If you saw my last post and video, you know that my wife and I bought a new vehicle recently. I wanted to write a post or two to share some details on our searching, shopping, and buying experience to help any folks who might be interested in shopping for a vehicle but are understandably apprehensive because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, if I can help another tall person (I’m 6″5″) or a mixed height couple (my wife is 5’3″), maybe I’ll be doing something helpful or useful.
I spend a lot of time reading car magazines and browsing automotive-focused websites so I had plenty of ideas in my head about vehicles I was interested in. I also got some helpful suggestions from a guy I follow on Twitter who does automotive research for a living. Unfortunately, a third Mustang wasn’t a realistic option (yet) and a Porsche 911 isn’t really any more practical than a Mustang so I had to think more rationally. I did my due diligence trying to convince my wife that a wagon was the way to go but she’s not as enthusiastic about wagons as I am and there aren’t a lot of wagons available in the U.S. market and the starting price for the Volvo V60 is more than we were planning to spend.
A big part of why we wanted something new was due to space limitations on the DudeStang. As noted in my last video, we have made good use of the limited space in that car but we finally wanted to get something with more space and better fuel economy, with the intention of taking more road trips and doing more hiking and camping in the coming year. Here’s a quick trip down memory lane of some of the things we managed to transport in the DudeStang:
We started by setting a max budget and writing down the things we’d really like: combined fuel economy of at least 30 MPG (though preferably higher), all wheel drive, and comfortable for both us. From there we made a list of nine vehicles we’d attempt to test drive initially. From there, I made phone calls to the first few brand dealerships to ask about how they were handling test driving during the pandemic.
Pro tip: you might be tempted to submit an inquiry on an auto manufacturer’s website to let them know you’re interested in a particular vehicle or setting up a test drive. Do NOT do this. All this leads to is endless spam emails and phone calls and within half a day, you’ll already hate the car shopping process. Once you’ve identified the vehicles you’d like to look at, call a dealer for the brand you’re interested in, ask to speak to a salesperson, and tell them you’d like to test drive a vehicle and you’d like a contactless test drive. For example, we had the RAV4 hybrid on our list. We called a local Toyota dealership, told them we’d like to test drive a RAV4 hybrid XLE (It doesn’t hurt to know the trim level you’d like to drive), and we scheduled a time to come in. We then called a Subaru dealership, because we had the Forester and Outback on our list, asked the same questions about safely test driving, and scheduled a time to come in.
Our Toyota salesperson was on the younger side and unfortunately did not have the vehicle ready when we arrived. He was a nice guy though and we waited outside while he pulled the vehicle around. It was understood that we’d be test driving the vehicle without anyone else in the car so that helped us feel more safe and comfortable. It also made it easier for my wife and I to talk about things we liked and didn’t like openly with only each other. We started the process with me driving the vehicle a few miles down the road, pulling into an empty parking lot, and then testing things like leg room, head room, looking at trunk space, playing with the infotainment system, and various controls. We used our phones to make notes and took some photos. Then my wife would drive the vehicle on the way back. We returned the keys, thanked the salesperson and told him we had other vehicles to look at, and would be in touch.
Interesting side note – while we were waiting for the RAV4 to be pulled around, I noticed this C8 Corvette on the lot. I think this was maybe the third or fourth C8 that I’ve seen in the wild. We asked the salesperson about it and he said that a gentleman had won the car in some sort of raffle and brought it in to trade in for a new Toyota Camry. Hopefully they gave him a good price on his trade-in. Look at that blue!
Fortunately, most of the sales folks we dealt with weren’t overly pushy. I think a good rule is to make it clear from the start that you’re just test driving and have a few vehicles to look at before purchasing anything. If they try to get you to come inside to sit down or “talk to their sales manager”, it is best to politely decline, remind them you’re looking at a few other vehicles, and that you’ll be in touch when you make a decision.
We then moved on to the Subaru dealer, where both the vehicles we wanted to test were already pulled up out front and ready for us to drive. Again we were able to test drive both vehicles and do our testing routine without the salesperson riding with us. Since we were able to test drive three vehicles in a pretty quick and efficient manner and there were other dealers nearby, we decided to try and test drive a Mazda CX-5, another vehicle that had made our initial list. Fortunately the Mazda dealer wasn’t super busy but getting a test drive was a bit more of a hassle. I ended up staying inside longer than I wanted to and had to answer a dozen or so questions before they eventually pulled a vehicle around for us to drive. Unfortunately, I had to go back inside to return the keys and had to answer more questions by the sales manager as I was trying to leave.
Based on our experience at the Mazda dealer, we made sure to schedule the rest of our test drives in advance. The only other exception was that when we went to the Hyundai dealership to test drive a Tucson, there was a Nissan dealer right next door. Since they both fell under the same dealer ownership, the Hyundai salesperson was able to set us up a test drive in the new Nissan Rogue. Honestly, we we might not have test driven the Rogue if hadn’t been for that circumstance. More on that later though.
I will say that after our initial round of test drives, I did get a lot of unsolicited phone calls, but fortunately I have my phone settings so that incoming calls from numbers I don’t have saved in my phone are muted. I also received text messages from some of the sales people we dealt with, which was fine.
Another side note – here are a couple of the vehicles I had to try and ignore while we visited dealerships:
In total, we test drove 11 different vehicles in about two weeks. From there, we narrowed it down to three final contenders and scheduled second test drives for each of those. We also added another vehicle to test that we didn’t consider initially. Stand by for part 2 for more details on our impressions of all the vehicles we drove during this process. Thanks for reading.