November 15, 2003

car purchase, part 1

We just bought a car. In theory, anyway. It’s still sitting on the lot awaiting the money transfer from the credit union to the dealer, but that should happen Monday and then, voila, new car. After fourteen years, we have a brand new car. It’s so easy to spend money when you make up your mind to do it, isn’t it?

Two weeks ago (is that all? It feels like months) we test drove two cars. We could have driven more, but we – and Damian – don’t have much more patience than that and the choice really was between minivan (So big! We only have one kid! So big! And did I say big? Long too.) and smallish SUV-type vehicle (SUV! I hate SUVs, at least I think I do! Are we really considering an SUV? And it’s so tall, and it’s got a tire on the back, and it’s tall and did I mention? SUV?), with perhaps a station wagon thrown in there somewhere (because they’re no longer the station wagons of our youth, these wagons are almost sexy. Well, okay, not sexy. But they’re more like real cars than the other two, and they do have all that room in back. I remember crouching in the long back part of a station wagon when I was a smallish person. Fond memories of creamsicles dripping all over the beige carpeting, the smell of suntan lotion and the sound of other children bickering.). A sedan would be fine for our second car, but we needed something bigger for the main child-transport device.

So we narrowed it down to the Toyota Sienna in the minivan class and the Honda CRV standing in for the SUVs. Both have better-than-average emissions, which is important to us. Both have tolerable mileage; they’re not Priuses (Priuii?) but they’re no gas guzzlers either. Both got solid reviews. We figured we’d look at a Volvo station wagon if we had time, but the moment I slid into the driver’s seat of the Sienna, I realized the truth of what Dan’s been saying for a long time: it’s nice to be tall on the road. You can see over the heads of the squat sedans and you’re big enough to feel on par with the SUVs. With all those SUVs on the city streets, I often feel like an ant about to be stepped on. A minivan? Not an ant.

When we walked onto the Toyota lot, a young Korean salesman wandered over. He gave us a tour of the cool fold-down seats, the power side door, the second row windows that actually slide open. He was so young, with a round face and a slightly worried smile. He didn’t give us the hard sell, but he was alert and obviously hungry.

We test drove the car. Dan drove it to a parking lot a few blocks away. I sat in the passenger seat and gripped my knees hard with my fingernails. I’m going to drive this thing? I can’t drive this elephantine monster! I’ll back it into a hydrant, roll over the curb, run over an old lady crossing the street with her seeing eye dog. I’ve only ever driven sedans before, little things. How can I, a short person who only learned to drive as an adult and still doesn’t really believe she knows how, how can I do this?

Turns out? It’s easy. Turns out? Feels like a car, just roomier. You learn to adjust. It’s like a car is your body and when you suddenly gain weight, you can still maneuver in space, you just allow for more heft. Or maybe a better metaphor: You put on a huge old-fashioned dress for a costume party. Maybe it has a big bustle in back. At first you’re afraid you’ll hit the caterer in the face, cause a champagne glass disaster, but after a surprisingly short time you get used to your new shape in the dress and can glide around the dance floor without smacking into a single musician.

When we got back to the lot, Eager Young Salesguy went inside to get keys for the Highlander, Toyota’s midsized SUV. But while he was in there, we caught sight of the emission info on the window. Um, no. Not gonna go there.

Eager Salesguy ushered us inside to “look at some numbers” on the Sienna. Close the deal, he meant. Which was ludicrous. But we went. He sat us down in chairs and split for a good fifteen minutes. Damian checked out the SUV parked in the middle of the showroom floor. Salesguy came back, accompanied by Slick Older Salesman. Who sat down and oozed smarm – um, I mean charm. He talked to us about monthly lease costs, about down payments and residual values, but somehow never about total price. Though he did say he could come down as much as a thousand if we got something on the lot as opposed to something he’d have to order for us, it felt like a bait and switch in the making, that there was a hidden cost, we just had to figure out what.

We smiled, thanked him, left.

Car Lot Number Two. Where the bathroom was a tiny closet in the back, where there were more cars than desks in the showroom, where everything seemed a little scuffed at the edges. Which shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. But the salesguy? When we asked him to compare two cars that were side by side (we meant option packages), he said “This one’s six thousand more. Six thousand dollars!” And never did tell us what options it had. I found myself wondering how much inventory this guy sells and if this was some kind of reverse sales tactic. If you look like you’re not eager to sell, maybe people are more eager to buy? Or rather, to buy elsewhere. We decided if we liked the car, we’d find ourselves a different Honda dealership.

The CRV itself was nice but it felt small after the minivan. It was clear within minutes that we both preferred the Sienna. It’s cushy, a car you can move into and take a nap, all stretched out and comfy. Oh, and drive too, of course. But Damian liked the CRV better. It had cup holders in the second row, you see. He wanted a place to set down his juice. He got outvoted. The Sienna is not without cupholders, after all. And I’m not entirely convinced this should be the primary consideration when purchasing a vehicle for several thousand dollars. He came around when he realized he’d be just like his buddy Corey now, they’d both have minivans. Amazing what peer pressure will do.

Next step: research.

Posted by Tamar at November 15, 2003 09:26 PM