The Oracle of Apollo Snippets from the life of Apollo Lee

May 03, 2008 - 21:05

Miscellaneous, Personal

Car Shopping Saturday

I’m in the market for a new car. Well, not necessarily a brand new car, but a good late-model used car to replace my current purple car. I drive a 1994 Chevy Cavalier Z-24, which I bought in 1996. I’ve put 145,000 miles on it in the 12 years I’ve had it and it’s been a decent enough car, although I’ve had to spend more and more on repairs as it got older. When I came back from spring break a month ago, the turn signal flasher stopped working for the fourth time (I replaced it a year ago three times in the space of two months). Combine that with the fact that I accidentally broke the mirror off the passenger side and the driver’s side door latch failing from the inside (which requires me to open the driver’s door from the inside), I have probably put off getting another car for a few too many years.

I’ve been looking around for a new vehicle for a little while. Not having a car puts me at a serious disadvantage when it comes to going out on weekends. I take the train to work, so I wouldn’t need a car to commute to work. But, after a while, Netflix weekends start to get old. I could move to San Francisco, I suppose, and I may at some point in the future, but the climate in the city is quite cold, the apartments are tiny and expensive, and I enjoy having plenty of room. So, it’s off to the car dealers for the really pleasant task of finding another car.

My short list includes the Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix, and (remotely) Honda Fit. I drove a Dodge Caliber last month on spring break and a Chevy Cobalt last year. I’d consider one of those if the deal was extraordinary.

I’ve been to a few of the car dealers around Sunnyvale and none of them seem ready to take their customers on test drives. They’re happy to answer questions, ask for the sale, and discuss financing options, but few of them default to “Why don’t we go for a drive and you can see if you like it?” They, to a person, wanted to give me brochures and a business card, dismissing me with a curt “When you’re ready to buy, let me know.” Uh, dude, I don’t hang out on car lots recreationally.

When I bought my Cavalier in 1996, the dealer came out, greeted me on the lot, led me around, and asked “What catches your eye?” I pointed out the purple car and he hollered, “Well, hell, kid, let’s take it fer a drive!” “Okay!” And on the test drive, “Well, you got more gas pedal. This thing’s got a V6 under the hood. Open her up and see what she’ll do!” He threw in a bunch of stuff with the car and really made me want it.

So, today, I headed down the street in my admittedly broken car, this time heading up the Peninsula to see what was in stock in Redwood City, San Mateo, and Burlingame. Hopefully, I could actually test drive one of my target automobiles. In Redwood City, the salesmen ignored me because I parked in the movie theater and walked over (the theater is between four car dealerships). In Burlingame, I skittered away from the Toyota dealer to find a soda machine and headed back because he tried to catch me.

I test drove a 2007 Toyota Matrix. This guy really tried to get me to buy today, but understood when I told him that tax day wasn’t nice to me. We took the low mileage matrix out on the freeway, I stepped into it, passed a couple of Priuses (I’d get one of those if they didn’t cost $150 million and top out at 45 mph), swung it around a freeway offramp, and basically just noodled around in it. It’s nice, but a little more expensive than I thought it would be. He offered to throw in an iPod connection to the stereo (seriously, why is the Cobalt the only car in that class to offer this as a standard feature?) and a retouch of the cosmetic scratches. I may consider this car, but I’d need to reduce the price significantly. Paying $350/month for a Toyota seems a little ridiculous.

Next, I headed a block down to the GMC Pontiac dealer. That salesman was solid as well, making an effort to find the 2008 Pontiac Vibe that had just come in a couple days before. We took it out on the freeway as well with a “Why don’t we take it for a drive?” and it was as nice as the Matrix. The sticker’s pretty high, but depending on my negotiating mojo, I could probably talk a few thousand off the price. Nice car, certainly on the list.

Third, I went next door to the Honda dealer, who pounced on me immediately and tried to sell me a brand new purple (bonus points for the color) Fit, but didn’t seem to want to take me on a test drive or have any used cars. “This is going to be gone tomorrow. Come on, man. You don’t want to drive home in that Chevy. We’ll make you a deal right now, come on.” Dude, I don’t buy any car I haven’t driven at least twice and I don’t have a 20% down payment today. I’ll consider the Fit, but it’s a distant third and I won’t be buying one here.

Finally, just to see if the Honda dealer in Sunnyvale was any different at all, I stepped in half an hour before closing and the sales guy did the old “here’s a brochure and my card” laziness. I like that the Fit is economical and available in purple, but if you are going to make a commission off me, you’re going to work for it. Maybe it’s a cultural thing in the Silicon Valley to talk in abstractions, but “when you’re ready to buy” means you’re not serious about making the sale or establishing a relationship with me.

My housemate is a hard bargain kind of girl, so she advised me to go to Gilroy, where she bought her new Corolla. That seems like a good idea for next weekend. Don’t worry, I’ll rent a car before I drive 70 miles to look at more vehicles. Incidentally, she’s right. When I was buying my current car, I lived in Moscow, Idaho, a college town, where the salesmen wouldn’t let me drive anything. They weren’t serious about making the sale, figuring me for a dumb college student without any money. In Lewiston, Idaho, I bought the car in cash. I’d have liked to have kept the commission local, but if you flunk at salesmanship, someone else gets the money.

Where did you buy your car? What do you drive? Would you buy it again? What would you buy if you were shopping today?


Posted by
May 05, 2008 - 12:05

I started car shopping in 2005. I ran through a few car dealerships then, eyeing the new Civic with Navi, but after receiving light that my credit situation at the time was not desirable by banks I had to fix and patch things up before shopping again.

Come 2006. I was now eyeing the cute and sporty Honda Fit. It was perfect for me, but no where to be found. I test drove Scions in the Peninsula but none really fit in my price range and my negotiating skills are nil, despite my new pretty credit standing. I stopped by a Toyota lot on a whim and spotted the new 2007 Toyota Yaris. Funny looking, but it was a hatchback, sporty, and great on mileage. I fell in love. I called dealerships as far as Walnut Creek to San Jose and finally located one in Daly City.

City Toyota. Finally my car was to be had. But they had inconviently forgotten to tell me that the only Yaris they had in stock was equipped with nothing. Not even a stereo. It had manual windows and I was lucky that it was an automatic. But I thought hey, I can buy my own awesome stereo and I took it for a test drive.

I loved how it handled. The console was odd because it was center mounted, but none the less I was hooked despite the lack of radio. Funny enough we didn’t make it back to the lot because it had run out of gas, all the way past the ‘E’. We walked into the office to talk numbers and I asked if they were going to fill it up. “oh we normally don’t do that but we will this time”
What? You don’t sell your cars with a full tank? Cheap bastards, but fine, I went with it.

I just about to hand over my down payment when the salesman came back into the office and said “Oh hey we have a certified used ’05 corolla, fully loaded for less than the car you’re buying now”. I totally grumbled, I had done enough mind work to set myself into buying the Yaris but now you want me to what I thought at the time was a Granny car.

So I test drove the Corolla and went with it because it did have power windows and a CD stereo. And we’ve been happy ever since.

I’m happy with the car I have and I’m really glad I don’t have to go through all that again for a while.

Posted by
May 05, 2008 - 12:05

Interesting. I usually read your blog via RSS, and when I opened the page to comment, I get the following:
Car Shopping Saturday

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At any rate, one of my coworkers has a Fit and adores it. I rode around with him in it and it seemed pretty smooth and sporty. I love my Jetta, but it’s reaching that point where fixing it is getting more and more expensive (she’s got a new head gasket, which pretty much meant no vacation for 2008 for Mace). I keep eying the Yaris, but that’s just because of the possibility of more parking spaces. It is so wee.

When I bought my current car, I went to the Mini dealership in Mountain View first, just for shits and giggles. My friend and I were completely ignored, which was dumb, considering I went and impulse bought the Jetta, more or less. I could be driving a Mini right now, and probably still paying it off. We even went as far as to walk into the showroom proper and looked for someone to help us. They were so much more accommodating at Sunnyvale VW!

Posted by
May 05, 2008 - 13:05

Also, after I made this comment, whoop! Now I can read everything. Weirdness.

Posted by
May 09, 2008 - 02:05

I’m a Honda man – I’ve owned 5 to date, and will probably buy several more in my lifetime. I had a Lexus once, and though it was a fine car, it didn’t quite fit me as well as a Honda.

When approaching a dealership, I take charge the second I step onto the lot. When the salesman approaches me, I tell him my name and the list of cars I am considering. I immediately tell him I am just here to test drive the model I am interested in so I can compare it to the others and decide which car I will get. I don’t let him tell me shit about anything – I have already research ALL the models on the web, know every option, the size of the engine, the colors it’s available in, and what the DEALER INVOICE price is (all of this you can get at places like It becomes clear within a minute that he’s at a huge disadvantage and that he will never be able to bullshit me.

As for negotiating the price, I start off by knowing the sticker price, the dealer invoice (though he will ALWAYS lie and tell me it was more for some reason that defies explanation – I will tell him he’s either of liar, or he works for the stupidest dealership on the planet that pays more for a car than dealer invoice). If it’s a used car, I know the KBB price for the car, with mileage, along with other cars in its class. I also know what the average sale price (which is different than KBB) is for that model in the particular area I am shopping.

I never talk financing, trade-in, or anything else related to paying for the car until I have decided exactly what model and options I want, and have agreed on a final selling price (which is usually somewhere between $0-1000 above dealer invoice).

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