New Car Update

So, we’ve had the new car for just over a month now, and I have to say that I’m liking it more and more the longer we have it.

The main thing I was worried about was whether or not we could fit (get it, because it’s a Fit?). A month in, I feel I can say relatively confidently that we fit in quite easily. With that one concern out of the way, I’m free to really enjoy the car.

It feels a lot more “peppy” than the Malibu was, especially around the neighborhood. Conversely, you feel every bump in a way that you never did with the Malibu (which can be rough this time of year). I’ve never had a hatchback before, and I have to say, I’m a convert. Definitely loving that part. Also loving the 37.6 mpg we got coming home from Wisconsin!

There are two very minor things that annoy me about the car. The first is that you can’t lock the doors until they’re all closed. This kind of seems like a good idea, until you have kids. I never realized it, but it turns out that I usually open all the necessary doors, lock the doors so I can put my keys away, and use my hands to carry things. If, instead, you have to keep your keys in your hand until the kids get out, you have to wait for about five hours or so before you can free your hands.

Second, if you unlock the doors but don’t open a door in time, they re-lock themselves. So by the time you load up and round up the kids and herd everybody in the right direction, you get to the car just in time to hear the doors lock. Again, not a good feature if kids are involved.

Okay, but back to the good things. I admit, I was a little worried with how it would be in the snow. But after pushing several cars out of the snow (including 4wd cars) and not having any trouble whatsoever, I realized there’s more than power when it comes to snow. It’s so much smaller and more maneuverable, that I was able to navigate around all the bad stuff.

And finally, the super best part about the car is the little “instantaneous mpg” bar. I cannot take my eyes off of it. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, and very competitive between Sara and I. It makes me realize how NOT fuel efficiently I was driving the Malibu. I mean, on some level I knew how you could drive to get better fuel economy, but watching that meter has 100% changed the way I drive. “Quit your honking, I’m not going any faster. THE METER IS AT 40 MPG!”

I never really concluded the story of the Malibu. After the laughably low offer they gave me for the trade-in, I took it over to Carmax and sold it for >3 times what they offered me. It was so quick and painless for 3 times the money, that I feel a fool for not just going there originally. They were great with the kids too, they solemnly gave them papers to sign to sell the car. It was all very serious, and Oliver spent as long on his name as I’ve ever seen him. It was a beauty.

Anyway, long story short, very happy with the purchase (and very happy with Carmax). Here’s to 198,000 more miles!

New Car Part II – The Buying Process

Ugh, buying a car, right? It’s awful. It’s so much work, so many decisions to make, and so much second guessing yourself. There’s just absolutely no good or easy way to do it.

So first off, I approached it the way I approach everything: with tons and tons of research. Buying a car today, with the Internet at your disposal, is such a different game than the last time I bought a car 11 years ago. There’s so much more information to be had. It’s not just deciding what you want or finding a good dealership or knowing what the pricing options are; I spent a significant amount of time researching sales techniques and tricks. Is there anything as consistently slimy as a car salesman? Spend any amount of time reading about their tactics and you need to shower off the scum afterwards. Yuck.

In addition to just generally learning how far some salesmen will go, I think the most important piece of information that I learned is that the “invoice price” is so far above what the dealership actually paid for the car. I’m sure some of you are saying, “Duh”, but I really fell for the trick that anything under the invoice price was costing the dealer money. I feel hopelessly naive. It makes me wonder how badly I got taken on my last car (they got me with a charge for etched VIN on the windows too).

Basically I more or less followed the script found here. I modified the emails and things, but I kept the most important part, which was breakdown of the various components of out the door price. This is essential. It was *VERY DIFFICULT* to keep all of this straight. The dealers will try everything they can to fudge the numbers. It would almost be comical if it weren’t so underhanded. If you only get the out the door price without the details, it will inevitably be lower than you’re actually going to pay, and when you show up to the dealership they’ll say, “Oooh, I’m sorry, we forgot to account for XYZ, but as long as you’re here…” For instance, nearly every dealer tried to quote me a lower tax rate to make their bid look significantly lower (you know how you assume someone is driving in from downstate Illinois to buy a car at your in-the-city dealership?).

Long story short, I emailed 10 dealerships for a bid. Each of the 10 salesmen required a little bit of convincing that they should cut the crap and give me the numbers that I wanted. Ultimately I received 8 bids. Just as the article cautioned, 6 of the 8 were all within $200 of each other, but one bid was significantly lower than the rest. Armed with that offer, I went back to the other 7 and asked them to beat it. A few of the dealerships got a little nasty at that point, mostly claiming the offer was impossible and wouldn’t be honored. “Fine,” I said. “Just give me your best bid and I’ll put you on the list. If this offer falls through, I’ll move to the next lowest bid on the list.” Ultimately, with a little coaxing, I think 5 of the 7 agreed to match or beat the low offer (with much grumbling I assure you).

At the end of the day, we paid about $1820 under invoice (which is, of course, significantly under the MSRP). I was very happy with that, and I much prefer negotiating via email (I should say emails, since I think all told I had something like 70 emails to and from the various dealers). After reading about all the shady dealings, I wanted to make sure I could do this without losing *my* integrity. As such, I didn’t want to lie about anything. Doing it this way was great; I never had to lie or bluff. This is the current low price, do you want to beat it or not?

The dealer we ultimately went with was the one that had originally offered the lowest bid. Now this sort of proves the point made in the article about why you need to get so many bids. When we got to the place, we could kind of see why they were desperate to sell new cars. The building was a little run down and in a pretty poor neighborhood. It was pretty clear they do most of their business in used cars, not new. And last but not least, the entire place smelled like a sewer. I mean that literally, they must have had some kind of rupture or something. Strangely, nobody mentioned it at all, so we ignored it as well. But hey, who cares; their odor is my gain. But if I hadn’t emailed that one dealer, i would have probably paid $1000 more for my car.

The nice thing was that we had the car financials already agreed upon, so by the time we went in to sign the papers, everything went very smoothly. Even for all the extras they tried to sell us, we just said no and they moved on. They knew we were well researched and we weren’t putting up with nonsense. We didn’t get any hassle whatsoever, as opposed to the people on either side of us who were getting the full treatment. I even watched one salesman talk for maybe 5 minutes to a “finance manager” that I’m pretty sure was just a dial tone. (“Just run the numbers, Eddie, I’m going to do whatever it takes to put these nice people in a car!”) I  felt pretty bad for some of the people (but then I felt less bad when I heard them talk about how bad their financial situation was and then demand a widescreen navigation display be included on their brand new, tricked out, luxury mobiles).

One last “trick” I wanted to mention: the dealer was offering a $500 incentive for financing the car. It turns out that there is no charge for financing, and no early payoff fee. You can literally sign up for the financing on the minimum amount, get the $500, and pay the car off with the first payment. As far as I can tell, no gotchas, just free money.

The one thing we hadn’t talked about at all was our trade in. We understood we weren’t going to get top dollar for it, but we had a (very) low number in mind and various print-outs and evidence to back that number up. The amount they offered us – $350 – was so low that it wasn’t even worth trying to bargain on it. $350! We got more money for Sara’s old car from the junkyard, and that was with a completely seized up engine that had to be towed in. I don’t know if that validates that we were getting a good deal on the car so they wanted to hose us on the trade in, or if they were just worn out and didn’t want to deal with it, or what.

So we simply said no and moved on, but the unfortunate part is that I was hoping to get everything resolved that day. Instead we still have to deal with my old car. Still, it was the right thing to do, and it’s not as pressing now that we have a car that we can drive without worrying about a breakdown.

A New Car!

I honestly don’t think 197,000 miles is that remarkable. As I said about a year and a half ago, I think you should be able to get 200k out of a car. I know many, many people who have gotten that (or better) from a car, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t quite get there on my car. But oh boy, you tell someone you’ve got an 11 year old car and they act like you’ve unearthed a wooly mammoth or something. Oh man. They just cannot believe it.

Unfortunately, however, my long-time companion finally needed a costly repair, and it was time to put him to bed. So last weekend we bought a brand new Honda Fit.

First off, yes, I am quite aware that it’s teeny tiny. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Malibu. Yes, I agree we might be crazy. We did start off looking at small SUVs, honest, but the more we thought about it the more we realized that it just didn’t pay to cart around all that extra cargo space when the vast majority of the time it’s just me driving by myself. The Fit is exactly the size we need, and not an inch more (you may have noticed that’s something I’m kind of into). And for the handful of times a year when we need some extra storage? We plan to add a roof rack shortly.

Second off, I’m about to eat some serious crow here. I am on record many, many times saying that I don’t think it makes sense to buy a new car; that used is always better. I was so absolutely sure I would never again buy a new car, and here I am with a new car. I had my reasons that made sense to me, but I guess the point is that everybody has ideas that make sense to them, and who am I to say their reasons were less valid than my reasons?

Furthermore, I’ve spent most of my life defending American cars. I still defend them; 11 years and 197,000 miles without major problems says it all. But now here I am buying a foreign car. More crow. It doesn’t taste good.

At the end of the day, when we added up all of our requirements such as price, mpg, reliability, interior dimensions, etc. this is just the car that fell out. It was the right choice. And it better be, since I plan on having this car FOREVER. Sara really brought this home with the sobering thought that this might be the car that Evie learns to drive on. Heavy.

As with all “downsizing”, it might require lifestyle changes. We might need smaller car seats. We might need to make some hard choices on what we can bring with us and what we can’t. We might have to think about space and how we use it, and the difference between “need” and “want”. At least I hope so.

I’ll talk tomorrow about the actual process of buying the car, which was predictably difficult, but I have to say it is very nice not to have to worry about little noises the car might make and what they might mean. I didn’t realize I was carrying that burden until it was lifted. We went from a car with 197,000 miles on it to one with 5 miles. That’s…a big difference.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing to break a car in like a nice snowstorm (for the last time kids, keep your boots off those brand new seats!) and it’s already pretty disgusting. Oh well, might as well get used to it!