Sunday, November 29, 2009

Car shopping

Do you like to shop for cars? Or do you hate it?

Me, I like shopping for cars, and when I am looking for a new car I take my time. I do a lot of research, both online and in person. I have to test drive the cars I'm considering, and I never plan to buy a car on the same day I walk onto the lot.

Doesn't it make sense that if you're going to make a purchase of something that costs tens of thousands of dollars, you should take your time and make the right decision?

I think so, but apparently that is something that most car dealerships actively discourage.

As I may have mentioned before, I am thinking of buying a new car in a few months. Today [The Man I Love] and I went out to test-drive some of the cars I'm thinking about.

We went to a Honda dealer, and test drove a new 2010 Honda Fit. [The Man I Love] had a pleasant conversation with the salesman, who was from the South American nation of Guyana. He was laid back and didn't pressure us after we told him we were just starting out shopping comparison. We said we'd chosen his dealership because they handled both Honda and Toyota, and we wanted to compare the Fit with the Toyota Matrix, and also with a slightly cheaper model, the Toyota Yaris hatchback. We finished the test drive, shook hands and took his business card.

Then we went to the Toyota lot. Our salesman was Jose, who rode with us as we test-drove a dark maroon colored Yaris. He was from Honduras, and talked a bit more than I expected about his religion. Nevertheless, once we introduced ourselves and told him that we were still researching and comparing, he didn't pressure us. When we asked to test-drive two other cars - a Matrix and a Prius - he turned us over to another salesman, an older guy, big and blustery, and - I hate to say it - kind of a stereotypical Car Salesman.

The first thing Mr. Car Salesman did was exclusively address [The Man I Love], who quickly set him straight by telling him that I was the person buying the car.

I explained that I was looking for an economic commuter car, and that I was exploring two price ranges - one quite inexpensive, and one just a little notch higher in price but hybrid. I told him I was comparing Honda models and Toyota models, and that I had just come from his dealership's other lot. I also told him that my target purchase date was several months later.

It was surprising how fast the man's manner changed. He seemed to have two simultaneous reactions - One, to argue me into buying a car today, and Two - to let me know that I was wasting his precious time by demanding such an outrageous thing as to test-drive a car I didn't plan to buy today.

I thought about asking him if he'd prefer I go inconvenience a different dealer.

Mr. Car Salesman pulled the Matrix out of the tight display formation so he could show us its features. Then he suggested I "take it around the block." It was pretty obvious that he wanted to spend the least amount of time on what he considered a poor prospect. As we drove, [The Man I Love] chatted with him, and the fellow seemed to warm up a little to us, but as far as I was concerned, he'd blown it. There was no way I'd give him my business. Although we'd planned to ask to drive a Prius, too, we decided not to. I'll do it another afternoon. Somewhere else.

[The Man I Love] and I talked it over at lunch. He'd been struck by the blatant gender bias - the fact that the salesman had assumed he was "the customer" and didn't take me seriously. Was it because I was a woman?

I think that may have had something to do with it. But for me, my main annoyance wasn't the sexism, it was the fact that he seemed to be withholding access to the car. It was as if he wasn't going to let me see it, look inside it, or drive it unless I was willing to buy it today.

Nordstrom lets me pick a garment off the rack, take it into a dressing room and try it on without question. I can put it back on the rack and go home, think about it and come back later if I want it.

I can try as many shoes on as I want before deciding on the ones to buy - or not.

I can browse in home improvement stores and look at display model dishwashers, stoves, refrigerators, and compare them to models at other stores. I can browse in a bookstore, even read excerpts of a book, without buying it.

But a car - Why do they act as if it's too much trouble for them to let you test it out, and take your time to consider it? It's a major purchase!

When I bought my last new car, back in 2001, I was trying to decide between three different makes and models. I took about two months of serious shopping - online research plus test-driving. As it turned out, the salesman who helped me test-drive the model I finally chose was the one I eventually bought it from. It took two months for me to decide on that car, but once I did I rewarded the salesman for his effort, good manners, and professional attitude.

Mr. Car Salesman today just ensured that if I end up deciding that the Toyota Matrix is the car I want, I'm going to buy it from someone else.

1 comment:

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

My husband is the car person, but I'm the money person. So, we go together to look for cars. He does tons of research ahead of time, and generally knows exactly what we are looking for. If we find it, we often do buy it that day...if not, we keep looking. I get mostly ignored...until we make a decision and I start asking the financial questions, warranty questions and so on. My husband is perfectly capable of asking those questions...but it is easy for me, so I do it. It is amazing how much more visible I become when they realize that I'm more involved than just picking out the color.