First of all, I did not really need to trade in my Fiat 500 Sport. It’s a fine example of a 2012 model with 43,000 miles and no issues at all. It has been reliable, and always fun to drive.
But… now divorced and in a rented duplex, I only have one car, and the Fiat is a tad small once in a while, like when I need to take the power mower in for repair. Secondly, I have a significant chunk of cash that resulted from the divorce, the upside of…not owning a house any more. The ex kept the almost new VW Tiguan in the divorce, while I retained the Fiat and the Triumph Bonneville. True, these two do not come close to the value of the Tiguan, but there were a lot of items to divide, and it worked out pretty equally.
I am a car and motorcycle enthusiast, so with the (rare for me) ability to write a check for anything within reason, I was able to dive into one of my favorite parts of the car and motorcycle nut experience- shopping!
What was unusual this time was that I really did not need to purchase anything, and the sensible thing to do was… nothing. Who wants to be sensible all the time?
My options were wide, constrained only by shreds of practicality fighting a war with wants. I wanted something a tad larger than the Fiat, equipped with a sun roof, and a manual shift, and something that would make me smile every time I looked at it. I also wanted to purchase from a dealer using the Fiat as a trade-in. You can get more by selling on your own, but when you trade in you pay sales tax on the difference, and that brings the cost comparison close enough to be able to ignore the (many) perils and hassles of selling on your own.
I have found over the decades that I do not really need a test drive until almost the end of the purchase experience. Often, merely sitting in a vehicle will remove it from the list.
A 2013-16 or so Mustang appeals for low cost and sporty driving, and I prefer the looks to the new model. So…
First up – Harris Ford had a used Mustang that would do. A 6 speed manual, reasonable miles, sunroof, and puke green – I love lurid colors. I was thinking that perhaps this was fated, as I bought a new screaming yellow Ford Focus there in 2000, a wonderful car that served me well for over a decade. Actually, I agreed to purchase a black one, but when I came to pick it up, three of the just released yellow models had just arrived, and one of them was optioned exactly like what I was to purchase. A swap of VIN #s on the title and the deed and deal was done.
This time was different. I parked and wandered around the used car section. Eventually, a salesman appeared. I asked if the green Mustang had sold, and indeed it had. No worries. I explained that I merely wanted to sit in a Mustang of that vintage, and he said they were all unlocked. As I had already tried that, I disagreed. He then tried to open the same doors I had and inexplicably, they were still locked. Instead of summoning the massive energy required to locate a key, he merely directed me to go across the street to the showroom.
As I suspected, the showroom held only new models, most of them $70-90k Shelby examples. Oh well. I found one with open doors and got in – and fell into a deep well. Egad! The seat was really low, and the interior a black cave you could not see out of. I am sure the seat could be raised, but no sales person was around. So, I used their men’s room (take that!) and left.
I had a brief dalliance with a brand-new Ford Fiesta ST at Bickford, and a very nice chat with a salesman whose first name was David with a middle name of Preston! Alas, the car in question was not there yet, and was the (far) lesser of two Fiesta ST models. Later I decided it was too small anyway – why trade a too small car for another too small car?
I’ve always lusted after the 2003-2006 Chevy SSR pickup truck. This was a concept vehicle that got everyone so excited it made it to production. The “retro” styling appealed, as did the full hard cover over the bed, and the Corvette engine, but the icing on this tasty cake was a metal hard top that folds and disappears behind the seats. Most of them were yellow (terrific!) or red (ok). A manual was only offered in 2006, the last year, along with 50 more horsepower, but I could manage without both. This would not be a performance car. But cool!
Alas, turns out most of them were sold in less rainy climates – there are few available around here. True, I could fly somewhere and drive it back, but that would remove the option of a trade-in. I did find one in Auburn, but with a lot of miles and in silver with black stripes. However, it did have a zippy custom red and grey interior, and it was a 2006 with the manual and the extra power, so I put that aside for now. Then I found one in Everett, and decided to look at it. Also silver, but I just wanted to sit in it and check it out. Salesman Russell at Bayside Auto Sales was happy to accommodate, and the SSR passed the seating test. This could work! Alas, this particular one had been used hard and then ignored. The paint looked as if it had been parked outside in Arizona sun for about ten years. The paint was virtually burned off the horizontal surfaces, and the stripes were peeling away. Foggy and scratched headlights, bumps and bruises all over – this one would need about 15k put into it to be nice. But Bayside also had a 2015 Mustang for sale. An automatic, but again Russell was kind enough to fetch the key and let me sit in it. Much better than the new ones. Point to ponder.
Then I motored north to Chevrolet of Everett to check out a 2016 Ford Focus ST. The ST is the pick of the litter, with upscale bucket seats, a 6 speed manual shift, sunroof, lots of bells and whistles, and a turbo 4 engine belting out 252 horsepower, which is a lot in a front wheel drive car, necessitating some fancy front end engineering in a (mostly successful) attempt to keep it from torque-steering off the road. It would have been quite pricey in 2016, and was probably mostly used by dealers as a “halo” model to entice buyers into a more reasonable Focus.
My hopes were not too high, as it had 52,000 miles. And then I got there.
Holy tire smoke, Batman! The deep dark blue metallic paint appeared to be perfect. The interior looked fine. New tires. Hmmmmm…
Salesman Noah introduced himself and we started the dance. A month ago, they put it on the lot at $19,000. Now they offered it as an “easy purchase – no negotiating needed” price of $17,500. Noah explained that they liked to set the price at a fair amount and skip the usual negotiations drama.
As we chatted, he asked me what I thought. I explained that a well-optioned Fiat 500 Sport like mine would retail for $6 to $8,000, maybe $9,000 if you tried hard. Dealers would offer $3,000 to $5000 for a trade-in, so if I was interested he would offer me $3,000 as a trade-in, and I would counter with $5,000, and he would come back with $4,000 and then I would say that if he wanted a quick sale I would write a check for a $3,500 trade-in. This would amount to $14,300 or so.
At this point he stared at me and said “I think you are the most knowledgeable customer I have ever dealt with.” Of course, a good salesperson will always find some way to compliment the customer, but I enjoyed it all the same. I explained some of my background in the business, and off we went to begin the negotiations he had stressed they do not do.
His first offer was, as expected, a trade-in of $3,000, plus all sorts of other fees, all of which had explanations and most of which I ignored.
I pointed out to him the $150 “documentation fee,” which dealers are allowed by law to charge, is voluntary on the customer’s part! Most people do not know this. I would not be willing to pay that, and also, I did not need to pay $550 in RTA tax because in my new location it is not collected.
We went back and forth a few times, with Noah returning to his hidden sales manager to get approval. At the end, I was at $13,000 plus tax and license – about $14,300 – which is exactly where I began. He got all the way down to $13,800, which was a fair offer.
I explained that I was happy he had not taken my offer, as I wanted some time to think about it rather than rushing in to a mistake. I pointed out that of course, he could sell it to someone else that day or the next, or I could find something else, so my leaving was a bit of a gamble for both of us.
What I did not explain was that I was pretty sure this would be a tough car for them to sell. Most people do not know what an ST is in the first place, and most people shopping for a used Ford Focus would not want to pay anywhere near that price, and last, most people these days do not want to and perhaps cannot drive a manual transmission.
And so we parted. I went off to tour the hot rod show in Everett and eat unhealthy food in large quantities, and then went home.
I sort of expected that he would call and offer to split the $500 difference, and I would have agreed to that. As the afternoon wore on I began to think I’d negotiated my way out of a deal, and after doing some research on my computer on reliability records and owner reviews and such, I wanted the car more than at first!
Finally, at 5:15pm, Noah called. The deal had been approved at my price, but only for today. They closed at 6pm, but he would wait for me. OK!
I got there at 5:50 and it took awhile to do the paperwork. I think the finance guy was exhausted from a long weekend, as there was no sales pitch for an extended warranty or underseal or magic fairy dust or anything else. I wrote a check for $14,298.00 and was driving home.
Initial impressions? I will stop here, lest I gush! Really a hoot and a half to drive, and the shift is about the best I’ve ever experienced, including a Porsche 911 and several dozen Mazda Miatas, usually considered the best out there. If you see me sometime you probably do not want to ask me about the car, unless you have an hour to spare.
Let’s see how long the honeymoon lasts!
Copyright 2019 David Preston