Dr. Carbuyer, or: How I Learned To Start Worrying And Hate The Entire Process // Pt 4: The Conclusion


Now that you’ve soldiered through Parts 1, 2, and 3, I give you Part 4… the dramatic conclusion. To sum up where I left off in Part 3:

I tried to low-ball for a car I couldn’t afford, and surprisingly, they didn’t go for it.

So what do we do when we fall off the horse?


We get back on.

(“Sorry Maury, I’m not a gymnast.”)

Part 4 // The Conclusion

Regrouping, Reevaluating, and (Hopefully) Redeeming Myself

This was an opportunity to really reevaluate our priorities. Here we were stretching our financial limitations, and for what? Some needless luxuries that we had been seduced by? After I gave it a little bit of thought, I actually got kind of pissed at myself. “I don’t care about that stuff”, I thought, “so why was I all set to pay more for it?” I had really rationalized the effort in my head by convincing myself the Limited would hold more value for resale, and maybe that’s true, but in the end, it was more than we needed, and more than we could afford.

Back in Part 1, I mentioned that the purchase of my ’01 Camry had included the dealership agreeing to have an aftermarket sunroof installed. I also admitted that I really couldn’t justify my wife and I’s sunroof fetish, other than to theorize that we had both had one in previous cars and had really come to love having one. So, I started thinking: What if we started looking at base models with the intention of negotiating with a sunroof install included? This would potentially serve two purposes: 1. We satiate our ridiculous, embarrassing, and pretty much indefensible pining for a sunroof, and 2. We add just that extra little bit of “Limited” feel that might hopefully hold some value in resale.

Back To The Drawing Board Spreadsheet

I went back and grabbed all of the info for available base models I had already compiled and dumped it into a new spreadsheet. Some of them had actually been sold since I started the car search, so I pruned the list, and started looking for any new listings. After digging through cars.com and cargurus.com, as well as searching the sites of some local Toyota dealers, I had a brand new sheet of prime prospects.


Knowing that I was going to be lumping the cost of sunroof install into negotiations, I figured that was as good an inquiry as any to open up dialogue with the various dealers. I sent out emails to a handful of them, requesting the info for some of their base models, asking who they use for sunroof installations, and then asking some other fairly innocuous questions (“Does it include the ‘Extra Value Package’?”, “What is the interior color? I didn’t see it listed…”, “Can the third-row seating option be installed?”, etc.).

[NOTE: The answer to the last question turned out to be ‘No’, which was a little deflating, since it would have been cool to have a 7-person seating capacity. I had already tried to search for 2010 RAV4s outfitted with that option, but they proved to be incredibly rare – a point which was confirmed by multiple dealers: “I’ve never even seen one with a 3rd row.”]

Once I had the names of the shops each dealer used for sunroof installs, I contacted them directly to get info on which brand/models of sunroofs they carried for a RAV4 (all were Webasto, with the exception of one who carried Signature Automotive), and what they would charge for install. Even if the dealer would get a better deal, I figured it at least gave me an idea of what kind of value I could build into negotiations. Once I got a feel for what the average cost for sunroof install was going to be, I started building a price range…

Using edmunds.com’s True Market Value, I calculated the Trade-In Value of each base model (you can see a column for that in the spreadsheet – the column to the right of that is for “Private Party Sale”). This gave me a ballpark idea of what the dealer might have paid for each vehicle. If you look at the spreadsheet, you might notice that they all hover within a $1000 range, so I decided to start with the average of that range and work from there.

Here’s how I figured my starting point:  [Avg. Trade-In Value] + [Avg. Sunroof Cost] + $500 = M.S.P.N. (My Starting Point Number).

[NOTE: The $500 amount was one I had come across in an article about negotiating a new car deal, where the author suggested starting at $500 above invoice – or what the dealer paid for the car. I figured if that was an acceptable amount of profit for a first offer to a dealer on a new car, why wouldn’t it apply to a used car?]

Fishing For Competition

My next move was to get back in touch with all of the Toyota dealers who had replied to my email inquiries.

[NOTE: I was dealing with only Toyota dealers, as I was hoping to get a “Certified Pre-Owned” vehicle that carried Toyota’s manufacturer warranty.] 

For the sake of keeping them all straight without referring to them by name, I’ll call them Three Mile Toyota, Mid North Toyota, and Far South Toyota. I basically sent them all the same email:

I think we’re planning on swinging by a few dealerships in the next few days to look at some certified base model RAV4s, but we were kind of looking to get as close as we could to [M.S.P.N.] with a sunroof installed on a 30-40Kmi RAV4, and I’m trying to get a sense of who might be in the best position to work with us on that before I drive all over the city. Any chance you could find out whether that’s a realistic starting point for you guys? Thanks!

I even sent an email to Anthony at Big Burbs Toyota (as much as it felt like coming back with my tail between my legs):

We’ve been looking over the inventory, and we were interested in [Stock #]. We’d be willing to offer [M.S.P.N.] with a sunroof install included. Could you check that with your manager and see how close you might be able to get to that? If it’s workable, we can let you know when we might be able to swing by and take a look at the vehicle. Thanks!

I waited with bated breath, hoping I might be able to get one of them to bite. Only one of them replied. Greg at Mid North sent me an email back with the range of prices for the sunroofs available (all Webasto models), and then added that range to the list price of their RAV4 base model, plus the $500 cost of certification.

[NOTE: This RAV4 wasn’t certified, but could be, he said, for only $500. This seemed crazy to me, since TMV has over $1000 differences in their Dealer Retail values with and without certification.]

The range of totals he listed went from $785 over M.S.P.N. to $1185 over M.S.P.N.. He also added this:

I know you don’t want to drive all over the city. No one does. So come to [Mid North], make a deal and then relax and enjoy your new RAV4, knowing you just joined the thousands of other satisfied customers who have come to know and appreciate the [Mid North] difference.

Well, I appreciated the sentiment, but I appreciated his willingness to talk numbers even more, because – although he didn’t actually come down on the sticker price at all – I had a rough figure to take to the other dealers. I grabbed a figure at the midpoint of his range that was $900 over M.S.P.N. and sent out the following to Three Mile, Far South, and Big Burbs:

Didn’t hear back, so I just wanted to touch base… We’re going to try to make it up to [Mid North] Toyota tonight to check out one of their 2010 base models with just over 40K miles. They’ve got it at around [the midpoint figure] after sunroof install, and I just wanted to check with you first and see if that’s something you could be competitive with on [RAV4 Stock #s], assuming they’re still available. Let me know, thanks!

The replies came quickly. 

Kelly from Far South quoted me a number that was $1000 over the midpoint figure. Anthony from Big Burbs also replied, saying:

[Stock #], the silver one, only has 29,XXX miles, which is why it’s priced at [$100 over the midpoint figure (before any sunroof install)].  I honestly do not know if I could get it to [the midpoint figure] with a sunroof install.  I will have to meet with one of the sales managers about it to see what if that looks reasonable or not.  You’ll have way more negotiating power here in the store.  I’ll get back to you if I can work on that offer with my manager soon.

It was Jim from Three Mile, though, that gave me the response I was hoping for:

Sorry for the delay I didn’t see your email yesterday.  If I can match [Mid North]’s price with the In Built Roof, AND give you an Engine’s Forever Guarantee free, can I earn your business?

I replied and told him that if he can match their price, their $85 dealer admin fee, and the trade-in offer I already received, then definitely. I told him he could expect us later that day, and which base models we wanted to look at. I knew there was no way I was getting a guarantee on any of this, but it was at least a willingness to be competitive, and it gave me something to leverage with the other dealers, which I immediately did. I sent Anthony at Big Burbs a reply:

Thanks for getting back to me. I actually just heard back from [Three Mile] and they’re willing to match [Mid North]’s price on a couple 2010 RAV4s with lower miles (30-35K), , so I think we’re changing plans and heading over instead there to take a look at them. Let me know if you think you can match or beat that offer. Thanks!

He replied 30 minutes later:

I just talked to my sales manager and he said we can definitely compete with that number.  We’ve all been working hard to try and make something work and I think this will.  If you come in today, we can get everything worked out.  What time works for you?

So I now had two dealers willing to be competitive on pricing with a third, but which one did I want to go to? Well, considering that Three Mile was, as you may have guessed, three miles from our house, it was certainly the most convenient. It also happened to be where I bought my ’01 Camry. That, added to the fact that I was no hurry to return to Big Burbs, and the RAV4 at Mid North had a mileage in the 40K+ range, meant we were headed to see Jim at Three Mile about a RAV4.

Dealer Trip #5

I arrived at Three Mile with a lot more confidence than I had in my previous dealer trip to Big Burbs, knowing that I had two other dealerships that I could namedrop as being willing to compete on price. My goal was to play my cards right, leverage the competition, and walk away with a good deal.

Jim greeted us upon arrival, and I immediately appreciated his laid-back demeanor, which allowed me to at least act more casual while still keeping my “carbuyer guard” on full alert. We went out to look at the two base model RAV4s on his lot. One was a silver RAV4 with an “ash” interior that had just under 30,000 miles. The other was black with a “sand beige” interior that had 36,000 miles. The list price for both was $600 over my midpoint figure that included a sunroof, so I hoped he would stay true to his word and be willing to “price match”, because we were already a little ways apart.

While my wife initially favored the silver finish and ash interior due to a general aversion to all things “beige”, this particular silver RAV4 had a little wear and tear. Added to that (and I’m really not a “looks” guy when it comes to cars, I swear), the ash color just had the kind of dingy, neutral blandness of a rental car.

Screen shot 2013-08-14 at 12.21.22 PM

The black RAV4, on the other hand, was gleamingly shiny and spotless. The “sand beige” (which is a fancy way to say “tan”), while not exactly “sexy”, was improved by the stark contrast of black accents on the dash, doors, and floor trim. It definitely wasn’t the “sea of tan” we were both expecting.


My wife was also won over by the shiny plastic fake chrome hubcaps, which she freely admitted was completely silly. We were both definitely leaning towards the black one, but I was trying to temper our enthusiasm for fear of seeming too head-over-heels for this particular vehicle. That made the next discovery even harder…

As we made our way around the back of the vehicle, Jim opened the rear door and nonchalantly remarked, “Oh, this one has a third row,” in the same tone one might observe that “Oh, this peanut butter’s chunky,” or “Oh, we didn’t get any mail today.”

Be still my heart.

We both had to contain ourselves from reacting like we had just seen a unicorn.

The extremely rare, nay endangered, 3rd-Row RAV4 was sitting right in front of us. Now, I know the seating provided by said third row can’t be considered spacious, or even very comfortable, by anyone over the age of 12, but it was still a huge bonus for someone who’s already thinking about the inevitable soccer team car pools that are a mere five years away. This was versatility, all wrapped up in two beautifully cramped seats.

So from here the trick was to make any bluffs of walking away as believable as possible, while still buying this car.

The Negotiation, Round 2

While they were appraising my wife’s Saturn, Jim asked what we were wanting for it. Determined not to repeat my mistake of asking for less than I wanted, I shot high with $3750. Jim nodded in that way that people nod when they know something’s not going to happen. And I was fine with that, because I knew it, too. Plus, if they offered less than $3000, I could just say “Big Burbs already offered me $3000, so I can easily take it there.”

Didn’t have to, though. He came back and said that they noticed a “slight knock” that they thought was coming from the exhaust (an issue which we may or may not have known about). Because of this, they could only give us $3000. Since I didn’t really feel like I had leverage to get that number any higher, I said that was fine. We moved on to the sale price of the RAV4.

He then showed us the breakdown with the existing sticker price, which he more or less conceded was a formality without actually saying that (keep in mind, this is the same guy who offered to match my midpoint figure with sunroof install included). He then said something to the effect of “Now, you were wanting to get it to where?” I suppose he has to hear me say it, rather than negotiating for me, but I still feel like the whole process is so silly. I reiterated my midpoint figure that Mid North had “offered” me, and that I was really hoping he could beat it. He said okay and went to talk to his sales manager.

Counter-Offer #1

After a little while came back with a sheet that had a counter-offer in the form of a monthly payment at our pre-approved rate and term, including the sunroof. They really like showing you the price as a monthly payment – I guess the dollar differences seem more palatable? It might have backfired for him though, I don’t know, because it really let me hone in on where I wanted to be for a monthly payment, and they were still a ways off. I gave my best “pained and disappointed” look and told him where we really wanted to be and that he would have to get closer, if only for the fact that two other dealers were willing to. He said okay and went back to his manager.

Counter-Offer #2

A little while later, he came back with new numbers. They had come down, but still weren’t close enough for me to feel comfortable committing. He asked if they could get somewhere between their new number and my goal, if that was something I could agree to. I told him to see what he could do, but that I was willing to compromise.

Then came the real wait-out. This was the “We’re going to keep them here long enough that there’s no chance they’ll have time to visit another dealership tonight” wait-out. I’m pretty sure most of this time was spent with them just sitting in the manager’s office talking about whatever. I’m not sure how long it was, but it felt like well over half an hour. Put it this way: The sunset disappeared during this stretch.

Counter-Offer #3

At last he returned with a number that was about $5/month more than what I had been asking for during negotiation. He said it was the absolute lowest they could go, as they were almost down to what they paid for the car. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this number included their $195 dealer fee. I had been planning on trying to negotiate on that (seeing as Mid North Toyota only charges a $85 fee), but he snuck it in and I didn’t realize it until later. Regardless, without the fee, this newest number was only $275 over the midpoint figure I had initially asked him to match (it’s worth mentioning that the 3rd row seating supposedly adds $329 to dealer retail True Market Value). While I really did want to dig in and see if I could get him to come down that much more, I could sense that the breaking point was close, and I might have to risk losing the car over it. I did my best to begrudgingly agree while still seeming appreciative of their willingness to compromise. Finally we were done, right? Sign some papers and let’s go home? Not so fast.

Financial: Their Last Chance To Make Money

Their finance guy, Brad, introduced himself, and said he was going to work on getting us the best rate he could by comparing a variety of lenders. Mind you, Jim had already said that Three Mile “works with” our credit union, so we were thinking that’s where our loan was coming from. A little while passed and Brad called me into his office to go over some stuff. This is where they try to sell you on as much warranty as they can.

[NOTE: Before he started, he mentioned he had gotten us approved through Capital One for the same rate our credit union had pre-approved us for. When we asked why we didn’t just get the loan through our credit union, then, he replied that Capital One is open 24 hours, but our credit union is closed for the day. My wife mentioned the $100 reward our credit union was currently offering for car loans, and he just sat there silently for a moment or two until I said “It’s fine.” Part of me wonders what he would have done if I had said, “Yeah, what about that $100 we just missed out on?” That was an instance where a little awkwardness might have been worth $100, but I never think about that in the moment.]   

Next, he showed me a sheet with a series of warranty packages, each one more expensive than the next. Gap insurance, upholstery protection, security – it was all there. The cheapest one extended the “comprehensive”, “full”, “wrap” warranty that I already had for the first year to the full 7 year/100,000 miles of the existing Certified “powertrain” warranty, and each package added dollars and more “coverage”. Now, I already knew that there were lots of exceptions to these warranties, and that they’re by-and-large a ripoff, so I was determined to decline any and all warranties (beyond the aforementioned Certified one that is already in place). Brad explained all the options and then asked “Now, which one looks good to you?” My reply of “I’m not really interested, thanks” displeased him, and he did the “Can I ask why not?” follow-up to try and get me to explain myself, so that he could then pick apart my explanation.

We went back and forth:

“I just don’t really want to spend that much on something I might not need.”

“Well, labor prices are going up every year, so repairs are just getting more expensive.”

He lowered the price.

“I can’t justify spending that much more a month.”

“I understand. New parents, money’s tight. I’ve been there, trust me.”

He lowered the price.

“It’s just not in our budget.”

“Really? You can’t afford an extra 12 cents a day?”

That last one irked me, both in his condescending tone (which appeared out of nowhere), and in his technique (you can make anything seem cheap like that – 12 cents a day becomes over $100 in only a couple years time). He lowered the price one last time, and finally, at about $10 a month, I felt like it was at a cost that I could probably swallow in the event I ended up having a couple things (that were actually covered under this warranty) crap out in the next 7 years or 64,000 miles. I really couldn’t believe anyone would pay a nickel more. I was reluctant in my agreement as it was, and still felt duped and embittered afterwards (can you tell?), especially after I added up the total amount.

The Drive Away
It would have been cute to have a picture of our actual RAV4, but I don’t have one right now, so this stock image will have to suffice. Just imagine it with shiny fake chrome plastic hubcaps and you get the idea.

We left the dealership with our black RAV4 (with 3rd row seating!) at about 9:45pm. We had actually brought our 10-month-old with us again, thinking this might work to our advantage, as we could leverage tiredness/fussiness towards a sense of urgency. In the end it backfired, as I just ended up feeling extra pressure to get the deal done for every minute we went past his bedtime (it was in this window that I finally agreed to the warranty and overlooked the inclusion of the dealer fee). So parents, I don’t advise that approach – you’ll get sloppy.

As far as final numbers go, if you remove the warranty, the dealer fee, and the sunroof, I got them to come $2,174 under True Market Value for the vehicle, $1,575 under their sticker price, and $2,369 over Trade-In Value – or what they might have paid for it. Subtract the cost of the sunroof (or at least the cost they listed) from that $2,369 “profit” estimate and then add back in the dealer fee, and they probably made about $1300 on the sale, not counting any kickbacks they get on the warranty.

The next day I sent emails out to Greg, Kelly, and Anthony, letting them know that we wound up finding a RAV4 with a 3rd row at Three Mile, which was also the closest dealership to our house, so it really came down to factors beyond their control. I thanked them for their time, patience, and willingness to help, and let them know I would keep them in mind in the future, and recommend them to friends and family. None of them replied.

So that’s it. And I really did hate pretty much the entire process (especially the negotiating), and I think I’m probably still worrying (“Could I have gone lower?”, “Is there something wrong with the car that isn’t covered under warranty?”). But hopefully you learned something from this, assuming anyone in their right mind made it this far. Congratulations, madame or sir, and I thank you for your determination and devotion! In exchange, I’ll leave you with this interesting nugget of info that I learned along the way…

The RAV4 we ended up with is a Front-Wheel Drive, which get’s 22 MPG City and 28 MPG Highway, as opposed to the 4-Wheel models which get 21/27. I wanted to know what that 1MPG difference would average out to over a year, so I did the math:

Let’s say you drive 10,000 miles a year (which is way more than either my wife or I do, but it’s a nice round number), and let’s say it’s half city, half highway. At 25 MPG for the FWD, that’s 400 gallons. At 24 MPG for the 4WD, that’s about 417 gallons.  So yeah, that’s a little over one tank of gas on the year, and that’s if you drove that much.

But anyway, you can just figure that a difference of 1 MPG = about 1 tank of gas per 10,000 miles.

Thanks for reading.



2 thoughts on “Dr. Carbuyer, or: How I Learned To Start Worrying And Hate The Entire Process // Pt 4: The Conclusion

  1. Kurt Boemler says:

    When I get the “I bought elsewhere,” message, I always congratulate them on their new purchase and tell them about our service department, asking them to allow us to earn their business there. Sometimes people buy from far away but your dealership is in the customer’s back yard.

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