Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buying a new car in 2011.

Buying a car has changed since my wife and I bought our last new car ten years ago. I'd like to pass on the tips we learned along the way. These may be something you already know but maybe you don't so here goes.

My plan was to Evaluate->Price->Understand Finance and Incentives ->pull the trigger

1. Stay out of the dealership. 

Car dealers only want you in the dealership to put the full court press on you. They know that most people are intimidated with face to face negotiations. They will do everything in their power TO GET YOU IN THE DEALERSHIP.

Now there are valid reasons for going to the dealership since they have the actual cars and so you need to plan a dealership visit like you left your wedding ring in an occupied bear cave.

First, there should be two reasons to visit a dealership: Test drives and to drive a car home.

Your test drive needs to be planned and pre-arranged. Do not just wander into a dealership without a plan. That's what we did for the first two visits that ended badly. Also, dictate the terms of your test drive up front. Tell them you plan to drive on a variety of road conditions including highway. If they refuse, they are off your  list and move on.

If it's been a while since your last new car purchase or this is your first one, I would pick a practice dealership first as reconnaissance. Pick a "dark horse" brand and "geographically undesirable" dealership for your first visit. If there are two dealerships in your area and one is a little further away, start there.

Finally, don't be afraid to walk out. There is nothing funnier that a car salesman frantically looking for you in the parking lot.(Also, don't show them your present car in the lot. It's none of their freakin' business and it makes the whole "where the hell are they" experience that much more fun).

Remember: The dealers are sharks and you have a shark cage: your home. Do not leave the shark cage unless you have to.

2. Get informed. 
Consumer Reports was the best $40 I spent for this adventure. They have everything from videos and head to head model comparisons to blueprints for how to make your purchase. They also have a build and bid function that I'll get to later. Study the functions and feature of each make and model. In the end, we had several makes we would have been equally happy with and CR helped us understand the differences of each.

I also found truecar of value.  Edmunds was good too.

Part of this is to plan ahead as well. Target the final negotiations for months end. 

3. Start chumming.
The internet has revolutionized the car sales business. Use it to price your car.

I had a two forked approach: email local dealers and use a service to put out bids. If you email local dealers, send them a specific list of options, features and at least two colors. Ask for a price on specific vehicle and not a generic internet price. Ask them to disclose any and all fees in their response. Tell them that any post production options such as pin striping, mud flaps, trunk liners and other expensive BS is not part of the deal up front. Tell them that if it is already on the car, it's at dealer expense and do not include in the price.  

Most are going to ignore everything in your email and send a canned response luring you into the dealership. DO NOT ENTER THE CAVE. Politely request an answer to everything you asked and if they ignore you again, scratch 'em off the list.

Here was a typical response to my request for a price on specific car and all disclosures:
My request:
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us on Monday.

We've now driven all the vehicles and are requesting quotes from dealerships for the following:

Your Requested Vehicle

2011 Hyundai Tucson AWD 4dr Auto Limited
Your vehicle
Exterior:Cotton White
Interior: Black
Options:· PREMIUM PKG 3 (03)
MSRP as configured:$30,340
Invoice as configured: $29,004
None Selected

Please provide a quote for a specific vehicle on your lot or obtainable through a dealer trade.

Please explain any terms for the pricing such as "Internet Cash Price" etc

Please disclose any additional fees your dealership typically charges such as documentation fees, advertising fees, tire fees, etc

Please do included any non-requested post production options such as window etching, pin striping and mudflaps. We are not interest in them and if these are already on the car, they are at dealer expense.

And their response:
We will gladly work with you at our invoice price on any in stock vehicle.
Please let me know when you can come in.
Thanks in advance,

And...... We are done.

I responded that unless he could follow my request, we were done. I never heard back.

It's like asking a question and getting a non-sense answer.

The other way to start negotiating with dealerships is through a service like Consumer Reports. They have a "build and buy" button right on the price tab of their web page if you are a member. This allows your to enter your make and model, add your options and then send bids off to "local dealers". These "local dealers" turned out to be in PA (20 miles away) but that ended up being a good. thing.

American Express, AAA and other vendors have a similar service. Use it to get started and then follow up as you did with the local dealers. Email them the same form letter and ask the same questions after the service responses roll in.

I found all the overall responses fell into three categories:

1. Total BS. They will tell you why they are different and why they are the best dealership ever but they never give you ANY kind of price. One sent me this BS about a "value package":

   *Full tank of gas at delivery
      *Full detail at delivery
      *Shuttle service (8 mile radius)
      *Loaners w/ scheduled service appointment
      *Express service/19 point inspection/$21.99 w/ scheduled appointment
      *Referral Program $100
      *Over 800 vehicles to choose from - new and used

Total XXXX Honda Advantage Package Value: $1500.00

This alone is blog gold. How this is "valued" at $1500 is way beyond me. Are they charging YOU $2 a vehicle for every vehicle on their lot?  Or, let's say gas cost $40 a tank. $1500 buys 37 FREAKIN TANKS.  This leads me to my value axiom:

If a dealership uses the word "value" to describe any package, feature or function, they have their hand in your pants. 

This particular dealership won my "saying a lot without saying anything of value" award. The send me emails EVERYDAY telling me how great they are and never gave me an actual price.

2. Dealers that give you prices, but you are not sure exactly what it's price of.

These dealers give you their "Internet Cash Price" or the "Internet Manager's Special tmp Cash price" what ever that is. I'm not buying Internet, I'm buying a car. Make sure you have them define terms.

3. Dealers that give you what you asked for.
Out of the 15 dealerships across 4 makes I interacted with, exactly two did what I asked. 2. Luckily they were the same make.

One last tip for dealing with dealers over the Internet exclusively: Stiff arm them at the telephone. Give your home number and not your cell or work number. Screen your home calls. This worked well for us since neither of us are home and the kids avoid the home phone like they are superman and it is kryptonite. 

4. Close the deal over the Internet
Do all price comparisons over the internet and make sure you have at least two dealers in the final price negotiations. Don't be afraid to go out of state. We found that Toyota dealers were aligned regionally with NJ aligned with NY and CO and PA was aligned with MD and DE. PA Dealerships were offering 0.0% financing and NJ wasn't. This ended up being the differentiator for us.

Don't be afraid to switch to the phone and text in the final negotiations. I finished our deal while attending a Temple University visit with my wife and youngest son via text.

Be patient at this point too. We almost jumped the night before the final deal on what we thought was a good deal but waiting saved another $1000.

And that's it.

my final tip "Don't be drunk". You know who you are.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kruger Industrial Smoothing

The car hunt continues and our latest test drive was the Subaru Forester.

Employing our new Internet "by appointment only" methodology, we emailed ahead, asked for appointment at 3:30 on Saturday and received said appointment. Then the dealership responded as if we had just walked in off the street.

We were to meet a salesperson named Rich and when we arrived, Rich, if he exists at all, was "busy". We were told this by Salesman #2 who ambiguously was sort of, but not really, kinda taking Rich's place.  We told him the model we wanted to drive, gave him my license for copying and he took us out the car.

Now I expected the usual. Salesman would get in the car, show us around the car then take us for a pre-established route and then back to his office for a time out in the penalty box.

Nope. Salesman #2 let me get in the drivers seat, showed me where "D" was on the transmission and basically said "have a good time" with our $30,000 automobile with 3 miles on it.

Actually, he didn't even show me where the right "D" was. As I pulled into traffic and accelerated, the engine rev'd higher and higher without the transmission shifting. I realized he had put it in some kind of manual mode and I was supposed to hit the "+" shift position to make it shift.

Great, someone else's brand new car in heavy Cherry Hill Saturday traffic and I have to shift. Not good but I figured out the correct "D" position on the fly.

I also have to turn around. This is the same road I had to turn around on to find the Kia Dealership so I know that if head the direction I'm going, my next good turn around spot is in Camden. So I make a right, intending to turn around on that road and then come back and make a left, thereby effectively making a U-Turn.

I went to turn around on that busy road and ended up in the world's busiest and crowded shopping center at peak mindless-consumerism time - 4 PM on a Saturday.

I narrowly avoided several minor fender benders including one involving some A--hole in BMW who stopped suddenly when they couldn't turn into a row of parked cars. (BTW, you BMW owners, to the rest of the world you are "that A--hole in the BMW", Ohh, I know you think you are a winner, but really, that's what we are all thinking.) (in fact that should be their sales tag line "be that A--hole in the BWM")

Finally we were headed in the right direction, in heavy traffic, fiddling with hundreds of new gadgets on strange car and feeling good. I had brought along the iPod and the USB interface so I was driving and explaining the differences between USB iPod interface, bluetooth and iPod patch cord interface for what felt like the 100th time.(Yes, you can still do Pandora)

It went well. We drove on the busy Interstate, bumpy side roads and heavy traffic, all while playing with the iPod and CDs.We liked this car.

We switched positions and drove back to the dealership, pulled the new car in and we were promptly ignored.

We wandered around the showroom for a few minutes trying to make eye contact with salesman #2 who was obviously standing around shooting the bull with the other sales man when it hit me.

We were so conditioned to abuse that we were now looking for it.

We don't want to stay.We did not want a time out.

So we headed out. We had somehow found a complacent car dealer,  the Kruger Industrial Smoothing of Subaru dealers and we took full advantage of it. Although, as we left I had an overall sense of vague dissatisfaction with the whole afternoon even though we had accomplished our goal of driving and getting out. 

Bottom line, weird dealership, great car.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shark vs Puppy.

The car hunt continues.

Saturday was spent at the Honda dealer where we bought our Odyssey way back in 2002. Those were the days. You waltzed into a dealership with giant sign across your forehead that said "please take my lunch money". No plan. Just show up.

And that's pretty much what we did Saturday as well.

We went in, asking to drive a CR-V and ended up on the wrong end of 20 minute time out in the penalty box at the salesman's desk.

Let me explain.

We did get a test drive in a Honda CR-V. We liked it but it just didn't grab us. The salesman was a real shark. He was a grizzled auto sales veteran, with 20 plus years in the business and lots of sales plaques in his little cubicle to show for it.

We went back to his desk after the drive to "see what was in inventory" like two lost children wandering into a bears den and asking "what's in here?". Yep-yep-yo. Sure, we'll have seat, nice Mr Salesman.

With today's technology, I expect that the inventory is in a database somewhere available online form every desktop in the dealership and on the internet on the dealerships web site. We told Mr Shark that we had a something to do that Saturday night and that we had to leave but Mr Shark insisted that we "see what was in inventory". He tapped a few details into the computer and the disappeared to "find what was in inventory". I have no idea where he went or want he was doing but I'm sure it involved getting a sales manager for the full court press.

We waited politely for a few minutes and couldn't help but over hear what was going on behind us. A sales manager was all but water-boarding a Japanese man behind us over what seemed to be a $200 difference in price. It was brutal.

We waited a bit more. It was not going well for the Japanese guy.

Finally we just got up and left. I did find the Shark's cell number on one of his cards and let him know we were leaving. In retrospect, this was a mistake. We got up, stepped over the Japanese man's corpse and walked across the sales floor and headed out.

By time we reached our car, Mr Shark was on the prowl and at the door, looking frantically for us. He realized he would have no conquest today but he was not giving up. He tried to get us to come back in but we were firm: We had other cars to drive. He asked if we could come back on Tuesday,  but we said no. We left, knowing there would be phone calls and emails from Mr Shark in our future.

Then we got smart and decided it was time to form a plan of some kind. This walking into the shark tank and expecting nothing to happen was foolish. These people are time suckers. Thier entire purpose in life is to keep you in that chair until the sales manager comes over.

So, later in the week, we changed strategies. We emailed a local Toyota dealer and made an appointment. We dictated the model we wanted to drive, the route we were taking and the time we would show up (1 hour before closing). We thought we were so smart. We were prepared for the great white shark and we got.... a puppy.

The Internet Toyota salesman had been on the job 2 months. Two months. We showed up at our appointed time and he had a brand new Toyota RAV 4 picked off the lot and brought it up front. We were ready for our test drive.

One mistake we had made with the previous to dealer visits was to follow the pre-determined test route the salesman had picked out. This time we decided where we going and we decided we were going far. I drove up to the Interstate, got on Northbound headed for the next exit. Once there, I let the Chancellor drive.

Her drive was, well, interesting. It was part Astronaut test and part sales tips for Mr Puppy. The RAV 4 was peppy and she made some tight turns in the thing that had me swinging in the leather front seat. Then she would tell Mr Puppy "It doesn't matter what you are selling, you are selling yourself" Just the way Dale Carnegy would have. From her pep talk, you would have though she was Alec Baldwin in Glen Gary, Glen Ross and not a CAT scan tech. Coffee is for winners!

She made her way not on the Interstate but back to the dealership through the back roads in our neighborhood. She had Mr Puppy totally lost and when we popped back out on the road the dealership was on through an intersection Mr Puppy had never been on, he exclaimed his excitement at not being 50 miles from the dealership.

Upon our return, we sat and talked for a few minutes as the dealership was closing but there was no full court press. We met the sales manager but there would be no water boarding tonight.

By the way, we loved the RAV4.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Car Buying

The Aluminum Falcon had a near death experience last week.

I was driving home from work when I looked up to see the line of cars in front of me had stopped. I hit the brakes and of course, this being February in the northeast, I hit nothing but ice. Somehow, at the very last second, I managed to turn the wheel to the right, narrowly missing the gigantic white SUV directly in front of me but hitting the guardrail. I bounced off the guardrail and ended parallel to the SUV without making a mark on it.

Bernie Parent would have been proud of my reflexes and it was nothing short of miraculous. I wanted to stand up and bow.

Then, I drove off like nothing happened.

This means I need to step up the pace on getting a new car and by "step up the pace" I mean "actually start".

Let me start off by stating that I absolutely hate buying a new car. This is why I am driving a 97 Civic. My  strategy has been total car dealer avoidance. If I never have to buy a new car, I never have to see "those people" and step into "that place". That's quite a statement and it means I would rather drive a 14 year old car with dents on both sides and a bad muffler than talk with the lowest form of life on Earth, the car salesman.

These deep seated feelings come from a long line of stupid things that have come out of the mouths of car salesmen in my presence. Like the guy that told me that the air coming out of certain brand of Japanese car was actually cleaner than the air going in. Ponder that for a moment.

The Chancellor had to physically restrain me at that one.

So off we went the Kia Dealership last week in order to simply drive a new Sportage. We had down selected to the Hyundia Tuscon, the Honda CR-V and of course, the Kia Sportage.This was so the Chancellor can drive herself in snowstorms to the Hospital where she works.

We head out and I have a big frowny face to begin with. We start the adventure with me missing the entrance to the dealership from the divided suburban highway. It takes 15 minutes to turn around - twice and we finally enter the dealership, where we find there is absolutely no where to park. It's like South Philly in there with giant mounds of snow and cars parked crooked and all over the place.

This is not making things better.Move to Angrycon 2.

I finally find a spot and we head in and now on the door to the showroom, I see a sign someone drew up in Powerpoint and it reads:

"Absolutely no cell phone use allowed inside as it interferes with our computers"

And with that little gem, we move to Angrycon 4, skipping 3.

To me, this statement says "We don't want you getting any outside information because we want to bamboozle you and we think you are stupid enough to believe that common electronic devices interfere with each other, only within the confines of our showroom"

This is a stupid sign for many reasons, including:

1.  If your smart phone has a data plan it is CONSTANTLY communicating with the mothership. Sitting in your pocket and you not touching it doesn't make a difference.

2. I defy you to turn off a modern smart phone with a data plan. Those things are like a terminator. Everytime you think they are off, a text comes in, an email comes in or their little eyes light up red again and they start swinging.

3. What the hell is so special about these computers inside a dealership showroom that makes them sensitive to an electronic device WE ALL CARRY. 12 year olds carry these things for crying out loud. NASA and Hospitals have no such rule and no one dies in space because a car salesman can't figure out how much fake undercoating costs. Let's have a little perspective.

Needless to say, I'm steamed. I'm practically muttering to myself about "how stupid do you think I am etc" and the very first thing I do inside the showroom? I text a friend and ask the name of that website that gives you dealer invoice pricing. So there.

In the showroom there is a nice new Sportage that's loaded. And it's locked. But me being a smart guy, I reach into the Sportage and open the door with the inside handle.

Bad move.

This sets off the car alarm. In the showroom. I am now in full Angrycon 5, standing there next to the beeping car in the showroom, embarrassed.

Eventually we drove a Sportage. It was a nice car. Lots of nice features. I like it but I doubt I'll ever buy one there.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Italian Adventure begins.

It's been an unbelievably bad 2011 so far.

My Father passed 15 days into the new year, then I got sick with what I can only guess was some sort of new strain of bird/duck/pig/tiger flu and now oldest Son took off for a "semester abroad" in Italy. (BTW When did including a European vacation in a 45k/year college experience become the norm?)

He left last Monday from JFK in New York.

We showed up early at the airport and so Atalilia offered him a direct flight to Rome rather than one with a stop over in Milan that would allow him have his luggage ransacked by both Roman and Milanese baggage handlers. He took it.

That meant there was only a minute for a tearful goodbye before he got in the security line. We took some picture, said our goodbyes and left.

It all happened so fast.

Then came the anxious 12-24 hours when we wouldn't hear anything. It was like when the astronauts would reenter the atmosphere in the 60's in their little capsule. You would sit on pins and needles waiting to hear something.

What made it even harder was the whole phone issue. He had an iPhone back in the states and leaving that on, connected to lord knows what Italian rip-off data service it connected to over there seemed like a bad idea. I could only imagine getting a bill for 1,000,000 Lira. Everything we read said just buy another phone over in Italy, one without a contract. It made sense at the time but now that he was headed over there with no phone it was making less and less sense.

You have no idea how dependent we have become on these devices and yet some how he found the driver for service and found his apartment in Rome across the river from Saint Angelo's Castle, right down the street from the Vatican.

The next day he bought a phone. I guess. We haven't heard a beep out of it. 

We are supposed to "skype" with him instead of call. This has happened exactly once so far in the 4 days he's been there. His mother caught him in the apartment and "skyped" for a few minutes before he fell asleep.

I had a facebook chat with him on the Tuesday he arrived and that has been the source of most of our information so far.

We hope to hear more this weekend.

His blog is located here.