Sunday, March 02, 2008

Car buying, part trois

It's rare that I make a "third part" post (my interesting in a subject usually drops off after "deux") and using the French is a first.

Not only have I broken the Third Commandment bit about not working on the Lord's Day, but I have thrashed it, working harder today than I have any day at school. Buying a car is not easy. Somehow, those salespeople managed to take my clear-cut roadmap and twist it into a pretzelian voyage of epic proportions. We're talking 3x visits to dealerships, frustrated salespeople, evasive tactics, bullying, "now-or-never" pressure, etc. and so on. I fancied myself better prepared for this than most people buying a car, especially people buying their first car. But nothing could have prepared me for this.

As per my plan, I visited Honda first. I was successful in getting them to offer the Honda Fit at less than MSRP with an aftermarket cruise-control system installed. However, the cost was still not much less than normal, which meant that they still wanted almost $1700 up front. Short of begging my Credit Union for more money, there was no way I could afford a down payment of that size.

Still, I had an offer, and that offer was decent--I was thinking it might be worth it to push my credit union to loan me an extra grand or more to be able to afford it. So I took this deal over to a neighboring Toyota/Scion dealership to ask about the Scion xD.

By my research, the xD was far and away the best model, but it was also the most expensive. I was pleasantly surprised to discover than Toyota's financing would not only beat my credit-union loan, but also (according to the repeated assurances of the pretty Korean sales-lady) cover the entire cost of the car. No down payment. "Are you sure?" "Yes." "Really?" "Yes." "Because I don't normally hear that." "I've been working here for *blah blah* years, I know what I'm talking about. You won't have a down payment." Keep in mind that they told me this without pulling my credit and without a loan application. Also, it's Sunday, and Toyota's bank wouldn't be open to approve it until tomorrow.

Now, only trouble is, this dealership didn't have the color I wanted, and another dealership did. This dealership really wanted my business, so they offered $1000 for my cruddy old Cavalier to trade in. Then they did everything they could to keep me from leaving, and rightly so, because (of course) I only wanted to use their offer as bargaining leverage with another dealer that had the color I wanted.

So I drove to the other dealer, and sure enough, they match the $1000 trade-in for the color Scion xD that I wanted. This brings the Scion down to the same price as the Honda Fit, only I'm thinking that Toyota financing is going to loan me the entire cost of the vehicle.

Hold on there, bucko.

After a credit application, I get the bad news. See, my FICO score is great, but I've only been on the bureau for 7 months, and I only have two lines of credit. So by Toyota's standards that puts me in a higher risk bracket which normally requires that I front a certain percentage of the car cost. In my case, that's almost $1700 up front. Sound familiar? Yep, we're in Honda land again.

But now I'm confused. Both Toyota dealerships use the same bank, and the other one was promising up and down that I would have no down payment. But how could two dealerships with the same bank give me such drastically different offers?

Well, the first dealership never did a credit-application for me, for one thing. The guys at the first dealership warned me that something squirrelly was going on--but me, I have two dealerships telling me something very different, and no way to tell who was fibbing. (Answer? Both!)

Here's the rub. The dealership doesn't decide whether someone gets approved for 0-down-payment. Toyota does. At least the second dealership was up-front about this. And it's Sunday, so Toyota's bank is poker-faced until tomorrow. Both dealerships wanted me to sign a legally binding contract tonight without knowing for sure whether Toyota would approve a 0-down-payment loan. Both dealerships pushed me towards opposite expectations of what Toyota would say.

If first-dealership had their way, I would be locked-in to a deal thinking that I had a 0-down-payment Scion xD, and if Toyota said no, I would be bound to pay them $1700 up-front. Bait-and-switch. ARGH ARGH ARGH

If the second-dealership had their way (at first), I would simply agree to paying them the $1700 without even trying for a lower down-payment. Bullying. ARGH ARGH ARGH

I almost fell for the second-dealership's trap. Then I made them explain things more to me, and they agreed to at least submit a purchase for a 0-down-payment loan. But they also said not to have very high expectations.

I called the first-dealership and asked to talk to a finance manger in order to confirm the story given to me by second-dealership. I asked him, "So, is it possible that Toyota could say no, and I would be forced to pay a large down-payment?" "Well, yes, but we're optimistic." OK--NO. Putting me at risk for a down-payment I can't afford without telling me about it is not "optimistic". It is horrifyingly dishonest.

So, thanks to advice from Mom (Hint people: Mom is always right), I told second-dealership that there is no way I could afford even a risk of a $1700 down payment, so I could not buy the car today.

Rather than do the "frustrated and downcast" thing that salespeople sometimes do, the guys (there are two I'm talking with) were suddenly super-friendly and nice, and said that they would do what they could to get me the car at 0-down-payment, or at least a smaller down-payment than $1700.

This whole ordeal has taken me from 10am to 6pm, and I am exhausted. But I have a car I can drive, I know what car I want, and I don't have to borrow money from Mom and Dad, or live on peanut butter and jelly for two months in order to afford it.

The moral of the story is:

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