Buying and selling cars isn't my favorite thing to do. Usually there's some degree of frustration involved. Yesterday was no exception.
My wife and I did our best to trade-in our low mileage 2014 Highlander XLE as part of our purchase of a 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, but Capitol Toyota engaged in some tactics that were irritating enough to cause us to decline the purchase offer and head to Beaverton's Carmax instead -- where today we sold our Highlander for $600 more than Capitol Toyota offered, and with much less aggravation.
I chatted some with the Carmax employee who finalized the sale and gave us a check for $22,000. After I complimented her on how efficient and organized the Carmax appraisal/offer/sale process is, she said, "We strive continually for improvement. We're always asking ourselves how we can do things better."
So this blog post is offered to Capitol Toyota in the same spirit.
(Note: it's as long as it is not only because I'm wordy, but because our salesman said, as have other salespeople I've talked with, that the survey we'll get from Toyota about our sales experience needs to be 100% "exceptional," or he won't get proper credit for the sale. That seems crazy to me, since without honesty, surveys are meaningless. But he says that salespeople are held responsible for every aspect of a sale, even those they have no control over -- as you'll read below.)
We've bought eleven cars from the Capitol Auto Group over many years. Today I joked with Kelly Stewart, who manages the Subaru dealership now, about how I wished we'd gotten a card punched with every car purchase, since it sure seems like we should be getting a free car at this point.
Kelly has sold us most of the cars we've bought from the Capitol Auto Group: Toyotas, Subarus, Chevrolets. We like him a lot. But he wasn't involved in yesterday's haggling, which helps explain why we walked away from Capitol Toyota tired, hungry, and irritated at 8:30 pm last night.
UPDATE: Seeing the Capitol Auto Group slogan on the RAV4 when I went out to get the paper this morning reminded me that no, we didn't get our way on the parkway last Thursday.
As described below, I wasn't able to get a trade-in offer in the early afternoon even though I'd made an appointment with our salesman to do just that. And on our second trip in the late afternoon it took almost three hours to finalize a deal, even though I'd emailed and texted to Capitol Toyota the prices that we wanted for the RAV4 and trade-in of our Highlander and asked that Capitol Toyota do as much as possible before we arrived, given that we had a sick dog and my wife had gone through a long tiring day.
Yes, we ended up buying the RAV4 Hybrid for $500 over the wholesale invoice. That basically matched the $1,597 Consumer Reports Car Buying Service discount that Gresham Toyota offered for a 2019 RAV4 Hybrid in Limited trim. It was how we got to that point that exasperated my wife and I.
At 1 pm yesterday I took our Highlander to Capitol Toyota for a trade-in appraisal after we learned from the salesman we'd been working with that our RAV4 Hybrid had arrived. We'd waited almost four months after putting down a $500 deposit in early February for the car we wanted, which was before the 2019 RAV4 had been officially released.
Given that it had taken me less than five minutes to come up with a Kelly Blue Book trade-in value for our Highlander, I figured it would be a brief and simple process to get an offer from Capitol Toyota. However, that isn't what happened.
Instead, after talking with his Capitol Toyota supervisors, our salesman told me it wouldn't be possible to get a trade-in offer until we negotiated the RAV4 Hybrid purchase price. That surprised me. I didn't like being told, "We'll work with you on finding a balance between the trade-in offer and purchase price."
Rather, I said, "I agree with Consumer Reports that a car buyer should get separate prices for the cost of a new car and a trade-in offer. That keeps things simpler and cleaner."
Now, the RAV4 Hybrid Limited that'd come in had everything that we'd ordered, except for the interior color. It was two-tone, rather than black. (Toyota doesn't make cars to order for some reason; so an "order" really is a customer request, not a certainty, as I wrote about previously.)
Since my wife needed to see the RAV4 to make sure she liked the interior color, there was some uncertainty in the early afternoon yesterday about whether we'd actually be buying the car. But I don't see why this would prevent Capitol Toyota from giving me a trade-in offer, especially since I'd been clear that I wanted to get separate prices for the RAV4 and our trade-in.
Before continuing with my trade-in tell of woe, here's my central problem with how Capitol Toyota sells cars: the ordinary salespeople have no real negotiating authority. Meaning, they have to disappear into a back room to talk with supervisor types, then return to tell you what those unseen people want.
This is old-style car-selling. It's not quite as bad as the "Gosh, I'd love to give you this deal, but my boss is in a bad mood today, so the price is going to have to be higher than what we discussed," but it's disturbingly close.
When I bought my Mini Cooper in Portland, I was told that Mini only sells cars at the sticker price. OK, that made things easy. When I bought my GTI from VW of Salem, I was told that the dealership offers a standard discount from the sticker price. That also made things easy.
And when we'd bought some Capitol Auto Group cars fairly recently from Kelly Stewart, things went easy because Kelly was both the salesperson and the manager who approved sales. So we only had to deal with one person.
What aggravated my wife and I when we went back to Capitol Toyota at about 5:45 pm yesterday was how ridiculously long it took to get some simple prices for the RAV4 and our Highlander trade-in. I'd told the salesman in a text message several hours before we arrived the prices that I thought were fair, and asked him to do as much as possible before we came in.
He knew that our dog is in the late stages of chronic liver disease.
Capitol Toyota is pleasingly dog-friendly, but our dog already had sat on the showroom floor once that day, when I sat around waiting for a trade-in offer that never materialized. And my wife had spent the afternoon walking dogs at the Humane Society, then driving to Sweet Home to look at a possible second dog, given our current dog's limited life span.
But it took over two hours for us to get a price for our Highlander and the RAV4. I give credit to our salesman, who kept telling us, "I don't know why it is taking so long" and "I've told the guys in back that you're tired of waiting and need the prices."
Meanwhile, our dog was lying tiredly on the showroom floor, and my wife was dreaming of the dinner that she hadn't eaten before we left home.
Finally a guy that we'd never met before materialized at our table with a sheet of paper and some annoying words. "You probably could buy 100 RAV4s, right?" I said, "No, we can buy one RAV4, and we've been sitting here for a couple of hours waiting to find out how much it will cost us."
He pointed to the wholesale price and said "We'll give you $500 over invoice." OK, I thought, that should have taken ten seconds to calculate.
Then he pointed to a trade-in price of $22,400 (as I recall; we never got an offer sheet), which was crossed out, adding, "But we want to offer you $1,000 less." So, $21,400. I peered more closely at the offer. I told him that this showed our car was in Fair condition, then pointed out that it didn't have any of the Fair criteria listed on the offer sheet. Like, rust spots.
In my view, I said, the Highlander was in Very Good condition. But surely not Fair.
The guy from a back room who we'd never seen before didn't attempt to explain the appraisal. He just listened as I said that in my view the Highlander was worth about $24,400, then disappeared again, apparently to talk with another manager/supervisor. Meanwhile, our salesman sat with us and tried to explain why the offer was so low (Capitol Toyota certifies used cars, etc).
I appreciated the explanation.
However, sitting there for several hours, tired and hungry, with a sick dog who deserved to be comfortably at home with us, not lying on a hard showroom floor, put me in a bad mood -- which again, was a rare Capitol Toyota feeling, since our car buying process had gone so smoothly when Kelly Stewart had been handling things.
Eventually the guy from the back room returned and told us that the $21,400 offer was the best they could do. I said, fine. We appreciated the offer to hold our check for the RAV4 purchase until after we went to CarMax the next day.
We'd been promised by the guy from the back room that it only would take another half hour to finish up the RAV4 purchase. But it was more like an hour, after which my wife, dog, and I were even more tired and hungry. Another back room guy handled the sale paperwork.
He gamely tried to sell us add-on's like an extended warranty. I was going to refuse them regardless, per Consumer Report's advice. Having endured the Games Car Dealerships Play for almost three hours, I refused them more quickly and curtly, for sure.
By contrast, everything went super-smoothly at CarMax. Yes, we only got $22,000 for our Highlander, $600 more than Capitol Toyota had offered. It was worth it, though, both monetarily and psychologically.
I felt that our Capitol Toyota salesman had treated us fairly and courteously. However he was powerless once the guys from the back room got involved. Which is a crazy way to sell cars. I'm sure some people are OK with waiting hours at a dealership to do something that should only take a few minutes.
I'm not. Neither is my wife. Buying a car should be a pleasant experience, especially when it costs a bit over $38,000, as our RAV4 Hybrid did. As noted above, CarMax continually works at improving the car selling/buyihg experience for its customers.
Based on what happened with us yesterday, I think Capitol Toyota should emulate CarMax.
That said, we did enjoy getting a tour of the RAV4 Hybrid basics from our salesman this afternoon, after we returned from CarMax (in Beaverton). And our new car seems happy in our carport. I look forward to writing about it once we get to know the RAV4 a bit better.
June 1 update: I just sent this email to several Capitol Auto Group managers. Took out our salesman's name.
Since I said in this blog post that I wrote it in the spirit of helping Capitol Toyota, and Capitol Auto Group, improve, I wanted to share a link with you guys. I don’t have our salesman's email address, just his phone number, so if one of you could forward this message to _____, that would be great.