Monday, January 5, 2015

Out with the Old, In with the New

Kind of.

We sold our 2008 Chevy Avalanche

and purchased a new-to-us 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

I mentioned at the beginning of last year that we were planning on selling the truck and trailer during 2014. We would then buy a more economical car and start saving for an RV.

We finally sold the trailer at the end of August, but we didn't get the truck sold until the end of December. That took a lot longer than we wanted, but the timing ended up being pretty good. Selling the truck in 2014 means we won't have to pay property taxes on it in 2015 (if you sell a vehicle during the year, you still have to pay the property taxes on it for the entire calendar year). And since we waited a week and didn't purchase the new car until 2015, we shouldn't have to pay property taxes on it until 2016 (weird, but that's how our state does things).

Deciding on a Make and Model
We wanted a car that got great mileage (especially after dealing with the truck's horrible mileage), so we were looking at the Passat TDI, which is a diesel car, but they haven't been in production very long and even used ones were out of our budget. I was leaning towards a Prius, but Mr M wouldn't fit comfortably in one, so that was out. A Civic Hybrid would have been a tight fit also.

Mr M has driven a lot of different cars when he travels for business, so he has a long list of cars that were unacceptable, whether because he didn't fit in them or because they drove rough or whatever other reason he didn't like them. However, he'd driven a Camry recently and really liked it, so when we did some research and found out that the Camry Hybrid gets good mileage and has a good track record (Consumer Reports recommends it as a good used vehicle to buy), we decided to focus our search on them. Since it's wider than a Prius or Civic we should also be able to {tightly} squeeze in two car seats and a booster if we ever have to.

The unfortunate thing is that hybrid owners tend to love their cars and put lots of mileage on them before trading/selling them. So we didn't have a lot of choices, especially once we decided we wanted a car with less than 80,000 miles, leather seats, was 2008 or newer, was a darker color (there were a lot more white and light silver cars with fabric seats available) and under a certain price point.

We wanted a low mileage vehicle since we plan on having this car for a long time. We weren't initially looking for leather seats, but ultimately decided we wanted them. The truck and the CR-V both have them and they're much easier to keep clean than the cloth seats of our earlier vehicles, especially with messy kiddos. We wanted a vehicle that was as new as possible and we like darker paint jobs- they just look nicer than the lighter colors.

Negotiating Before Test Driving
I had recently read article about negotiating with dealers when buying a car and bookmarked it since I knew we'd be buying soon. This proved very helpful and I used a lot of the ideas to get things going. As I mentioned, there weren't a lot of options available that met our criteria, so we had a very wide search radius. 200 miles wide. Not normally what we'd do, but it gave us more choices to look into.

After multiple searches of databases and dealer websites, I ended up emailing 16 dealerships in 6 states. All but one responded, and I was able to get final prices on most of the vehicles. A couple of the dealerships wouldn't negotiate online, but most were happy to drop the price a little and tell me how much it would be once the taxes and fees were added on. With that information in hand, we were able to start narrowing things down. We'd included cloth seats in the initial search, but we eliminated those, which left us with 6 cars. Of those, one had been sold the day we inquired about it and two were colors we didn't like (champagne and dark red). Color may seem trivial, but when you're planning on keeping a car for a long time, you want to make sure you like as much about the car as possible. Plus there was no way we could test drive all 5 available cars and that helped us eliminate some of them.

Test Driving Our Potential New Car
The three cars left were at three dealerships in three states. After consulting google maps we realized that they lined up so we could make a giant circle. As long as we didn't have to backtrack, we could do it all in one {long} day.

The cars all mostly fit our criteria (one was a little older and one had a few more miles), but we felt we could probably work around those issues. After making these decisions, we emailed the dealerships again and arranged times to test drive each car.

They all had similar features, specifically leather seats and dark exterior colors. The first car had a nav package and sunroof, the second had neither, and the third had sunroof and upgraded radio, but no nav. It also had an after-market backup camera.

Test driving the cars was very educational. The first one was the newest (2009), had the highest mileage, and was priced the highest. It also ran very rough, didn't shift smoothly, and was on the noisy side. This became very obvious when we test drove the second car and noticed the huge differences in how they drove. The first car also had several scratches and dents that hadn't been taken care of (despite being on the lot for almost a month- it was really strange). The dealership was willing to take care of them without charging us, but we would have had to bring the car back. With a four hour round trip, that was a deal breaker.

The second car was a 2008 and was right between the first and third in mileage and price. It drove nice, but the lack of extra bells and whistles made us hesitate to stop our search there. So we drove on to the last dealership, where we tested the third contender. It was the oldest (2007), but also had the lowest mileage (almost 20,000 less than the first car) and lowest price. It drove nice and had a couple extras the second car didn't have.

In the end, we decided the lower mileage and price justified going with a slightly older vehicle than we'd originally intended. We had hoped that would be the case and had purposely planned our route so we'd hit the 2007 car last. We filled out some paperwork, they filled up the gas tank, and an hour later we were on our way home, the proud new owners of a Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Our Dealership Experience
The first two salesman let us test drive the cars by ourselves. This was nice since it would have been a squeeze with River's car seat and Sunshine's booster in the back seat, and it gave us the chance to discuss what we liked and didn't like without an audience. The third salesman opted to squeeze in the back seat and go with us. This actually turned out to be helpful since he's owned several hybrids and is actually knowledgeable about them, unlike the other two salesmen. As we drove around he told us about how the engines and brakes work, since they're a bit different than in regular gasoline cars.

While we were filling out paperwork, we mentioned that I had been the one writing the emails to the dealerships and signing Mr M's name. I had done that to try to avoid the bias that sometimes surfaces around cars and dealerships and women. Our salesman shared this interesting tidbit that he's seen in his years as a salesman: If one woman is on the lot, she knows what she wants and will buy it. If one man is on the lot, he'll need to go home and discuss it with his wife. If two men are on the lot, they're just there to kick the tires and won't actually buy anything. If a husband and wife are on the lot, they will most likely be buying something. Definitely the case with us!

Final Thoughts
Online negotiation is totally the way to go. We had final prices on two of the three cars (the first was reluctant to give a number before actually meeting with us) before we even left home. And the second car's price might have been lowered a bit more if we'd decided to buy it right then.

Don't start negotiating until you know when you can go look at cars. We knew we'd have time on Friday, so I started emailing dealerships on Monday. Thursday was a holiday, otherwise I could have even waited till Tuesday to start emailing. Most dealerships responded pretty promptly and were good about replying to my questions. Telling them upfront that we wanted to buy in the next few days helped them know we were serious, and I made sure to mention that we were looking at other similar vehicles as well.

I would still use both of our names when emailing dealerships (I modeled our initial email after the one in the article I linked to above), and Mr M's name when following up. You never know if you'll get a progressive salesman or one stuck in the stone ages.

I should have set up an email account just for interacting with dealerships. I used my everyday email account and now I'm getting all sorts of auto sales announcements from various dealerships. I'm sure it'll be awhile before I'm actually unsubscribed from all of them. They have a habit of popping back up at random times.

We used some of the proceeds from the sale of the truck to pay for the car, so we didn't worry about financing it. If you do need to finance a new vehicle, make sure you get that arranged ahead of time so you can get the best rate possible.

Ask any questions you have upfront to save yourself a wasted trip. Does the car smell of smoke? (One car Mr M had looked at while selling the truck smelled of covered-up cigarette smoke. Not something we want, at all.) Is the CarFax clean? Are there any additional fees? Do they offer discounts for being part of this group or that? One question we'll ask next time we buy a vehicle (we're thinking of selling the CR-V and moving up to the larger Toyota Highlander Hybrid): how much does the salesman know about hybrids? Having a knowledgeable salesman does make a difference.

Overall, this was a pretty painless experience. The worst part was how long everything took as we drove from dealership to dealership. Because of the pre-negotiations we were able to keep our time at each dealership to a minimum but we still spent an hour or two at each between the test drive and the obligatory "what can we do to make you end your search here". Despite being a really long day (13.5 hours), the kiddos were troopers and didn't fuss too much during the whole experience.  And now we have a fuel-efficient car that won't kill the gas budget :)

Isn't it a pretty car?

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