Our Car Purchase Decision Process
When my wife and I needed to purchase a new car to replace an old one, we allowed about five weeks for the research and decision process and another two months for the car to arrive in case we needed to special order one. We test drove seven different SUVs, a Nissan Murano and a Rogue, a Lexus RX 350, an Infiniti JX as well as an FX, a VW Touareg, and finally the Cadillac SRX. We preferred the shape and look of the Infiniti FX, but eliminated it because of the limited cargo space and the fact that some of the options we wanted required other expensive options we did not want. Our final decision came down to the Lexus RX 350 and a Cadillac SRX.
We of course priced the cars we wanted on both Edmunds.com and MSNautos.com. Edmunds.com was sometimes inaccurate because it said that some options required other options when the dealers themselves said that was not the case. But both websites are extremely accurate in their pricing.
My primary criteria for making the final decision as I told my wife was first safety and second, her comfort on long drives.
We almost settled on the Lexus RX 350, which we had test driven three times, but two questions remained unanswered: how much time would be required to build the specific one we wanted, and again, whether there were expensive options that we would be required to purchase in order to get the options we wanted [that also turned out to be true]. While in the process of answering those questions, we decided to test drive the Cadillac SRX a second time. Immediately upon doing that, my wife switched her decision from the Lexus to the Cadillac SRX. Both the passenger and driver seats were more comfortable for her, the car was tighter and more responsive in its handling than was the Lexus, and very importantly because she is short, both the steering column and dashboard pressed against her knee when the seat was moved close enough for her to reach the accelerator and brake. [The Cadillac SRX does not have this problem because the pedals can be moved closer to the driver.]
Another very important factor in making our decision was that each of us much preferred the placement of the GPS/computer screen in the Cadillac SRX, as well as the fact that like an IPAD, it could be controlled by touch and was readily accessible to both driver and passenger. The screen in the Lexus RX 350, on the other hand, was placed too deeply in the dashboard for either of us to easily see.
All in all, my wife and I probably spent 40-60 hours researching cars on the Internet, examining statistics on safety and reliability, as well as ultimately composing many different emails to the five local Cadillac dealers in Phoenix, once we made a decision as to which car we wished to purchase. There were probably 10 to 15 different phone calls to dealers as well.
The results of all the emails to the Cadillac dealers in Phoenix requesting their best price on the specific Cadillac SRX we wished to order proved to be quite useful. All five of the dealers were willing to sell us the car at ‘invoice’ price, but as I learned from one of the emails to John Moriarty at Coulter Motor, the invoice price he was referring to included advertising costs, which Cadillac does in fact charge the dealers, but is not listed on any of the web sites where one can build and price cars, because the advertising costs that Cadillac charges the dealers differ from dealer to dealer. Since I was not interested in paying any advertising costs, both of the Coulter Cadillac dealers in town were eliminated because they were unwilling to budge in this respect. Each of the remaining three Cadillac dealers in town was willing to sell me the specific Cadillac SRX I wished to order at the invoice price minus all the advertising charges. The advertising charges on the invoices I saw were quite significant, varying from about $850 to $988.
Lund Cadillac dropped out of the bidding process when I asked them to discount their price further by about $160 to make up for the higher sales tax in Phoenix than what I would pay at Earnhardt in Scottsdale. After they dropped out, only Kachina Cadillac and Earnhardt Cadillac remained in the bidding process. We had test driven a car at Earnhardt Cadillac and were working with Steve Valkenaar there. He was in fact our favorite salesperson [as opposed to sales manager] in our dealings with all of the dealerships. Since the best price we been quoted up to now was invoice minus all the advertising charges, we scheduled an appointment at 12:45 on Tuesday February 26th to meet with Steve and order our car. But that morning I emailed Roberto Saenz at Kachina Cadillac with the specific pricing that Steve had provided for us on an e-mail. I had of course required the dealers to commit in writing via e-mail precisely what their offer was, because I did not want to walk into a dealership having been told one thing over the phone and another when I actually got there, something that had happened in the past when I had tried to purchase a car.
On Tuesday at 11:22 AM the same day we were to place our order, I received a reply email from Roberto Saenz at Kachina with an offer to beat our deal at Earnhardt Cadillac by $500 off the bottom line. My wife objected somewhat strenuously, and did not wish to go meet with Roberto. But I as the ‘money guy’ in the family am always looking to save. My wife on the other hand, is ‘merely’ the one who makes all the major decisions. As you might guess, as someone who is still madly in love with his wife, I firmly believe in the “happy wife, happy life” principle. We drove to Kachina Cadillac to meet with Roberto. Somewhat to my surprise as well as that of my wife, Roberto proved to be not only exceptionally amiable, but straightforward and honest as well. He did not try to ‘jerk us’ around or change the deal that he emailed to us in any way. He was also very knowledgeable about the Cadillac SRX and even showed us some things that the salesmen at the other Cadillac dealers had not. Best of all, he was a sales manager and thus someone empowered to make the final pricing decisions for the dealership. Thus we were spared the timely process of having to work through a salesman, which we had experienced at both the Nissan and Infiniti dealerships, before we decided to reject their offers. Our dealings with Roberto were something entirely new in my experience of trying to buy a car. I had met a few affable salesmen that I liked, but never such a friendly and genuinely open sales manager, who was also quite willing to give us such a good deal on our purchase. Because of all of his good qualities, my wife lost her suspicions and recalcitrance and we ordered the car that day from Roberto, putting down the necessary deposit. Roberto was even willing to sign a statement I created before going guaranteeing us the discounted ‘out the door price’ that he had quoted in his e-mail. We expect to take delivery of our car in April or early May. All in all, even though it required an immense amount of work, this was the most enjoyable car purchasing process I have ever engaged in.
There was perhaps one more surprising aspect of this purchase yet to come. Because we had worked with Steve Valkenaar at Earnhardt Cadillac more than anyone, I felt it necessary to call him to let him know that he would not be getting a commission because we would not be purchasing the car there. Of course he was disappointed, but since we had been open with one another, the phone call ended amicably.
I was quite surprised when he called back within a few minutes to tell me that his sales manager at Earnhardt was willing to match the deal that we had gotten. I told him that I was quite surprised by that, since the sales manager overseeing all the Earnhardt dealerships had just the day before during a visit been reluctant to even eliminate the advertising costs from the invoice price. I told Steve that I would discuss it with my wife, but that we would be most reluctant to try to undo the deal we had just done with Roberto Saenz at Kachina. I indicated to Steve that this is one of those occasions where life seems to be very unfair, because he had done a lot of work for us, and we liked him very much, but he would not be getting the commission from selling us a car. Two hours later, he called back to tell me that his sales manager was willing to sell us the car for $300 less than Roberto. There’s no doubt that this would have been a terrific price, but at this point my wife and I felt little inclination to attempt to undo the deal with Roberto. He had been very fair with us, and we wanted to be fair with him.
Lee Carter, Ph. D.
March 6 2013