Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Buying a car at Cabe Toyota

For many people, including myself, the process of buying a car ranks right up there with having a root canal with no anesthesia. There's just something about having to wrestle with lying, manipulative salespeople while sweating an important decision that turns stomachs into knots.

But my opinion was changed, just slightly, when I bought a car the other day, for the first time in eight years. It's not that this purchase was fun, or even pleasant, but it was fairly tolerable.  And, that's saying something.

The first key to a fairly tolerable car purchase is to know what car you want and how much you're willing to spend before you set foot on a dealer's lot. Check Consumer Reports to find good cars. Review prices at KBB.com or Edmunds.com.  Then go shopping at Craigslist or AutoTrader.com.

It was AutoTrader that pointed me to a Hyundai Santa Fe that looked promising at Cabe Toyota in Long Beach, Calif.  Cabe Toyota is a surprisingly small car dealer in a surprisingly ordinary location, and when I walked on to a corner of the lot, the first car I saw was the Santa Fe.

The salesman was an amiable man named Madison Torres who patiently watched as I inspected the vehicle and answered my questions on a test drive.

But the negotiating did not go well the manager would barely budge on the price, and I walked out. This is the second key to a good car purchase you have to be ready to walk out at any time.

Two days later, Madison called me and asked if I was still interested in the car  and oh, by the way, he said, the car is now out for a test drive with a potential buyer.  I have to say I was disappointed in Madison for this ploy, as he was certainly lying.  How do I know? Well, first of all, if you have a customer test-driving the car why are you calling someone else?  You have a possible buyer in hand; you don't need another.

Second, when I did return to the dealership the next day I was planning to do so anyway even before Madison called no noticeable mileage had been added to the odometer of the car. And the seat and mirrors were set exactly as I had left them.

On this visit, I brought my old car to trade in. Again, the manager barely budged on the price, but having done my research I could see that it was still a pretty good deal. And they took my old clunker off my hands. We had a deal.

My biggest irritation in the process occurred here. When we agreed on the price, I specifically asked the manager if there were any "mysterious dealer prep fees" that would be thrown in. "Not a one," he said.

But when I got to the gruff, humorless finance manager to finish the transaction, there, lo and behold, was a $55 "document preparation" fee. Maybe I should have fought it. But at that point and they know it you just want to finish the deal and get out of there.

So if you buy a car at Cabe Toyota, just remember that, regardless of the price you agree on, you're going to end up paying at least $55 more.


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