Shopping for a car has changed a lot in the past 12 years. Once upon a time it felt more like an adversarial experience with buyer and seller weaving around each other in the fighting ring. Buyer came in, coyly looking at possible cars, not wanting to look too eager; seller slid over assessing the wants and wallets of the prospects. Once a choice was made, the two combatants sat down and through an uncomfortable process of bidding, berating and surrender, a car eventually changed hands. I hated the whole confrontation and the feeling that you had to beat or be beaten in order to get the best deal. Shopping should be fun but the old way of buying a car was more like combat and about as enjoyable as sparring with someone intent on maiming you.
In the not-too distant past, buyers were at the mercy of the dealerships when they walked through the doors. Pre-visit research was not possible to any great extent and pricing – well, that was a closely guarded secret coveted by the salesman and his manager. Buyer and seller would achieve a temporary truce over price – but the salesman had to negotiate the final terms of the agreement with his manager– the invisible, all-powerful mastermind who never revealed his true identity, but controlled the fate of Gotham City and your car purchase. I never really knew what drove sales managers to accept certain offer and reject others, but it didn’t matter –their word was law and there were no super-heroes around to contest it.
Until now. Instead of shadow boxing, today buyers can do a ton of vehicular research even before they enter the dealership. On-line consumer reports and reviews are available on everything from road noise, comfort, performance, mileage, customer satisfaction, reliability, service issues and all kinds of indecipherable technical assessments. I was free to confuse myself with all kinds of facts and do just about anything except take a holographic road test. I could even build and price my car on dealership websites so I could calculate the worst-case cost and avoid the humiliation of finding out that I had vehicular tastes in the champagne range and a beer-budget to pay for them.
After reviewing various consumer reports and ratings and finding out which small SUV’s seemed to be a good fit for me, I headed out the door this week to visit 6 dealerships and road test the: Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Forester and the Toyota RAV4. Find out in my next posting how they stacked up against each other.