales person too much leverage to persuade you with.

When asked me how much I was looking to spend, I replied to each dealer the same way:
“I’m not sure yet. I need to see all the cars on my list first. Once I know which car I want, I’ll research the price and have a better idea.”
When negotiating, you never want to disclose your budget unless you will get a significant advantage from doing so. In the research phase, you have nothing to gain from disclosing your budget, your net worth, your cash savings, etc. 

Asked about what I was looking for in a car, I answered honestly:
“I want something big enough to fit my windsurfing gear like my Element does I want a 5-star safety rating, comfortable seats, and reliability.”
Combined with my speech about the Consumer Reports rankings, this helps keep the sales person focused on my needs. A response like “Oh, I don’t know” or “I want something big” invites the sales person to push you to buy something according to their incentives. You’ll waste your time politely listening to stories about profitable vehicles. But, if you’ve already done you’re research, you probably don’t want a dealer’s advice on which model to buy.

Later, when you know which vehicle you want, you’ll get extremely specific: X model, Y year, Z color, with the A, B and C packages. That’ll help keep you from getting quotes on cars you don’t want when you’re negotiating price.

Visiting Dealers for the Elimination Round

After my first round of visiting dealers over the holidays, I had narrowed it down to two choices: a Forrester or a Highlander. I still had not driven the Forrester, so I drove up to the Subaru dealer. What a strange surprise. I walked through and around the dealer a few times and nobody offered to help me. Strange. I was starting to get used to sprinting sales people.

I walked to their reception desk and asked to see a Forrester. A salesperson greeted me, I gave her my spiel, and then she took me through Their Process. I assume they had a scripted Process, because it was a bit theatrical. She asked me lots of pleasant questions about my needs while looking up the cars they had in their inventory.

And then I fell into a trap. This was the only unpleasant part of that dealer’s process. I let the sales person vanish with my drivers license. I felt my stomach drop three seconds after she left the room with it. Other dealers didn’t take my license for a walk. I made a tactical mistake: I couldn’t leave the dealership without my license.

I felt like an idiot. One tiny mistake and now a sales person as enough leverage on me to prevent me from leaving. The spider had me cornered, so I did what any hero would. I read a book. And I cursed under my breath.

Years later, she returned to her tiny office with my license and a set of keys for a Forrester. Lesson learned. Never allow the salesperson to leave the room with your property. If they insist on wandering around with your insurance, license, or favorite pet, follow them wherever they go.

After a brief sales speech, I test drove a Forester. The routine was pretty similar to most test drives except for some fun demonstrations, like the adaptive cruise control, and demonstrating the Forrester's turning radius by instructing me to drive in a circle from one parking space to the second one over (it’s not very different from similar sized cars, but it is still a fun demo).

Final Car Research

Before making my final decision on make and model, I spent hours doing research. I used these resources to help my decision:

Consumer Reports (a digital membership is quite affordable)
Talking to workers at a repair shop (they liked Subarus but believed Toyotas were more reliable)
Google News (to search for reviews in the media)
YouTube (to search for video reviews)

Getting Offers

I researched how folks are buying cars in 2017. Car buying services seem like a bigger trend since I last bought a car. These services (many of which seem to be branded versions of TrueCar) promise to get you the car you want at a fair price. The services I tried are free to the consumer, and don’t seem to obligate the buyer in any way.

I’m a Costco member, so I started with their buying service. Sadly, none of the participating dealers in my area had the 2017 Hybrid Highlander Limited Platinum in stock. For that reason, I was unable to use Costco buying service to go any further in the buying process. The service didn’t give me any dealer quotes. Having generated zero contacts with dealers, the Costco car buying service didn’t help me. I suspect it would have been great if there was inventory available in my area, but who knows?

The AAA Car Buying Service was slightly more useful. Like Costco, they didn’t find any matching cars in inventory. Although they wouldn’t help reduce the price of cars not in inventory, the AAA car buying service still put me in touch with several participating local dealerships and let them know what kind of car I was looking for. 

To supplement the AAA Car Buying Service, I also googled some other local Toyota dealerships and contacted them through their websites. Most dealers had a “contact us” form. Dealers must all use the same ancient software to run their website because they all hurt my eyes.

To keep things simple, I recycled the same messages to all the dealers. To kick things off, I sent all the dealers this note:
“Hi,

I'm contacting several dealerships about buying a 2017 Hybrid Highlander Limited Platinum. I'd prefer a white model with saddle brown or black seats, but I'm flexible.

Can you please send your best offer? Please also list any taxes and fees for a "out the door total". I'm planning on paying cash. If you don't have one in stock, can you give a time estimate on when one would be ready?

I have a 2006 Honda Element EX-P with around 171,000 miles I might trade in if it makes economic sense.

Please respond by email.

Thanks“
I kept an Evernote note with both my scripted responses and some simple negotiation notes for each dealer. As I contacted each dealer, I added a line to my notes. Over time, I gradually expanded the search radius for dealers -- my notes made it simple to keep track of where I was in that process. Here is a sample from my notes:

Joe at ______: Quoted $51,010. Told him he'd have to do better.
Traci/Jay at ____: sent wrong vehicle. Asked for right one. Now talking to Jay. 
Joe at _____: Wrong car quoted. $44,257 for non-hybrid, FWD? Asked about hybrid again. 
*Jon at _____: $48,770 + TTL 1st week of Feb. Told him interesting offer, can do better?.
Responded: 46,964. My counter offer: $44500 + TTL; replied No.
Total with Accessories: 47196 before TTL
total with TTL: 50595
TTL = 6.35% plus 430 fees
To reserve need to put down 500$ deposit 
As you can see, the notes are a simple record of the quote from each dealer, and where I was in negotiations. I kept a record of each offer and my response. I sometimes wonder what happened to Traci. Did he get demoted to car wash duty after botching my quote?

Quotes on Highlanders Roll In (kinda)

A few car sales people phoned me after I contacted them. Most of the sales folks I contacted weren't avid readers or writers. To anyone who called, I politely repeated the basics from my email script over the phone and asked them to email me their quote. 

I also told any dealer who called that I preferred to communicate through email because I wanted to make it easier to keep track of the offers. It seemed smart to imply that I was talking to multiple dealers so that I would get good quotes.

In retrospect, implying so much competition may have been a mistake — many dealers never gave me a real quote. I wonder if they were discouraged by the prospect of having competition. On the other hand, I did eliminate many incompetent sales people while still getting a good deal.

Many of the dealerships I contacted didn’t have the car I wanted in inventory. Most of those salesmen who responded wanted me to come visit them at the dealership to order a car. Or did they just want to snare me in their web? 
“I would like to invite you in to visit with me and work out the Order to you satifaction[sic].”
I responded to these invitations identically with a copy and paste from my Evernote scripts:
“I can't come in right now because I'm comparing many quotes before making my final decision. Can you send me your best offer on a 2017 Hybrid Highlander Limited Platinum. I’d prefer a white model with saddle brown or black seats, but I’d consider other colors.

Please also list any taxes and fees for a "out the door total". I'm planning on paying cash. Can you also give a time estimate on when one would be ready? I understand that the timing might not be a sure thing.“
Some of the responses made my eyes do barrel rolls. They claimed that an email quote would be unfair or impossible:
“It would not be fair to you for us to guess what the vehicle will cost you.”
Yeah, right. What a pile of triceratops turds! Would my physical presence somehow improve the accuracy of the quote? Or did they expect me to write them a blank check to order a car? How do these jokers sell anything?

A few of the unreasonable dealers started giving me real numbers after they got the nonsense out of their system. Some suckers must fall into their hare-brained traps. Don’t despair when you get unhelpful responses like this. Often a more senior (and more helpful) sales person followed up after a few days or weeks. Perhaps they make junior sales people answer email so they can audit them for lunacy. I uncovered a few lunatics.

One sales person quoted me $51,010 over email, which almost exactly matched the MSRP on Toyota’s website. Based on what I read about buying cars online, I expected to get competitive offers for the car immediately. My expectation didn’t match reality. You’ll still have to negotiate to get a good offer. So don’t feel too discouraged if the first quotes are high. Negotiations feel less intimidating if you can sit on your couch with a beer while you respond. We live in amazing times.

A ray of hope finally arrived in my inbox — a decent quote for less than MSRP. This seemed much closer to what I was expecting. Normally my next line would be "Sorry, you'd have to do better than that". That seemed harsh for the only decent quote so far. Fortunately I just learned a nice negotiating gambit from Patrick McKenzie, so I gave it a shot:
Jon: “I can do 48,770+ttl as equipped”
Me: “Thanks for your help Jon,
That is an interesting offer. Do you have a better one?
Can you tell me any details I should know to help me make a comparison?” 
Jon: “Hi
I can as always take an offer to the GM
what are you comparing it to?”
Jon’s mention of the GM (general manager) establishes a higher authority, a useful negotiation tool for him. Higher authorities let you blame aggressive negotiations on someone else. This helps maintain your relationship with the party you’re negotiating with: “Bob wouldn’t like that.” Why not blame uncomfortable situations on a third party?

Higher authorities sometimes even trick the other party to disclose information they shouldn’t. Salespeople use it all the time to conjure the illusion that they are on your side: “Let me talk to Bob and see what I can do for you. What is the highest you can go?”
The higher authority also protects the negotiator against disclosing information. When asked a question they don’t want to answer, they can simply say that only the higher authority can say: “Oh, that is up to Bob. Give me a number and I can take it to him.” 

The higher authority gambit also buys a negotiator time to think: you can delay almost anything by saying “let me ask Bob”.

I encourage you to also prepare a higher authority gambit. Spouses, significant others, your bank, or even your parents can work. When confronted with an offer you don't like, you can say your higher authority wouldn't like it. Prepare yourself for the counter gambit against higher authorities: “why don't we give your higher authority a call right now?” 

In my situation with Jon, I decided to ask Jon to help me with the higher authority. I also repeated an outline of the situation from my original message:
“Hi Jon,
If you could ask your GM for their best offer, that would be helpful. 
I've emailed several Toyota dealerships asking for their best offer on a 2017 Hybrid Highlander Limited Platinum (preferring white exterior and black or saddle brown interior). I'll be considering them as they come in, and hope to make a decision soon. 
Thanks,
John”
You’ll notice that I didn’t answer his question about the other offers I’m looking at. Even if I had other offers, I wouldn’t disclose them at this point.

The only situation I can think of where it would make sense to disclose another dealer’s offer is when you’ve already negotiated two or more dealers down to a good price and no dealer will go any lower. Note that pitting two parties against each other can hurt your relationships with them. That concern may not matter in the case of a car dealer, but it would matter for other kinds of negotiations.

If I had disclosed my actual situation (that Jon had the best offer so far), it wouldn’t make sense for Jon to offer a better price. Keeping my offers hidden paid off:
Jon: “Hi 
I can do 46,962+ttl, let me know what options you would want  and will do cost on those”
Wow, one quick email brought the price down another four percent! Now we were about nine percent below MSRP. This was my best offer by far, and it was a price below what my research indicated was a good deal. Of course I’d try to go lower. So far I hadn't mentioned a single number!
Me: “Thanks Jon, 
Ok, that makes sense. Could you do $44500 + TTL? And of course, whatever additional options we agree on (sorry, I'm not super familiar with the accessories at this point).
TTL in this case is 6.25% + $33, correct? 
After we agree on the details, what is the process to lock in the deal and get the car in February?”
Jon: “Hi 
thats my best deal  
need signed buyers order and $500 deposit to order the unit in”
I could have tried another counter offer, but I decided not to at this point. Based on my research, this was a very good deal. Also, given a choice, I'd actually like doing business with Jon. He was the only salesperson so far who responded quickly to my notes and didn't try to play any dishonest games. The majority of my other dealer contacts seemed dishonest and lazy.

Armed with a good offer, I continued talking to other dealers. A few more dealers eliminated themselves from the race by complaining that I was making them "compete with themselves" by asking for a better deal than MSRP. I could have (and maybe should have) probably given them a number similar to the $44500 I gave Jon. But I didn't.

In comparison to the other dealers behavior Jon was far ahead of the pack. Maybe I could get the price a few hundred dollars lower from another dealer, but then I'd have to do business with a snake. No thanks.

At this point I was reminded that I knew a salesperson at a different Toyota dealer. I sent him a text message, and he offered to sell me a Highlander at $500 over invoice price. His quote for the same Highlander configuration was $47,793. When I told my acquaintance about Jon’s offer, he never got back to me. I took the lack of response as a sign that Jon had a great offer. 

I called Jon on the phone and put a $500 deposit on my credit card. He never asked me to sign a buyer’s order, so I figured that I would continue to talk to other dealers just in case. None of them gave me a better offer.

I’ll skip the negotiation of the accessories with Jon because they were uneventful. I wanted to get the side molding and the bumper guard for my Highlander. His quotes were not only less than the MSRP for those dealer add-ons on Toyota’s website, they were less than the cost of the uninstalled parts on https://www.toyotapartsdeal.com. Those prices seemed extremely fair to me, so I did not attempt to negotiate them.

A minor note: even Toyota's highest tier Highlander doesn't include floor mats! I can only imagine that that floor mats are an extremely high-margin item. That's OK -- I wanted third party all-weather mats anyhow.

The Car Negotiating Playbook

These are the scripts I used for negotiations.

First Contact (Asking for Quotes)

Hi, 

I'm contacting several dealerships about buying a 2017 Hybrid Highlander Limited Platinum. I'd prefer a white model with saddle brown or black seats, but I'm flexible.  

Can you please send your best offer? Please also list any taxes and fees for a "out the door total". I'm planning on paying cash. If you don't have one in stock, can you give a time estimate on when one would be ready? 

I have a 2006 Honda Element EX-P with around 171,000 miles I might trade in if it makes economic sense. 

Please respond by email. 

Thanks 

Responding to Nonsense (Invitations to Visit the Salesperson)

I can't come in right now because I'm comparing many quotes before making my final decision. Can you send me your best offer on a 2017 Hybrid Highlander Limited Platinum. I’d prefer a white model with saddle brown or black seats, but I’d consider other colors.  

Please also list any taxes and fees for a "out the door total". I'm planning on paying cash. Can you also give a time estimate on when one would be ready? I understand that the timing might not be a sure thing.

Responding to a Reasonable Offer

That is an interesting offer. Do you have a better one? 

Responding to a Silly (or non-competitive) Offer

Thanks for your help ____! Unfortunately you'd have to do better than that.

Responding to Questions About Your Budget or Price Needs

I can't give you an exact price because I'm getting multiple competitive quotes. Most of the folks I've emailed are in a similar position.

Picking Up the Car

When my Highlander was ready to pick up, the process was simple in principal: show up, test drive, pay, go home. Reality was a little more complex.

I took my future car for a test drive and inspected it. Everything seemed like it was in good order. Only one thing bothered me: the engine had some tape and stickers attached to them that were obviously meant to be removed. When I asked Jon about them, he removed them, but said it was no big deal. There were stickers and things on the engine that would just burn off over time.

Burn off! As someone who aims to build quality software, the concept disturbed me. Did the dealerships not have a checklist of tasks to do on each new car before delivery? Surely Toyota operates using checklists and standard operating procedures. Sure a few stickers are a tiny detail, but what important tasks might the dealership forget before delivering a car?

Next the sales guy and I sat down for a bit to talk about the payment. Up until this point, we had agreed on a price, but we never discussed how I would pay for it.

I knew there could be complications over payment when I picked up the car, but I let the issue lie because I knew it could be a point of negotiation. I figured that if I asked early, they would cite rules and policy about payment. It seemed better from a negotiating standpoint to be able to act surprised if I didn't like their terms.

Back at Jon’s desk, he told me “I hope you won’t be upset, but we need to change the price.” I nearly swallowed my tongue. Change the price?!

Suddenly my mind was full of worry and doubt: "I knew this online negotiation was too good to be true! Did I just waste a few weeks waiting for this car when I could have focused on negotiating with other dealers?" And so on. I took a deep breath and tried to rev up my negotiations brain. I prepared myself to walk away from the deal -- I could always dispute the deposit with my credit card company in the worst case scenario.

My blood pressure nearly redlined before Jon told me “Yes, Toyota just offered a rebate on this car, so I’ll have to reduce your cost by $1000.” We both laughed. Hopefully I didn't sound like I lost my marbles. I assured him that kind of price change was fine with me! 

When Jon asked how I would pay, I told him that I wanted to pay as much as possible on credit card, and the rest by wire transfer. He replied that the maximum they could put on credit card was $2000. I raised my eyebrows and thought for a bit before I said that I needed to do $5000.

Jon said he would need to ask permission. The higher authority gambit! I replied “that would be fantastic”. A few minutes later, he returned and said it would be ok. He swept his paperwork off his desk and walked me down a dimly lit hall to the finance guy.

The Finance Guy

The finance guy? But I’m not financing! Well, you visit the finance guy even if you wheel in a huge stack of two dollar bills. The finance guy is a last-ditch attempt to wring more profit from your wallet. A visit with the king spider. Time to be strong!

The Finance guy had a real office equipped with a closing door. Not a cubicle like the sales guys. I’m sure scream-dampening insulation lined the walls. Finance guy sat in a dress shirt behind a massive wood desk. Some huge diploma-like certificate hung on the wall, radiating trust and authority. A giant desk-size tablet computer fllled the space in front of two chairs.

Jon made a quick introduction, stepped out, and seal me in the room. Finance Guy brought up the bill on the tablet monstrosity. The price was exactly what I expected from previous communications with Jon. Good.

The first swipe at my wallet was (I assume) a deliberate mis-understanding of how much I was going to put on the credit card: “So, you’re going to put $4,500 on the credit card…. you’ve already put $500 on a card for the deposit.”

“No, we agreed that I’d put $5000 on the credit card today”

He didn’t push the issue, or appeal to a higher authority. Perhaps I was talking to the highest authority. Yes, the king spider. My next job was initialing the right spots on the breakdown of costs. No problem — they matched what we had agreed to. Signing on the tablet monster was fun.

Next, he tried to get me to sign a “Dispute Resolution Agreement” with the dealership. I glanced at it — an agreement to arbitration and a waiving of my rights to a trail by judge. Waive my rights? Hmm.  A dealership seemed like the last place I'd like to waive my rights. The agreement didn't seem very balanced -- the dealership wasn't offering me much in exchange for my rights. No surprise there. I asked the finance guy: “Am I required to sign this to buy the car”

“Yes,” he claimed that the agreement was a Toyota requirement, which is probably not true since the agreement was with the dealership, not Toyota. Again, a Higher Authority gambit. This time the higher authority was an international corporation that all Toyota dealers worked with. Nicely done Finance Guy!

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I didn't anticipate this part of the deal. I began carefully reading the agreement, flipping back and forth slowly between the pages while I considered my options. I definitely didn’t want to sign the dumb thing. On the other hand, if I refused to sign, would I be back at square zero with my buying process? I felt exhausted by the thought. I knew my mental state worked in the dealer's favor. I needed to stay silent while I considered my options and gathered my wits.

I kept studying the agreement. Perhaps I could use my own higher authority: a lawyer, or someone like that. I didn’t have anyone lined up as a lawyer. Would Finance Guy call my bluff? Could I call it right back by searching for a lawyer on my phone?

I couldn’t believe how quickly this dilemma unraveled in my favor. It didn’t seem like more than a minute had passed before finance guy capitulated: “OK, well, let me see if this is really necessary. We can go through the rest of the process, and if we need the agreement I’ll contact you later.”

So much for “Toyota’s requirement.” Finance Guy blew up his own higher authority gambit when faced with the ultimate nemesis: uncomfortable silence. Never forget the power of silence.

The next step was the extended warranty sales pitch. Finance guy asked me why I chose my car, etc, etc. He spewed many tedious questions. I think he was trying to get a specific response from me because he kept going until I said the word he was looking for: reliability.

Oh yes, he agreed, Toyotas were known for their reliability. Blah blah blah. To my horror, he then threw Toyota under the bus. Finance guy cast doubt on the reliability of the car I was about to pay 50k for. He felt that the Hybrid technology specifically was troublesome, and he wouldn’t vouch for it’s reliability. No sir! And that’s why he felt I should spend several thousand dollars on an extended warranty.

The trickster in me wanted to stand up and say: "Forget it then. If it's not reliable, I don't want it. Catch you later!" That would have been a lot more fun than his long speech about extended warranties. I probably sighed, hummed, and looked outside. No level of bored body language would discourage Finance Guy. There was a platinum plan and a gold plan. If you're really frugal, you can be a cheap with a silver plan. Blah blah blah.

Unlike him, I didn’t capitulate: “No thanks.” Apparently this has never happened before. Now he had to interrogate me about why I didn't want the warranty. He tried to get me to agree that if it saved me more money than it cost it was a deal. I agreed that was true.

The fresh out of college me might have disputed the point. Now I don’t care. Why disagree? True or not true, agree or disagree, I didn’t have to buy the warranty. Agreeing takes less time.

I agreed. Then I told him I still didn’t want it. He acted like I was crazy, and continued his pitch. I finally told l him that I didn’t budget any more money for the car than the amount we agreed to. The no budget argument finally convinced him to stop boring me to death. No money, no interest.

He ran my credit card and gave me a sheet of paper with the bank wiring instructions. It was Saturday, so the soonest a wire could go through was Monday. That didn’t seem to bother him — I’d still get the car today.

Oddly, their bank account had a completely different name attached to it than the dealership. I can only assume that they use various companies to keep the money separate in case jerks like me (who didn’t sign the arbitration agreement) tried to sue them.

A few minutes later, Finance Guy expelled me from his spider’s den. I savored the fresh air as I wandered the cube farm looking for Jon.

Getting the Car

For the final stage of the buying process, Jon walked me thorough the warranties, the XM radio, the emergency service. He even told me to reject XM’s first attempt to get me subscribe — they’d give me a better price when they followed up.

He walked me back to the car and showed me the main features. He helped me configured the safety features, he showed me how the radio works, and so on. Finally, he gave me a full tank of gas.

At the gas pump, I noticed what looked like scratches on the side of the center console. It turned out to just be some lint that had stuck to it. Jon personally cleaned it up with a microfiber cloth.

After a final handshake I drove home with my new car, a grateful survivor of the car buying process.

Want more? Read my Unlucky Engineer's Guide to Wealth here.

2 comments:

Jolyon Sasse said...

Definitely an interesting read! I'm curious what dissuaded you from the Forester. My parents have recent Subarus and love the safety features.

John Knox said...

Hi Jolyon, the Forester was a close second. I'm pretty sure I would have been happy with a Subaru Forester too.

My largest two concerns with the Subaru was the cargo capacity and the reliability. The Highlander has a longer cargo space, and more room for my windsurfing gear.

In terms of reliability, I was concerned by the Car Talk Test Drive Notes for the 2016 Forester. Specifically: "We see a number of Subarus in our shop with 100,000 miles or even sometimes less, having expensive issues with oil leaks or head gaskets."

The manual for the car itself made me feel concerned too: "Some engine oil will be consumed while driving." and also "...Under these or similar conditions, you should check your oil at least every 2nd fuel fill-up..."

Will I actually own this car for 100,000 miles? I'm not sure. Maybe it was a moot point.

On the plus side, the Subaru had some very cool features, like the ability (on the higher-end models) to unlock the car by blipping a pin code into the rear hatch release button.