Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Resilient Car Shopping... Who Knew?

"I'm sorry, we just can't help you out more with the winter tires," said the stony faced business manager at the Toyota dealership, as my wife and I exchanged glances of disbelief.  

"We don't have to put up with this," my wife told this guy, and then we got up and walked out, telling him he had just killed a new car deal that had been days in the making.  And, by the look of disbelief on the face of the junior sales lady who had worked so hard to close the deal, we weren't the only ones in shock.  

Resilience and Car Shopping 101:

Yes, as you'll see, resilience really does apply to everything in daily life, in one way or another.  Before we get to that, though, let me bring you up to speed on what had just happened...

You see, my wife and I were out looking for a new car for her on Saturday and we'd just gone back to the Toyota dealership where we'd bought our previous vehicle, a Toyota Sienna van, many years ago.  Just this past weekend Toyota was offering a special where, presumably in an effort to get rid of the 2010 cars, they'd sweeten the pot with a new free set of winter tires - something we can't live without up here in Canada.  Sounds great, of course, until they tell you... well... you do get the tires... it's just that you have to pay nearly $400 for the rims!!!

 Toyota Corolla

Well, a tire without a rim isn't good for anything at all, unless you plan to turn it into a swing for the kids or a planter for your garden.  So we felt a little deceived and then we thought for sure they'd toss in the rims for free in order to get a new car sale worth about sixty times that much, especially to a returning customer.  But they wouldn't budge.

Yes, car shopping is usually one of life's more unpleasant duties, since it seems you're bound to run into some of the less savory aspects of human behavior - duplicity, dishonesty and manipulations of all kinds.  Fortunately, we were prepared for that because we had...

Multiple Back-Up Plans

 As we walked out of the Toyota dealership in disgust, we weren't at all upset.  You know the saying in romance that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince?  Well car shopping can be a lot like that.  Once you've settled on the model you want, it's just a matter of finding someone who will treat you well and give you straight and honest answers. 

To minimize our time and pain this time around, here's what we had done:

1. We outsourced the project of finding the best deals on 6 different models (two each with Toyota, Honda and Nissan) and our research person did a brilliant job!

2. We spent an afternoon the previous weekend test driving the 2 models we'd narrowed it down to - the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic.  Both are great to drive and the road tests just confirmed we'd made the right choice.  Needless to say, we'd also meticulously researched the reliability of these 2 models already, using low cost and widely available sources.

3. Once we'd decided what exact model of Corolla or Civic we wanted and with what options, we emailed a broad selection of Toyota and Honda dealerships within 2 hours of home and asked them for a quote.  Most of them replied within 48 hours and that gave us a really good idea of the lay of the land concerning prices and what they could offer.

4. Then we took the top few from each company and started relatively close to home.  We went back to our old Toyota dealership not only because they should have had a huge interest in getting repeat business, but because they'd submitted a highly competitive quote.  However, when they treated us badly, we had a ton of offers to fall back on.  And that's when my wife said something that left me speechless.  "Let's go to Honda," she said.

You see, she really liked the Corolla and would have taken it over the Civic, while my preferences were exactly the reverse.  

So off we went to the most competitive Honda dealership... and the experience there compared to Toyota was like day and night.  They were absolutely up-front with us from the moment we walked in - nothing hidden, no deceptive wording, a good price.  All in all, a great experience.  And, as I said, once you've decided on what car you want and how much you're willing to pay for it, all you have to do is find the dealership that will make it as painless for you as possible.

 Honda Civic

I should add that I'm sure there are lots of honest Toyota dealerships out there and quite possibly some Honda ones you'd want to avoid - it seems to be more the people than the company who sets the tone.  

Resilient Car Shopping in Brief:

Just to recap what we did to make buying a new car as easy and quick as possible, while protecting ourselves from being "taken for a ride" in the bad sense:

  1. We did the research up front to narrow down the selection of models, decide on option packages and learn about general price ranges.  Acceptable models had to have exceptional reliability - that's my big hang-up about cars.

  2. Then we test drove the 2 top vehicles just to make sure we liked what we saw and didn't see any glaring design flaws we couldn't live with.

  3. Next, we sent out requests for quotations - this saved us a ton of time driving all over the map to various dealerships.

  4. Finally, we zeroed in on the people who a) had made a competitive bid and b) were honest and forthright with us.
The best part about this methodical approach is that you know you'll never have to sink to the level of mind games and manipulative negotiating tactics yourself.  And the moment they do, you just walk out and say the magic word "Next!"

The alternative could have been exponentially worse.  As a friend of mine who's a veteran negotiator put it, "If there's one class of people you want to avoid, it's car salesmen."  I'm happy to report there are some notable exceptions to his statement.

So whatever project you have coming up, remember that planning your approach with a view to minimizing your commitment of time, energy and money, not to mention your exposure to needless pain, is the way to go.  And that will leave you a more resilient and happier camper!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

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