It was a couple of years ago when my daughter, Lindsay, said she wanted to buy a Honda Pilot. She had done her research into safety issues, mechanical reliability and car seat adaptability before choosing it as the car of her dreams.
Since she had never bought a car on her own before, I was on the lookout with her, searching for just the right vehicle to meet her needs. Obviously, we are very patient people when it comes to used-car shopping.
We found a helpful website that allowed us to enter the desired make and model into a search box, followed by our zip code. It would then return all the Honda Pilots for sale at dealerships in a 75-mile radius. Most we dismissed out of hand because they were too pricey or the mileage was crazy high.
For those that offered a real possibility, I would be the one to make contact with the dealership. I know I should have had Lindsay do that. After all, she’s a grown woman with a husband, three kids, a job and a mortgage. She freely admits, however, to being easily intimidated by such things. I’ve since learned that people of all ages suffer from the same type of angst when it comes to buying a car.
Not me, though. I actually enjoy the challenge. So for this experience, I employed the mother-to-daughter “watch and learn” technique.
In two years’ time, we have conversed with dozens of salespeople from Anniston, Gadsden, Birmingham and a smattering of cities in Georgia.
First question we asked: What’s the drive-away, out-the-door price? No sense in kicking the tires until we knew that important piece of information. The response, due to tax and doc fees and blah, blah, blah, would usually be $2,000 to $3,000 more than the advertised price.
That was not going to work for us. We wanted a drive-away price that was the same (or dare I say it — lower?) than the advertised price.
When we conveyed that message to salespeople, they responded with an invitation to “come on in” and sit down to “talk about it.” Then they asked: “When would be a good time for you?” They always ask that. Always. As if it’s in their Sales 101 textbook.
“As soon as you say you can meet our price,” we always respond.
Last month, a potential Honda Pilot popped up. It was a 2015 model with low mileage and a reasonable price. The dealership was located in Alexander City, about 90 minutes away. That was enough to make us groan out loud, and all the more reason we needed a meeting of the minds before we traveled such a distance.
In this case, the salesman, Tim, was email friendly, and that’s how we corresponded. We asked him for an out-the-door price, and he wrote back with a figure that was virtually the same as the advertised price. He provided a clean one-owner, accident-free, CarFax report, too.
We headed for Alexander City, where Lindsay and her dad test drove the heck out of that Pilot, then examined every square inch of it before she agreed to buy it.
It seems that buying a car these days is like closing on a house, what with all the “sign here” and “sign there” paperwork. The finance manager did his dead-level best to sell Lindsay a series of extended warranties. She looked at me, not sure what to do. It was another “watch and learn” moment.
“She’s not buying any warranties,” I said, interrupting his pitch.
“Why?” he asked. “You don’t believe in them?”
Well, no, as a matter of fact, I don’t, but I didn’t have the time, energy or inclination to explain why.
“No warranties,” I repeated.
Tim, the salesman, walked us out afterwards. “You used to sell cars, didn’t you?” he asked me.
I laughed and shook my head no.
He referred to our email exchanges and said, “I’ve never sold a car that way before.”
I shrugged like it was no big deal, when truth be told, I’ve never bought a car that way before.
But I will from now on.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com.