The Sienna Saga (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Minivan)

Last week, we were content with the two cars we had, planning to put all three of our kids in the back of Sarah’s Matrix when the baby was born.    We knew we liked Toyota Siennas in general, since Sarah’s mom has one that we’ve driven around a lot, and they’re the most popular minivan among all our soccer-mom friends.   But Sarah was afraid that the Sienna was too big — so she wanted to check out the Mazda MPV, which was smaller than most minivans and she’d read good reviews about it.  So we thought that the MPV might be a minivan that we’d consider purchasing down the road, but we had decided that we could wait.

But a trip to Draper on Saturday afternoon changed all that.  We planned to hit IKEA for some free kids’ food, then stop by Karl Malone Toyota so that Sarah could check out the MPV, get a feel for what it’s really like inside and out.   After we exploited Swedish hospitality and looked for a dresser, we headed to the car dealership.  The kid who helped us was really green on the job, but Audrey and Nathan had fun riding around the lot on a golf cart with us.

We saw the one MPV that they had, and it was really dirty.  In addition to general grubbiness and crumbs, there were also fast food drink cups and other large garbage all over the place.  The sales-boy said they’d just gotten it in a couple of days ago and hadn’t had a chance to get it cleaned yet, but I was astounded that they’d show it to a potential customer in that state.  It really turned us off the MPV in general, as well as the dealership itself.

New Toyota SiennaThen we saw the Toyota Sienna.   This particular one was a gold 2000 model (which had the older boxier body style) with an upgraded LXE package (including leather seats and a 6-disc CD changer) and an after-market DVD player with a huge 15.4-inch screen.  We drove it around the parking lot, didn’t even take it out on the road, and thought it was nice.

By this time, the rookie salesman had been joined by a middle-aged guy named Mike.  He could tell that the we liked the Sienna, and asked how much we were looking to spend.  We insisted that we weren’t ready to buy yet, we just wanted to check out the cars and be on our way.  But Mike asked if he could get us a really good price, could we make a deal today?

Audrey and the new Toyota Sienna

We should have just walked away, but instead we followed him inside to check out the pricing.  Their starting price was $11,000, but upon my insistence, Mike looked up the Kelley Blue Book price, which came back as $9,900.  (In “Excellent” condition, which this van certainly was not.  There were a few interior scuff marks and missing pieces, paint all over one of the rear captain’s chairs, minor things that you’d expect in a 10-year-old car, but which prevented it from being completely perfect.)  Sarah was still unsure about driving the van because it was larger than she wanted, and she really didn’t want to get a car that didn’t have remote keyless entry like her current car.  It also had 120,000 miles on the odometer.  (The salesmen refuted this by saying it was a Toyota, so it would run “forever”.)  We talked Mike down to $7,900 based on all of those things, which he called a “smokin’ price”.  (When I tried to go lower than that, he said that would be a “smokin’ illegal substances price”.  Ha. ha. ha.  Not.)

Curtis and the New Toyota SiennaWe continued doubting ourselves, and saying that we weren’t ready to buy, and Mike kept saying they really wanted to make a deal and trying to guilt us by saying, “You told me if we could get you a good price, we could make a deal today.”  Really high pressure.  Again, we should have walked, but we kept listening to Mike’s pitch.  Finally we told ourselves that we were eventually going to buy a minivan anyway, and it would probably be a Sienna, and we’d probably end up spending more than that on it anyway, so why not.

We told Mike yes, we had a deal, and waited while they drew up the paperwork and had the car detailed.  Meanwhile we called our parents to tell them the news, and while everyone seemed excited about the car, Sarah’s mom Judy reminded us to get the CarFax report on the vehicle to make sure that it hadn’t been really messed up in an accident sometime.  When they did give us the report, we saw that it had been in a crash last fall.  Again, we could have walked away at this point, not having signed anything yet, but we didn’t.

Snow BuddiesOnce we finally got through all the financial details and signed the contract, we brought the kids out to the parking lot and got ready to take it home — to drive it out of the parking lot for the first time.  By this time, it was after 9:00 pm and we were all very ready to get going.  But when we fired it up, we found that the DVD player had a disc stuck in it — Snow Buddies.  No matter what the salesmen did, they couldn’t get that disc out.  It also took us several minutes to get the sound to work — syncing the FM transmitter in the DVD player with the radio in the car.  I was tired, and we just got out of there.  But when I was driving home (listening to a really inane movie that the kids were enjoying — “The dog can talk!” exclaimed Nathan), I noticed that accelerating the car or turning on the blinker made a weird hum in the audio from the DVD player, like it was tied into the electrical system but whoever installed it didn’t do a very good job.

We got home and fell into bed, and the next day started looking into what we’d really gotten ourselves into.  We looked up similar Siennas at other Utah dealers and found one with 40,000 fewer miles that listed for the same $7,900 that we’d settled on with Mike (meaning that was the other guys’ starting point, and that we’d be able to talk them down substantially).  Mike had claimed that we were practically stealing the car from them, but there were plenty of other similar cars in that price range.

Sarah had concerns about the 120-point inspection that had supposedly been done on the car.  One of the tires was really low, and if their service department couldn’t fill up a tire, how could we trust that they’d done the inspection right too?  By this time we were feeling some serious buyers’ remorse.  I even felt that if they would take back the car and get us out of the deal, I wanted them to do so.  (But we looked it up — there’s not a law in Utah that says they have to do that.)

Sarah had to go back up to the dealership on Monday to drop off our down payment, and she addressed some of our concerns with Mike and the service team.  Their techs opened up the DVD player and got the cursed disc out, and the buzzing in the audio went away.  No, they would not take back the car — we were stuck with it.

New Toyota SiennaIn the end, we got a pretty good car at a pretty good price.  We shouldn’t have gone into the dealership unprepared like we were, as opposed to when we bought the Matrix — we knew exactly what we wanted, we knew how much it should cost us, and we were ready to buy before we walked in the door.  We shouldn’t have bought this car without thinking it over more, sleeping on the decision and praying about it, but the deal turned out all right.  Sarah still wants to have her remote control door-opener, but she found a place in Provo that will sell us the kit and install it for us for $150 instead of the $475 that the dealership quoted us.

1996 Mazda 626Now we’re trying to sell my 1996 Mazda 626, which has been a very good car for our family since I got it 7 1/2 years ago.  If anyone’s interested in getting a reliable car for less than a thousand dollars, let me know.  [Update 2 hours later:  Sarah just sold the car to the first person who called about it, so if you wanted it, you’re out of luck!]

I have a reward for all those who’ve made it this far in the Sienna Saga — a bit of education and a bit of entertainment.

The education: understand how car dealerships work and how you can be an informed buyer (unlike us in this case).  The whole time we were at the dealership, I was reminded of an article I’d once read on, where the writer goes undercover as a car salesman, then writes about all the nasty tricks and backroom dealings that go on to maximize their profits and commissions at the expense of the customer.  The whole article is very eye-opening, but I’d especially recommend the last section where he talks about specific car-buying recommendations.  I re-read it after we bought the Sienna, and I wished I had done so before we went to the dealership, especially the guidelines about shopping around.  Live and learn.

The entertainment: an amusing video about the Sienna.  It’s still a great car, even if we didn’t have the great buying experience at the dealership that we would have liked.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 7:58 am and is filed under Random Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “The Sienna Saga (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Minivan)”

  1. EmilyNo Gravatar Says:

    The drama! Thanks for the heads-up, and even though a stuck CD is no good, I had to giggle at the idea of you guys eternally watching “Snow Buddies.”

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