Buying or leasing a car sucks.
This shouldn't be true anymore, and yet it is. Somehow, car dealers have remained in business despite deceptive marketing practices, bait-and-switch tactics, excessive haggling, and other buffoonery.
I know this, because I just got through the unenviable process of buying a new car. Frankly, I was stunned that in this day of user reviews and word of mouth spreading so quickly on and offline, that car dealers could still get away with such shenanigans.
I began my search at Hillside Honda in Queens, where I decided to lease a 2008 Honda Element LX. The salesman gave me their "best price" of $447/month for 36 months. I was insulted by this offer, though surely lots of people would have accepted it right then and there. After literally hours of back and forth negotiation between the 'tower' and us, it was down to $299/month. This was still more than I wanted to pay, but obviously significantly less than the original offer. The salesman told me I could accept the offer, but search online, and if I found a better offer I could get a refund on my deposit. I found this to be refreshingly kind and sincere, and accepted the offer.
Then I did what I should have done all along- research online. I found many great articles about the car buying process, including this extremely inciteful article on edmunds.com by a journalist who went underdcover as a car salesman. Then I submitted requests for bids online to several honda dealers.
The best bid came from Bay Ridge Honda in Brooklyn. The internet salesperson, Valerie, called me back with an offer of $254/month, 36 months, no money down. This was much better than the deal I had previously made. I asked Valerie, "Are there any other fees?"I wanted to be sure.
Valerie assured me that there were no other fees, and that their internet department worked differently- it was best offer, no haggle, right away. This was great! I accepted the offer, and gave them my credit card info over the phone for a deposit.
The next day, I got a call from Lou, the manager. Lou said he wanted to make sure I understood that the terms of the deal included a $2,600 "Cap fee". WHAT?????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This infuriated me. When I explained that Valerie had assured me there would be no such fees and we had made a deal already, Lou responded, "A deal is not a deal until it's on paper. This is a great deal- you should take it." I said no, that I was looking forward to reporting him to the Attorney General's office and Better Business Bureau, and he hung up on me.
I went back to Hillside and took the other deal. Upon further review at this great car dealer review site, I realized Hillside has a pretty great reputation after all (and Bay Ridge has one of the worst, of course.) I had my new car, at a decent price, I guess. But should car dealers really be able to get away with this sort of selling and marketing in 2008?
I say no.
Consumer Reports last week reported a settlement in Washington against deceptive used car dealers. If enough people report their experiences, both to the right government agencies, and online, to the world, perhaps with enough Word of Mouth, we can begin to change this antequated, ridiculous industry's marketing and selling practices.