What I Did On My Summer Vacation

So it’s been a little slow around here, thanks to a week-long staycation and the first birthday of my littlest wingnut.  I haven’t done much car-wise, other than take the family for ice-cream in the Tempest, thanks to my newly-installed modern seat belts that accommodate child seats.  I also helped my mom buy a new car, which was a bit of an adventure.

She decided she wanted a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (the four-door model), despite my best attempts to talk her out of it – she drives quite a bit for work and Jeeps don’t exactly have stellar fuel economy.  I managed to convince her to wait for the 2012 model, which has a new engine and transmission that is light-years better than the ’11 model.  We test drove both, and the 2011 had noticeably less power and the engine lugged on inclines, to the point that I actually manually downshifted to get up the hill.  She could have gotten a better deal on a leftover 2011, but I think it was worth the extra expense to get the improved 2012.

The dealership located one that was optioned to her preference, and after another test drive, she decided it was the one.  I hadn’t had the chance to negotiate on my last (and only) new car purchase, due to time constraints, the cash-for-clunkers program, and some other details, so I was actually looking forward to a little haggling.  What I wasn’t expecting was a 2+ hour back-and-forth that should have taken approximately twenty minutes.  After starting with an estimated monthly payment that was more than her current mortgage payment, we whittled away at the price of the Jeep and added to their offer on her trade-in until arriving at a number that she could live with.  I guess I had assumed that most dealerships had abandoned this annoying process, but I was wrong.

Some lessons:

  • We test drove two vehicles, and I would have driven more if I were the one doing the buying.  I can’t imagine why, but there are people who buy cars without actually having driven them.  Even if I knew exactly what I wanted and had driven that car in the past, I would drive it again before signing on the bottom line.  You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that seat, so you probably want to find out if it’s comfortable, easy to see out of, and the controls are user-friendly.  Car makers try to make cars that fit everyone, but every body is a little different.  I wouldn’t want to find out a week later that the pedals were hard to reach unless I was up against the steering wheel.
  • I used Truecar.com to see that there was about a grand worth of wiggle room on the sticker price.  Being that we were looking at one of the first 2012 models, I wasn’t expecting much, but it was good to know.  I don’t know how accurate Truecar’s numbers are or where they get them, but at least it made me feel like we were getting a better deal.
  • Know what your trade-in is worth.  I printed off the Kelley Blue Book, NADA, and Edmunds reports to get a ballpark figure of what to expect for the old jalopy.  These are just references, especially considering the wacky state of the used car market right now, but it definitely helped in the negotiations.
  • On the same note, at least wash your old car before trading it in.  My mom forgot to reset a nagging “Check Engine” light that no mechanic can fix, and it probably cost her $500.  A clean-ish car with a fresh oil change sticker and decent tires makes it look like you took care of your car, even if you really beat it like a rented mule.  Luckily, the dealer didn’t drive my mom’s old car or they would have noticed the alarming noise emanating from a failing axle and offered her less than scrap value.
  • Be patient, and be willing to walk away.  Your only real leverage in this situation is your ability to go elsewhere.  Unless you’re buying something rare or otherwise forced to buy from a certain dealer, there’s nothing keeping you from shopping around – other than the inordinate amount of time it takes to actually negotiate, which is why dealers do it that way.  We were at the dealer until nearly closing time on a Thursday night.  We both had to work the next day, and I had two small children and a sick wife at home, but the last thing I wanted to do was accept a bad deal just because they had worn us down.

I am by no stretch an expert negotiator, but it was actually a little fun to go through this process with someone else’s money to spend.  In the end, my mom got the vehicle she wanted and I hopefully learned a little something for when it comes time for me to make my next purchase.  Unfortunately, I tend to look for more obscure vehicles and then fall in love with them, making it harder to walk away.  Maybe I just need to pretend it’s not my money.


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