I know I talk a lot about how bad dealerships are. From markups to terrible experiences to racism, those things just reinforce why the whole model is bad. We post those stories to inform people, to remind them to watch their backs so they don’t get taken advantage of.
But, there are some good dealerships out there. So in a change of pace, I’d like to highlight an excellent dealer experience I had last weekend.
My cousin approached me with an urgent matter: she needed a car. I’ve been trying to get her to buy one for the past four or five years, but it finally hit her (It probably had something to do with yet another indicator light illuminating on her way home from work.) She has a 2011 Honda CR-V. It has over 300,000 miles and makes so many different noises and rattles it’s unsettling. So she approached me to find the car she wanted: a 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE in either gray or silver—a super specific ask for a car in a market that does not favor the choosey.
So I got to work on looking for the car and the best deal. But I warned her—she wanted one of the hottest, if not the hottest crossover on the market right now. Not only that, she wanted it in a specific trim and color that most places probably didn’t have. And as luck would have it, I didn’t find any. Anywhere.
If you’re not familiar, the LE trim is the base model RAV4. None of the dealers I checked had one in stock. So I told her she was going to have to give a little and go up one trim level to XLE. After explaining the price and equipment differences and the fact that I’d probably have better luck finding one, she agreed. But finding the XLE wasn’t much better.
The RAV4 is selling like the cargo area is lined with cash. Dealers I looked at either had cars that were presold or markups of $3,000- $8,000. One dealer I contacted in south Orange County had just two on their lot. Both were sold. He checked and said another 35 were coming in the next few weeks but all were presold. I was told similar things by most other dealers. I think I contacted nearly every Toyota dealer in southern California from I-10 Toyota in Indio to Larry H. Miller In Lemon Grove (South San Diego) to Toyota of Lancaster and everywhere else in-between. I knew the market was bad but sheesh. And as usual, online listings were misleading. AutoNation showed listings for over 40 RAV4 Hybrids between their various local dealerships. In reality, there were about five, all sold.
The recent pause in Toyota production of course makes it worse. I was told that after some light shipments the last week of August and the second week of September, many dealers won’t receive more cars until the end of the year.
My last resort turned out to be a dealership just 20 minutes from us, Larry H. Miller Toyota in Corona. I contact them and was told that they actually had a Silver RAV4 XLE in stock. I requested a picture of the car and sure enough, it was there. I told my cousin we had to act quickly. We had a discussion to determine what she would be willing to pay so I could negotiate everything before ever setting foot in the dealership.
The goal was to go in, sign papers and leave with the new car. And that’s exactly what happened. It was probably one of the smoothest and easiest car buying transactions I’ve ever encountered.
When I contacted the dealership, I was lucky enough to have talked to the general sales manager. Having been in the business myself, I know that salespeople will use that title to reassure buyers who are on the fence about visiting in person. But I looked him up, and I was indeed talking to the sales manager.
My cousin wanted a good price and she didn’t want to finance for more than 60 months. MSRP was just over $33,000. But, like all the other dealers, this one had marked the RAV4 up nearly $7,000. With their markup, the price was just over $41,000, which is where top-trim RAV4s start. After some haggling, I talked him down to $35,500. That worked for her, so I set an appointment for the following morning and we were good to go.
On the drive there, I warned her to get ready for bullshit. She was worried that we were about to be there for hours. I told her that could be possible, and that the numbers that the GM and I agreed to could become the subject of a long discussion.
At the dealer, we sat with a salesperson the GM had prepped with a few details about the sale. He admitted he wasn’t privy my and the GM’s conversation and said he’d start working off the sticker on the car, but that we should feel free to correct him. I couldn’t believe he was that honest.
We completed a credit application and waited about 20 minutes before he came out and said everything was good to go. No stupid-ass four square, fast talking or anything. Just a simple sheet of people with the exact vehicle price, down payment, and monthly we had agreed to. I was blown away.
Unfortunately, that typical dealer crap reared its head once we got to the finance department. The gentleman we dealt with, while very friendly, kept trying to push extended warranty packages on her. At one point he even tried to play the “You drive a lot and you’ll be out of warranty in no time” card while trying to get her to extend the loan to 72 months to bring down the payment $35 so he could add an extended warranty. You don’t have to be financially savvy to know that none of that is a good idea.
But, other than that everything went smoothly and she was able to take home her brand new RAV4 Hybrid. I have to say I see why people buy these things. It’s pretty good.