Why I hate the car buying process...

This article was written in late summer/early fall of 2007. In October of 2011, I was contacted by Carl Pasquarosa, the new General Manager at Honda Village, who was gracious and kind and offered a sincere apology for all the behavior of his predecessor. I do appreciate the apology. In 4 years, I've put about 30,000 miles on my car, mostly travelling to bike events. It's going to be a while before I buy another car. So while I don't have recent buying experience with this dealer, it does seem that things may be better there. If I find myself in need of a car, I would give them a chance. But here's the advice I would give now, for buying from any dealer. If it doesn't feel right, walk out. Trust your own instincts.

As you have read or may know, we survived three years without owning a car, but often rented to get rides some distance away. We managed to get a tandem inside a small rental car - see the photos here. We finally decided that we take enough weekend trips that we should just bite the bullet and take possession of one full time. As you can see from the above links, I already knew what I wanted, a Honda Fit, and had plenty of experience with filling one with bikes and driving one. Once we finally decided to switch from car-free to care-free, I just wanted the process to be simple. It was tough enough to give up on the idea of not owning one, so any difficulty would make me bolt. If only I had listened to my heart!

I did some research and found out the Honda Fit Sport has an AUX jack that would work with my ipod. I've been so frustrated using the FM transmitter with the ipod in rental cars. So I was sold on the Fit because bikes would fit inside including our tandem, and decided the sport model would make an excellent ipod accessory.

Honda Village in Newton MA is three blocks from my house. I am not exaggerating when I say that. How convenient it would be to buy a car there. So with that bullet clinched firmly in my teeth, I phoned Honda Village and asked about a gray Honda Fit Sport with manual transmission. Nick answered the phone. He told me they had exactly that car, but it wasn't on the lot, since they have such limited space. He told me it was at the port in Boston. I said I wanted that Honda Fit. We made an appointment for 7:30PM - August 8. He said if I couldn't make it to phone. To me, this meant I had an actual appointment and someone was expecting me.

When I arrived, Nick wasn't there and no one was expecting me. I should have left right then and there.

But Natalie came out and decided to practice her sales techniques on me. Turns out Natalie has been working there for two weeks. Anyway, I told her there was no need to go through the sales talk. I wanted the gray Honda Fit Sport with manual transmission. Could a sale have been easier? Apparently it was not to be, because she insisted I go look at another Honda Fit on the lot that she thought was a Sport. It was not. I asked her to check Nick's desk, since he supposedly had done some research and had the numbers for the specific car all set aside. She finally went to check on this and came back with some paperwork. This is where the time wasting continued. She hand wrote out a note with the type of car (Honda Fit) and a bunch of details about the car that were not options (there are none, it's basic or sport). Finally after several minutes, she looks up and says, "Do you want this car?" At this stage I was annoyed and should have left, but said, "Yes, this is why I am here to buy that Honda Fit". So then she writes down the price. Now it's been a long time since I bought a new car - 1993, so I simply asked, "Is that negotiable?" and she replied that it was. So I then said I had no trade, this was a simple deal, what was the best they could do. She asked again if I wanted to buy the car? I should have left.

She then started the dance. I have to go to my management. She came back with monthly lease payments. I should have left. I said I wanted to buy the car. What was the best price? She wrote down some other monthly payment. I said I didn't want to know monthly payments, I wanted the best price they could do on the car. I stood up to leave. This is when Mike blocked my way.

I really should have left. This is exactly what I hate about the whole process of buying a car. But Mike starts telling me how great the Honda Fit is and how in demand Honda Fits are, and so on. I asked Mike, "Why when I ask Natalie if the price was negotiable, did she not say no?" If she'd said what I already knew that these Honda Fits are high demand, very little markup, I would have signed on the dotted line and left. But she seemed to want to dance or waste my time or something. But Mike wanted to do the same thing and started showing me edmunds.com and the like and showing me that indeed folks are able to pay less than list for a Honda Fit. So I offered them $200 less than list to compensate me for wasting so much time. Then Bob came out of the woodwork and started blathering on about how in-demand the Honda Fit is, blah, blah, blah, but then said if I'd split it with Natalie, she gets $100, I get $100. I suggested we donate that $200 to charity, which left them speechless for a bit, but we had a deal.

By then it was closing time. So I gave them a $2000.00 deposit and arranged to come back to either do financing with Honda or my own bank. The next morning I checked with various banks and with their finance department and found their rates were competitive, so I had them set the wheels in motion. I got insurance and stopped by to sign papers and give them more of a down payment, or so I thought.

Edwin had to do his sales pitch to try and sell me wax and tire protection. It's just a car.

But I did very specifically asked Edwin about availability. Mt Washington was coming up the following weekend. I had a zip car (A Honda Fit BTW) reserved, but if MY new Honda Fit was going to be here, I could use it. I would need to cancel the reservation in advance, or pay the rental. . He assured me that my Honda Fit was in Boston and I'd have it early the next week. I spoke with Bob as well, and provided all the insurance info. I wrote a $3000.00 check for the down payment. At this stage I had given them a total of $5000.00.

I stopped at the insurance agents and left a check to setup the auto-payment on the insurance. I then rode my bike the rest of the way into work, just like always.

Over the weekend, I purchased a tandem roof rack for my new Honda Fit and arranged to pick it up mid-week with my new Honda Fit.

Monday, I got a call from Natalie. I was so excited. I thought she was calling to tell me I could get my new Honda Fit. But she asked if I had insurance. I told her I had done all that last Thursday, and asked if they don't talk to each other! I asked her to verify that everything was all set. I also asked when I could get the car, and she said she didn't know. I told her that I'd been told it would be soon, and I needed to cancel the rental reservation, so I needed to know.

Natalie never called me back. Mike called to tell me the car wasn't in the country and he didn't know when I would get it. I asked why I had been told it was in Boston. He said she'd call back and never did.

I called and talked to Bob. He told multiple stories about where the car was. It was on a boat. It was in the port. It would be here. It wouldn't be here. He told so many different stories, his head had to be spinning. At this stage, too many alarms bells were going off, and I really just didn't want to do business with these folks.

I said NEVERMIND. Enough. Let's call it off and give me my deposit back. I'll look for a Honda Fit again November when the new (2008) models are available. He told me he had no authority to refund my $5000.00 - despite being the general manager. He told me only his boss could authorize this, and she was unavailable for several days.

I stopped in on my way home. I politely but firmly asked for a refund of my deposit, and numerous people told me they were powerless, and someone would contact me. They insisted I leave. No one from Honda Village has ever phoned or sent a letter or made any contact.

I then called American Honda customer service that night to complain about my dealings with this dealer. I got a call from Chris, a rep, the next day who then called Honda Village. He told me Bob agreed to refund my deposit and they would have it out in a week. This was August 14.

I looked around and found a Black Honda Fit Sport in manual at Herb Chambers. We had some nice email exchanges and they called to tell me the car was on their lot in Boston. I went in and sat in the actual car, then signed paperwork and arranged to pick it up a few days later. It was about as easy as one could ever imagine. Everyone I spoke with was professional and respectful.

The race up Mt Washington was canceled at 7AM morning of event, due to bad weather. We had a lovely ride around the area anyway. I came back and had no check or correspondence from Honda Village. I did have several nice messages from Herb Chambers asking if I liked my new Honda Fit.

I phoned Chris at American Honda and he phoned Honda Village. This went on daily for two weeks.

I also filed a complaint with the BBB. They received a response from Honda Village claiming the matter was resolved on Aug 17. But still no refund, no call, no correspondence. I also filed a review with Angie's List.

Chris called and told me that he was told a check was mailed to me on Aug 23. I live three blocks away.

On Aug 30, I had still received NOTHING. I called and asked what address they used. They said they'd call back. Of course they did not.

The fact that it's August 30 is significant in another way. My house payment is now due. I've made two down payments on cars this month, since I was fully expecting to get the first one back in a timely manner. I finally realized this was going to drag on, and transferred money from savings, so my house payment will go through, but this is ridiculous.

When I got home (on the bike of course), I took a large leaf collecting bag and wrote on it with a sharpie,

"HONESTY - NOT part of the DEAL"

I walked three blocks and stood in front of Honda Village. Bob came out and yelled at me that this would only work in their favor and they loved this kind of publicity. The whole sales staff practically came out to look. One took video with his cell phone, and made fun of my sign. Apparently they ALL think it is quite funny to treat a customer poorly and withhold large sums of money. So it isn't just ONE person there. Not one salesman said to their management that this isn't proper customer service. They then called the police.

I was standing by a parked car on the street, holding my little leaf bag. The policeman said hi and went in. He came out and told me I could stay as long as I liked, but I should stay off their property. I'd actually been very careful to do that already. He got back in his car, made a call and went back in and talked with them more. At some point a second police car showed up. But I was doing nothing wrong and they told me that.

Quite a few pedestrians asked what was going on and I said I put down a deposit, they didn't have the car, I asked for my money back and they keep saying the check is in the mail, but it doesn't arrive. After weeks of waiting, II came home yet again to a stack of mail that did not contain a check, and had enough.

So there you have my customer service experience from the dishonest folks at Honda Village in Newton (Boston) Massachusetts.

I called American Honda again while I stood in front of Honda Village with my homemade sign in the setting sun. I had a very nice converstaion with a rep there who assured me that this would be checked out, but unfortunately dealers are a franchises, and not actually part of American Honda. She said she would make every effort to escalate this and get them to return my money. Once it was dark, I headed home. I'll make a better poster tomorrow and spend some time out front regularly until I get my $5000.00 back.

Late afternoon Aug 30, I got a call from Chris at American Honda customer service, saying they had faxed him a copy of the check. I said that's nice, but where is the original - still not in my mailbox. Netflix and I send DVD's back and forth in a day, each way. Our postal system is simply not that slow. He said the check was dated Aug 28, which seemed odd, since they originally told him they'd mailed it on Aug 23. Caught in a lie - they were!

The check finally arrived on September 1. No apology accompanied it. And if I hadn't been in daily contact with American Honda and filed the various complaints, it likely would have taken much longer, if at all.

Thanks to those who emailed after seeing this page. Bob Levenson, General Sales Manager, told me he this kind of publicity doesn't hurt. I appreciate any support that shows that negative publicity and poor customer service are not the way to do business. Please feel free to link to this page, and raise its ranking!

The whole place has a slimely feel to it. I am happy to report that it doesn't have to be that way. The actual purchase of my actual car from Herb Chambers was a pleasure.

 

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