The Honda Experience

The Honda Element has an unusual aesthetic value about it. I believe the general favor for this vehicle is split between those who love it and those who hate it. Oddly still, that split is probably 50/50. My wife and I coincidentally agree on our view and like the overall design. We’re both mostly utilitarian when it comes to transportation, so that may have some role in it. Recently (July 5th), we went shopping for a replacement of a slightly decrepit `96 Nissan Quest. We spent roughly 5 hours and drove out with a new-ish, orange Element. This is my story…  more…

If you’ve ever purchased a car, new or used, you know the mixed emotions that accompany this process. My wife and I began looking for a car at approximately 4:00pm on Monday, a holiday following the 4th of July. We had the intent of finding and purchasing a vehicle that day. This is a pitfall in the general theory of car buying by most standards, but I had done substantial research prior to the event. The whole event turned comical the moment we set foot in the dealership’s mother ship – the sales office.

We were detained, brainwashed, and probed by 3 different people. A fourth existed in theory, as each member of the team would inevitably require the approval of this one and run off for a minimum of 10 minutes to discuss my terms. This was the first of one dealership we were able to enter on Monday (Gwinnett Place Honda). It was the only dealership we could visit because the dealership won’t actually allow you to leave their protective custody (“let me make sure you’re getting the very best deal,” “there really aren’t any of these cars anywhere else,” and “let me go and talk with my manager to see what I can do”). The whole process is hidden in ambiguity. The information I really wanted and could not get was the price of the car. It’s ridiculous, and I don’t believe there is any other sales process quite like it.

A dealership assumes that you’re solely interested in the monthly payment; ergo the price of the car is irrelevant. I hope I’m not the only one that balks at this prospect. When asked to present the monthly payment options for a car, given arbitrary finance rates of 4%, 6%, and 10%, you’d think I asked them to lend me the car for a week while I decided. Apparently it’s impossible to get these values without running my credit and getting me to sign multiple forms and a commitment agreement. Mind you, this commitment agreement is worthless and does nothing more than give the dealership some perceived leverage over your buying decision. At any rate, I chose to forgo the signature requisition and credit report detail and instead persisted on the grounds of my original request. This request was finally answered (after being delayed…again, and then moved into the finance guy’s office) with terms such as “average,” “poor,” “great,” and “really great” credit scores. I had to further probe to discover the actual rates for these terms. Nonetheless, this is what I had asked for and the numbers were not appropriate for my budget. That decided, I would be better off seeking out a similar vehicle with higher mileage to get a price within my budget. Having explained this to the assembled team of associates, I was detained by the prospect of a better deal.

Of course they come back with a better deal. They’re willing to pay off my current vehicle on a trade (sight unseen) and drop the car’s price by $1,000.00. This presumably will lower the monthly payments to an acceptable limit, albeit higher than my initial wishes. I’m willing to sacrifice some on this car because of the unusually low mileage. By closing time at the dealership, we’re finally looking at real paperwork and my credit scores have been tallied for accurate financing terms. It’s late, my wife and I are tired and hungry, and the finance guy whips us through the process in minutes (vastly different from the sales process).

By the way, Honda Corporation’s contracts and notices suck. If you stop and read them, you’ll probably very disgruntled by what you’re actually agreeing to (check out a Privacy Notice sometime). Needless to say, these forms are non-negotiable. Some are even required to proceed with a credit check to get your financing options.

My best advice in dealing with dealerships is to get pre-approved through something like before you go to the dealership. You may not get as good a rate, but it’ll save you some privacy, a headache or two, and your negotiation gamut just got reduced. With this option, you can focus all your energy on the car’s price. Besides, do you really want the dealership making points on the car they just sold you? I would just as soon let someone else have that money now that the dealership has robbed me. We left the lot with a great, used Honda Element with very low mileage. Our overall experience was draining and I do not regard it with any real satisfaction in retrospect. Our deal in the end was fair, but nothing more.

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