Thank you, Sunshine: Car buying made (relatively) painless
summit daily auto writer
Just as iconic sportscaster Howard Cosell noted that he never actually played the game he covered so voraciously, I, too, have to come clean: Despite writing about a million words’ worth of automobile reviews, I haven’t been involved in a car purchase in more than a half decade.
At long last, my personal needs called for regular and reliable access to a car, and that meant wading into the automobile-buying arena last weekend. With, happily, an experience that was a million light years from what I remember from the dark ages.
Picking a vehicle was the easy part, after the aforementioned six-year-long series of test drives. With ski trips and winter driving still on the agenda, a small, relatively affordable SUV seemed in order, and I remember really liking the Toyota RAV4, so I started doing my homework.
The presumably easier-to-acquire 2.5-liter, four-cylinder model features electric, on-demand four-wheel drive and cruises along with 179 horsepower, but will still get 27 mpg on the highway; the looks are still good and it’s got a not-too-big, not-too-small nature, plus some substantial carrying capacity. It packs an MSRP of about $24,000.
The hard part was all my memories of car deals past. I’d been through the ringer in the old days: salesmen who wanted a watch (or even a shoe) as a “symbolic gesture” they could take into the sales manager of my commitment to their great deal. Or another company that called me three days after I purchased a car, asking me, rather seriously, to bring it back as they’d forgotten to charge me the right amount of money. I didn’t, and they didn’t get any of my future business.
Happily, things have changed and the current economic downturn – lingering, lovingly, as it seems to be doing, with a half-million more unemployment claims last month – means auto dealers are more than a little extra-motivated to move some product.
And Toyota, as you may remember (at least before the Gulf oil spill came and stole all the headlines), had a few PR issues earlier this year that put a damper on sales. You probably haven’t seen the recent follow-up stories which conclude that 99 percent of the “unintended acceleration” incidents were deemed to be “user error” or, in layman terms, “total B.S.” … but I sensed Toyota continues with a bit of an uphill struggle.
Even better, it turns out that if you’ve got a job (somehow) and a decent credit score (again, not a given), you can now very easily do the bulk of your deal online, and avoid all the razzle-dazzle. You can fill in a credit application at the dealer’s website and figure out what you’ll qualify for (or do the same for your insurance), and then use the Web to check the dealer’s inventory, pick out what you want and then compare and contrast numbers. Even better, if you’ve got a pile of cash lying around (and who doesn’t these days?) or a steady arrangement with your bank, I’d suggest you go through an auto broker, who will literally find the car you want at an agreeable price and bring it to you.
Provided you haven’t walked out on a home mortgage at some point in recent months, once you submit the online application, the dealer will almost immediately start calling you and working on setting up a purchase.
My closest and easiest option (literally walking distance from my condo in south metro Denver) was Go Toyota Arapahoe; I took their Saturday auto section ads with a grain of salt (yes, you never, ever get the super-cheap deal illustrated, even they admitted) and headed into the fray.
The actual process was nearly painless, though the volume of Saturday business did mean that my salesman, Ron Gardner, had to change the paperwork several times as other salesmen literally sold the vehicle I was looking at, at the same time, after we’d picked out a color and options package.
We cleared up the details, I was able to get pretty close with the price I’d been quoted by the online sales manager, and … that was about that. It still took three-and-half hours, but no shoes were traded and a scene reminiscent of “Glengarry Glen Ross” never transpired.
And as customer relations manager Sunshine Lump gently escorted me out back into the sun and set me behind the wheel of the RAV, I felt pretty decent about the whole transaction.
Yes, no Ferrari – but I got a lease payment that’s not much more than my monthly cell phone bill, and I can live with that.
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