At 64, I’ve only owned two new cars and only bought one by visiting a dealership. That was for my first new car, a 1985 Toyota Camry. The Camry was very hot then and there was no negotiating price. You paid full price and often had to get on a waiting list. I owned that car for 22 years and only put about 85,000 miles on it.
How did I do that? If a trip was more than 150 miles one way, I’d rent a car. You can get great deals in a tourist state because the rental companies are very competitive. The deals I’ve gotten are another post but I’ll pass on two examples.
In April 2015, I went to Sarasota for a reunion of my Manila high school friends. I estimated 700 miles round trip in one week. I rented a Ford Focus with unlimited mileage for a total (including all fees and taxes) of…$89.
Next weekend, I’m going to Orlando for three days. That’s about 500 miles round trip. I’m renting a Corolla with unlimited mileage for a total of $57. The base rate is $15 a day.
I thought my second new car would be another Camry. But over 22 years, the Camry became a much larger vehicle from the “boxy” one I bought in 1985. I found that the 2007 Corolla was at least as large as the 1985 Camry. So I decided to go with a Corolla instead.
By this time, car buying had options beyond a dragged out negotiation with the dealer. My credit union offered pre-negotiated prices with various dealers looking for a quick sale and extra business without much effort. These were often not local dealers. My Corolla came from a dealer in Pensacola, which is about 200 miles west of Tallahassee.
Last week, I bought my third, and probably last, new car. The Corolla only had 45,500 miles and was very clean. But it also had sad memories of taking my wife to the doctor over four years as she declined from early onset Alzheimer’s.
After some research, I decided on a Hyundai Sonata. I learned that they were offering a $2,000 rebate. The Edmunds website said the typical price for a base model (with MSRP of $22,600) in my zip code was about $21,200. With the $2,000 rebate, my target price would be $19,200. So I decided to negotiate the deal on my own.
I arrived prepared, showed them the pricing info from Edmunds and we ended up about $600 apart after a two hour negotiation session which including looking at the car and a short drive. Their version of the gap was that a rear view camera is an “option.” It is not but rather than call them out, I offered to take a car without one. Since that’s impossible, they had to say they had no cars without that “option.”
They only offered me $4,800 as trade on my Corolla. I had researched that too and it was on the low end of a car in excellent condition with low mileage. They would list it at $7,200 so I decided that I’d sell it myself.
They said they’d work on the price and call me Friday. I knew that was a ploy to gauge my interest.Which was fine since that’d give me time to advertise the car on Craigs List and see what offers I’d get.
I put an ad in that evening and by noon Friday I had eight folks who wanted to see it. One of them worked where I used to and was acquainted with a friend, so I decided I’d give him first shot. I’d listed it for $6,400 and would take the first offer of $6,000, the average selling price. But I ended up letting him have it for $5,800 since he was young and had a young child. That was still $1,000 more than the dealer had offered.
When they didn’t call Friday as I expected they would not, I didn’t call them. This was the stare down phase. Did I want that car more than they wanted to sell it to me? If I blinked first by calling, I’d have the psychological disadvantage in the final negotiation. Nothing Saturday or Sunday either. They finally blinked Monday and called just before lunch. They wanted to sell me that car!
During round two that afternoon, they correctly pointed out $400 of options that were on the car I wanted, such as floor mats and cargo net, which I didn’t realize it had because I thought I was looking at a “base” model only. I again offered to take another car without those options but I could see from walking around the lot that they had none.
Since I had already decided my final offer was to split the $600 gap, that offer was a good deal for me because of the options I didn’t know about. They agreed to the split. They asked me to throw a few more dollars their way with financing at 1.99 percent but I was already approved for 1.5 and a $100 rebate from my credit union. Just $4 a month more they said. That’s $144 over the three years I noted, plus the $100 rebate, for $244. That’s a ticket to Vegas! And the credit union already did the work so I didn’t want to back out now.
I think the “no trade” offer at the end helped since the dealer won’t need to worry about selling a trade-in. Cash is king in sales. I waited until we made a deal to tell them I had a blank credit union check with a $15,000 limit to give them as the “deposit” until I came back with the rest of the money after selling the Corolla.
Wednesday, I joined the Hyundai nation with a 2016 Sonata SE with 52 miles on it. And all sorts of features that need a 650+ page manual to explain. But there’s a 40 page “quick reference guide.” I can rely on too.
The feature I like most is “Shiftronic. Even though it’s automatic transmission, I can enter a “manual” mode and shift through six forward gears as if it were a stick shift. I use that to come up my very steep driveway. Because unlike my Corolla, which had a “Drive” and two lower gears, the Sonata only has the “Drive” since I can go into “manual” and use the six forward gears.