Friday, March 28, 2008

What March is over? Are you kiddding?

Supposedly, we only lost one hour in March to the whole Spring Forward thing. I'm pretty sure I lost at least two weeks. Can someone bring them back to me please? Where to begin on your very first blog? Well, best to talk about who you are and what you do, right? Wow, that could take a while.

My name is Cindy Joy, and I live in Houston, TX. I have a wonderful husband and two lovely boys, one born in December of 2000 and one born in February of 2007. They are beyond a handful. I'll fill in all that fluffy stuff about myself later. What I want to talk about is the thing that consumed between four and six of the missing March days. I am now the owner of a brand new Honda Fit Sport in Tidewater Blue. I love it. It is small, maneuvers well, gets great gas mileage, is a Low Emission Vehicle (I've got the LEV sticker on the window to prove it), and has such a well designed interior that my 6'5" husband fits into it comfortably. How did this happen? What happened to that enormous luxury sedan with the leather interior and the turbo-charged six cylinder engine? That behemoth was a nearly ten year old Volvo S80-T6 that was extremely comfortable to ride around in but was driving me crazy with the rather extreme maintenance price. I've never been so glad to have purchased an extended Warranty. Too bad I went for the 7 year option instead of the 10 year option. Those last couple years were Expensive.

I took my Volvo into the shop for service in early March, only to be told that it needed in excess of $2,000 in repairs. Okay, so that included the timing chain at $710 and the accessory belt at $235 or so (that number didn't burn quite so indelibly into my brain), but enough is enough already. Time to trade it in and get something a little smaller and a lot more reliable with a lower maintenance cost. Corwin and I had previously discussed what we were going to do the next time the Volvo repair people got that gleam in their eyes, and it had everything to do with going back to Japanese cars and nothing to do with paying to repair my car one more time. So, I stalled the Volvo repair person by telling him not to do the repairs, I had to talk to my husband as this was probably the repair that signaled the need for a new car. Repair guy was cool with that and told me to keep the loaner car over the weekend, but that I would have to start paying for the loaner after Monday. He went ahead and did the 67,500 mile service so that he wouldn't have to charge me for diagnosing the car or for using their loaner car for five days.

Fast forward to Saturday, when Barbara has unwittingly volunteered to watch our kids if we had anything we needed to do without them. Looking at cars without little boys is a much more productive than looking at cars with little boys along. They spent a great deal of Saturday with Aunt Barbara. On Friday, I had plotted out our plan of attack. We would go to the cluster of dealerships at US 59 S and Beltway 8. Sure, the ones out IH-10 were technically closer, but with construction shut downs nearly every weekend, the thought of going out IH-10 makes me shudder. So we dutifully go down and look at sedans one class size smaller than the Volvo S-80. Really, it was too big a car for me. We go to the Toyota Dealership and look at the Camrys and the Corollas. They are beyond busy and the salesman keeps ditching us to go deal with returning customers of one sort and another. After driving us out back to look at cars, he takes the golf cart up front and says he'll "be right back" at which time we can test drive one of these cars he is letting us sit in. Okay, we poke around in the cars, see what we need to see, jump over to the next isle, look at those cars, start poking around in cars we aren't really interested in, and finally give up and walk back up to the front. We decide that since we have recently driven Toyota Camrys (both Corwin's parents and mine have a Camry), we don't really need to test drive one today, especially since they obviously have enough other customers to keep them busy. We have other cars to see, so lets go do it. Oh, and by the way, it is time to go get the boys for the afternoon Birthday Party over at a friend's house. We squeeze that in before dropping off the boys with Auntie Barb again.

Next stop, Honda Dealership. We're there to look at the Accords and the Civics. Good enough. The sales staff are helpful, Jesse Motu doesn't abandon us and he goes to get keys for us to test drive the Accord. Never one to just sit and wait, I wander around the show room. I spot the Fit over in a corner and make a bee line for it. It is cute, and the color fluoresces lilac under the showroom lights. This car makes me smile - possibly my first real smile of the day that wasn't at the Birthday Party. I have a "what is this?" moment and stroll around the car, petting it and checking out the interior. I plunk down in the driver's seat and check out the controls. I lift the hatch back and marvel at the cargo space. We take turns sitting in the back seat, and Corwin fits in both the back and the front with a couple inches of headroom above his fluffy hair (Corwin is 6'5", but his hair probably fluffs and curls a good 2" above his scalp). How can such a little car be so roomy inside? It's a miracle. Jesse comes and finds us with the keys for the car that is two steps more expensive than the Fit (did I mention that the Fit is the cheapest car Honda sells?), only to find that we now want to test drive the Fit as well. He goes with the flow, apparently used to people falling for this cute little car. He shows us the nifty features to the car. Especially impressive is the way the back seats fold down flat and even with the rear cargo. Also impressive - when you pick the seat backs back up, the seat bottoms come with them, leaving a cargo space that goes all the way from the floor board to the ceiling - great for those times you need to transport something with a lot of height. Yeah! No more ridicule from my friends when I ask to borrow their truck, van or SUV to transport something that won't fit in a sedan. Sure, I had started the day thinking I was getting another sedan, but this little car was turning my head. Never ones to do things without researching them to death first, we go off to test drive the Accord. It was fine and dandy, if *yawn* yet another sedan. Okay, now about that Fit. We test drove it next. They only had the color I wanted in a manual transmission on the lot, but that wasn't a big deal - I learned how to drive on a manual transmission and two of my four previous cars were manual transmission. Letting Corwin get behind the wheel for a test drive required switching colors. (Ask me about driving around Scotland sometime - he made no objection when they gave us a manual transmission, but I had somehow forgotten how he nearly dropped my transmission on the road the first time we went out of town together.) We both concluded that the Fit was easy to maneuver, fun to drive, hugged the road well, and handled well. Only two things were imperfect - the acceleration wasn't great and the seats had no lumbar support. The first one is the trade off for excellent gas mileage. The second can be solved by purchasing lumbar pillows made from memory foam for $25 each. Okay, so we liked it, but how did it hold up under scrutiny? How many years had they been making it? How did the safety features stack up? What about lifetime maintenance? What were the equivalent cars at other Japanese car companies that we needed to check out? It was time to leave the dealership and go check on other things.

We researched it all. We checked out the competing models. The next weekend, with the kids in tow, we test drove them and kicked their tires. Here's what we found: they had been marketing the Honda Fit in Europe for a number of years, and it is wildly popular there. They have only been selling the Fit in the USA for two model years (2007 and 2008), which is why we hadn't seen too many. I see them all the time now. The safety features stack up well against the equivalent cars; they even stack up well against the car I was getting rid of - part of the reason we bought the S-80 was that it had cutting edge, all encompassing safety features. The Fit also does well in crash tests. The lifetime maintenance is very low - I don't recall the exact amount, but The Fit lifetime maintenance amount was less than the last two years on the S-80. Sounds great to me! We tried out the Toyota Yaris, the Nissan equivalent (disliked it so much that I can't recall the name), the Mazda equivalent (wow, can't recall that name either - it might be the 3 in a hatchback?), and found them all lacking. The Yaris didn't have enough headroom for Corwin, along with other problems. The Nissan was so bad that we only test drove it for about a mile. The Mazda didn't compare well. We did find that Gabriel loves to explore new cars and has an opinion about which ones he likes and does not like. He was remarkably well behaved everywhere we went - we even had people tell us what a well behaved child he was. You could have knocked me over with a feather. The Mazda people tried to talk me into buying the last 2007 Mazda 6 that they had on the lot. Every time I tried to make my mistake, they dropped the price a little more. The final price they offered me was less than the price of the Fit. I just didn't want it. Even if it was a little less money, I couldn't bring myself to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car that was only okay. The Fit still had my vote after another couple days of going to dealerships and test driving vehicles. So, time to go ahead and buy it. Sounds easy enough, right? We'd already told Honda we wanted to buy a Fit. They had the car we wanted on order for us - a Tidewater Blue Honda Fit Sport with an automatic transmission. They told us that they didn't know when it would come in. Okay, I'd limp around in my Volvo for a while, but if it took more than a week, I was going to have to get a new tire.

On Wednesday, Jesse called to say the Fit was available. I said great, we'll come get it tomorrow, but first we have to take our car by Car Max and see how much they will offer us for it. Early the next morning, Corwin takes me by "Keep it Clean" to have my car detailed, since a clean car will fetch a better price than a dirty one. They did a great job. Check them out at the corner of Washington and Heights Boulevard. Next, Car Max. Boy was that a waste of time. We had Ethan with us, so we had to occupy him while they took over an hour evaluating our car. They didn't make us an offer we were willing to accept. So, off to the Honda Dealer. They gave us twice as much for our car as a trade-in as Car Max offered us. Car Max tried arguing with us about how fair a price they were giving us and how we should accept it right then and there. Okay, they didn't think they were arguing, but come on, like I'm going to accept a price I'm not happy with before I've seen what someone else would give me for it? We'd already settled on a price with Gillman, so and amount they gave us on the trade-in over the offer from Car Max was gravy. So, I'm happy with the amount they gave us on our trade-in, even if we did have to wait on them for another hour while they evaluated my car again. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.

When we got to the Honda Dealership, we asked for Jesse and asked to see our car. It was at this point that we learned the flexible meaning of available. The car is at a dealership in Rosenburg, but they do have the same car in blackberry pearl on the Gillman lot. They wanted to make sure that I really wanted the Tidewater Blue and not the Blackberry Pearl before they traded cars with Rosenburg. Jesse kept asking me if I was sure. I pretty quickly said "Look at that dark blue Volvo over there. Now look at the blackberry pearl Fit almost next to it. Do those colors look enough different to feel like you are getting a very different colored car? No, I don't think so. I told you I want the tidewater blue. You told me it was available. I want the tidewater blue. Now send somebody to get it." He seemed to accept that I really wanted the tidewater blue. We went back inside to handle paperwork, and I thought someone was dealing with transferring the car to Gillman. Right, so an hour later, they make me an offer on my car and I accept it (after getting them to come up some on the offer). They ask about financing. I tell them that I am pre-approved for a loan from my bank for 5.24% for any term up to 72 months, but if they can beat that rate, I will finance through Honda. I state the rate several times during the conversation. Jesse writes it down and goes off to talk to someone about financing.

We've been at the dealership for a couple hours by now - with Ethan in tow. We've been taking turns trying to keep him occupied, but I'm beginning to wonder how long it takes to buy a car from Honda. I finish up with the sales people and they tell me that financing can beat my bank's rate, and they take us over to the financing department's waiting room. Where we sit. And wait. For about 45 minutes. It is getting late. I am wondering if we will be done in time to pick up Gabriel. Finally, the finance guy comes out and says he is ready for us. He tells us that he got a great rate for us. He's very pleased with himself. I ask him what the rate is and he starts printing out documents. He hands us documents to sign. I ask him what the rate is. I find it on the documents - 6.1%. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Try not to explode that you've now been waiting an hour and a half, maybe two hours, since you told them the rate your bank gave you was 5.24%. I look at the finance guy in disbelief and ask him why on earth I would accept such a rate when I had already told Jesse and, by inference, him that my bank would give me 5.24%. I ask him for a computer with an internet connection so I can get the loan through my bank (in five minutes or less, I'm sure) and get the heck out of there. He looks like somebody punched him in the gut and asks us to wait just a minute, he'll be right back. Right, we haven't heard that one in the two weeks leading up to buying this car. Okay, so we wait. I call Palmer Schooley, tell him what is going on and ask him if he can pick up Gabriel from school. He can and he will. Cool. One less thing to worry about. Of course, it is now after 5:00 and Ethan hasn't had a nap. He's getting cranky, as are we all. It took less time to buy a house, for crying out loud. The financing guy comes back. His new rate is 5.1% for 60 months. Okay, I'll take that - now where do I sign? He's got to print all the forms again. We spend another fifteen minutes going over forms and signing on dotted lines. Why couldn't it have just been fifteen minuted to start with? Okay, finally I'm going to get my car. The finance guy goes to find the sales guy.

Enter sheepish sales guy. They wasted so much time thinking that I wasn't going to buy the car that they got to the Rosenburg Dealership after 5:00. The car has not been made ready, Oh, and by the way, the only guy who has access to the keys has left for the day. I can't have my car that I just spent the whole day trying to buy. What!?! I don't mind telling you that I was totally exhausted at this point. I had spent the whole chasing a 13 month old boy around while negotiating various car related things, and they hadn't bothered to have the car ready for me. Wow, and you want me to give you a five star rating for customer service? Yeah, that's happening. In the end, they send me home in a new Accord and promise to send the car to my house on Friday. I won't have to come back out to the dealership, they promise. I send Corwin and the baby home in Corwin's car and wait for them to get a car for me to go home in. Blargh. By the time I leave the dealership, it is after 7:00 and dark outside. I go by Palmer's to get Gabriel, and he wants to come out and see the new car. I tell him some of my woes and promise to show it to him when I get it. Gabriel falls asleep in the car on the way home. When we get to the house, I have to manually lift the garage door to park the car in the garage. I was in the process of changing the electricity over to my name and away from the ex-garage apartment tenant's name when his disconnect order went through, leaving us without electricity in the garage. He also didn't give us proper move-out notice, so I wasn't totally surprised. I also wasn't parking my borrowed Honda on the street.

So, the next day I talk to Jesse in the morning, and he says that the car is in process and I should get it in a few hours. Okay, I'll hang at the house until they arrive. Well, they didn't get to the house until I was once again in risk of not being able to pick up Gabriel in time. I got Corwin to pick him up. Despite his promise to deliver it himself, Jesse wound up being too busy (selling cars to other people, presumably), and he sent the car with a technician. Good thing he called from his cell phone to have me help him find the house when he got close, because I left my box of stuff in the back of the Accord and had to call him and get him to come straight back with it.

In the end, I am very happy with my zippy little Honda Fit. I still need lumbar support pillows and a cargo cover, but those things are minor. It still confounds me that it could have taken so long to believe that I wanted what I said I wanted and make it happen. Two thumbs up for the car. Half a thumb for the service at the dealership.