Replacement car search

So M and I have been looking around for a replacement vehicle for him. There are various reasons for desiring to replace his 1999 Honda CRV, but the most compelling is to help out his older sister, who had her vehicle wrecked by an uninsured motorist. While it was parked in her assigned spot at her apartment complex. Unfortunately she did not have insured motorist coverage on the vehicle, so she walks away with nothing but salvage value. In this case it’s only a few hundred dollars.

M’s sister is working poor. We had previously gifted her the destroyed 1999 Honda Civic, and now we are again gifting her the 1999 Honda CRV. There is still much life left in it, and this is easier than buying her an inexpensive beater car. She needs a vehicle to get back and forth to work, and we have been toying with the idea of updating M’s vehicle for a few months. The decision was an easier one to make. At least we know the history and maintenance of this particular beater car.

That said, finding a replacement car has been somewhat challenging. With our life and lifestyle, M wanted an older car. Ideally he would have liked to paid $5000 or less, but I wanted something reliable and that would last awhile. Our 1999 was purchased in 2007 and to date we have done nothing but oil changes, brakes, tires, and alignment. For a car with 150,000 on the odometer when we got it and 240,000 now, it has served us well. For SIL’s limited driving, it should be fine for another several years.

We wanted a vehicle with 4WD/AWD, because where M goes it is frequently required. I was on the hunt for something used, 2005 or later, and we agreed on a $10,000 to $12,000 budged based on my research for what would be acceptable. I found a couple of choices, a 2006 Highlander at the local Toyota dealership and a 2007 CRV at the local Honda dealership. To be fair we also identified and looked at several private party sale vehicles, but these two stood out as first choies. Yes, they were had higher list prices, but they were both local cars – the Highlander had been purchased, serviced, and then traded to the same Toyota dealership, the CRV had been purchased at various local dealerships before being traded in to the Honda dealership that listed it for sale. Both are one owner vehicles with very good, very clean service records. The Highlander had 150,000 miles, the CRV 99,000 miles. So they fit my profile and seemed like very good choices.

M and I drove both on Monday night, and the Highlander was most definitely our first choice. I spoke to the sales consultant by phone after the CRV test drive and we came to agreement on the purchase price (it had already dropped $1200 from my initial discovery of it), and made an appointment for Tuesday at 4 p.m. to complete the purchase paperwork. I confirmed the time with him again on Tuesday morning. All was well. I had checkbook and insurance paperwork in my bag, ready to close the deal.

Until he called me at 3:30 and said someone else had purchased the Highlander. I was speechless, so upset I did not even know what to say. CRUSHINGLY disappointed! I thanked him for letting me know and said there was nothing else in their inventory that interested me and left it at that.

Now, I purchased my 2013 RAV4 from this dealership and had a positive experience with it. My “regular” sales consultant was off that Monday and Tuesday, so I had been working with one of his associates. While I was upset about it, I was going to give myself a few days to let my emotional rampage settle before explaining to my regular guy why I was upset and why I now feel unlikely to do business with them again. The framework for this feeling:

  • The cynic in me recognizes I am never going to win in a negotiation game with a car dealership, because they are a for-profit business and will always make money on the deal. I accept that premise when I walk through those doors with potential to buy what they are selling. I had done my research, knew what KBB and Edmunds value ranges for every car we considered. I still expect to be on the financially losing side of the deal, but if I got the car I wanted for a price I consider reasonable, I am going to walk away feeling they dealt with me fairly.
  • In my discussions with the other sales associate, we had come to terms by agreeing on a price and setting the appointment to conclude the purchase paperwork. I was very clear in that we were firm and committed to our decision and intent to purchase the vehicle, but my schedule made it impossible for me to get to the dealership sooner than our Tuesday appointment time. Since it has been awhile since I purchased a used vehicle, I assumed he would mark the Highlander as “sale pending” and take it off the board or whatever they do in their business. This apparently did not happen.
  • In sales as in consulting, relationships are critical. I recognize that mistakes happen, and the sales consultant I was dealing with failed to secure the vehicle for our deal. However, considering the reputation of used car sales personnel, this completely blew up the fragile trust I had in this dealership. In my mind, if he were dealing with me fairly and genuinely desired to sell me this vehicle for our agreed upon price, he would have followed through and done what is necessary to ensure the deal went through. But based on my perception of how dealerships work, I no longer believe this dealership is one that negotiates in good faith.

Last night yet another consultant called me about another vehicle we had expressed interest in and to answer any questions. I explained that I had a prior relationship with the original sales consultant but because of what happened with the Highlander, I was unlikely to do business with them ever again. He asked about it – what could they do to improve the situation? I explained what I outlined above, and while I understand that it’s a completely different situation with used vehicles – they cannot simply order me another one just like it and take off a couple hundred bucks for my trouble – the situation reinforced every bad thing I have ever heard about car sales. He started to state that they cannot “hold” used cars, to which I replied I would have dropped a deposit check off or a check for the agreed upon selling price and work out the tax/license/doc fees that morning had there been an issue with keeping it for me. I simply did not have the 90 minutes to 4 hours required to finalize the purchase until late afternoon. He truly had no reply for that, because the other guy had not asked. He then tried to suggest it was a communication error, which I agree, it was a communication error that costed me a vehicle I desired and the dealership a customer.

I recognize that I am perhaps overreacting, and it is my right. If I am unhappy with the service I receive, I vote with my feet and never utilize them again. I am not going on Yelp and bad-mouthing their service, but I am also unlikely to even review their inventory when I purchase our next car. They are not to be trusted. As I stated to the poor man who had to listen to my calm vent last night, we are a single customer, one of thousands that will pass through their doors in the next couple of years between now and when I might be ready to consider another vehicle. I am an earnest and sincere sort of person, straightforward and honest in my dealings both personally and professionally. My downfall in this instance is that I had the hopeful expectation that they would at least try to reciprocate that practice, and they failed. Yes, it was likely just a mistake, but when you are a car dealership and have all the public relations baggage that goes with it, it could be expense to make mistakes. All things considered, this time it cost them nothing but one couple’s good will and future business.

So, that was last night. Today, I have had calls/voice mails from both the sales manager and the dealership’s general manager desiring to talk to me about the situation and my dissatisfaction. I do not want anyone to get fired, I do not want them to apologize further or promise me the moon. I will return those calls later, but right now I want to collect my thoughts and acknowledge that I feel wronged and did I mention CRUSHINGLY disappointed? *laugh*

In the end we went with our second choice, the 2007 CRV. We got it for a very fair price plus extra goodies package from the other dealership. M would have preferred the Highlander, but in reality the CRV is a better long-term choice with regard to fuel mileage and maintenance costs.

4 thoughts on “Replacement car search

  1. they dont hold cars, because the majority of people never come back and than they would miss a sale, that’s just the way it goes, people always flake out, so the policy most places is they cant hold

    • Completely and totally agree. My point is and wash he should have asked me for a deposit to confirm my seriousness; I could have dropped off a check before work and returned for our late afternoon appointment. Because I am a return customer, having bought 2 previous vehicles from them in the last 7 years, I figured he understood my level of serious intent.

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