Lessons in Car Buying

So yesterday Denis and I went out to buy a new family vehicle. With Denis driving clients around in a Corolla and two car seats in the back as of August, we figured we’d go ahead and get a family van and trade in the Corolla.

So last night, armed with much information and homework, we went out to the dealer to work on a deal. When we arrived on the lot, we intended to buy a 7-passenger Toyota Siena LE, but we looked at the 8-passenger and really liked it. It was only $150 more, so we figured we’d go for it.

Alas, that vehicle had been sold before we arrived, so we settled back into getting the 7-passenger. When it came time to negotiate, I told him, “I have a 2002 Corolla to trade-in, and a bank draft that I’d like to make out for $XX,XXX, which includes tax & tags.” He said our trade-in was only worth $8K. I said, “Kelly Blue Book says it’s worth $9K because it’s in excellent condition and has 13,000 miles on it.”

He punched some numbers on his calculator and said, “Well, that means you would be buying the van for $XX,XXX, which I can’t sell it to you for.” He told me what he felt the van was worth and walked away to “verify” it. While he was gone, Denis and I used his calculator and recalulated what we thought our offer would be.

Needless to say, it went back and forth about 3-4 times, and repeatedly the dealer said he was impressed that I had obviously done my homework. *preens* It was a fun game of good cop/bad cop. I was the pleasant one outlining our deal, and Denis was the hardnose when the dealer wouldn’t match it.

At some point, the dealer came back with his final offer. I countered again, and he laughed because it was “only” $250 less than his offer. He said, “Seriously?” I grabbed his calculator and calculated everything we had talked about, and came up $250 short of his offer. Once again he went away to “check on something” and came back and said it was a done deal for the price I wanted (which was a solid $1750 more than we originally wanted to pay, but since I had slightly miscalculated tax & tags and the van is a hot commodity in our area, we went for it).

When he came over with the official contract, Denis and I saw he had written $9000 on trade-in. Denis mentioned that, and the dealer said, “Yeah, the car is in excellent condition, so my boss said I could put it at $9000.”

At this point we just wanted to get out of there, so we just checked the bottom figure and signed on the dotted line. We then said we had our own bank draft to pay the balance, and Denis wondered out loud what the dealership could finance for. They came back and offered a measly .25 lower than our current rate. I think Denis may have laughed.

Denis said, “Only a full point will make it worth it to us.” The financial guy came over and said, “How about 3/4s of a point?” Denis said, “Nah, we’ll just sign our check and get out of here.” The finance guy said, “But 3/4 saves you $7 a month in car payment.” Denis said, “And what does a full point get us?” the finance guy said, “$8 a month.” Denis said, “Then I want $8 a month.” The finance guy was in shock that Denis was quibbling over a dollar, but at that point I knew Denis was just messing with the guy because we didn’t really care for his demeanor.

The guy comes back and is very pleased with himself, “I got you 1.05 taken off. Does that work?” Denis agreed to it, and for the next HOUR we dealt with signing off on the papers.

Why on earth do they make it take so long to buy a car? But that’s not the end of it. On the ride home, Denis was lamenting that we should have argued the trade-in value thing a bit more and reduced our offer by $500 as a “meet on the middle” on the trade in. It was then that the thought hit me: The initial “price of car” before trade in was $1000 higher than we priced it when all was said and done, and then they did the trade in at $1000. If I wasn’t so desperate to just finish the deal, I would have realized that the initial price was higher than our calculations, and that the guy just upped his commission, still giving us the car for “our” price.

I was so ticked off at myself for not paying more attention and sticking to my guns. Pure exhaustion made us pay $1000 more for that car than we needed to. Let that be a lesson to car buyers out there – don’t let exhaustion and desperation to finish the deal make you pay $1000 more than you need to. Really go over your numbers on the contract to make sure they aren’t pulling the wool over your eyes.

Either way, we negotiated much better with the van than we did with the Corolla, for which we REALLY overpaid. So in the end we did all right.

But it could/should have been better.

However, may I just say? It’s a BEAUTIFUL van with lots of great standard options. I kinda wish it was my van instead of Denis’.

My Signature

If you liked that post, read on...

No One Wants My Free Target Gift Card? on November 14th, 2007

Sorry I've Been So Quiet Today on November 15th, 2007

Merry Christmas! on December 25th, 2010

A Blah Kind of Day on June 18th, 2003


  1. What a great story. Glad you came home with what you wanted. It can be frustrating in all the negotiations ~ we made a mistake when we got the Explorer and didn’t realize it until days later. Enjoy your beautiful new van!

  2. We did okay, but we could have done better, but I think we both just wanted to get out of there at some point. It does take forever. And it is a smooth ride. I’m sure Jane will be driving it a little. She can anytime she wants.

  3. Makes me wonder how I screwed up on my car a couple of years ago. I think they keep you there for hours just to get you to that point of saying, “Whatever, I just want out of here with my car!”

    And let me say that I’m excited to get to drive it next month. At least, I’m assuming I’ll get to haul CootieGirl around in it, no?

  4. Jen, you may end up driving my Explorer since it’s a beater…and since Denis’ van is covered mainly for BUSINESS travel…

  5. The new van is covered for all types of travel, if it isn’t then we can only use it for business. She can use it if she wants as far as I’m concerned.

  6. No moving of car seats! *lol* Those things are a pain to install, so now that it’s in the van it’s going NOWHERE until she doesn’t need it anymore. Denis says you can drive it – that’s fine with me!

Comments are closed.