We finally purchased a minivan…

Success! I won’t have to car shop for (hopefully) another six years and my journey into middle-agedness is almost complete.

A few weeks ago I tried buying a Mazda MPV at Lee Johnson Mazda in Kirkland. However the salesperson’s weasel gears kicked in and tried to
dork me around.

I am fundamentally a data person. Give me charts, cross-references, numbers and formulas, and I’m content poring through it. Despite the ruthless data prowling, I don’t do so well with the face-to-face haggling aspect, e.g., if you have a widget priced $2.98, and I don’t like the price, I’ll just go away. (However, if it’s online anywhere, I will find it.) Thus, I spent a lot of time looking online at various resources:

  • Consumer Reports‘ online car reports. CR’s tests rock, and their maintenance histories are quite useful, but their price service isn’t, especially given the other, free information out there. First, they don’t show the current rebates available. For example, on the MPV, there was a $2,000 rebate (in lieu of financing) plus another $500 if you were “a recent college graduate.” These rebates have been around at least for a couple of months and make the MPV much more compelling. Second, CR’s pricing reports don’t take into account the popularity of a model. For example, they show a Honda Odyssey LX with an MSRP of $24,860, an invoice price of $22,417, and a wholesale price of $21,685. Odysseys are very popular and the dealers are fetching and getting MSRP and being ignoranuses (see below) about it.
  • Costco, which touts its prearranged Members-Only Pricing, is very cagey on specifics until you provide a bunch of information. (Like they need to know more than I buy dangerously high quantities of Kashi Crunch cereal.) They put me in touch with… Lee Johnson Mazda. That was a non-starter.
  • Auto-by-tel‘s site has some useful information, but their pricing philosophy is similar to Costco’s in that you have to provide a lot of info to get pricing … from a dealer.
  • I next looked at Carsdirect.com, whom I bought my Subaru Impreza through last year when my Miata was rear-ended by an Olds 88*. They weren’t “selling” this vehicle anymore but would quote me a target price and put me in contact with a VIP dealer who, fortunately, was not affiliated with Lee Johnson Mazda. That dealer contact me within a business day and offered essentially the same price, though he didn’t indicate any specific vehicles in inventory. He was rather far away, and I didn’t get to him.
    (*Junior physicists may remember the conservation of momentum formula, MOlds88VOlds88 = MmiataVmiata, where MOlds88 = 1.6MMiata. In other words, the car was totaled.)
  • Mazda’s corporate web site has some spiffy options like letting you preview a car in some virtual tool and pretend to build your own. However, their inventory query tool blows, totally ignoring any information in the configurator. For example, you can say “give me an MPV LX with the 4-seasons package, Sage Green, Beige interior.” Click on the inventory, it asks you for the zip code then you get… 160 MPVs, basically within 50 miles of the zip code you specify. You have to iterate through each one to determine what options it has. (Dealer sites are worse, usually presenting a generic profile of a car and not even telling you what color the durn thing is.)
  • Soliciting individual dealers. Ted suggested this, and initially I scoffed based on my Honda experiences (below), but amazingly enough, I finally received a quote, albeit two weeks later, that was substantially better than anyone else’s. This is who I eventually purchased the minivan from. (Contact: Frank Weiss at University Mazda, 206/634-1191.)

The deal I ended up with was about $250 more than Consumer Reports’ “wholesale price” (the theoretical actual dealer cost including holdbacks) minus $2,500 in rebates, and the Kelly Blue Book for my trade-in. Dad would be proud.


We also considered the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, both highly rated by Consumer Reports. Online research shows the vehicles appear to sell very close to MSRP, even according to Edmunds. Three dealers we contacted would only quote MSRP. Based on the Consumer Reports numbers, the Toyota and Honda dealers make over $2,500 per vehicle, or about a 12% margin.

We test drove an Odyssey at Honda AutoCenter of Bellevue. The place was surprisingly packed for a Thursday night. The sales guy, Huey, seemed a little out of it (apparently he has a newborn). We asked to look at one, he pointed to the one in the showroom and gave a light spiel. We asked to test drive one and were told we’d have to wait until the previous folks came back. This seemed odd that they wouldn’t be eager for us to try one. (I’d like to hope that it wasn’t prejudice at my jean shorts and biking event T-shirt.)

While we were waiting, we did the gratuitous photocopying license and insurance, expecting we’d then go out on our own. I was looking around at the other cars, really just to find something to read. Saw a Honda Civic with this price sticker:

MSRP 15,210
Market Value Adjustment 1,497
Destination 460

Total 17,167

The van pulls up, Huey gets in the back. I figure the guy probably wanted a nap from his newborn, so we drove around a bit and I just kind of ignored him in the back, which may have perturbed him. The driver side seemed a bit short and the viewing angle awkward. (I’m not particularly tall, either.) I pull over, swap seats with my spouse who’s taller than me. She doesn’t say this at first, but it’s pretty obvious she’s having difficulty seeing out. She’s a bit jerky on the controls.

We get back, the dealer immediately gets called over by the floor manager (it’s starting to feel like a casino) to talk with another couple who want to take that car out for a test drive. We ask for a brochure, which I’m not sure we actually got.

So… the Odyssey wasn’t the great wonder-minivan we had hoped, and the dealer experience was kind of bad. I still don’t grok the dealer’s `tude… they just seemed so uninterested in my business. It must be nice having a high-demand product with such great margins.

2 thoughts on “We finally purchased a minivan…

  1. Been there,done that. Despise car dealers and the whole” I’ve got something you want but its not my money its yours and I want it”. I ended up buying Saturns just so I don’t have to deal with the smarmy salesman and sales manager power trip thing.They do not make any deals but whats on the window sticker is the price. Tried to get them to throw in a Team Saturn jersey but no go.
    gears to you, Jim…..leo

  2. Most people don’t do well with the face to face haggling. Since we’re at a disadvantage as the dealers do it every day. Stick with no haggle sites like http://www.truecar.com and you’ll be better off

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