So a few months ago one of my dear friends went through one of those great traumatic experiences in life - buying a new car. Being a higher species, I was able to read all about Maudie's experiences, the research she did, and all that jazz, and learn from it.
So over the past few months I've been waffling about buying Suzy a new car. Her truck is starting to need some serious repairs. The third door doesn't open, the seat adjustment handle is broken, the rearview mirror is hanging off, the center console/armrest thingy is busted, the heat/air is broken, and after 166,000 miles, it's not on its last legs, but is moving quickly to the point where we either needed to pour some serious money into it, or take it out back and shoot it.
So I thought about it, did a little research on repairs, and figured I could put it back into top-notch condition for probably four grand. That's a lot of money to pour into a 10-year old vehicle, so I started looking at options. My buddy Jim recently got a Honda Fit, which he loves. After driving a Jeep Cherokee for years, one of the things he loves most about the Honda is the gas mileage. Given that Suzy's driven a truck for the past 5 years, I wouldn't mind having something a little more fuel-efficient for her.
So we started looking at hatchbacks. Given that my wife is 5'2" and frequently is the only passenger, a hatchback is pretty much perfect for her. And since she hauls around a lot of costumes and props for shows, the storage in a hatchback was ideal. So we looked primarily at three models - the Honda Fit, Toyota Matrix, and the Nissan Versa.
My friend Dave at work has a subscription to Consumer Reports online service, so I got the reviews of all three vehicles, then ordered their buyer's guides for each vehicle. These list the actual dealer invoice pricing, MSRP, and any holdbacks or incentives that are in effect for the car at the time you're shopping. It also gives you a target dollar figure that is pretty much your "rock-bottom" price. No surprise that the Consumer Reports best price is significantly lower than the sticker price.
Now Maudie's experiences had given me another bit of ammunition that I'd never thought about before - getting financing ahead of time. So I logged on to Capital One's website, and applied for a car loan. I applied for $20,000, which was about $2,000 more than I wanted to spend on the car. But in case a super deal presented itself, I didn't want to be locked in too tightly to the range I started with.
So I filled out the online form, and it took about a minute and a half to type in all the info. By the time I got the page to load that said "Thanks for applying, we'll let you know," I had an email telling me I was approved and that my check would be cut and sent out that day for overnight delivery. I paid $15 extra for overnight shipment because I wanted to go ahead and knock this out this weekend. I figured the check would show up Monday, and Suzy and I could shop over the weekend and have the paperwork dealt with this week.
So imagine my surprise when Mr. FedEx rang my doorbell at 10AM on a Saturday, dropping off a check from Capital One! I had a blank check that I could fill out for up to $22,500, and my interest rate was dependent on the year of car that I bought. I had been approved for a range from 6.35% up to 8%, with the lowest rates for the newest cars. Since I intended to buy a new car anyway, we were golden. I was pretty happy with that rate, since my credit isn't perfect, and it seemed to fall in line with what some other folks I talked to had gotten for their car financing.
Jim had been over Friday night to play cards, and we took a spin in his car that night, so that was one dealership we didn't need to visit. The Fit has more configurations in the cargo area than the other two models we looked at, and the Sport model is definitely designed for a sporty style of driving. It's a fun car to drive, but the front foot area felt a little cramped to me as a passenger, and Suzy had a few issues with the closeness of the pedals. So we liked it, but didn't fall in love. It was the frontrunner going into the process since it had slightly better reviews.
The first place we stopped was the Nissan dealership, and we had mixed feelings there. We both loved the car, but I didn't like the dealership. The facility itself was dark, and I wasn't at all crazy about the sales guy we got. I knew going into the process that having the check in hand put us in the driver's seat, so I was willing to negotiate a little harder than normal, and was more than willing to walk out if the dealership couldn't get to our number. So we talked to the guys, and told them that we wanted them to get as close to $15K as possible.
They came back with a pile of numbers plus tax, tag, and doc fees, all totaling up to about $18K. I told them to work on it again, keeping in mind that I was looking for their cash price, and they came back to me with a figure of $17,600. So we left. We had the money, we didn't need to buy the vehicle that day, so we didn't. We had pretty much decided on the Nissan after the test drive, because it was so much more comfortable a ride than the Honda, and had plenty of rear storage and enough leg room for me to feel comfortable riding in the back seat, which never happens (I'm 6' 1", so a back seat is rarely a comfy spot for me).
But I wanted to look at the Toyota, even though the Matrix starts off about $2k more than the Honda Fit or the Nissan Versa. If it was the perfect vehicle in every way, I was willing to spend more. I figure we're keeping this vehicle for around ten years, so I want to make sure we look at our options before making any decisions. It wasn't the perfect vehicle by a long stretch. The tricked-out SL Versa was cheaper than the base-model Matrix, and had all the amenities like power mirrors, iPod jack, and all that jazz. And Suzy hated driving the Matrix. It's another compact with the sporty, tight suspension and handling, so you feel every bump and curve harder. The Versa was a much smoother ride, and although there were things about the way the Matrix handled cargo that we liked better, it wasn't worth the lack of a comfortable ride.
So we were decided on the car, now we needed to find a dealership that would make the money right. So we went to the other Nissan dealership in town, and I immediately was happier. The showroom was brighter, more well-lit, the salesman was more confident and eager, and I generally had a better experience. They also had a Versa on the lot in the color and model we wanted, so I knew they would be more interested in selling it, since it was sitting there. We went back and forth for a little while on the options, pricing, and finally I put the check on the table, we agreed on an out the door price of $17K, and we got the keys to our new car.
I put it on the highway yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised at the pickup in the little 1.8L engine. I had no trouble merging into traffic and accelerating up hills. It's not a Hemi by any stretch, but it's a really zippy little car. It's dead-easy to park, and looks like it should get about 300 miles on a tank of gas, which is better than 30 miles to the gallon. That's not quite double the mileage Suzy's been getting in the truck, so I'm thrilled with that.
Having the financing done ahead of time and getting the research from Consumer Reports let me feel like I was in charge of the car-buying process, and that's a nice change. I'm in sales, so I understand that people need to make profit, but I've always felt like car salesmen are trying to throw in all kinds of programs and hidden fees and shit like that to take advantage of me. I would be perfectly content for someone to say "the car costs me this much money, I need to make this much profit to be a profitable company, this is the price." But it's all haggle and holdbacks and incentives to trick people into buying, so actually standing up and walking out of the first dealership when they wouldn't meet my price was one of the best feelings I've ever had.
And looking at my wife's face when she got in her new car was even better. Ever since we've been together, she's driven the hand-me-down car. I drive a lot for work, something like 25K miles every year. And she drives less than half that. So I get the more reliable car, and she gets the basic transportation. Well now she's got a brand new car that's even more tricked out than my Element, and it was great to be able to get that for her.
And I get to drive it on weekend, which doesn't suck at all.