The one where she buys the minivan

by DaniGirl on December 10, 2007 · 17 comments

in Life, the Universe and Everything

I like shopping for cars. I like thinking about the features, the colour, the style, the shape. I like comparison shopping, and I don’t mind haggling a little bit over price. I bought my first car back in December of 1990. It was a 1990 Mazda 323 hatchback, and I drove the snot out of that little car. In 1998, Beloved and I leased a Cayenne Red two-door Sunfire with a sunroof, and that was my sexy car. Completely impractical for kids, but a fun car to drive. That lease expired in June of 2001, and we signed the lease for our first Ford Focus station wagon that month. In fact, we signed on the dotted line during a fit of optimism during the two-week wait of our in vitro fertilization, and I remember thinking at the time that I would be some bloody pissed if the treatment didn’t work out and I ended up childless and driving a station wagon around town. Lucky for us, it turned out to be the perfect family car for our brand-new family. Simon was about four months old when we bought our next Focus wagon in 2004, and I would have been content with another wagon if we could have crammed a third car seat into the back seat, but they simply won’t fit.

Shopping for the minivan has not been the same. Oh, I’ve done my comparison shopping, and I have a pretty good idea which one has the highest safety rating (the Kia Sedona) and which one I’d love but can’t afford to splurge on (the Honda Odyssey.) And of course, I have the expert opinions of the bloggy peeps to guide my way.

(Oy, this is going to be long… I’m tucking the rest of this epic below the fold!)

But I simply couldn’t get excited about buying this car vehicle. No matter how many feature sheets I read, they blurred into each other. A van is a van is a van. We had narrowed our starting choices down to the Kia Sedona, the Dodge Caravan and the Dodge Grand Caravan. I didn’t care about the colour, didn’t particularly care about the year, wasn’t overly enthused by any of the features. It was in this rather uninspired frame of mind that we finally headed out to a dealership on a snowy Friday morning. And, for what it’s worth, if you’re going to be test driving minivans, you could do worse than a snow-squalley winter day like last Friday was. We got a good chance to test those ABS brakes and force a few skids.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We walked into the first dealership, a Dodge / Chrysler place, with no real plan in mind except to see a few vans. The salesman, a friendly if doleful-faced fellow named Dan, seemed a little perplexed by our laissez-faire attitude. As we walked through the snowy parking lot peering in windows on various models, he tried to figure out what we wanted.

“Are you looking for a 2007 or a 2008?”
“Don’t really care.”

“Do you want a mid-row bench or bucket seats?”
“Doesn’t matter.”

“Any features that are particularly important to you?”
“Not really.”

“What colour do you like?”
“Doesn’t matter.”

In the end, he sussed out that price was the number one consideration, that we didn’t care about the bells and whistles, and that we really had no idea what we wanted. He found a nice red base-model Grand Caravan to take for a test drive, and we took it for a spin around the neighbourhood.

It wasn’t awful, and I had to admit that the snazzy “Inferno Red” paint job gave it just a bit more character than most of the metallic silver and gold jobbies we were looking at. It was comfortable to drive, had TONNES of storage space, and a decent amount of base-model features (A/C, keyless remote entry, stow-and-go seats in the rear, and power windows – something we don’t have on the Focus.) It didn’t have the seat warmers we have on the Focus (LOVE the seat warmers!) or the power sliding doors, nor the multi-zone heating and cooling, which would have been nice frills, but I was okay with the basics. And it had more cupholders than every vehicle I’ve ever owned, collectively. In short, it would do the trick.

So then we played the negotiating game for a while. Why oh why do we still persist with that arcane ritual? It doesn’t intimidate me in the least, but the entertainment value of watching Dan cluck his tongue and say, “Well, I can always ask, but I’d be surprised if he agrees to a price this low” wears off after the first few trips to the back room.

We’d received a flyer advertising the Grand Caravans for $299 a month (lease) with $299 down, and Beloved kept pointing it out while we negotiated. Of course, the $299 didn’t include tax, or freight, or delivery, or any of the other small-print crap. Whatever.

After we’d been there for about an hour, the latest offer on the table was $432 a month with first payment down. We told Dan we wanted to go for lunch and talk about it, and promptly headed down the street to take a Kia Sedona for a test drive.

The Sedona just didn’t feel as cushy as the Grand Caravan, and seemed to slip a little bit more in the snow. It was okay – although I didn’t like the white one we test drove at all – and had we been able to get it for less than what the Dodge dealer was offering, I would have likely settled for it without a backward glance. We settled in for another round or two of cooling our heels while the salesman tried to make it look like he was defending our valour to the dudes in the back room. What DO they talk about back there, anyway? Surely it doesn’t take 10 minutes to finish laughing at what we’re aiming for and come back with a counter-offer 30% higher than that.

To my surprise, however, the sales manager himself came out and forthrightly told us that he simply couldn’t better a monthly lease payment of the $432 we had from the Dodge dealer. He did try to get us to head over to his sister dealership instead, and promised us they would likely consider an offer of $390 a month or so for the Grand Caravan, but that would entail driving across town and starting the negotiations all over again.

Beloved and I stopped for a sandwich and decided to go back to Dan and see how low he could go. After two or three more rounds of him pursing his lips and looking anxiously at his column of figures and reassuring us that “we really can’t do much better than this, I don’t know what else we can offer you” we worked it down to a feasible $399 a month. Since the flyer price of $299 plus the tax would have been close to $340, and the rest of the add-on crap would have added in the neighbourhood of $75 a month over the term of the lease, I feel like we did pretty good. The fact that the Kia dealer wouldn’t even try to touch the $432 price, let alone the $399, also reassured me that we weren’t being bent over the desk and being taken advantage of.

I must admit, it seems a little funny to me that we signed on the dotted line without ever having looked under the hood, but it would have been a big show for nothing anyway. “Oh, that’s the engine? Right. It looks quite shiny and, er, enginey. Yep, that will do the trick.” I mean really, once the driver’s seat is comfy enough for your ass and you won’t be embarrassed driving it in front of your friends, what else is there to buying a new vehicle anyway? I can fake a good conversation about horsepower and gas milage and safety ratings from doing my comparison shopping, but what do I know from the mechanical bits?

As a nice aside, Beloved and I had a great day together. We were still a little giddy from the great ultrasound appointment that morning, and we haven’t spent that much time together without the kids in I don’t know how long. We laughed together throughout the day, and maybe because we weren’t overly anxious about the outcome (if not this minivan, then some other one – it’s not like there’s a shortage of them to be had right now) the whole process was more entertaining than anything. Who knew van shopping could make for a fun all-day date?

So, we are now the proud owners lessees of a 2008 “inferno red” Grand Caravan, which we’ll pick up tonight. It’s not awful. I might even like it a little bit, one of these days.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chantal December 10, 2007 at 10:11 am

Glad it went well.

2 Sue December 10, 2007 at 10:41 am

“I mean really, once the driver’s seat is comfy enough for your ass and you won’t be embarrassed driving it in front of your friends, what else is there to buying a new vehicle anyway?”

Precisely. This is how I know you are brilliant. You get it.

Me? I’m living for the day when my minivan days will officially come to an end. Hopefully soon.

3 Suz December 10, 2007 at 1:07 pm

I loathe the car-buying process. But you know what? I love our mini-van. I love the doors that open and close with a click and the seats that shift into any configuration. I love that it can haul a massive amount of stuff. I hope that your van grows on you!

4 kgirl December 10, 2007 at 1:21 pm

mazel tov!
we drive a ff hatchback, and it is feeling mighty small these days (which is whywe liked it in the first place). i don’t know if i’m ready to go minivan, but a wagon is sounding pretty good.

5 Valerie December 10, 2007 at 2:35 pm

I love my van, hate the price, and hate the haggling. Next time I’m taking you with me!

Glad you had a nice day out with Beloved – I wouldn’t mind one of those, myself.

6 Liz December 10, 2007 at 2:36 pm

I do love my minivan. I love that I can drive five people to Costco, buy $300 worth of stuff and still have room for my emergency roadside kit and my son’s whining prevention kit.

7 Liz December 10, 2007 at 2:36 pm

That said, our next car’s gonna be a compact hybrid. Which will guarantee that I will then get pregnant with twins.

8 rm December 10, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Edmunds.com did an interesting expose on the car dealer negotiating tactics that you might be interested in. Since you asked what they actually talk about when they are back groveling to the man on your behalf: http://www.edmunds.com/advice/buying/articles/42962/article.html

9 Renee December 10, 2007 at 3:09 pm

I felt EXACTLY the same way and after having owned my van for over 2 years, I’m still not excited about it. The only thing I’m excited about is the thought of getting something other than a mini-van in a few years!

10 Mac and Cheese December 10, 2007 at 3:30 pm

It does seem a little difficult to get excited about a van, but car shopping seems to have changed for me completely since I became a mom. People ask if I like my car, and I just say, “It keeps my family safe and carries all my sh*t. I guess it’s ok.”

11 mamatulip December 10, 2007 at 8:13 pm

I felt the same way when we got our van. Exactly the same. And although I can’t wait for the day when I can kiss the Montana and get something sporty with five on the floor, I do really enjoy my van.

*sigh*

12 Barbara December 10, 2007 at 9:45 pm

I’m so glad that you ended up with a Town & Country. My brother’s kids need to eat and all that. I have only bought cars using a family discount and yet the last time the salesperson said they were going to speak with the manager. I pointed out my price was fixed and they only verified when we could get it. I think hubby and I would be awful negotiaters. When we were in Mexico, we didn’t barter even after being told it was expected. It seemed rude somehow.

13 ali December 10, 2007 at 9:50 pm

i have a grand caravan. i am NOT a van-lover…but i will admit, having the extra space is FANTASTIC. i can stick my entire zooper stroller in it, unfolded (because who the hell can figure out how to fold that sucker?!!)

14 Batman December 10, 2007 at 11:39 pm

I hate car shopping. I’ve been looking for a new one for the past month or so. Any chance you can come out and help with the negotiating?

15 snackmommy December 11, 2007 at 10:27 am

As I read through your post I kept hoping it had a Christmas Miracle ending and Virginia didn’t need to buy a mini van. Although tethering the baby bucket to the roof of the Ford Focus may not be CSA approved.

16 nancy December 11, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Congrats on the new addition! Your soon-to-be addition will be so comfy with all the room. I am proud of you for coming over to the dark side and not sounding ‘too’ resentful about it.

I love being a van driving mommy. Fits all the stuff, and extra booster seat for friends. It’s great.

17 Sharon December 12, 2007 at 7:50 am

Congrats! Stow and GO Seats are awesome and they came out the year after I bought my van. I soooo would have had those.

I love driving my van. HATE HATE HATE Putting Gas in. When my van days are over I going back to a Diseal Jetta or better yet a diseal Passat!

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