Monday, October 20, 2014

Andrea and Andrew, and the epic search for a new car

Andrew and I started our search for a new car several months ago. I can't say we've been continuously researching and testing new cars weekly since May, but it's definitely been at the back of our minds all this time. As much as we loved our Smart (and I will do another post about it) it simply does not baby. Back seats, and at least some stowing capacity are required.

We started by checking out the Chevy Spark. We went to the Best Chevy dealership, which we'd actually heard discussed on Under the Influence (Mike O'Rielly, CBC), as a place with exemplary customer service. We headed out one fine Saturday afternoon, drove the Spark around and talked to a sales representative. We liked the Spark. It was cute, still fairly compact, seemed comfy to drive, and was relatively inexpensive. We knew we weren't ready to purchase just yet, but put the car down as a definite maybe.

Then we started to worry, the Spark only has four seats, and the trunk space...well, we'd actually be able to get less in the trunk than we could in the Smart (assuming at least one of the back seats were occupied by a human and couldn't flatten them). We thought we better try another car for comparison.

The next on our list was the Ford Fiesta. Well, you readers might remember what happened there.

After that we decided we would try a Honda Fit based on recommendations from a friend, some of the key pointers being that Hondas tend to be sturdy, dependable cars that hold their value better than other vehicles. Also, Andrew's sister and brother-in-law purchased a Fit when they had their son, so we knew it could handle the extra space required for travelling with an infant.

Mistakenly, we went to test drive a Fit at one of the big car dealerships in town owned by Herb Chambers. Although their billboard ads are rather clever, we received terrible service. Where to start? Well, even though I called ahead and made an appointment, the person we were supposed to see wasn't there. Their offices were bland and depressing, with no music playing and limited windows, which made it extra oppressive when we were left waiting at our salesperson's desk. Two different sales people talked to us, both of whom took the exact same information from us. Even though we stated upfront that we weren't interested in buying that day, they tried to pressure us into a sale (and then continued to call me for weeks afterward). All told, that visit took us close to 2 hours, and it sucked.

That's not to say we weren't interested in the Fit.

We held off on our car search for a few weeks mid-summer as we waited to hear the results of an interview Andrew had attended back in Canada. Unfortunately that position fell through, so at the end of August we resumed searched for a car, determined to get something ordered. This time we opted to go to Honda North Danvers based on good Internet reviews, and guessing that a place outside the city might be have better customer service and fewer high-pressure sales tactics. We visited the dealership on a rainy Wednesday evening at the end of August, and met with an unassuming and soft spoken salesperson by the name of Nagi. We discussed what we were interested in a vehicle, and got our name on the waiting list for a Honda Fit (there were several people already ahead of us).

Six weeks passed.

Due to some minor car troubles of our own, we allowed the time to pass without following up with Honda North, but once the Smart was running smoothly again we thought it was time to find out when we might expect to see a Fit with our name on it. Originally we'd hoped to purchase a car with a standard transmission (both Andrew and I learned on standards), but as there still wasn't one available (the beginning of October), we were happy to take what was available. So, on Saturday afternoon (October 11th) we drove out to the dealership, expecting to finally purchase a new car.

Sadly, we were wrong.

Each time we visited a dealership we asked about the trade-in value of the Smart, making it clear each time that the car was purchased in Canada, and the speedometer and odometer only read in kilometers. Best Chevy said they could give ups $4,000 with the possibility of negotiation, Herb Chambers tried to offer only $2,500, but when we said we'd been offered $4,500 they quickly retracted their offer and said they could give us more (another reason we didn't like them), and Honda North also said they could give us around $4,000, again with the possibility of negotiation. Ideally, we would have liked something closer to $5,000 (after all, the car only as 50,000 km on it), but for the convenience of not having to try to sell the car ourselves (for which we would have had to get it back to Canada) we were willing to take it.

On Saturday, Honda North said they could give us a maximum of $2,500. What? But that's not what you said last time. Perhaps now that our trade-in and purchase were at hand they actually took a closer look at the car and realized what we meant by saying the car was Canadian. We wanted more for our car and felt we couldn't go through with the deal, and we left the dealership shortly there after. For the drive home, and much of the remaining evening we bounced around ideas of how we could sell the Smart and still get the Honda Fit we'd been hoping for. Could we get the car back to Canada? Could we just sell it here in Massachusetts (which we understood to be illegal)? Could we do without a car altogether when there were other options like Zip Car?

This was also when that 20/20 hindsight came into focus:
Maybe we should have investigated getting our car switched over to Imperial measurements as soon as we moved to the US.
Maybe we should have sold the Smart before we left Edmonton.
Maybe we should have never purchased a 2-seater car in the first place.
Should have, would have, could have, all too late.

Our bad car mood continued over to Sunday. Eventually we decided we should go back to Best Chevy (hoping they could still give us the $4,000 they'd originally quoted us) and investigate the Sonic (the step up from the Spark). The decision to go back to a Chevy was partly made because we could get last year's model, but also because we hoped we could negotiate a better deal than what we'd get with Honda. So, first thing on Monday (Columbus Day in the US) we headed off to the dealer, hoping by the time we returned home we would be driving a new car.

When we arrived at Best Chevy we were quickly put into a 2014 Sonic (I called ahead) and we took it for a short test drive. It probably drove as well as any other car we'd tried, and it fit our baby seat (which we'd decided to bring along). It was nice enough, but we'd definitely be settling. The console and the interior were much nicer on the Fit; however, with the pending arrival of Root we had to get a new car and soon. So, once we returned to the dealership we entered into negotiation for purchasing the Sonic--or rather Andrew did, and I sat beside him and nodded. Considering we made no attempt to haggle for the Smart, I think Andrew did a pretty good job. He got them to honour the lower price advertised by another dealership, and when the trade-in value for the Smart was offer (the same abysmal offer made by Honda North) he got them to agree to the upper range value of $2,500. I put my signature down on the first set of documents to get things rolling.

Then the crazy thing happened.

Can you guess?

Don't worry, I'll tell you.

Honda North called us. The GM had reviewed sales that hadn't gone through over the weekend and they were willing to offer us more for the Smart. Still not quiet as much as we would have liked, but better. After a series of quick phone calls and back of the envelop calculations we determined that the final price of the Fit would be $500 less than the Sonic. So we backed out of the deal. As I said, we would have been settling with the Sonic, the Fit was the car we wanted.

I felt terrible. I know, we're talking about car sales. It's a big business, lots of money changes hands, dealerships make and lose sales all the time, and on more valuable vehicles than what we were looking at. Still, I felt really bad after having gone through the hassles of trying to get a better price, etc. The salesperson was polite as I think anyone could have been under the circumstances as we packed up, and left. And for anyone in the Boston area, let me clear the people at Best Chevy did nothing wrong, they're a good dealership. The Sonic just wasn't for us.

We grabbed some lunch before headed off to North Honda, and that's more or less the end of the story. A couple of hours later we drove home with our new 2015 Honda Fit. Hopefully we won't have to go through the car buying process again for another six or eight years.

We tried to take a selfie with the didn't quite work.

Our new, very yellow car.