NEW YORK, Dec 11 — During my automotive journalism years, I’ve praised, pummelled and puzzled over some 700 vehicles, but the last time I bought one was a quarter-century ago. Between my ancient Miata and a test car most weeks, why bother?
And yet, I just bought a car.
This has put the phrase “physician heal thyself” into sharp focus. In short, anyone buying a vehicle has my deepest sympathy. The world of researching, selecting, haggling, financing and, in my case, arranging transport is a bucket of ice water to the head.
My advice for choosing a vehicle has three parts: Test drive, test, drive, test drive (that’s one); be willing to walk away during negotiations; and buy the car you love. That last one could mean saving longer or buying fewer lattes a week, but you’ll enjoy the car more, maintain it better and keep it longer.
I live in Seattle, which has cheap and green electricity (largely hydro and wind power). Plugging into the electric car lifestyle and perhaps saving a polar bear or two seemed right.
I have test drives down cold; it’s my job, after all (I suggest spending quality time with at least three cars). Part of my stress came from knowing way too much about these cars, but I whittled down my choices to four — the Kia Soul EV, BMW i3, Chevy Volt and Cadillac ELR.
The Soul is my favourite pure electric car, but my wife has the gas version and the security of an onboard generator is appealing. The BMW i3’s intriguing carbon-fibre structure quickly put it past my US$40,000 (RM171,282) price limit. The ELR is even more expensive. So that left me, at least initially, with the Volt.
Which is not to say that the ELR was out of the question. Priced too high, at more than US$75,000, and marketed poorly, 2014 ELRs sat on dealer lots, leading to heavy discounting. A used one became my reach vehicle.
Cars.com and eBay Motors allow buyers to comb the country for just the right car. For grins, I had thrown in a request for a new ELR in Indiana. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, right? To my amazement, I received a quote at under US$40,000 (after the US$7,500 federal tax credit), which was tantalisingly close to a loaded Volt. I started to act like a schoolgirl who’s been kissed by Justin Bieber.
But I needed to win over my wife, Mariko, who is thrifty, hates coupes and loathes conspicuous consumption. Fine attributes for sure, but discouraging for selling her on a costly two-door Cadillac that looks like a “Star Trek” prop. Asking for her hand in marriage was less stressful. It meant focusing on the half-price deal (plus doing the dishes and vacuuming for the next few days while I plotted).
It didn’t get me very far. “It’s your car,” she said in that you-need-a-car-like a-hole-in-the-head way. “Don’t expect me to drive it.”
I started to second-guess myself. Who wants a vehicle that comes standard with a seething spouse in the passenger seat? Did I really want the car or was it the thrill of a deal? I lost sleep over the next few days. I had driven the ELR for a week while reviewing it, but I visited a Cadillac dealer for a refresher. I tried out a Volt, too. While visiting our daughter in Chicago, I insisted we all check out the ELR when we just happened to be passing by a Cadillac dealer (thanks Siri). Mariko was pleasantly surprised. My petite daughter even fit comfortably in the tight back seat. Win.
Ten days passed since the Indiana offer and sadly that car was sold. It was fortunate, however. Lower offers came in from Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado and New York. And I began dickering. After a few more restless nights worrying about finances, commitment and if I’m really saving polar bears, I sealed a deal with Holz Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac in, of all places, Watertown, Wisconsin, and had the car shipped. Not quite the lowest price mind you, but I liked the dealer’s straightforward approach.
Did I follow my own advice? I’ll give myself an A-. My biggest mistake was assuming the first offer from Indiana was the lowest I would get. Ask for a lower price even if it seems rock bottom. Also, expect to be more stressed than you think. It’s a major purchase people seldom make, and you’re up against professional negotiators.
Positives? I walked away from an offer in New York when pressure tactics began. There’s always another car and another deal, especially on the Internet. Shopping for a loan got me a 1.8 per cent rate. Household harmony is important; I was patient enough to get my spouse on board (even though she still hates coupes). Finally, while this car is not for everyone, the electric drivetrain and stunning shape of the ELR make me happy.
OK, so I stretched financially. The coffee will be made at home for a couple of years. — The New York Times