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Car shopping in New York City

The Cadillac dealer asked me the most interesting question. One that no one else had!

Three months before the expiration of our European SUV’s lease term, I was tasked to find a replacement for it here in New York City. The requirements were simple:

1. It had to be safe.

2. It had to pass by the medical doctor specializing in car seat safety.

3. Spacious with three rows of seats.

4. The second-row seats could be three or two, if a three seat it should be convertible to two.

5. Two captain seats are preferred in the second row.

6. Vehicle configuration preference: BEV, PHEV, MHEV, or lastly ICE.

For number 1, I found the rating by NHTSA very helpful:

For number 2, I used the NHTSA as a guideline, hoping that at the end the doctor will be satisfied, and our grandchildren will enjoy a safe ride.

Number 3 was subjective and to some extent objective. It's not hard to work around it.

Number 4 presented me with a variety of choices, from American, to Korean, to Japanese, to European made SUVs. Choices made life difficult, not easy.

For number 5, I found the individual seat in the second row, but hardly any captain seats unless you go to minivan.

Number 6 was easy: the garage below our building in Manhattan does not offer any kind of charging station, period! That narrowed the search field to MHEV and ICE. You must remember; this is New York City, the city of convenience and inconvenience depending on your needs. If you are young and zesty, NYC is for you. Once you have a child, well, it’s different. The New York Subway, built in 1904, is mostly underground or at times elevated. In either case, one needs to scale the stairs up and down to ride the train. Very few stations offer escalators. Fewer have elevators. Those stations that do have elevators, often you see an out of order sign. Yet the transit system is so proud of their achievements that prior to entering a station an announcer will guide the passengers to the location of the elevator! Now, if one is wheelchair bound or pushing a stroller, well you better find a good Samaritan who is willing to give you a hand. In a city like this looking for garages equipped with charging stations is as rare as elevators in subway stations!

I thought I knew how to deal with car salesmen, but soon they realized I was a novice. Every one of them, without exception, were very generous to me in terms of taking the leased car off my hand with still two payments to go. They offered that with or without consultation with their “sales manager”. So, I turned to my resources for education. My first stop was consulting with a family member who not until too long ago owned some fifteen different brands of new car dealerships. He walked me through the following steps:

a) Find out the wholesale and retail value of your existing leased vehicle. It turned out to be between $5k to $9k respectively more, without having to pay the last two payments.

b) Find out if there is a surcharge above and beyond MSRP. If so, stay away.

c) For a new vehicle ask for the “residual value,” a percentage of MSRP set by the lender. The higher the better.

d) Money Factor and Buy Rate: Buy Rate is the percent interest at which the dealer receives the money from a financial institute, and Money Factor is what they charge the customer. In other words, the dealer makes money on trading money! Bottom line, the lower the Money Factor, the better.

In addition to all concerns, I remembered that there was one more. The monthly garage rental: would it stay the same as with the current SUV, which we paid extra to park, or will it change? By the end of the third week, I narrowed my search down to five brands. I phoned the garage manager and ran one brand at a time by him, saving my favorite one for last. The first four have no change in monthly fee. The last one $200 extra per month on top of the exuberant fee we already paid. That would have made the monthly lease payment $200 less than parking the car in the garage!

All along I couldn’t help but remember when I bought my first car in 1967. I had saved enough money to buy a car but didn’t exactly know what kind of a car I could get for my money. I walked into a new car dealership and inquired to buy a car. A fatherly figure approached and asked how much money I wanted to spend. I blushed and whispered in his ear. He took me to a different showroom. While walking he asked if I would mind driving a VW Bug. It was my dream car. I pretended to reluctantly say no, I don’t mind. It’s okay. He showed me a brown convertible five-year-old VW Bug and said I may be able to keep a little bit of my money after buying the car. The best car I ever had. A year later I sold it for more money! Simple. Not too many choices. No number 1 through 6 or a) through d) to dig into. That’s how life was too: no hustle.

Finally, we had settled on an SUV of our liking. Our leased vehicle was traded in at a satisfactory price and it was time to sign the papers. The Finance Manager had a stack of papers ready for signature, saving the best for last! At last, he presented us with a two-page itemized list of things that could go wrong with the car during the next three years, i.e., scratches, rotating tires, etc. For an additional monthly price tag of $130 we could get extra coverage. An upsell. Just when we thought everything was clear and we knew all the facts!

As for the Cadillac car salesman, he asked for my name while introducing himself. As soon as he heard my name he smiled and asked, “do you want the car for Uber?!”

Mohammad Vakili has been in the Friction related technology for over four decades. He holds a BS and MS in Chemical Engineering from U. Mass. He is the Founder and one of the instructors in Brake Academy.

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1 Comment

Car dealerships have become to sophisticated you need a whole training course to decode their language and their trick questions ! I think the direct sale model like Tesla does have some major positives.

Glad you were successful in the end !

Mo Eskan

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