November 17, 2003

car purchase, part 3

When we got to the dealer late Saturday morning, Eager Young Salesguy was nowhere to be found. We had him paged. Still no sign. Dan went outside. The guy was showing a car to a Korean family. Not just any car, a pale blue Sienna with a metallic sheen. The exact car we’d come to haggle over. Coincidence? They scattered quickly after we appeared. Again, coincidence?

Salesguy had told me on the phone this would be his first sale. We think that Korean family was his own family. It’s an old sales trick: make the item look more desirable by having someone else show interest. Jealousy and covetousness supposedly kick in: “No, get away, that’s mine!” Didn’t work. Toyota of Hollywood had a dark gray one in stock. I like dark gray too. His attempt was oddly endearing, though.

He ushered us, not back into the sleek glass-enclosed gray-tiled showroom, but into an unimpressive two room shack in the middle of the lot. Interesting sales tactic. Underwhelm your customer?

It quickly became obvious we were dealing with something a little different from the hard-sell pitch we’d expected. We talked for a minute with Eager Guy and then he called someone else into the room, a slim Korean woman with a no-nonsense mien. Turns out Mr. Smarm from our first visit had vanished with the mist, off to another gig. Thank god. This new manager was hard to read but was clearly a sharp businesswoman and the crap factor went way down the moment she walked in the room.

She was the fleet manager. I didn’t know exactly what a fleet manager was, but I’d figured out during the course of all those phone calls that it was a good thing and meant someone who can really do business with you. (For a definition of fleet manager, go here.)

I need to back up here, fill in a missing piece. As we had walked up to the shiny new blue Sienna a few minutes earlier, we’d spotted a sticker. This Car Equipped with LoJack. LoJack Not Included in MSRP.

Apparently every single car on the lot had been equipped with LoJack, an admittedly wonderful feature but one you had to pay eight hundred dollars for the privilege of owning. Yikes. There goes our thousand dollar savings off sticker.

As we walked to the ramshackle office structure, my hopes of buying a car that afternoon started draining away. Goodbye, pretty blue car. Goodbye, drive to Cambria in that pretty blue car. Hello, more phone calls and more overly cheery salespeople. Hello, more pins-and-needles car buying angst.

But we were already here. What the hell. We stayed to see how the meeting would go down.

So when the fleet manager came in, I laid it all out. We got this quote from Valley Toyota, we don’t expect you to match it but we’ve also gotten a thousand below MSRP from dealers around town and we do expect you can beat that. But aside from all that, there’s this LoJack price. That’s a big pill to swallow.

She started to sell us on LoJack. What choice did she have? We said yes, it’s good, we know that. But we calculated what we can afford for this car and this is not it.

Stalemate. They can’t take the LoJack out once it’s in. I was sulky and unhappy and obviously ready to walk. The fleet manager suggested we pay invoice price for it: six hundred dollars. Dan said, “Really, that’s what you pay? Because I saw it on the internet, there’s a site that advertises it for five hundred, complete with installation.”

She was flummoxed.


He offered to pull up the site for her, but her office isn’t online. She finally said she’d match it if her manager approved.

We continued the negotiation, but there wasn’t much more to it. She wrote down a figure, excluding the LoJack. It was $1150 lower than MSRP. It was pretty much her final offer. I added the numbers. The total was a few hundred more than we had planned to spend, but hell. LoJack = peace of mind. Dan had wanted it all along. I did too, honestly, but just didn’t want to pay for it.

I frowned and looked torn for a while longer, but really I was just seeing if she’d do anything else for us. She wouldn’t. So we said yes and walked away feeling good but not amazing. I felt like a non-negotiator, like the deal was pretty much done before we ever walked in the door and it was just a matter of doing our homework. And the end result was only a hundred bucks or so better than everyone else who gets online car info can get. Nice but a little anticlimactic, you know?

But here’s what I realized today: if you take the accessory package into account (floor mats and whatnot, came with the car, part of the deal but jacks up the sticker price) as well as the LoJack, we got the car for $1484 under MSRP.

Today I’m feeling pretty damned proud of us.

We saw both of them, the fleet manager and Eager Young Salesguy, again today when we took care of the final steps: fixing the purchase order (our names were misspelled), bringing the loan payment, writing a check for the last of the down payment and oh yes, picking up the car (woo!). As we were saying goodbye to her, she said she knew when we came in with all our facts that we knew too much and she wasn’t going to do a song and dance, just be straight with us. So we got a good deal. For real. She told us we were good at it. She has no reason now to lie.

It also became apparent that she’s taken Eager Young Guy under her wing, she wants to teach him the trade. She told us he reminds her a lot of her younger brother. So she wanted to make this transaction happen for his sake, to give him the satisfaction of a first sale.

It makes it all more human, you know? It’s not us against them. It’s just people thinking carefully about a huge investment and other people thinking carefully about how much they’re willing to give in to make that happen.

I’m glad to have gone through this. I like that this brand new baby car has a birth story. Born of a savvy Korean midwife and her brand new assistant, adopted by a family who embraced the new child with open arms but also open eyes. It feels good. Really good.

It felt damned good driving the car home this afternoon, too. Wow good. It glides, this big carosaurus of ours. It soars. It practically flies.

Posted by Tamar at November 17, 2003 10:39 PM

Congrats on picking up your car! I'm sure you'll have a great trip in it. Say hi to Cambria for me, too.

Posted by: Jill at November 18, 2003 05:19 PM