A little more than two months ago I decided to sell my 2002 WRX and buy something different. I wanted something off road capable for camping and general off-road fun. This meant that I had to start looking at current offerings that were fore sale either new or used. I narrowed my search field down to something that had a purpose built off road pedigree and wasn't as large as a house. This meant that I was looking for a small truck or SUV to fill my needs.
I quickly found four vehicles that filled my needs.
1. Toyota Tacoma
2. Toyota FJ cruiser
3. Ford Ranger
4. Jeep Wrangler
I eliminated the Ford Ranger after a quick test drive of a 2011 model when I found that the only way I could drive and not have my head hit the ceiling was to have the seat reclined to an uncomfortable angle (I'm 6'4"). So bye-bye ranger. After reading about years and years of reliability issues that have always plagued Wranglers I was wary to purchase a vehicle with such a spotty track record as well as something that was still manufactured with doors that can fly off in a severe accident. So bye-bye Jeep. This left me with the chance to go test drive a new FJ cruiser and Tacoma.
But before going for a test drive I had to wade through the maddening river of scum known as the dealership website network. First I had to see if a dealership near me had the vehicle I wanted, then I had to see what they were asking. I'll never understand why dealerships guard their prices like the map to buried treasure. I called two Toyota dealerships to ask if they could give me a price over the phone and after being bounced around the phone line for a few minutes at both places, one dealership flat out refused "we don't give prices over the phone" and the other was like trying to talk a straight answer out of a politician.
"How much is the truck?" I'd ask.
"Well we have a lot of choices, so come on down and we'll show you."
"What about this truck?" I'd give the VIN to the salesman.
"Oh that? We'll it's listed at (approximately $8,000 over MSRP) but we may be able to do something if you want to come see it."
After a few days of that kind of back and forth at a few more dealerships I ended up going and test driving the FJ and the Tacoma on the same day. The salesman didn't know anything about either vehicle and he kept trying to get me to test drive the Tundra. At once point he mentioned that the FJ had disconnecting sway bars (it does not) and gets up to 27 MPG highway (Because V6). Every time I'd ask a question about a feature on the Tacoma or FJ he'd reel back and try to sell the features of the Tundra.
Once we got back to the dealership I was pressured some more for the Tundra and somehow he talked me in to letting him run some financing numbers for me. This required me to fill out a form for a "soft credit check". I should have walked away. I shouldn't have filled out the form and I shouldn't have been surprised when my credit got dinged with a hard inquiry on my credit report. Even when I called the dealership for an explanation, the salesman I spoke with was always "at lunch" or "on a test drive".
I decided not to buy either truck that day, but even now, after two months I still get junk mail, junk e-mail and canned phone calls from the dealerships I contacted begging and pleading with me to come "TEST DRIVE THE BOLD NEW CAMRY", I like Toyotas, but seriously, bite me.
The next week I went to investigate another option I had been considering, an electric motorcycle. To start with, the motorcycle dealership I ended up going to was a lot smaller than any car dealership. The sales people, weren't just sales people, they were mechanics, or parts people. They knew these bikes because they worked on them themselves and they were riders. The parking lot of the dealership had a small crowd of people, current and previous customers, just milling around talking to each other. That's the thing I think separated the two types of dealerships for me the most.
A car dealership is clean and showy they have words like "Soul, Powerful and Toyotacare" Hanging from the ceiling. They have people to greet you as soon as you walk in and lay on the hard sell and a littany of assumed red tape to make you stay there as long as possible. A motorcycle dealership, is none of those things. The staff are happy to talk with you about bikes as long as you like. They're building a relationship with the customer instead of trying to close a deal. And it shows in their pricing too. I hadn't ever bought a bike from a dealership before but when I asked one of the salesmen what the price was on the bike, he just told me "MSRP" without batting an eye, and that was fine with me. At car dealerships, the salesmen act like they're being put out when they tell you the price (if you can get them to), with bikes it's just like buying a bag of groceries. I don't want to negotiate, I just want the damn product.
I read some bogus statistic once that "87% of people say that they would rather have a route canal than buy a car from a dealership" and I totally believe that. The car buying process, such as it is today is bullshit. Somehow, car dealerships have become these terrifying places where mere mortals dare not tread. I can't even imagine what it must be like for someone who walks into a dealership and knows nothing about cars. What kind of lies must they be fed.
Compared to the calm, easy experience of buying the motorcycle I wish more people would try to ride. Not only is the buying process calmer and simpler, the act of riding reduces stress, at least for me.
When it was all said and done, I ended up with a new ZERO FX and a 1991 Ford Bronco that I bought off craigslist. I'm happy with these choices because they fulfill my needs as a driver/rider. If I had to do the whole process over again I'd never have gone to the dealership in the first place, It was a waste of time and my credit is worse off for it, why the hell anyone would subject themselves to that on the regular blows my mind.
On Twitter @racersjunkyard