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2012 Honda Civic

2012 Honda Civic (Photo credit: al_volante)


Good grief, the tale of the minivan.  It’s been a long, frustrating, tedious endeavor to replace my minivan with a smaller, more gas efficient car.  I abandoned the quest for awhile last month out of discouragement.  But gas isn’t getting any cheaper and my minivan isn’t getting any younger, so I made one last effort.

Trading in the minivan for a decent price was key to being able to afford a replacement.  Every dealership I visited low-balled me.  And not just by a little or as a negotiating tactic.  No, they wanted to screw me out of thousands of dollars.  I wanted to get into Carmax, but it’s an inconvenient drive.  I finally sucked it up and went in last week.  I was really stressed because this was my last chance to get what my research showed was a fair price for it.  I didn’t want to have to sell it myself.  Lo and behold, Carmax offered a very fair price.  A price that was $4,000 higher than the dealerships I’d visited.

Lesson #1:  If at all possible, try Carmax!  They’ll give you a written appraisal on your old car that’s good for a week.  Hang on to this because it comes in handy.  (Just stay with me here.)

The process was simple:  show up, check in at the front desk, and sit down.  It took about 20 minutes for a sales rep to get to me.  (The place was packed for a Wednesday afternoon.)  I gave her my keys, she logged the car in to their computer system, and we watched it update the appraisal process for about half an hour while chatting about our kids.  The appraiser goes over the car and test drives it, then makes the appraisal offer.  In total it took about an hour.  I couldn’t sell the car that day (I had no ride home), so I took the written offer and made plans to go back Saturday.

Now on to the new car dealership.  Confession:  I went with my dad.  My parents bought almost the exact car I wanted a few weeks ago and were really happy with a dealership I never, ever would have gone to because it’s a long way from my house.

Lesson #2:  Ask other people about their car buying experiences.  Some dealerships really are better than others (and as I found out, some dealerships are much worse).  If someone you know and trust recommends a salesperson and/or dealership, it may be worth the time and trouble to check it out.  Be sure to mention that you were referred by a satisfied customer.  I think this lets the salesperson know that you have a good idea of what prices are negotiable.

The faraway dealership (Poway Honda, for the locals) really could not have done a better job.  They took the Carmax written appraisal of the minivan and matched it.  (That’s why you hang on to the written appraisal.  If the dealer hadn’t matched the price, I would’ve gone back to Carmax to sell the minivan.)  The salesman gave me the same (low) prices on the new car and the few extras I wanted as my satisfied customer parents got.  The parts department alerted me to a coupon on the floor and cargo mats, saving me an additional 20%.

The car I wanted wasn’t on their lot in the (really beautiful) color I wanted, so they found it and brought it to their dealership.  Here’s an irony:  the car was originally at the dealer close to my house and when I priced it there, that dealer wanted high retail and offered low wholesale on my minivan.  The faraway dealer, who went to the trouble of getting me what I wanted, gave me low retail on the new car and mid-wholesale on the minivan.  Just that geographical change saved me $2,700.

Lesson #3:  Do your research.  Know the fair price for your trade-in (kbb.com is a good starting place) and the average sales price of the new car you’re shopping for (google it).  Don’t give up.  Don’t let the dealership browbeat or patronize you.

I love my new car.  It’s zippy and shiny and gets twice the miles per gallon as my minivan.  The process to get here to happy detoured through frustration and discouragement, but I got a fair deal and so did the dealership.

That’s how the process should go.  Everyone walked away satisfied.  Well, I drove away satisfied.