Sunday, March 04, 2007

New Car

On Friday I bought a new car and traded in my old Highlander. The new car is a 2007 Toyota RAV4. As expected, the car buying experience dealing with salespeople was somewhat unpleasant. I really liked the day back in 1995 when I bought my Saturn. But what's not to like about a place where they don't haggle on the price, they take your picture when you buy the car, give you a cheering send-off with all the salespeople gathered 'round and they even post your picture on the wall of their dealership? I know the no-haggle policy probably doesn't lead to the best prices for the consumer, but I really liked the fact that Saturn just has a set price for the car - same as how you buy most other items in life. There's no haggling involved. But I wasn't buying a Saturn this time, so the haggling was unavoidable unless I wanted to pay several thousand more than I needed to.

On Tuesday during lunch I went to a local Toyota dealership close to where I work to see the RAV4 in person. Since it was smaller than my Highlander I wanted to make sure the size was appropriate for my needs. I had read about the volume of storage space and compared it to the volume listed for my existing car, but on paper I honestly couldn't tell whether having 8 less cubic feet of cargo space was really going to be a big deal. When I got to the dealship and saw the RAV4s parked next to the Highlander I actually had a hard time telling them apart. Even the salesman did, too. From the front, the two vehicles look very similar. The 2007 RAV4 design looks like a slightly smaller Highlander. I was specifically looking for a RAV4 with a sunroof, and there were a few instances where either I or the salesman would point at a car and say, "Oh, there's one with a sunroof!" only to discover a few seconds later that it was a Highlander, not a RAV4. In the end, I wasn't able to find a RAV4 at this dealership that had the options I wanted. But, it was just as well. The salesman struck me as an odd fellow. While talking about the car, he would often mix in swear words in his descriptions. He would say things like, "This car has <bleep>ing great exceleration." I was a little taken aback on this. It wasn't like he just did it once or twice. He was talking to me like I was his drinking buddy at the local tavern. I wasn't sure if since I look young he thought I would appreciate some "straight talk" about the car. But anyhow, it wasn't the most professional presentation. So, I was kind of happy they didn't have the model I was looking for.

On Thurday morning I drove past another Toyota dealership on the way to work, so I stopped in to see what they had. I had emailed a salesperson the night before to verify they had a RAV4 that matched what I was looking for. I figured I'd just spend a few minutes there to get an idea whether I really liked the car. As it turned out, I ended up spending over an hour there! I had forgotten the key point from Car Sales 101 - if you have a customer on the premises, do everything you can to prevent them from leaving without signing a deal. (More on that later...) Anyhow, I test drove the RAV4 and unlike the previous dealership, this salesperson was much more professional. He explained the features of the vehicle much more thoroughly and only once resorted to swearing. I guess it must be a trend in car sales to cuss while talking with the customer because even the general manager resorted to it later on. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After looking over the car and test driving it, the salesman asked me if I was going to be trading in a car. I said I would and he offered to do an appraisal on the spot. I asked how long it would take because I was on my way to work and he assured me it would only take a few minutes. And that's when I made a mistake. I believed him and gave him the keys to my car. As it turned out, the appraisal really did only take a few minutes, but once they had me sitting down in the office, the salesman and general manager team tried to work their sales magic. The salesman brought over a piece of paper which had the trade-in appraisal value for my Highlander written in large black magic marker, plus a bunch of other boxes with other numbers written in large black marker. I guess large black marker is supposed to make the numbers look more impressive or something. Anyhow, the other numbers included things like the price they were offering to sell the car (which happened to be exactly the same as the MSRP. Gee, what a deal!) and what my monthly payments would be. The salesman then eagerly asked, "So, what do you think? Is this a good price? Do you want to buy the car now?" I explained to him that this was the first dealership I had gone to for a quote and I didn't really know whether the price was good or not. I would have to research it a bit and get some more quotes. He then left and talked to his general manager who was only about ten feet away and so I could basically hear their whole conversation, which I assume was intentional. The GM said something like, "That's bull <bleep>! If you let him leave here he's just going to go to the dealship near his work and get a better deal there." I was kind of shocked by the GM's language - I guess I'm naive about what's considered professional behavior in the world today. So, after more of their conversation, the sales guy came back and asked me again what price I would be willing to pay - and I again told him I honestly didn't know. I repeated the fact that this was the first place I had gone to for a quote and I wanted to get quotes from other dealers. He also had helpfully added more numbers in large black marker to the paper - now including lower monthly payments for getting longer term loans. I explained to him the problem wasn't the amount of the monthly payment - it was the overall price. And I couldn't make a decision on the price until I got other quotes. The salesman then left again to talk with his GM, and came back again and told me his GM said to tell me that "He doesn't want to not sell me a car." I had to repeat that a few times to myself to make sure I understood what it meant. I assumed he was trying to be clever because the motto of this dealership is "We want to sell YOU a car!" I again told him that I had to get other quotes. He left again to talk with his GM, again coming back and suprisingly still not offering to budge on suggesting a lower price, but instead repeated his request for me to suggest a price. I found that odd that he wouldn't even suggest a lower price even if it was some petty amount less than list price, but I suppose from his point of view it makes perfect sense - if he can get me to suggest a price he can then work up from there and I can never suggest a lower price. Finally, I told him it was past 9:00 and I was late for work and really had to go. He told me that after I got quotes from other dealers to please come back and he would do his best to gain my business. He also told me that his GM wanted me to know that they strive to "make dreams come true" or some other foolishness like that. I guess since I mentioned I worked within walking distance of another Toyota dealership that they assumed I would not be buying from them since the other place would be in a more convenient location. Anyhow, I ended up finally leaving around 9:10am.

After that whole experience, while driving to work I started thinking maybe I should just keep my existing car. That's about the time I made my previous post about thinking of getting a new car. You can read more about my thoughts on that here.

On Thursday night I did some more research on the car and what was considered a reasonable price. I bought the Consumer Reports car buying guide for the RAV4 and checked to see what was considered a reasonably priced offer from the dealer. From what I saw on Edmunds, the RAV4 appeared to be a popular car and a price only a few hundred under MSRP list price was considered a good deal. After reading that, I was tempted to contact the dealer and make a counter offer of what I thought was a fair price. But instead I did some more research. I ended up contacting a couple other Toyota dealers in the area and asked for price quotes on a similarly equipped RAV4. Surprisingly, on Friday one dealer (the one with the <bleep>ing odd salesman) gave me a quote only a couple hundred dollars over dealer invoice! After what I had researched so far, that seemed like a great price. It was $2000 less than what Edmunds suggested was a good price! So, I forwarded the quote to the dealer who didn't want to not sell me a car and asked if he could match the price. I expected him to say no, but instead he called me back and said he would match the price and if I wanted I could pick up the car that same night! I agreed to the deal and I am now driving a new RAV4.

In just two days I've already put about 300 miles on it. I guess I do a lot of driving. So far, I am very impressed with the car. The storage space is much more than I initially expected, especially since there's a whole hidden area under the normal cargo area - large enough to hold a suitcase. This is where on most cars the spare tire is stored. On the RAV4, the spare tire is attached to the outside of the car on the rear swing-out door, so you get this bonus storage space. Plus, if you have extra large or long items, there are two levers accessible from the back hatch that with one quick pull cause the back seats to auto-magically fold forward, providing a much larger cargo bay. Granted, many hatchback cars support folding the back seats down to get more space, but putting a second set of levers right inside the back hatch area makes it mighty convenient.

The car drives like a rocket, and I'm not normally one who drives fast. I've been accused on several occasions of driving like an old man. Today I accidentally found myself driving over 80 MPH when I thought I was only going about 60. I had read that the acceleration of the car was quite good (0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds, or something like that) so as a test on an on-ramp to the highway I figured I would see how long it took me to get up to highway speed. Weee!!!! I felt like I was on an amusement park ride! Driving a car shouldn't be so much fun. I could get in a lot of trouble with this thing! Now I see why people like cars with powerful engines. This small SUV has a 269 HP engine. When I was originally looking at the RAV4 at the dealership, I asked the saleman what the difference was between the V4 and the V6 and he said it was a 100 horsepower difference. I thought he must have been exaggerating since the V6 only gets 1 MPG less than the V4. But I double-checked on Toyota's web site and it's true - the V6 gets 28 MPG and the V4 gets 29 MPG and there is a difference of 100 horsepower. For any reader who is a gear-head, here are the stats on the engine. It's all Greek to me, but I figure someone will be interested: 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve SFI Dual VVT-i V6 269 hp @ 6200 rpm/246 lb.-ft. @ 4700 rpm. This engine is actually more powerful than what was in my larger Highlander.

I don't notice much different in the handling with the RAV4 vs. the Highlander. The ride seems pretty much the same to me and I thought the Highlander rode quite smoothly (much more like a car than a truck). The only different I found was the RAV4 might be a little more noisy than the Highlander. I seem to notice the sound of the engine and the road a bit more.

The only thing I don't like about the RAV4 (and this was the one "neutral" mentioned on Consumer Reports as well), is the quality of the sound-system. It has a six CD changer (which is a good thing), and even has a handy stereo jack input for an MP3 player in a hidden console between the driver and passenger seat (again a nice feature), but the sound is just dull. It seems like the stereo is underpowered, or the speakers are really poor quality, or something. The sound just isn't crisp. By default, the bass seems a bit overwhelming - I had to turn it down to -4 before it sounded more reasonable. It's not like the sound is terrible, but I wouldn't call it good, either. And with the amount of driving I do, I tend to listen to music on the car stereo a lot, so this was a little bit of a disappointment.

But, the stero can always be replaced, and it's not like I bought the car for the sound system. I bought the RAV4 for the reliability of transportation and on that side of things I am currently quite pleased.