Ed Milburn of Clarington Hyundai (right) presenting the author's mother with the keys to her new Sonata.
Ed Milburn of Clarington Hyundai (right) presenting the author’s mother with the keys to her new Sonata.. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Brian Early

My Mom recently decided that it was finally time to replace her faithful ’96 Nissan Maxima (faithful enough that my wife and I bought it from her without hesitation). The impending departure of one of our own cars was likely the catalyst for her decision. Regardless, as the family “car guy” and her only child, I knew that I would be intrinsically involved in her new car buying experience.

Through a process of elimination that involved creating a big list of potential vehicles that we whittled down based on available features and price, a trip to the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto (whose timing fortunately coincided with this endeavour), and several Saturdays spent test driving – or trying to drive (more on that in a moment) – a much shorter list of models in both four and six-cylinder configurations, Mom narrowed it down to the Hyundai Sonata Limited V6.

The Sonata would provide her with all of the comfort and convenience items that she had enjoyed in her Maxima, V6 power and refinement, and a warranty longer than any of the other six finalists that we had evaluated, all for a very competitive price (made even better by incentives on offer at the time).

The salesman at her closest Hyundai dealership seemed hurried (we were initially passed back and forth between two salesmen). While he was fairly helpful, suggesting that my Mom also try the four-cylinder model and the larger Azera, he wasn’t particularly well-versed in the product, and was unwilling to provide a solid quote once we’d decided on the Limited with the V6 – the price remained a little too fluid for our liking – so we left. It he wouldn’t commit, why should we?

A second Hyundai dealership fared better, with likeable staff and better etiquette. Unfortunately, at crunch time, the salesman’s math and his explanations didn’t jibe. First he tried to sell us a demo for a total savings that equalled the Sonata’s $1,565 freight – hardly worth it for a used car with seven months and 11,000 km of its warranty consumed. The clincher was the significant “administrative” fees that the dealership wanted to tack on top of whatever licensing, freight, and PDI charges applied to our chosen vehicle.

Third time lucky; Ed Milburn at Clarington Hyundai was courteous, attentive, and did his best to make the transaction transparent, even when including the dealership’s mandatory “Security Package” (effectively a less pricey equivalent of what the second dealership had tried to hide in the shuffle). At least he was straight about it, and my Mom was satisfied with the final price. Indeed, it is her car that you see in the adjoining review, complete with the “daisy” stickers that she had me add to the rear quarter windows to aid her in identifying her car in crowded parking lots.

What did I learn? Considering the “economic downturn” that was supposedly near its worst when this process started, salespeople didn’t seem to be all that motivated to actually sell cars. Not one person – other than a close friend who works at a Nissan dealership – contacted me when I suggested in the Toronto Star’s Wheels section (part of Canada’s largest daily newspaper) in late December, 2008, that I needed to replace my wife’s car, even with my e-mail clearly on the page.

When my mother and I finally went to the sales lots and showrooms, many salespeople didn’t listen to what we were looking for, and a couple tried to push us into vehicles that we didn’t want. Those that provided a positive shopping experience were certainly in the minority.

Actually a few couldn’t be bothered to help us at all – including a Subaru salesman who finally wandered out to talk to us, only to brusquely state that the Legacy 3.0R my mother had liked at the auto show was “not available here, and unlikely to be found elsewhere”. No suggestion was made of an alternative selection, such as the Legacy 2.5GT. No suggestion was made to test drive an Outback wagon (which would be similar enough to base opinions on) or any other Legacy, for that matter. No offer to try and locate a 3.0R. We left in disgust, Subaru firmly off the shopping list due to the distance to the next closest Subaru retailer – my Mom would not have wanted to return to the local one, even for service.

Frankly, the whole concept of bargaining for a new vehicle, when no trade-in is involved, baffles me, as does the idea of “freight.” What other consumer product that you pick up at the point of sale do you pay to have delivered? This mandatory charge is nothing more than a way of advertising a lower sales price, and ought to be included in the MSRP by law.

If the industry really wants to sell more cars, it’ll make the process – and pricing – more straightforward and less intimidating. Mom probably would have replaced her Maxima sooner, if not faced with the daunting task itself. Only her concern for my family’s well-being was enough to finally push her into the shark infested waters of auto retailing.

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