I've learned a lot through the car buying process.
One thing is the importance of options. I'm not much of a bells-and-whistles kind of guy, but it turns out there are options even I can't do without. Air-conditioning, for example. One would think that air conditioning would be pretty much standard for cars in Southern California, but one would be mistaken. Cruise control, power locks, a CD-player… I just assumed that any cars made nowadays would come with these things. But apparently on some models, even a radio is considered an option. You have to be careful to check on these things, lest you drive home as Kolleen did and discover that it's July in California and you have no AC.
Another thing I became aware of is the somewhat low number of different car models, contrasted with the surprisingly high number of different trim types within these models. For example, Honda only has one type of small car, but there are a million different versions of it, and a Civic DX is an entirely different ball of wax than a Civic EX, even though under the hood they're exactly the same. When I started this process, I don't think I knew anything about this. I had no idea the Spacemobile was actually a Spacemobile MV. It's like finding out your terrier is actually a dachshund - surprising, though it doesn't affect the performance of the dog. I guess I just thought Civic LX was some kind of Roman numeral.
I also learned a bit about pricing. Haggling is part of the game, of course, but since the dealer had to buy the car from somewhere in the first place, there's only so low you can go before the dealer starts losing money and getting mad. I think Sam may have approached this level in his recent steal purchase of a ridiculously green Jeep. For the rest of us, aiming for the Invoice price is a pretty good goal. That's the price the dealer paid for the car, plus a little extra profit padding. You only pay the sticker price (the MSRP) if you have no idea what you're doing.
Having learned all this, I was able to get basically the exact car I wanted, for basically the price I wanted. I say "basically" because the haggling got a little crazy and I ended up trading a couple of features I wanted for a much lower price. I entered the dealership with my eyes on a Fiji Pearl blue Honda Civic LX with AC, CD, cruise, automatic transmission and power locks and windows. When the negotiating dust had settled, I'd lost my power locks and windows and my cruise control, but I'd gotten the price down 1,800 dollars. To me, it's definitely worth 1,800 dollars to occasionally roll up a window by hand. And automatic transmission is way more useful in LA traffic than is cruise control.
My best haggling moment was definitely threatening to go off to an invented appointment at Toyota if the dealer didn't improve his stubborn offer of 14 thousand (already nearly at Invoice). "Or," I said, "You could give me 13.5 and I'll buy it right now." The revisionist transcription of the conversation is printed below:
ME: So 13 is the offer. How much can you budge on that?
SALESMAN: Not one penny.
ME: How about forty-thousand pennies?
SALESMAN: (pause) Let me talk to my boss.
I ended up getting 13.7, which is not bad for a brand new car. By the end, we were quibbling over nickels - my final move was to get the dealer to come down 37 extra dollars, and throw in mud flaps. It was the principle of the thing - I had to go out on a victory.
And so, at long last, I can stop biking and busing everywhere in LA. I have to say, I'm very excited. Yes, you can survive in LA without a car. You can survive without legs, too, but you wouldn't want to do it for very long. And now that I have legs again - reliable, awesomely blue legs - I intend to use them.