Buying a Car Sucks

In news that should surprise approximately nobody, buying a car is the most complicated, time-wasting, ridiculous process ever. And apparently car dealers in south Florida are in the business of…well, I’m not entirely sure what they’re in the business of, besides “not selling cars”.


I am in the market for a car. I have been in the market for a car since, oh, December.

Two weeks ago, I walked into the showroom of a local Honda dealer looking like a lost puppy dog. It took 45 minutes for a salesman to even approach me and ask if I needed help. When I told him I was interested in a Honda Fit Sport with a manual transmission and that I wanted to test drive one, he quickly agreed and promised to find one.

An hour later — apparently it’s all the rage for kids these days to steal shift knobs when salesmen are looking the other way, so no cars on the lot have them, and the management keeps the two spares under lock and key — I was finally in the car watching the salesman drive it across the parking lot at 25 MPH in first gear. After the first turn, he said, “I don’t really like driving a manual transmission.”

Yeah. Ya think?

Then he tried to tell me I could only test drive it around the parking lot because the service department had all the plates. I told him to go get a plate and that I was taking it for a test drive, which he finally did, and I finally did.

Upon returning to the dealer, he immediately offered me the one I wanted (which they would have to order from another area dealer) for $65 under sticker. Honda Fits are notoriously difficult to come by in some parts of the country, but here in south Florida they seem to have plenty of stock, and they’re all ‘07 models which are about to get superseded by the ’08s.

But when he printed up a quote, there was a $599.95 “dealer documents fee”. When I asked him what that was — title and license were listed separately — I was told that they have to “pay the janitor, keep the lights on, etc.”, to which I responded, “But that’s the normal cost of doing business.”

I walked out.

I went to the Honda dealer back home and asked if I could buy a Fit. I was told I could get on a two- to three-month waiting list, that I would have to put $1000 down to reserve my spot, and under no circumstances was the sales manager going to let any Honda Fit leave his lot for less than $1000 over sticker price before taxes, title, delivery, license, etc.

I walked out.

I went to the local Mazda dealer yesterday to test-drive a Mazda 3. I’m very much interested in a 3s Touring with a manual transmission. The salesman told me they didn’t have any. I asked if they had any Mazda 3 models with a manual transmission, and he said, “I don’t know. Let me check with the manager.”

This was to become his refrain for the next hour and a half.

When we finally located one, he couldn’t find a key. He had to check with the manager.

Once he got the key, the car wouldn’t start due to a dead battery. He went to check with the manager and the service department.

Forty-five minutes later, as I read through the magazines lying around the showroom, he introduced me to another salesman, saying he had to go to the airport and that the other guy would take care of me. “I’ll be here,” I said.

Nearly half an hour later, the second salesman pulled up in a Mazda 3i with a manual — but not the same car I had been looking at before. No matter, I wasn’t interested in that colour anyway, but I could at least get a feel for the car and take it for a test drive, which I did. On the test drive, I asked him if he could get me a 3s Touring model with a manual from dealer stock somewhere in the area. “Probably not,” came the reply. “Well, how long if I had to order one?”


We returned to the dealer and discussed pricing, which consisted of the salesman asking me how much I wanted to put down ($2000), and whether I wanted to buy or lease (work up numbers for both, please), after which he replied, “OK, let me go check with my manager.”

Can we eliminate the middleman, please? If these salespeople aren’t authorised to actually, you know, sell anything, how about you fire them and stop charging these ridiculous “dealer fees”?

That guy disappeared for 15 minutes, and out of nowhere, the manager appeared and sat me down in his office, whereupon he quoted me an out-the-door price of $17,800 (based on a retail price of $15,995) for the vehicle I just drove. When I asked for a printout of his figures, lo and behold, a $499 “dealer fee” was in the price. I pointed to it and asked him what it was. “I have to keep the lights on,” he answered.

“But that’s just part of the cost of doing business. You’re supposed to cover that by the profit you make selling cars.”

“I’m not making any profit selling you this car. I’m selling it under invoice.” (Which, incidentally, is true, but ignores the obvious point that he clearly isn’t selling every car on the lot under invoice.)

I then asked him to work the lease numbers, which he did extremely fast, probably in hopes that I wouldn’t notice a) the sticker price being used as a basis for the lease and b) the $908 figure in the “dealer profit” box.

When I asked him why the starting price of the lease was different from the sale price he just quoted me, he said that I must be mistaken. When I told him they were some $900 different, he said, “Oh, leases start at MSRP.”

“No, I want to lease this car at this price,” I said, pointing to the piece of paper.

“Can’t do it.”

I walked out.

I’m through dealing with all this bullshit and nonsense. My new approach is going to be this:

I walk into the dealer’s showroom and ask to speak to the sales manager.
I tell the sales manager that I’m very much interested in purchasing Vehicle X, and that I will not be paying any “dealer greed and extra profit” fees that he wishes to tack on. (Note that I am willing to have the dealer handle the paperwork with the state for a marginal fee, like $100. $500 or more is a complete rip-off, though.)
I point out that the sales manager has two choices: he can accept the profit he’ll make by selling me a car without those fees, or he can accept a profit of zero dollars by not selling me a car at all.

Take it or leave it, guys. And stop wasting my time. I can’t get in and out of a dealer in anything less than three hours!

posted by Chris on 10 August 2007 at 2208 in car


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