My Review Of Milham Ford Toyota Scion:
I can’t thank the team at Milham Toyota of Bethlehem, PA enough for getting me into my “dream” retirement car.
Some 35 years ago I knew a retired fellow who drove a used Alpha Romeo that was kind of beat up – but still his retirement “dream” car. The fellow admitted the car was expensive to service and kind of quirky; but to him, there wasn’t a better “post-employment” car to tool around NW CT – though I made sure I didn’t bum a ride when it snowed. Ever since riding in the Alpha and hearing that fellow gush about his car, my “dream” retirement car has been a used Cadillac – not a big one, but a sturdy, nicely appointed, final vehicle. A car that might also evoke in an observer those respectable descriptors “shabby, but elegant.” And a vehicle that could protect me when I eventually mistake the accelerator pedal for the break pedal and end up driving through a pharmacy door. The car’s year wouldn’t matter, as long as it could last 150 to 200K – or until saner folks finally have to take away my license and ignition key.
Fast-forward to about six months ago as I debated how to deal with transportation given the impending final payment on my 2006 Suzuki wagon. As a band director for the past 22 years, my vehicles have mostly been station wagons – “band-mobiles” to the students – capable of carrying sousaphones, string basses, drums, and even a Hungarian cimbalom (resembling a harpsichord, but with the player striking the strings with sticks – something no sane parent would allow an offspring to do to a real harpsichord…). For a couple years, I drove a less utilitarian Elantra sedan that had compartments for multiple cups, pens, coins, pads, electronics, CDs, old donuts, maps, a Swiffer duster, tissue, and enough snack storage places to enable a family of 5 to survive a week in a snow drift; but, alas, I still needed to transport bari saxes, timpani, and a large keyboard case with an amplifier that is needed for the yearly commencement band. Hence the return to the wagon – this time a Suzuki.
Looking at the Suzuki’s 55K mileage and potential trade-in value ($2,500-4K), I started looking at retirement trucks last December. If I really was going to end up living at the base of Mt. Washington in a trailer park, wouldn’t a pickup truck fit the life-style better? It only took a couple of months to realize that a new pickup was going to be terribly expensive even with the trade-in. And in winter, how would the Meals on Wheels meals stay warm in the truck bed? The final nail on the truck’s coffin was my inability to think how would I transport the other three members of my pinochle team to an illegal bingo parlor every other Wednesday night.
So, knowing that the Suzuki’s trade in value would only go down over the next 5 years (and my ability to purchase a new/used vehicle on retirement would be a real pipe dream), over the next month and a half I went back to looking for a used Cadillac. When it became apparent that high-end cars with 60K or less miles still cost more than my parents spent on their first house, the search expanded into other new and used vehicles. The affordable (in my mind) new cars were barebones, with few amenities - not even room for the tubas that I still need to carry around. Many of the used vehicles within 60 miles of Bethlehem were just plain ugly to me. So, my enthusiasm for a retirement vehicle started to wane - that is, until the 2006 BMW appeared on the Milham website.
The Milham’s BMW was the same year and had the same miles as the Suzuki. And after all, a BMW was more sensible than an Alpha Romeo sports car. The cost was near my maximum affordable price. So, it was a car that I had to go see – if only to satisfy myself that I should consider the Suzuki my final vehicle.
Milham Ford Toyota Scion was about nine miles away. The long entrance driveway had enough speed bumps that allowed a good view of new (and used) vehicles on the way to the showroom. After parking (plenty of spaces), a pleasant greeter met me near the entrance, asked me how I might be helped, and escorted me to the reception area where a sales representative was paged. The area around reception was divided into thirds: to the left was a new car showroom, behind was an open and very busy paper-work/office area, and to the right was an equally busy room with low partitions and plants separating desks with representatives and potential purchasers.
As soon as I was introduced to Shante D, my representative, I thought, “I’m doomed.” The part of me that was at all still self-aware thought, “OK. They saw the old man come in wanting to look at a BMW; so, they assigned the most attractive woman they have to keep me off kilter. How the heck will I keep my wits about me and avoid ending up with a car that’s way too expensive, my retirement accounts depleted, and a stupid grin on my face for the rest of the time I’m here.” Right then, I thought I should just turn around and go home. To add to my consternation, Shante D’s desk was almost all the way in the back of the discussion room – and I am sure I saw every guy in the place watching me and reading every single one of my thoughts as I proceeded back to her desk, hoping I wouldn’t trip over my feet.
It reminded me of the time I was teaching musicianship courses to conservatory students in Philadelphia. One afternoon I randomly noticed a trio of women from my class dressed in “normal” college student attire. That wouldn’t generally be a noticeable occurrence, except at that moment, I realized that this trio consistently sat at the front of my morning classes in skirts or dresses. I immediately reviewed all of the grades for the class for any indication that my grading might have been manipulated and made sure the conservatory administration was apprised. Fortunately, all was in order and I had apparently been oblivious to any psychological manipulation. Would the same hold true here?
We talked a bit as Shante D got us both up to speed on my wish to see the BMW, possibly trade in the Suzuki, and learn that the process was meant to be haggle-free. There weren’t going to be any guys in plaid suits trying to “make me a deal.” The prices of the cars were the prices of the cars. Shante D was professional and was very helpful in explaining the Milham policy of fitting the customer to the best deal. I tried to avoid making too many “lame” jokes about anything, as is my usual wont. But I did explain why I wanted to see the BMW and how it related to that Alfa Romeo from long ago. As we went to find the BMW, another team member, JH, examined the Suzuki for trade-in. Here was my first “test” as a person of compassion – one, I regret to say, I failed.
It was March. And although the sun was beautiful, a constant wind helped keep the temperature more than just brisk. Shante D had on long sleeves, but no jacket. I had a sports coat and was still freezing. We walked the entire front lot (where the car was supposed to be) and back again. I know Shante D was cold because the wind was going through me, too. After a brief layover inside, we eventually found the BMW in the back lot. From the outside, my first impression was that the car would be cool to own. On opening the door, my next thought was that someone must have really had an active elbow because the leather cover to the between-seat console was worn a lot for being driven only 55K miles. We sat in it to review controls - both happy to be out of the wind. The interior mechanics and technology was so much more advanced than the “basic” Suzuki. And the backseats were big enough for adults, not to mention a child seat for any visiting grandkids.
Shante D drove us back to get plates. When we got back indoors, it was a boss who found a jacket for her – I had “failed” to offer my coat (something I still regret). Shante D drove to a parking area off the lot and it was my turn to drive. Back on the road there was enough time to get a feel for the handling and enough curves and hills to ensure I could test speed, power, and braking. As we drove along, we both became more like ourselves and discovered we both liked to meet and talk with people – even when one person might be making a major purchase. As we relaxed a bit from our “roles” as purchaser/seller, the conversations became more congenial. Our return to the dealership would bring a high point in the process and a disappointment.
Joe H, the second team member, was the liaison between the sales and service portions of the team. He ended up as the bearer of both the good and bad news. He and I reviewed the Suzuki together and then he took the BMW to service for a final check. As those things were happening, Shante D and I continued to enjoy conversations about food, jobs, and random bits of life. When she left to do whatever dealership people do, I pulled out my cell phone to continue reading a novel. One of the things a website had mentioned was that people were sometimes left to “stew” about deals in the making. So I made sure I had something to read in order to stay calm in the down times.
While Shante D was giving me a heads up on what would happen next in the purchase process, Joe H brought the best news: the trade-in value was $500 more than the upper range I expected. This meant the BMW was very much in the right price range. Elation – followed by more conversation and reading, and then the disappointment. Service found the steering rack had to be replaced – which brought the price up to the top of the budget line. But even worse, there was a possible transmission leak. So the car would need some hefty steering work and could require work with an unknown price tag. I appreciated knowing what to expect if I bought the car. There wasn’t any, “we’ll do this to make the deal,” or “we’ll do that if you do this.” Shante D and Joe H made my decision very easy to make. I felt well informed and, after spending most of the afternoon with them, felt they had provided me with enough information to make the best decision for my situation. Of course I declined the car.
Shante D didn’t make me feel as if I wasted her or the dealership’s time. I think she and Joe H understood my disappointment. But then came their best question at the most appropriate time. Was I intent on purchasing only a BMW?
After relating the whole Alfa Romeo/retirement story again, it turns out there was a Lexus that had just come in on trade. In my searches for higher end used cars, all the Lexus vehicles, like the Cadillacs, were too expensive. But Milham had one that was three years older than the Suzuki with only 60K miles. Although I had my doubts about how nice a 2003 car could be, I agreed to take a look.
Even though the sun was setting, I couldn’t believe how nice the car looked on the outside. The interior was black with elegant wood-ish trim. There was plenty of space throughout, without the exterior being boat-like. And the interior was so much more elegant than the cars I had been driving. To some readers this vehicle might seem old fashioned. But to someone who has only been driving “band-mobiles” and considered cars to be utilitarian, this car was exactly what I had envisioned driving in retirement (hopefully I can keep it out of the pharmacy doors).
After the test drive, putting together the package went quickly. Michael R, the third member of the team found financing and explained some dealer options – a couple of which I added (one was a bumper to bumper warranty just in case something happened in the first year, and another was a service similar to OnStar that included a “LoJack”-like function – though I have yet to figure out why the website keeps claiming that the car is in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Africa…). While Joe H took the car to service for final prep, Shante D and Michael R collaborated on getting me through the paper work.
The ten-year old Lexus technology turns out to be light years ahead of the Suzuki I had been driving. The only real similarity is that both cars have a technology outlet. But the Lexus headlights can automatically adjust to the exterior lighting. The windshield wipers automatically sense rain and wipe as needed. The rear view mirror dims according to the amount of light coming from a car in back. The car remembers three driver seat positions. On the third day, I figured out how to set the dual temperature settings so they automatically determine how to reach the driver and passenger temperatures. It was four days before I remembered it had a moon roof. It was a week before I noticed the courtesy light under the dash when you open the door. It was another couple days until I found all those readouts on the dashboard of how many miles the car could drive given the fuel left in the tank, how many miles per gallon, or the average mpg on a trip. There’s even a little hook so the groceries don’t spill all over the floor when the car turns a corner. Classical radio stations can even be heard when travelling at “higher” speeds. I’m still finding new things each time I drive – some are probably common to those used to more luxury (I no longer have to hold the button until the driver’s window goes all the way up). I often find myself smiling and laughing delightedly when driving this car.
As it turned out, I was Shante D’s first sale at Milham – I trust I was the first of many happy customers. I remain pleased that the process was so congenial, informative, helpful, and supportive. I think the team, especially Shante D, took the time to learn about my wishes, budget, and needs. The result is that I now feel I own the car I hoped to have in the next part of my life. And I think it is a quality vehicle that will last as long as I need it to last.
As I reflect on this experience, I hope other customers perceive Shante D as congenial and pleasant to converse with as I found her at this early point of her time at Milham. I know that people are different and react to situations differently. But I expect that others will experience a similarly positive team-based experience to mine. I’ve told many people at work about this effective team approach incorporating a non-haggle sales technique, the excellent discussions to determine a good vehicle fit, and an exemplary dedication to customer service. As in any business arrangement, there are still decisions to be made: down payments beyond a trade in, warranties, and additional dealer packages. But this Milham customer-centered team was well-versed in details and dedicated to ensuring that I understood all aspects of the purchase.
Since the purchase, I brought the car to Service to check some details. The service department’s explanation of the work was clear and I think this team is intent on making sure the car will continue to run well for years. Even the courtesy representatives driving people to and from work are pleasant conversationalists and customer-oriented.
If you are considering a new Ford, Toyota, or Scion, or find an interesting used vehicle on Milham’s website; I highly recommend visiting the dealership on Hecktown Road just east of Route 33. If you have even half the positive experience I had with the customer-centered sales and service of Milham, I’m sure you will benefit from the experience.
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