Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Have I got a deal for you!

For the first time since 1981, I bought a new car that wasn’t a Chrysler.

And, for the first time since 1981, I bought a new car from someone who wasn’t named Uncle Len.

My mother-in-law’s family has had Chrysler dealerships around Philadelphia almost since there have been Chrysler dealerships outside of Philadelphia. For 25 years, buying (actually leasing) new cars for us has consisted of deciding which Chrysler vehicle we wanted, calling Town Motors of Exton, and saying, “Uncle Len, we want a Jeep Grand Cherokee. What do you have? How much is it?” We’ve done it while we lived in Dallas, Hartford, Conn. and Baltimore.

Alas, Uncle Len is in the process of selling Town Motors.

So with the lease to our 2004 Town & Country up, I had to go car shopping. And, for me at least, the process wasn’t bad at all.

I decided I wanted a hard-top convertible (go ahead, insert your mid-life crisis joke here … I’m secure enough to know it’s not true) with a manual transmission.

I drove a Volvo C-70, which is a beautiful car, but turned out to be more than I wanted to spend.

I then discovered the Volkswagen Eos (at right). Very nice looking, not flashy (at least with the top up), in my price range.

The salesman at Russel VW in Catonsville, Dave Lawell, is a nice guy and was straightforward. I told him what I wanted, he told me what they had, we found a car I liked.

I priced similar cars at two other VW dealerships, then went back to Russel. They gave me a monthly lease price that was considerably higher and had a $1,800 higher down payment – not a good combination. By now, the sales manager, Chip Defries, was involved. He couldn’t understand how the other dealership could be so low. He was certain the deal would change when I went in to pick the car up because he would be taking a loss if he sold me the Eos at that price.

But a funny thing happened over the next 48 hours. Chip essentially met the other dealer’s price. There weren’t high-pressure tactics. And even though Russel is much closer to my Ellicott City home than the other dealerships, I was prepared to go elsewhere. Chip finally asked me if he could get to within $10 of the other dealers’ monthly lease price with the lower downpayment, could we do the deal. I said yes.

The next night I was signing papers. I wouldn’t have been shocked – based on horror stories I’ve heard over the years – if the deal hadn’t been exactly as Chip described it. If the downpayment was suddenly higher, or if some guy in a plaid jacket suddenly told me that buying the undercoating for $750 was required.

But everything was exactly as agreed upon. The whole process, from first showroom visit to driving my new car off the lot, took 10 days (and it would have been nine if Maryland car dealerships were allowed to be open on Sundays, but that’s another post).

-ED WALDMAN, Managing Editor, Business

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