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Carl Kanowsky: Car-buying adventure begins as lease ends

Posted: August 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

The lease on my sporty Volkswagen convertible ends in August, so I’ve been on a mission to replace my ride with a new, sexy vehicle.

Male menopause? Mid-life crisis? Whatever. I knew what I wanted. I began my shopping in June, hoping to be ahead of the curve and be lined up with my new chariot well in advance of the end of the lease.

During this process I was educated in many of the ways of marketing autos. I discovered that there are some very professional car sales folks and others who fit the negative connotation of the “used car salesman.” (Interestingly, I shopped at about eight dealerships. I never encountered a female sales rep, used or new. Maybe Harry Belafonte was right, “Man smart, woman smarter.”)

I’ve leased cars for years. I’m used to the idea that, at the end of the lease, I would face the dreaded vehicle inspection. Some anonymous dude would judge whether I had properly cared for my car or if I would be charged hundreds or thousands of dollars to bring the car to some arbitrary standard.

But this time around I learned that I could bypass the whole inspection hassle if I could find a dealer to take in my current lease for a new one. Heck, depending on how desperate some dealers are, some will even make the final few lease payments for you.

So, last Saturday, my wife and I were in southern Orange County and decided to stop at a dealership. We drove up and saw a gorgeous convertible that was calling me. “Lease me and I’ll make you look 20 years younger and 15 pounds lighter.” My God, a magic car.

Frankie, the uber-eager sales rep, approached with a confident step. I was clearly fresh meat for his morning hunt.

“Ah, you’re both smart and lucky,” he said. “There are very few of these available and we just got this one in. How about a test drive?”

We jumped in, and I was transformed into James Bond. On the drive, Frankie extolled all of the car’s virtues. When we got back to the dealership, we went to his office to see if we could strike a deal.

This is where I learned that being educated about the car I wanted and doing comparison shopping beforehand would prove invaluable. Frankie quoted a very high monthly rate. I disclosed that I had already registered with both AAA and Costco in their auto program and learned that I could get a similar car for about $200 less per month.

Frankie asked for the details of what the other dealership offered. He said his dealership would match the competition. He wrote some of the figures on a form and asked me to sign it. I looked at the form and saw that it said this was my best offer and that if the sales manager signed off on it then we had a binding deal. And it warned that there was no “cooling off” period where I could back out of the sale. I declined to sign it.

Frankie left and returned about 20 minutes later with the sales manager, John.

John explained that they could not match the other dealer’s price. I thanked him for his honesty and Terry and I tried to leave. Frankie started feverishly working some numbers, imploring me to pay down the cost of the lease.

I told him no, and we began walking to our car. Frankie followed us, suggesting that we could do a deal if I would just agree to $20 more a month. I told him no and drove off.

We had only driven two blocks when Frankie called to say he could get the deal at my original numbers. When I didn’t respond to his call, he called four more times before we got home.

He then began an email campaign, begging me to drive back as we could do a deal. I asked for all of the terms of his offer. He ignored that and simply said that I would be satisfied if I would only drive down. He never offered to put his offer in writing. Without this I’ve gone looking elsewhere.

My advice? If you’re going to get a new car, do your research, register with either AAA or Costco, and find out what other dealers are willing to offer, and don’t sign anything until you’re satisfied with and understand the final agreement. And remember, there is no car you can’t walk away from if the deal is not right.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by email at cjk@kanowskylaw.com or online through his law firm at www.kanowskylaw.com. Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

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