I was reading Steve Tibbett’s post about trading in his Dodge Caravan for a Toyota RAV4 and I started thinking about the last trade in I did.  Back in August, we traded in our ’03 Chrysler Town & Country in for a new ’07 Honda Odyssey.

We bought the Town & Country just before we adopted Laura.  It was a nice van, but four years later, it was out of warranty and it felt like every time I took it in a for an oil change, it needed a few hundred dollars worth of work for one idiot thing or another.

Anne and I talked about trading it in and we had narrowed it down to the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey.  Both are very good vehicles, and I was sure we would be happy with either one.  Late last summer, I started pricing both vans with the options we would want.  The Edwards site is great for that sort of thing.  I also checked the trade-in value of the Town & Country so I would have a good idea of what the final cost would be.

We had the luxury of not being in any kind of hurry to trade the Town & Country in.   We could wait for the end of model year sales and try to get the best deal.  We had the time to test drive different models and get a feel of what we liked and disliked.

Last fall, Rennsselaer Honda had a “Hail Sale”.  They were hit with a major hail storm and almost all of the vehicles in their lot had suffered minor hail damage.  Because of the damage, they were taking an additional $1500 off their sales price.  We decided to go down an take a look.

The place was mobbed and people were buying cars left and right.  We had to wait nearly an hour just to see a salesman.   While we waited, we walked through the lot and saw that they had 6 Odysseys.  Two were the Touring edition, which was out of the price range that we were looking for.  Two of the others didn’t have the options that we wanted.  That left two EX-L models that we would be happy with.  The hail damage was very slight.  A few little dings here and there, you had to look close up at the right angle just to see them.  None of the dings had gone through the clear coat finish, so we were not worried about long term rust issues.

We got one of the old school salesmen, the ones that use the sale tactics that make you hate buying a new car.  He wanted us to take a van for a test drive, while his people looked over my van.  He wouldn’t proceed until I told him how much I wanted for my van.  I didn’t want to play the numbers game that early, but he was persistent.

I gave him an absurdly high number, $10,000, and he smiled and said that was a  good starting point.  He gave us the keys to the Odyssey that we liked the most and Anne and I took it out for a drive.  While driving I told Anne that I was going to play hard ball with the salesman and to be prepared to walk out with out buying a vehicle.

When we got back and sat down with the salesman, he asked if we were ready to make an offer.  I said “yes” and he then presented to us a sheet with the <a title=”Dealerships Rip You Off With The “Four-Square,” Here’s How To Beat It” href=”http://consumerist.com/consumer/four-square/dealerships-rip-you-off-with-the-four+square-heres-how-to-beat-it-248445.php”>four squares</a> on it.  The “4-square”  is the how the dealer tries to get you to pay the highest price for the vehicle.

Each square has a number in it.  The first number has the purchase price of the new vehicle, the trade in value of the current vehicle, the down payment, and the monthly payment.  Basically they make it difficult to see how much you are actually paying until you agree the sign the paper work.

Having read the article on The Consumerist web site about how the 4-square works, I declined to play that game (and a similar article was hysterical).  I politely, but firmly, pushed the sheet back to the salesman and said that I didn’t need to see that sheet.  I said that I wasn’t going base the purchase around the monthly payment figure.  I was going to bring my own financing and we would only discuss the amount that I would be the final purchase price with all taxes and fees included.  The salesman started talking about the trade in value of y van and new van price and I politely (but firmly) cut him off.  I said that I didn’t care how the numbers were sliced, the only number that mattered would be the amount on the check.  I told him that I knew what my car was worth, what his car cost, what wiggle room he had and that there was going to be $1500 off for the “Hail Sale”

Once he realized that I wasn’t going to play the 4-square game, he asked me for my offer.  I knew that they would turn down any initial offer, so I deliberately low balled it.  I had already figured that $27K would be the fair and reasonable amount to pay.  So I came back with $26K.  The salesman told me that he would have to take it to the business manager and he would be right back.  That’s the code phrase for he was going to have a cigarette and make us wait and break our resolve.

He came back with $29K and change and tried to explain why how they came up with those numbers.  I said that was way too high and I asked for the keys for my van back.  He asked for a counter offer and I said $27K and that was final.  He went back to the manager and came back with 28K.  I said that was still too high and I think we would call it a night.  He blinked and asked for a final offer.  I said $27,500 and we were not going to wait another 10-15  minutes for his manager and if they didn’t meet that offer, then we were done.  He came back with $27,504 or something like that.  I guess he wanted to say that he picked the final price.  I could care less about that sort of detail, the 27.5 number was close enough that we were comfortable with deal.

They tried to play a few more games with arranging financing and buying all sorts of warrantees, but I declined all of that.

After going through that nonsense, we love the Odyssey.  It feels like a better built vehicle than the Town & Country.  We are getting better gas mileage, that was an unexpected bonus.  There are a few things that the Town & Country had that didn’t come with Odyssey, pretty much like what Steve noted on his trade in. 

The big thing was not having a powered rear hatch.  It was one of the more useful luxuries with the  Town & Country.  You could only get that on the Touring model of the Odyssey, but that would have added about $6K to the price tag.  The handling of the Odyssey is much better, you get a real feel for the road.  The Town & Country pretty much insulates you from the road.