The time has come to retire the Element. After 105,000 miles and four years of getting me through hell and back, the Element’s final gift to me was the retention of over 50% of its resale value despite being five model years old. With Honda and Nissan running 2.9% and 3.9% financing through this weekend, I decided that the time was right to slip into something a little more fuel efficient. I checked out the Honda Fit, Honda Civic, Nissan Versa, and Scion xD. This post isn’t about the cars themselves, but about the local dealerships that I dealt with.
My first stop was Faulkner Honda on Paxton Street. I bought the Element from them one snowy February morning back in 2004 and they’ve been great to me ever since. Their showroom is *always* clean, their people are *always* friendly, and they’ve even done a few minor out-of-warranty repairs for me at no charge. Their coffee is mediocre, but being free, it’s not the worst I’ve ever had.
My sales rep and I took the Fit out for a spin. I said this post wasn’t going to be about the cars themselves, but let me just say that driving the Fit is like driving a go-kart at 70mph. It is 27 different kinds of awesome. Whether we were skirting traffic on 83 or darting through rush hour on Second & Front streets, the Fit never lost its edge. The cornering is amazingly tight and, because of its low weight, the tiny 1.5-liter engine pulls the car around with a surprising amount of power.
After doing both interstate and city traffic (we RUSHED up the hill at Paxton and Cameron, proving the Fit had more power than it let on), we went back to the dealership to “talk about some numbers”. I had already done my homework and found the invoice price on the Fit Sport and Civic LX, as well as what my car’s KBB, NADA, and Edmunds values were ($10300 trade-in, $14k retail). I also found out what similar Elements were selling for on Autotrader ($13k – $16k) and what they were going for at auction (around $8500, though there was one Element listed in “below average” condition with 168000 miles that went for $9300). I also know that there are additional holdbacks and factory-to-dealer incentives available, so asking the dealer to give me invoice on the car and maximum trade-in value was entirely within reason.
I also had my “magic numbers” in mind beforehand. These were the numbers at which I’d stop dealer-hopping and sign on the spot. In my case, it was $12000 in trade and invoice on the car. Of course, these are the numbers that you never, ever share with the dealership, no matter how nicely they ask. So suffice to say, I was prepared.
Right out of the gate, Faulkner offered me MSRP and about $7500 trade-in for my car. Far from the worst opening offer I’d see over the next three days, it was a lot lower than I wanted (and you never take their first offer anyway, no matter what they say). I sent my sales rep back to get better numbers. And the game began.
One nice thing about Faulkner Honda is that when they disappear to “run it by the sales manager”, they’re only gone for a minute or two. Unlike other dealerships, I’ve never been left hanging on the sales floor while they play Team Solitaire in the back. The worst dealership I’ve ever dealt with in this area was Deihl in York, where I wound up walking out at the 10-minute mark. More on that later.
After maybe three minutes, my rep came back with much better numbers. $9000 in trade, still hanging on MSRP. I explained that I was looking to either see more for the car or get the MSRP knocked down considerably. I got the line about how there wasn’t much markup in a Fit (which is comparatively true; there’s LESS markup on a Fit than a Civic or Accord), but they came back on round three with $200 off MSRP. I refused. They refused to move on round four. So did I. Thus began the traditional Parade of Important People (PIP). You know what I’m talking about: One after the other, the F&I manager comes out looking frazzled and angrily declares that they can’t do business with me, the sales manager comes out and politely explains how auctions work, and the General Manager comes out and conducts an “exit interview” to find out why I’ve chosen not to buy from them. It’s all a big song and dance to make the customer think negotiations have ended.
But negotiations only end when the customer says they do. So, knowing that I had tied up one of their sales reps for the past two hours, I declared that I wanted to start over with the Civic. And we did.
There was one five-speed Civic LX on the lot. About ten seconds in front of us, two guys and their dealer arrived at the car to get the stock number; THEY were ready to purchase it, and their dealer was going back inside to get the key. If this was a show put on by the dealership, I can’t say, but it was pretty funny since we already had the key. Away we went.
Over to New Cumberland and back in the Civic. Back to the negotiating table. They really had no choice but to start where they left off with trade-in. Round one was $9000 trade-in plus $500 off MSRP. Round two was $9000 trade plus $1000 off MSRP. They wouldn’t do round three, and I was getting tired. This is the point at which dealerships generally expect to win. They figure that if you’re exhausted enough and don’t fancy the prospect of repeating this again a half dozen times over the next week, you’ll eventually just figure that the deal is “good enough” and sign. After all, what’s $500 over 60 months?
The answer is $8.83 per month at 2.9%, or $529. That’s 15 tanks of gas. Thank you, I’ll keep the cash. I said I’d take their final offer and compare it to what I got from Ciocca, Apple, Ebersole, Liberty (Bloomsburg), and MotorWorld (Wilkes-Barre). I thought it couldn’t hurt to remind them that they were no longer the only local Honda dealer. As much as I like Faulkner Honda, I’m not about to let them off the hook that easy.
And day one ended. The single-player score was Faulkner: $9000 in trade + $1000 off MSRP on the Civic LX, or $9000 in trade + $200 off MSRP on the Fit Sport.