As mentioned a few weeks ago, we bought a new car! An actual new car, as it turned out, and not just a new-to-us car. More on that later. As longtime readers of Hit Coffee know, I have been considering purchasing a new-to-us car for quite some time. Crayola, the late-90’s Ford Escort I typically drive, has been struggling over the last couple of years. Also, moving to Arapaho with an eye towards staying means that we want something with all wheel drive. Lastly, we’ve been limping along without a cargo vehicle for some time. We don’t need something that’s going to carry large furniture, but it would be nice to have something more than the Camry when it came to moving stuff and having a more towing-capable vehicle for those bigger things (the Camry has a hitch, which we’ve used, but it’s not the most comfortable arrangement).
Anyhow, we finally hit the Magic Number – the desired amount in our savings account before we were comfortable buying a car – in October. Despite having talked to Wells Fargo last year about a loan*, we really wanted to buy a car outright. Which we sort of** did. So from there it was a matter of picking a car. That wasn’t hard because all of the legwork I had done previously pointed in a particular direction: Subaru Forester***. The “where” was a little more uncertain and I figured it would come down to who made the best offer or had the best used car.
Since leaving Cascadia, it became apparent that we were likely to buy a new car. This blew both of us away because it was something we were told, since we were kids, is simply something you never do. Buying new cars was for chumps. Until relatively recently, it’s been pretty deeply ingrained in my mind. But something odd has happened since the downturn. Incentives are making new cars cheaper. A variety of factors are making used cars more expensive. The price difference between the two has collapsed to virtually nothing. In fact, depending on how you look at it, buying used can actually cost more (higher interest rates if you’re getting a loan, shorter life per dollar spent otherwise). I made a spreadsheet a while back assuming the life of a car to be 100k, 150k, and 200k miles. New cars were, if not at the top of the list (as far as price-desirability goes), competitive. The more economical pricing (on the 200k column) was on cars just over that 100k, but that doesn’t factor in the hassle and headaches of a non-reliable car. You might save money, but only if you don’t mind being left on the side of the road sometimes. Being left on the side of the road in Arapaho is more problematic than other places because you can be outside of cell phone range and outside of walking distance from anywhere.
So we’d accepted that we might have to do that thing we were taught never to do. One look at the used car market in Arapaho told us that this would assuredly be the case. Arapahoans hold on to their cars, so there are none of those low-mileage used car deals you can get where you benefit from some other chump losing the $3,000 off the lot. Instead, you’re just getting an old car. Even that might have had its perks in the name of cash liquidity (see ** below), but the scarcity of supply pushes the price up to the point that my spreadsheet told me that they were all pretty much bad deals. So it was a done deal: new car.
There were other factors to consider, like whether to get a 2010 or 2011. Only one dealership, in Alexandria, had any 2010s left. We’d decided on the medium trim, called “Premium” (“Limited” is the top trim) because it was the one that had the option for traditional roof rails (for cargo) and towing (for more cargo), as well as the all-weather package. So for an entire week I was investigating which dealerships had what available on that trim and which had the best starting price (ie the fewest unnecessary features larding up the MSRP). The nearest dealership, in Redstone, was a no-haggle dealership. So I had to somehow try to factor in what I would be able to negotiate down in Alexandria (for instance) compared to the no-haggle price in Redstone.
I’m not sure if any of you read it, but Edmunds had a great piece many years back entitled Confessions of a Car Salesman, where a reporter went undercover as a car salesman and reports back the nature of the trade and the tricks that they use. Having read all about the sales techniques, there wasn’t much news there. But one of the things that really jumped out at me was that the difference in business culture from the traditional dealership (unnamed, but leading me to believe it was either Lexus or Acura) and a no-haggle dealership (almost certainly Saturn). I came away with it thinking that between the two, I really wanted to give my business to the latter.
I had a few questions about the Forester that I hadn’t seen the answers to anywhere, so I stopped by the dealership in Redstone to ask. The Redstone dealership swore up and down in all of its literature that it was a “no-haggle” and “no-pressure” sort of place, so I figured that I could ask the questions without having to fight off attempts for a test drive and whatnot. Turns out, they lived up to their name. The salesman was extremely helpful and that was that. I decided that I wanted to do business with them if it was at all possible.
It’s easy to decry the state of car sales, but if you’re walking straight past those dealerships that are trying to buck that mentality in search of a better deal, you’re part of the problem. Even if you get a better deal for yourself, you’re still patronizing them. Of course, I wasn’t going to pay thousands and thousands of dollars on the basis of that principle. If the difference is that large, the no-haggle places aren’t just going with consistent pricing, they’re going with exorbitant pricing. So I set a price-point. If the Redstone dealership came within $x, I would give them my business.
What it looked like it was going to come down to was the 2011 vs 2010. The difference in list prices alone was over $1000 at the Alexandria dealership and there was a good chance that I was going to be able to talk them down well beyond the margin because Redstone had already sold all of their 2010s. The last piece of the puzzle came from Fighting Chance, which is a resource on all manner of relevant things for negotiating a good price. What actually jumped out at me was the complete listing of features and pricing. I discovered that, if I was willing to forgo the all-weather package, I could actually get the towing kid and traditional roof rails on the base trim. That was thousands of dollars and I had previously been lead to believe that you couldn’t get either on the base trim. So I looked back at all of the Arapaho dealerships and discovered that only one offered the base trim: Redstone.
So I got to have my cake and eat it, too. I went with the no-haggle dealership and saved a good amount of money simply because they were offering a cheaper product that nobody else was****. This left some money to get an extended warranty, the towing kid (a purchase that I was going to have to put off), and a block heater for under the target price. And I would still be under the target price if I upgraded the speaker system, which I figured I might need to do (and did in pretty short order). And as an added benefit, I even managed to get the color that I wanted. I had resigned myself to getting something I was indifferent two and had accepted that I might end up with one of the two colors I actively did not want.
And not a moment too soon. Within a week of getting the car, for a couple different reasons I am not going to get into, both of the other cars stopped working correctly. So despite having three cars, we were stuck having to share only the Forester. Had I tried to custom-order or put it off, our balancing act would have become impossible.
For future reference, due to its green color and the fact that it has one of those high-falutin’ California engines that is supposed to have cleaner exhausts and thus is supposed to be good for the environment, its name is Nader. I was thinking of going with Ahnold, due to the California roots, but I decided not to since he’s on his way out and I wasn’t going to name the car Jerry.
* – Wells Fargo more than anyone else should have been able to appreciate our financial situation and history: generally a lot of savings (more than enough in savings to buy the car outright, if necessary) with solid income interrupted by periods of unemployment. All that mattered to WF, though, was that we were unemployed right then and there. Even an employment contract in hand and the income potential of Clancy’s medical license were not enough for them consider loaning us any money. We were as sure a bet as you can get, but they have their formulas and their hands were tied. A “savings secured loan” was all they could offer us, which basically meant that they would take the money out of our bank account and then loan it back to us for less interest than a loan that wasn’t coming from money that they just took out of our bank account.
** – I add the “sort of” qualifier because we used money from the sign-on bonus provided by Clancy’s employer. Interest free, but we have to return a pro-rated amount of we leave before her contract was up. This caused a fair amount of kvetching on our part (well, mostly mine) because – even though we have no plans to leave before the contract is up – we didn’t want to be in a position where we couldn’t leave if things became unbearable. So we considered getting a loan anyway (I’m sure Wells Fargo would have been happy to comply) just to keep that money in the bank. Looking over the numbers, it seemed like I was just being paranoid about our finances. I talked it over with Bob Vis, who agreed that I was being paranoid. Mostly just a matter of confirming what I already knew, but I needed to hear from someone else that we weren’t being irresponsible by dipping into the sign-on loan.
*** – Other models I considered were the Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, and Jeep Patriot. The Patriot caught my eye just because it was so cheap, but it didn’t take me long to decide I would rather have a used auto with some reliability than a new one with none. So it was the first I removed from consideration. The CR-V got some good reliability ratings, but I sat in one while in Cascadia and it just didn’t feel right. Visibility wasn’t really good on it and I decided if I wanted to go with Reputable Japanese, we’d just go with the RAV4. The Escape was recommended to me by a couple of people and I got to drive my mother-in-law’s and liked it and it felt right in the same way that the CR-V felt wrong. But the price-point never got low enough. The RAV4 was considered because my wife is a Toyota person and it got good reliability ratings. While the pricing wasn’t terrible on this one, it started getting really bad when I factored in what would be required for it to be able to tow anything. Really, if I wanted to spend $30k, I’d get a Highlander which has more space and all of the towing things required coming standard. The Sportage was the cheapest option, but like the RAV4 it required getting a higher trim. This put it in the same ballpark as the Forester, price-wise, but with a less reputable AWD. Also, few Kia dealerships in the state (though I discovered, within an hour after buying the Forester, that one is opening up right in Redstone). On the merits, it really came down to the Outlander and the Forester. The Outlander met all of my requirements and came in under the Forester in price (albeit barely). However, there’s one Mitsubishi dealership in Arapaho and it’s not anywhere near our part of the state. Also, unlike Subaru, Mitsubishi doesn’t specialize in AWDs and when I talked to a dealer in Cascadia they made it seem like a bit of an afterthought.
**** – You can custom order a vehicle from Subaru.com and have it sent to virtually any dealership, but since the deal isn’t done since you drive off the lot, they are free to use the fact that you have waited 6-8 weeks for the car’s arrival and that it would take another 6-8 weeks to order it again through somewhere else to reneg on the deal and ask for more money. This sort of thing was also a concern with the farther-flung dealerships across the state. They can use the fact that I have seriously inconvenienced myself by driving across the state in order to try to get another few hundred dollars out of me when I come to pick the car up.
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