On the Road Review: A New Car Buying Saga

With the leaves dropping, my driving partner and contractor-wife finally succumbed to the reality that she needed a new vehicle. Her 2012 Equinox only had 85,000 miles, yet a rusting fender was a visual indignity she could no longer tolerate. A recent review of the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid also provided a solid option — a new crossover with more features, greater fuel efficiency, plus a better warranty.

By early November Kathy had done her research; she knew what color she wanted, what trim level and what bits and pieces were necessary — all within the scope of what she felt was a manageable price. That meant no navigation, no leather seating, but absolutely a power liftgate, a power driver’s seat and selectable AWD.

With no inventory of her preferred mid-range hybrid model anywhere in Maine, we visited three Hyundai dealers in hopes of securing a spot on a list, or, commandeering an incoming Tucson. Dealer No. 1’s staff seemed wholly not invested in the fact that we wanted a new vehicle, let alone that we were in their showroom with money in hand. Dealer No. 2, on the other hand, had so many customers that the only dealer personnel that spoke with us was the friendly lady cleaning the restrooms. We learned after the fact that they had no inventory, nothing promising was on the way, and besides — you should really talk with our telemarketing team. OK.

Having bought three very different vehicles over the internet, I had no reservations about leaving Maine to find what we wanted in our new Hyundai — special blue paint (extra cost now for anything not white, black or silver) plus a factory-installed trailer hitch (another ouch). Yet Kathy did not share my outright optimism for traveling across state lines and preferred spending her money, if not close to home, at least at a dealer that she could reach without a picnic lunch and a nap.

Dealer No. 3 was our last resort; if something good didn’t come out of this experience, we would regroup and pursue another option. We had already had some email dialogue with this retailer. It was brief, but detailed and professional. The story had not been different except that they leaned much stronger to the side of ordering what Kathy wanted, rather than waiting — and hoping — that something like, or close to, her desired Tucson would arrive, somewhere.

She patiently discussed her options. She pushed hard against the demand for a $1,000 nonrefundable down payment and the dealership relented — part way, assessing “only” $500. The price would be full retail — no rebates, no free floor mats, no coupons for free winter tires, nothing but the whole sticker price and “you should feel good that we don’t add any additional markup.” How did car-buying suddenly become even less warm and fuzzy?

Your shiny new Tucson will come in 8-12-weeks, they said as we left the dealership — because we held a true customer order and would gain preference in the build system in South Korea.

Before Thanksgiving, I swapped out the summer tires for the studded snow tires and wheels on the Equinox. Trends in the industry did not support the dealership’s order outline, as the chip crisis was getting worse.

I also sourced a replacement front fender for the Equinox in early December, as that rust spot was now a hole. Several “car recyclers” lacked an Equinox fender — of any color — but one offered to order me a new one, for 40 percent less than the Chevy dealer offered. Deal! A week later, I took the primer-coated fender to a relative’s body shop in Lisbon. After four to five hours of labor at home, voila! The new fender renders the Chevy’s body like new again.

By the end of December, no word from the dealer. Eight weeks have passed since ordering the Tucson.

Jan. 31 sneaks up. Twelve weeks have passed. The salesperson calls; still no commitment on the order.

At the end of February, I send an email inquiring about the status of our new car order. Still no commitment from the factory that the order “is in the queue.” Sixteen weeks since Kathy’s order was placed.

By mid-March, mud season is mixing it up with spring snowstorms. Good thing we put the snow tires on the Chevy. Still no word on the Tucson.

Now there is an industry shortage of wiring harnesses, due to the war in Ukraine. Consumers are facing higher prices for new and used vehicles, while supply is way behind demand. Rising fuel prices might alter the dynamic for some specific products, but all automotive buyers are confronted by a completely changed buying experience.

Doesn’t look like the Equinox is leaving us anytime soon.

Next week: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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