(or: "Good gravy, we're a Ford family now!")
Today, the Glecks went car-buying.
And currently sitting in our driveway are twinkie vehicles .... a pair of 2007 Mazda3 sedans. One is the aforementioned rental car, and the other is now the new Gleckmobile #2.
Yeah, the bright red backlit dash is gonna take some getting used to. Suddenly I feel like I should be David Hasselhoff.
In the spirit of a tradition of naming cars, we have officially named her "Kitt."
Oh, and for what it's worth, tonight we christened our '08 Ford Escape SUV "Rupert."
Rupert ... you know, as in Holmes. As in "Escape." Get it?
Laugh, dammit, or else I'll trap you in a coal mine and eat you raw. Then wash it all down with a pina colada.
I like it. No, love it. This is why automakers practically give away fleets to rental-car companies, y'know. It's a forced test drive, since one mostly doesn't have a say in what make/model -- just the class of vehicle. And for the last several days of driving an '07 Mazda3 while J.C. Lewis gets the bugs out of Rupert, I've grown to like it. Seraphim liked it, too.
We closed on it early this evening at Key Mazda in Hardeeville. It was a very good experience, and was probably the most relaxed I've ever felt in an F&I office. We liked the guy in there. And their sales manager is also from Rincon.
So, how does this make us a Ford family? Easy. Mazda, originally a Japanese make, is now a unit of Ford Motor Company. Which means, technically, we're now driving two "American" cars. I'm gonna have such fun beating my Dad over the head with that fact. (Ultimately proving my point that the wall between "American" and "Japanese" has become as thick and impenetrable as Les Nessman's "office")
* * * * * * * * *
Key Mazda was the second place we went. We started at Stokes-Brown, the Toyota dealership out of Beaufort which expanded to a second cathedr--er, location along 278 between Hardeeville and Bluffton. (I was erroneous in lumping them in with "New River Auto Mall" -- it's not a gimmick for a bunch of separate dealerships closely located; NRAM is an umbrella name for a small gaggle of different makes -- Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai, Jeep, Porsche, etc. -- all owned by a single group of individuals, including Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken "The Kid" Griffey, Jr.)
NRAM's website claims to give "over-the-top customer service." Honestly, I can't dispute. It was a very pleasant experience, much like the Ford dealership in Savannah last month.
ANYway .... "over-the-top" can also describe our experience with the Toyota dealership. Like I said, we started with the Corolla, as it was our first choice. The '07 Corolla we saw in their online inventory was still there, and we drove it. Apart from the massive smoke I noticed coming from the right rear tire after we drove a short distance, it was a good ride. We had smoke because the parking brake was partially (!) engaged. Not fully. I can safely say we've all accidentally driven with the parking brake on. Have you ever had a burning smell and a plume of smoke afterward? Not us. Until then, anyway.
Several times in this space I've referred to Toyota and what I've called their "games." Seems they have a "new" way of doing things. The moment we got out of The Hybrid (that's what we ended up calling that car), a nice lady came up to us, like Jim Fowler honing in on the prey.
And she explained to us how Toyota was a "different" kind of car dealer experience. Yup, the Sales Manager would be doing all the dealmaking, and SHE was the "Product Advisor." Or some gussied-up term like that. She said she was "salaried", "made no commission" and .... I love this one ... "On your side." Just like our NBC affiliate. Boy, I felt such warm fuzzies -- I almost expected Lyndy Brannen or Tina Tyus-Shaw to come out.
It appears this is a new strategy of Toyota. Textbook "Bad cop/good cop." To her credit, the lady was nice. But the guy who introduced himself as a "trainer" who would be "working with" us" was one of those types who set off my "smarm alarm." I got on guard. I'll call him "Mr. Smarm."
I explained our trade-in situation and what we needed in order to make this happen. I'd run the "trade-in value" models for our year, make, model and mileage. I even did 'em conservatively (in other words, I didn't overstate conditions -- what good would that do anyway?). The low end of the scale -- for a Honda '05 Civic Hybrid in FAIR condition (defined as substantial body and/or mechanical blemishes) -- was right at $10,000. But our car was good, condition-wise. Well-taken care of. Not abused. Was not in an accident. The spread was $11,000 to $13,800. Now, I was not so drugged up that I would expect a dealer to throw forth the upper end of that range. But I figured I'd be appraised enough so as to stretch using rebates (we had no ready cash to put down) to get to our payoff.
Before they began, they asked for our Socials. Uh-uh. Not yet, baby. You ain't pulling our bureaus until AFTER we know what you're gonna offer in trade. After they first implied an appraisal could not happen without that information, Mr. Smarm retreated.
Highest roll goes first, the games have begun.
They came back with their number. It was $9,000. I said that was not enough, and joked that the guy might not have had his glasses on and instead of seeing the HONDA badging, that he thought it might've read HYUNDAI. I said, simply and firmly, "That's not going to work."
He went back to "the other guy" -- this was a classic psychological set-up going -- to try and get him to "raise that number." While he was away, the "Product Advisor" said I was doing good, "standing (your) ground", and - I like this one - "Not going with their first number."
Toyota gave me .... an advocate. Bless their hearts.
Mr. Smarm came back. They went up, all right. Now it was $9,700.
We got up, and proceeded to leave. Mr. Smarm said "Look, we can do this. We need just a few more minutes." Uh huh, stalling tactic. They know we're looking at other cars, and want to run down the clock for the day. That, and to wear down our resistance to where we'd just take anything to make all this hassle go away.
I told him, firmly, what our price range was, what we needed in order to close the deal. That if it was not going to be able to happen, I didn't want to waste any more of my time, or his, or Miz "Advocate." I used a favorite old Toyota line back at 'em: "This is what it's gonna take."
He came back with another figure. Stretching to $10,500. And they didn't even come off the sticker, either. What an insult.
I balked at this lowballing. He came back, "This car has high mileage. It also has a number of dings in it." Reality check: There are three (3) total little dings. Caused by hailstones I believe. And the trade-in spread I researched TOOK THE MILEAGE INTO CONSIDERATION. I mean, odometers don't lie. Or, do they?
So, he's saying those little dings are worthy of docking thousands off the trade-in value???
He went back into "the other room." Then the appraiser came back. This guy was different. He spoke almost with a sneer. No smarm here. Just bald-faced Toyota Mind Games™. He continued the line about the dings and the high mileage.
I'd had it, and I snapped. "I told you people what we needed, and if you cannot meet that need, then stop wasting our time."
He retorted, sarcasm barely concealed, "I'll get your keys."
He didn't need to. They were already in the ignition.
As we walked out, Miz "Advocate" followed us, and desperately tried to keep us from leaving on such a sour note. Too late.
Mr. Smarm wasn't far behind. After we got into the car, he made a last-ditch attempt. "Look, let me see my manager and find out what we can do. Can you want another few minutes." Miz "Advocate" turned around to say something to Mr. Sneer, who'd followed them outside and was trying to backpedal to us. While their attention was diverted, I started the car (thank gawd for silent starters on hybrids!) and we left.
I felt drained. I felt like a fool. I let my temper get the best of me.
By then, even if they would've been able to meet what we needed, the soup was tainted. We would've driven off that lot feeling like Ned Beatty and those three were the mountain hillbillies.
Yup. Toyota's games have gotten worse. This must be Toyota Sales Gimmick v2.0. Last month we encountered the same thing with Savannah Toyota -- the lady was nice as could be, but the guy she introduced to had the same characteristics. The experience there would've been the same.
Toyota is now officially off my list. It's a good thing their cars are so reliable, because after the dealer experience you don't want to go anywhere near there for a long damned time.
Oh, and I found out something very ugly. This outfit also owns the Honda dealership in nearby Beaufort. These figures, Mr. Sneer finally disclosed, came from their Honda appraiser.
It was now 430 in the afternoon. 90 minutes left until NRAM 'closed' for the night (closing time being relative in car dealerships). We went straight to Key Mazda. And by 7:30, the deal was done and we left there in a new 2007 Mazda3.
Alas, we had to eat some negative equity. THIS Sales Manager -- who happened to be a fan of Hondas, by the way -- laid it out plain as day. The Civic Hybrids are losing value fast, it seems. Key offered us $12,000. But at least we got the good financing deal. 5.9%, which ain't half bad given the prime car rates are now in the 7-8% range.
And they were nice as could be. We ended up with a longer car note than we wanted, but the payment is about the same. They didn't act all ugly and haughty, they used straight talk. And I respect that.
So now we're out of the Hybrid, away from Honda's transmission issues, and now driving a solid-feeling Mazda. It's a great ride. It's roomier than the Civic. And we love it.
We were too late to get over to Golden Corral in Bluffton, but we were both thinking the same thing. A little side trip onto Hilton Head for IHOP. This time the hash browns were middling, but at least the bacon wasn't burnt black like last time.
When we got near the Toyota place, I resisted the temptation to drive in with our new wheels and say "You see what happens when you show respect for the customer?"
Ciao for niao.
--Talmadge "Glad it's over with" Gleck
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