Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Hard bargain

We are now the proud owners of a minivan. I've never wanted a minivan; James couldn't wait to get one. But with the addition of a third child, we will officially outgrow our lovely little Honda Civic.

The story began with my parents' moving to Australia, and their generous offer to give us their van. All was in line until the week before we were to get it - when two or three major problems suddenly cropped up. A quick trip to the mechanic revealed possibly $2500 in repairs. They bought the van second-hand last year for only $5500, and it was likely only worth about $2500 - $3500 now. We decided that instead of fixing it, we would use the van for a trade-in, hoping to get a little more for it by using it toward the purchase of another van, rather than asking for cash.

James is a true-blue foreign car man (yes, even though he used to work for Chrysler!). His immediate choice was the Honda Odessey. Our initial research narrowed the field to that and the Toyota Sienna, both which offer essentially the same quality for around the same price (significantly higher than the domestic cars, to be sure).

Discouraged by trying to shop dealers for used cars, and finding that they usually only had one or two choices in stock, I stumbled upon a company that specialized in minivans, specifically Hondas and Toyotas. The allure of not having to drive from store to store made the decision to go there easy.

By the time my Dad and I (James was at work) made the initial tour of the lot, we had narrowed it to the Toyota, Honda and the Montana (which offered fully loaded models for about $5000 less, being that it is a domestic make). We test drove all three - well, my Dad drove them. I would have no idea of the little nuances to look for while driving, plus I'm terrified of driving a car that doesn't belong to me. All three drove well, which left the final decision up to me.

So of course my decision came down to one thing: which car was most "family-friendly". Which car could I see me and my kids getting in and out of hundreds of times, taking long road trips in, carting around kids, friends, and cargo. It was the Sienna hands down, for one feature - the handy way the middle seats flip down, leaving nearly two feet of space for me to climb into the back (to buckle car seats). I knew I would be doing the buckling for years to come, and once that seat flipped down it felt like an empty van with tons of room to move around! Plus, if need be, the back seats fold neatly down into the deep trunk space, which was perfect for groceries and bags and the like.

So I was nearly finished - there were about 10 Siennas there that fit my criteria and price range. I ended up going with a higher end model - not so much for the built-in DVD player as for the All-wheel-drive. We didn't see the pavement on our street for 6 months last year, and the added safety of AWD made the final decision.

Then came the part I was dreading - the bargaining. I'm the type of person that likes to just pay full price and forget the hassel and embarassment of wheeling and dealing. The price of the van was fairly fixed, after the initial $1000 they knocked off the price. Where we had some room was the value of the trade=in. Their mechanics looked over the car and so they knew there was something that needed fixing, and they fairly accurately guessed the problem. They offered much less than I was expecting. I was hoping that the trade-in would off-set the addition of taxes and fees, so that the end price would be what the sticker price of the van was. Well, I sat there and "stared" at the offered price, until finally the salesman inquired about what I was thinking. I told him what I had hoped, and he offered something much closer. I was happy with that, but he couldn't get that price cleared because it meant offering "too much" for the trade-in. The new price was slightly higher, but I could tell I had reached the final offering price. I finally shook hands and the deal was done.

While the salesman went away to finalize the paperwork, my Dad let a smile go and murmured to me: "You drive a hard bargain!" Together we realized that with the amount we got for the trade-in, added to the amount we knew the repairs would cost, I had gotten exactly what he had paid the year before for his van. Not bad at all!

And so I have my van. It's beautiful and functional and has some really nice bells and whistles (that are, admittedly, a little frivolous and unecessary, like auto chair positioning and the "Distance to Empty" gas guage (tells me how many km I have until the tank is empty), but it's kind of nice knowing James and I are entering the next phase of our life where we don't have to buy clunkers anymore. I have yet to figure out the DVD player - I'm wondering how long the boys will let me get away with "I don't know how it works..." but it's also a nice bonus to have for long car rides. Oh yeah - and the cordless headphones will surely be appreciated when they're watching their favourite movie for the umpteenth time!

I have only one caution about it all - wanting to make sure that I continue all the walking I do. The van will definitely be a blessing for those times when I was having to lug two (soon to be three) children around town on multiple buses, and for trips to the store that meant pushing a stroller and toting a cart behind, and for times when neither walking or the bus would do and I had to rely on rides from others (hard with three carseats!) but our fabulous house location means that much of what I need is within walking distance. I'm hoping to keep in shape by still doing a lot of moving around town on my own two feet, and making a commitment to keep to it.

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