Spoiler Alert: I didn't buy the car.
(Full disclosure: My dad wanted to drive and own a Dodge Magnum R/T so badly that, as a diligent son, I've spent months scouring the nation looking for the right one to buy him. I finally found one that met all his criteria within a reasonable driving distance, in sunny Phoenix, AZ.)
Part 1: The Search
My father has an odd fascination with the Dodge Magnum. Charger? Nope. Chrysler 300? No way. But a Magnum? He pines for them. He's always wanted one. With a Hemi, naturally. So after months of regularly scouring various Craigslists around the western US as well as Autotrader and Cars.com, I finally came across one that fit the bill - a 2008 R/T, RWD, in Inferno Red Crystal Pearlcoat.
-Reasonably priced at $14,900? ✓
-Relatively low mileage of 61k for a 2008 model? ✓
-Not silver? ✓
-One previous owner? ✓
-GOT HEMI? ✓✓✓
The only problem - it was at a dealership. I'm a relatively seasoned used car buying veteran, typically utilizing Craigslist and Autotrader for cash purchases and sales. But walking into a dealership and trying negotiate a purchase was as foreign to me as a turn signal is to most BMW owners. How hard could it be?
Part 2: The Preparations
I did my research. And by that I mean, I talked to my mom, who'd bought a couple of new cars on her own, but never a used vehicle. I read some Jalopnik posts so at to understand what the worst case scenarios were. And perused the internet for anything even vaguely resembling used car buying advice. And this is an overview of what I gathered:
-Used cars on the lot are open for negotiation just like most anything else.
-That said, you'll still pay more than you would with a private party.
-He/she who talks the most is losing the negotiation.
-Sales tax is a necessary and evil expense to be considered except for in Alaska, Montana, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Delaware.
-Financing a used car is akin to chopping up a vital organ and mailing it in with each monthly payment.
-Carefully review the purchase agreement for hidden fees
-Don't buy a car from a dealership
These are things I pretty much already knew, and despite all the negative press that dealership get from Jalops and pretty much everyone in general, I decided to give buying this Magnum a shot, dealership be damned. Finding one that my dad would want was going to be difficult in general given their rarity, so to find one just a couple hours away in his price range practically necessitated consideration. Besides, at their advertised asking price, the price was comparable to others that you'd find on the private market.
Having done the math and being a self-proclaimed pro negotiator, I thought I could score the Hemi-powered wagon for somewhere between $14k-15k out the door. I came up with this figure considering the following assumptions:
-$14,900 was an initial asking price and subject to negotiation
-Sales tax rate of 8.5% would add roughly $1100 to the negotiated sale price
-I could negotiate a sales price of anywhere from $13,000 to $13,800 (or $1900 to $1100 off the asking price, respectively)
-I'd be paying cash, not financing, and isn't there usually a cash discount on most major purchases? I know dealers can make a killing on financing, but still...
-Being a used vehicle, there would be no extraneous fees like you'd find tacked onto new cars
As I discovered...it's nowhere near that simple. Or cheap.
Part 3: Making Contact
Two days prior to going to see the car, I clicked the "Get ePrice" button on the page set up for the Magnum on the dealer's website, foolishly thinking maybe they'd give me a ballpark out the door number. Thankfully, the form didn't require a phone number.
Within an hour, I had an email from a fleet manager. We'll call him Fleet Manager #1. I was working, and not checking my email quite yet. By the end of the day, when I did finally check, I had two more emails. It was at this point that I wondered if it was an elaborate bot or just a really enthusiastic salesman.
Within two days, I had seven emails. Seven. Each worded uniquely, but could very well be scripted, still leaving me wondering about whether it was a real person or not. I found the opt-out button at the bottom of the email and clicked, realizing that I wasn't going to get any useful information by email.
On the day I had decided to drive out to look at the car, I called the dealership simply to make sure it was still there. I get passed to a salesman...another fleet manager, so he proclaimed. We'll call him Fleet Manager #2. I gave him a stock number, and this is what he told me.
"The Magnum? Let me check on that for you...yep, I can't believe it made it through the weekend, but it's still here."
Last I checked, gas-guzzling, 6-year old station wagons that were phased out due to slow sales weren't exactly flying off the lots, but I digress.
I let him know I'd likely be up that day to check it out, and left it at that. Within about half an hour, I got another call from yet another fleet manager (Fleet Manager #3, if you're counting). She just wanted to follow up and see if I wanted to schedule an appointment to see the car. I declined, simply stating that my schedule had not firmed up yet and that I'd be in contact.
Part 4: The Negotiation
Two hours and an In-N-Out burger later, I found myself at the dealership, and on the pre-owned lot, there sat the Magnum in all its wagon-y goodness. Within 15 seconds of having exited my vehicle, the first salesman was upon me. I let him know I spoke with Fleet Managers #2 and #3 earlier - he went inside to go grab one of them.
I got to work inspecting the car, looking it over, finding very little to complain about minus a small ding here and there, along with a couple of (repaired) cracks on the lower front bumper, likely from a curb that jumped out and snapped at the poor Magnum. While I was giving the car a once over, another sales person came over...you guessed it, Fleet Manager #4.
I mean, how vast is their fleet that it requires an army of managers to keep it under control? Or do they just give everyone that works there that title?
As expected, I quickly established that I know a hell of a lot more about the Magnum than Fleet Manager #4 does. Which is fine, because I didn't need him to sell me on the car, just to sell me the car. Went for a test drive, car drove great, and after pointing (and slightly exaggerating) some of the cars flaws, the conversation turned to the part of a dealership transaction that everyone likes the least...
"So, what are you looking to spend on the car?"
Not what's on the window sticker, that's for sure.
"Well then, let's go inside and see what we can do for you."
And off we went. Asked for some basic info from me, and what kind of financing I was looking at. So as to not show all my cards quite yet, I let him quote me assuming I would finance the car.
A few minutes later, he came back out with a printout of the price, and right away jumped into discussing my monthly payment...of course, my eyes turned toward the bottom-line total.
Somewhere, somehow, something went horribly wrong in the five minutes Fleet Manager #4 spent making this printout. How did this 2008 Dodge Magnum suddenly increase in price by $3500?
The breakdown looked like this:
Vehicle Price - $18,725.00
Preferred Customer Discount - $3,825.00
Subtotal - $14,900.00 (aka the advertised price)
Fees - $655.00
Options - $1,274.00
Taxes - $1,656.24
Total Price - $18,485.24
I asked for a breakdown of what "Fees" and "Options" were. Last I checked, I was buying a used vehicle - as is, how is, where is, no warranties expressed or implied. What "Options" could I possibly be paying for?
These options, apparently:
Paint Protection - $300.00 (a "coating" applied to the paint to increase paint life, aka a coat of wax)
ScotchGuard Interior - $200.00 (a stain repellant...for a leather interior?)
Window Tint - $200.00 (pretty much all dealers do this, I get it)
Theft Deterrent - $300.00 (a siren attached to a valet switch, likely installed on the car by the previous owner, and not even hooked up)
VTR (Vehicle Theft Registration) - $200.00 (WTF? I had honestly never heard of this)
Maintenance (3 included oil changes) - $74.00 (Don't want it, never asked for it, do my own maintenance)
And these fees:
Doc Fee - $399.95
Lieu tax - $100.00
Postage - $3.00
Registration - $143.05
Tire Fee - $5.00
Title - $4.00
Needless to say, I was less than pleased. I explained that I was buying a used car and never wanted or agreed to any "options", period. This is when I also inquired about what kind of discount I could get if I paid in cash.
"Well, we can remove all the options except for the VTR and maintenance, because those are required by corporate. Let me talk to the sales manager and see what we can do."
A few minutes later, he came back with a new printout...the bottom line now read $16,985.24. Better, but still about $2k more than I was willing to spend. The vehicle price remained unchanged, but all "Options" minus $274 for the VTR/maintenance had been removed, and a few bucks removed from the "Fees". When I inquired about a cash discount, I was told "Sorry, the price you see is the internet price and the best price we can give you." I called BS, being that it's the same price on the window that anyone driving down the street will see. But he maintained that they can't go a dime lower than the internet price.
I got up, thanked him for his time, and proceeded to leave the dealership. I knew what to expect next, and wasn't let down - I was asked to head into the sales manager's office, who coincidentally, was also Fleet Manager #2 I spoke to on the phone earlier that day. It was pretty apparent that he had no interest in dealing with me any further, telling me I was "way off" on my offer, and was only trying to convince me that I had been given the "lowest price possible" by throwing a bunch of numbers at me such as the trade-in price they paid on the car, what they had to pay the techs to inspect the car, etc.
When it became obvious I wasn't going to pay more than $15,000 out the door and they had no interest in moving on the price of the car, I helped myself to a couple of chocolate chip cookies and a couple bottles of water from their lobby to help offset wasting many hours of my time, and left.
Part 5 - Conclusion
The next day, I received calls from Fleet Managers #3 and #2, separately, and in that order. I explained to #3 that we weren't able to reach an agreement on the price, what with all the extra money in un-advertised expenses and options along with their unwillingness to move on the advertised price. About half an hour later, #2 called, asking bluntly "So, have you reconsidered, are you ready to spend an extra couple of grand?" I think you can guess my response.
I can't knock this dealership in particular - while Fleet Manager #2 came across as something of a jackass with his tone, the rest of the sales staff was pretty courteous and more or less just doing their job. I accept that this is just how dealers work - and as an engineer and a small-business owner myself, I simply can't and won't agree with it. I can guaran-damn-tee that if I ever quoted my customers X amount for a service, but instead tried to charge them Y (assuming Y > X, of course), I would very quickly be out of a job.
When Fleet Manager #2 resorted to telling me all the costs they have in the car, he lost me. The way I see it is, all that is the cost of business, and if they haven't priced the car to allow for some wiggle room while covering expenses and still making a profit without having to resort to thousands of dollars in useless options and fees, then the dealer has not priced its vehicle properly and by extension, is not doing its job properly. It shouldn't take thousands of dollars in hidden fees to make a profit - and I don't care what I was told, even at what I was offering, I know they'd be making at least a quick $1500 or more, but they'd rather hold out for some sucker who is willing to give them three to five grand in profit instead.
So this was my first - and likely only - dealer experience, told by a Jalop to my fellow Jalops. I'll be sticking to private party sales, where I'll never pay more than what someone is asking for a vehicle, and will continue to staunchly support Tesla in their quest to bring car buying to the people sans middle man.
For you car buying veterans, I'd appreciate any input - maybe you can tell me what I did right or wrong, and if was in fact "way off" in my expectations for buying a used vehicle from a dealership.