Shady Business – The Art of Buying a Car

Honda Odyssey

Congratulations!  You’re the new owner of a 2013 Honda Odyssey EX-L!

The deal was done!  After about an hour and a half of haggling and gamesmanship, I had just finished purchasing my wonderful wife a new “Mommobile.”  No more tap-dancing with the saleswoman!  No more trips by the saleswoman to the sales manager, the general manager, or the finance manager.  I had successfully navigated all of the obstacles associated with buying a car.  I was firm, not ugly.  In the end, I got almost everything I wanted – splash guards, a heavy duty mat for the trunk, but not the navigation system.  I was tired.

Buying a new vehicle is a bittersweet experience for me.  I love owning a new car.  I love the smell, the new gadgets, and the fact it is clean inside and out.  It’s free of crushed Goldfish and Cheerios.  There are no mud stains on the carpet.  There are no used tissues tucked between and under the seats.  It’s a great feeling.

However, I hate going through the process of buying a new car.  At this point in my life, I think I would rather get a root canal, then spend my time buying a car.  Car buyers very rarely play from a position of power – especially when you’re the one buying the most popular minivan in the United States.  It’s like starting a hand of Texas Hold’em with a 2 and a 7 off-suit, and you know your opposition has to have a better hand.  In other words, you had better have a lot of intestinal fortitude, and you need to be pretty good at the art of bluffing.

I started the process by reaching out to a number of dealerships through the various websites.  I thought it would be good to look at some other vehicles before considering the possibility of purchasing another Honda Odyssey.  I looked at the Toyota Sienna, the GMC Acadia, and the Chevrolet Traverse.  I also contacted two of the local Honda dealerships.  The Toyota and GMC folks responded that night.  The two Honda dealerships followed up the next day.  All offered fairly decent discounts based on their listed prices.  All were between 13-16% of the MSRP.  A good start I thought.

The Honda dealers were pretty close – about $300 apart.  The Toyota was the most expensive and offered fewer options.  After looking a little closer at the GMC and Chevy, I decided they were too small.  So there I was, back at the Honda Odyssey.  Which dealership did I want to deal with?  I had purchased vehicles at both dealerships, but the experience with the one that was most convenient left a bad taste in my mouth, so I decided to head back to the dealership closest to where I work.  I bought our second Odyssey there during the unforgettable “Cash for Clunkers” program of 2009.  At that time, I actually traded a car of value that didn’t need to be towed or pushed in to the dealership, so I got a pretty sweet deal.  I was hoping for the same again.

GMC logo      Honda logo      Toyota

Needless to say Round 2 did not go as smoothly as Round 1.  I was OK with the price of the car.  The quoted price was about $1700 under their invoice price.  I had done some homework prior to the visit so I knew the fight would come when it was time to negotiate the trade.  But I was ready.  Before going, I knew what they would offer and how much I could probably squeeze out of them.  I had about a $2000 window to work with because the resale price of the van was not quite as high as I thought it would be.

Prior to going to the dealership, I made an attempt to clean out the car.  I emptied the contents of the vehicle into a trash bag and a basket.  It’s amazing how much stuff a family can accumulate in a vehicle over time – candy wrappers, used tissues, crayons, coloring books, toys, empty drink bottles, and my favorite – lollipop sticks!  I knew that getting rid of the clutter and getting a couple of stains out of the carpet would help my cause.

The saleswoman came back with her first offer for my car which was about $500 above what I expected for the initial offer.  I countered with $500 less than resale value.  She smirked.  I smiled.  She left to go talk with Manager #1.  The game was on.

When I buy a new car, I do something that really throws a salesperson off.  I never test drive a car.  The test drive is usually the time when they buyer gets hooked.  It’s when the process of buying a car becomes emotional for the buyer.  It gives the salesperson the advantage.  I never do it, and I recommend all car buyers try the tactic – especially if you’re buying the same vehicle again.

The saleswoman came back with her second offer.  They added another $500 to their offer.  I subtracted $250 from mine.  She left again to talk with Manager #2.  This trip took a little longer.  She returns with the handy printout that shows the “Poor”, “Fair”, and “Good” value for the vehicle.  The “Good” value for my car is what I want.  At this point, I turn the negotiations around.  The saleswoman slipped-up earlier in the process when she went to inspect my vehicle prior to starting the haggling session.  She came back and said “You’re van is in great shape.  I can sell this in no time.”  I pointed to the “Good” value on the sheet, and told her if she wanted to make a deal today, she had to get that number for me.  If she couldn’t, I was leaving.  She leaves to talk to Manager #3 or maybe Manager #1 and Manager #2.  I wait.

I learned the art of car-buying from my father.  We’ve had some good times buying vehicles.  I’ve watched my dad use a number of tactics through the years.  We’ve walked out on deals over a $100.  I’ve watched my dad rip up a check and write another one for less than his original offer when the first offer got rejected.  We’ve had salesman following us as we drive out of the parking lot because they’ve suddenly had a change of heart and want to do the deal.  We’ve had salesman calling us at home begging us to please come back in and finish the deal.  The best line I’ve ever heard my dad use during a negotiation happened  in Atlanta when he was helping my brother purchase a Toyota Camry.  According to my brother, the situation was pretty intense, and then my dad played the ultimate hand.  He looked at the salesman and asked him, “Would you give your mother this deal?”  What’s a salesman supposed to do at that point?  Of course, he dropped the price.

Finally, the saleswoman returns.  She’s worked hard, and they’re going to give me the “Good” value for the van since I’m a loyal customer.  The game is over, and I’m tired.  She takes the paperwork to the finance office.  We chat a little bit.  She’s originally from New Jersey.  My family lived outside of Philadelphia for a couple of years.  Her daughter has a degree in Sociology and works for DSS in Gaffney.  I have degrees in Sociology and Chemistry.  Her expression changes.  She now knows that I understand the psychology around car buying and the importance of taking emotion out of the process.  I tell her the story about my dad and the Toyota dealer in Atlanta.  She looks perplexed.  She laughs a little.

The phone rings.  The finance guy is ready.  I leave to sign the papers.  I’ll pick-up the new van tomorrow!  They need to install my splash guards and wash the protective layer of pollen off the car.

Overall, I did pretty well.  18% discount on the price of the vehicle.  I got more for the trade than what I expected.  And 0.9% financing.  Not a bad deal if you ask me.  I got what I wanted.  I saved some money.  They made a little money.  Probably not as much as they wanted, but they can try to make more money on the next deal.  They only have around 1300 more cars to sell before they reach their sales goal for the year.

I wish them the best of luck!  I’m glad I don’t sell cars for a living!


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