Monday, November 27, 2006

Why I hang onto cars until they start to rot

Every few years the car I'm driving finally gives out and it's time to get a new one. The sunroof turns into a Y2K-compliant drinking water collection system with repairs that would cost more than the car was worth. The old Ford pickup was like the Wonderful One Horse Shay, It ran and ran until everything gave out at once. When one of them goes I feel that old cavalry sergeant in the classic Bill Mauldin cartoon.

This time the car was running fine until some idiot rammed his Nissan into it while it was parked in front of the house. He didn't have a driver's license. After this he didn't have a working car. But he did have the stupidity to tell the cops that he was under the influence of "pain pills". Fortunately he also had insurance.

The last time I bought a car I didn't really understand how useful tha Intrawebs were for little guppies like me swimming with the car sharks. Thank you Autotrader and special thanks to Consumer Reports for their in depth analyses. A few hours pretty much told me what the best cars were in my price range and mirabile dictu some of them were even new. The best choice is new and in limited production; there didn't seem to be but half a dozen in Oregon.

There were two dealers close by with similar cars at about the same price. I made an appointment with one for late afternoon and called the other to come in for a test drive.

The contrast couldn't have been greater. Jay Lee Honda started the pressure right away. "There are three other people interested in this car. First one in with MSRP gets it." After the test drive lo and behold there was an extra $2000 "ADM" (Added Dealer Markup - thanks Consumer's Union for the heads up) package, "I need to talk to the manager in the backroom. Sorry, if you could just add a few hundred more dollars. No the invoice isn't available. What will it take to let you drive away in this car." And any time a salesperson starts a sentence with "I was honest with you" you can be sure of one thing.

It was a positive pleasure to say "What you want isn't what you said on the phone. Your deal is unacceptable", walk out and ignore the half dozen phone calls.

The experience at Ron Tonkin Honda couldn't have been more different. They were happy to show me the invoice. MSRP was within Consumer Reports' acceptable range. In fact the margin was awfully narrow, so right upfront they said "We want you to buy a couple hundred bucks worth of dealer accessories." All weather floor mats - a good idea in Oregon - and cargo cover for the trunk took care of that. There weren't any attempts to upsell except the traditional stab at an extended warranty. I ended up with a somewhat better model for a fair bit less money.

I guess it's a game-theory problem for both of them. Jay Lee is willing to have a few people leave if the rest will buy at a higher price. They aren't really expecting repeat business. And there are miles of car dealerships on 99E between Portland and Oregon City. If you leave they've lost you. Tonkin has a number of dealerships. If you want something a little different they can send you to get a Toyota or a BMW. They're counting on a bit of repeat business and customers who don't like the hard sell or don't become emotionally attached to a particular car in the showroom.

1 comment:

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