Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been setting up to transfer the lease of my current car to someone else, in order to replace it with a more practical small SUV. The transfer of my current car happened today, but in the meantime, I’ve been busy trying to find the best deal on the next vehicle.

After a few calls and some research on the ‘net, I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted, and what I should be paying for it. I found out what the dealer cost was on the vehicle I wanted, and added in $400 for dealer markup. I worked out all of the leasing math with a leasing calculator online, and double-checked it with another one I downloaded.

Note: If you retain one thing from this article, it should be this tidbit: Get your own leasing calculator. Then, get full disclosure, in writing, of all the pertinent factors: vehicle purchase price, admin fees, taxes, annual percentage rate and buyback. A lot of leasing companies will play a shell game with you by switching up the terms, baking in their own admin fees, etc. As part of this last exercise, I caught one guy trying to charge me $73/month in hidden admin fees. Double-check the math yourself.

I then wrote up an RFQ (request for quotes). Before sending it to the four nearest dealers, I phoned each one to get hooked up with a salesperson. I spoke to these people to ask them if they’d mind my sending them an email with the detail of what I was looking for, so they could respond with their pricing.

Once I had email addresses, I sent the message, which looked something like this:

From: Pierre Seguin
To: [salesguy]@[dealership].com
Subject: Lease me an SUV

Hi [salesguy],

As discussed, I am interested in leasing a[Brand][Model]. I’ve been obtaining competitive quotes on various leasing options, and I’d like to check with you on some numbers. The vehicle that interests me is:

2005 [Model] [Trim Level] AWD
5-spd
Chrome Silver

MSRP for this configuration, according to the [brand].ca website, is $29,600. I’ve received a quote for $27,700 for the same, which I trust you can meet or beat. As far as I can tell, the numbers add up as follows:

  • Vehicle purchase price: $27,700
  • Freight/PDI: $1,000
  • Trailer hitch (installed with wiring) $300
  • Winter tires and steel rims (mounted and balanced, but I’ll install them myself): my research indicates these should come in at around $800
  • Air Tax $100
  • Gas Tax $75

This should total to an adjusted cap cost of $29,975.

I’m looking for a 36-month lease, with no money down.

Term: 36 months
$0 down
Interest rate (per [brand].ca website): 5.7%
Residual value (per [brand.ca] website): $16,576
Monthly payment (per my calculations using the above numbers): $482.99
Tax on monthly payment: $72.45
Total Monthly payment: $555.44 

Please review these numbers and reply with any needed adjustments. If we can arrive at mutually agreeable figures, I’ll be going ahead with this transaction as soon as my current lease transfer is finalized. Hopefully, this will occur later this week.

Please also indicate any added benefit your dealership may be able to offer.

Thanks,

Pierre Séguin

Simple enough, right? If the dealership doesn’t want to play ball, they can simply tell me so. If they think I’m out to lunch on the numbers, they’re free to set me straight.

I got three responses out of the four emails I sent.

One salesman sent me a half-hearted email response, giving me an inflated price on the tires, not really answering any of my questions, and not really pressing for a sale. I discounted him.

Another guy phoned me with his response, saying he could meet all of the numbers except for the trailer hitch, because the wiring and installation take 3 hours. He’d checked with the shop. He’d also looked into the tires, and said his dealership couldn’t match it, but if I could tell him where to find a winter tire package at that price, they’d buy it there.

I considered this to be a reasonable starting point. More on this one later.

Then I received this email, from a salesman we’ll call “Biff”:

From: Biff
To: Pierre Seguin
Subject: Re: Lease me an SUV

So, first of all, we can give you winter tires around 660$ .
The trailer hitch will be around the same amount .
The monthly payment you already got includes a big, big discount !
However, in order to earn your business I can fight you to get a better deal.
Based on my experience, we have chances to obtain that.
The only thing Pierre , I need you here because I am not the person who decides.
I need to prove my manager I have your commitment. We can write down an offer .
If he approves, you are happy, I’m happy.
I promise I’m gonna fight for that. This part , leave it for me 🙂
So, when can you come ?

Biff
Sales and leasing consultant
www.[dealership].com
email: biff@[dealership].com

I won’t fault him for the bad English, but I wonder if “I can fight you to get a better deal” was a freudian slip, or just an unusual moment of honesty. He didn’t really answer as I had hoped either, but he seemed keen, so I replied with this:

From: Pierre Seguin
To: ‘biff@[dealership].com’
Subject: RE: Lease me an SUV

Hi Biff,

Thanks for your response. I appreciate the work that went into it on your part. I have a few more questions for you.

Your price for the winter tires and steel rims is very good. What brand of tire are they? Is the rim a universal one, or the original [Brand] part?

When you say the “trailer hitch will be around the same amount”, do you mean the amount I proposed, or the amount of the winter tires/rims? Please clarify.

What is the availability for the vehicle as described? Others have told me that the configuration isn’t currently in stock. If this is the case, when can you expect delivery? If delays exceed 1 month, can you suggest other colours in which the vehicle may be more readily available?

The price I was quoted on the vehicle was $400 above dealer invoice. I’ve independently researched the retail (not the inflated MSRP) costs of the tires, rims and trailer hitch. It’s clear to me that these targets are attainable, but as they say, “the devil is in the details”. I’m hoping to avoid shell games with markup on accessories vs. admin fees vs. lease details. You’re entitled to make money on the deal, but I’m entitled to buy where I get the best deal.

[Dealership] is conveniently located for service purposes, so therein lies your assurance of my intent to deal with you. However, price will be a big factor for me. Your best approach to win this sale will be to offer me, in writing, the best deal you can put together. If you disclose all of the details, it’ll save us both some time and earn my appreciation for your honesty. To be blunt, traditional hard-sell tactics will do us both a disservice.

I’ll plan a visit once you’ve spent some time with your sales manager and provided me your best numbers, if your numbers are near enough to the target.

I appreciate your efforts, and hope to be able to do business with you.

Thanks!

Pierre

To which he answered, roughly a day later:

From: Biff
To: Pierre Seguin
Subject: Re: Lease me an SUV

Pierre,
I didn’t forget you at all.
I got your last email , but I didn’t sent a reply to you yesterday because we were so busy here. We had the official launching for 2005 [Brand][Other Fancier Model] and everybody  was running around here. Bad moment to talk to a manager…
I understood what you told me in the last email.
First of all, we have to clarify some things :

I gave you a price for winter tires. I talked to my Patrs manager again to double check.
That price doesn’t include rims.
The tires are “[Tire Brand]”.
You have 2 options  :
1 ) winter tires + steel rims (15″ inches – the bolts will fit perfect )
or
2 ) winter tires + alloy rims ( 16″ ) = 1,200$ . This option is much cheaper than the first one, because they have a special offer now.

As far as the numbers are concerned, the only way to get the best deal is you to come here.
In this way, as I promised you, I can push my manager to take the greatest deal.
If you are not here ( it happened) , he will tell me : ” Where is your customer ? Is he serious ?
If I don’t have his commitment , how can I give him mine ? ”
So, let’s set an appointment Pierre and I promise you will be happy .I want you to come back to me after 3 years.
I’m waiting for your reply.
Best regards, 

Biff
Sales and leasing consultant
www.[dealership].com

By this point, it’s evident to me I’m not really getting anywhere with this guy. He doesn’t answer all my questions, and keeps insisting that I pay them a visit to show my “commitment”. What value is he bringing to the equation? Evidently he can’t even pretend to make a decision on his own. He’s either sneaky, stupid, or at best, just unable to communicate effectively in writing. Either way, it was time to cut him loose, since by now I’d cinched a better deal elsewhere…

From: Pierre Seguin
To: Biff
Subject: RE: Lease me an SUV

Biff,

Thanks for your time spent to date.

I have already received an offer to lease from a different dealership, in writing, meeting the price targets I had established. Based on your reply, I can only assume you’ve sold so many cars this month that you don’t need me as a customer. Congratulations.

Best of luck,
Pierre

OK, I admit, I assumed the worst (rightly or wrongly) and thus I was more glib in my response than I needed to be. I just felt the need to put this guy, who was personifying every bad car shopping experience I’d ever had, in his place. Nevertheless, to my bemusement, he kept trying:

From: Biff
To: Pierre Seguin
Subject: Re: Lease me an SUV

Pierre,
I do need you as a customer.
I got your ironic words but you do not know me Pierre.
Not all the salesperson are sharks and greedy and tricky.
I do not need only to sell. Customer satisfaction is my first priority. I don’t know how many salspersons can give you references and show you pictures  taken with all customers.
I can do that. I told you this just to explain how important a customer is for me.
But when you have an offer like yours with tons of discount, you have to come by, you have to write down your offer.
Can you buy a house if you are not in person there ? How do you want to do business over the email or phone ?
You are a very well-read person (judging by your words) and for sure you understand that.
I didn’t sell a lot of cars this month. I really need a couple of units to hit my target and any customer is welcome.
But how do you want me to fight for you to get a greater deal if we discuss via email ?
I’m not telling you this just “to lure ” you here, that’s the reality !
I cannot get you the best price ( AND HONESTLY WE HAVE BIG CHANCES TO BEAT THAT OFFER YOU TOLD ME ) if you are not here.
I do want your business. I started my career in this field 1 year ago and believe me,  I don’t like those tricky salespersons, old fashioned stupid methods to attract customers. I want to be honest with you. I felt you you are a serious and smart person.
It doesn’t cost you anything to come by 20 min. It could be YES or NO. At least we’ll try. I repet, WE HAVE BIG CHANCES TO BEAT THAT OFFER YOU TOLD ME .
I’m still waiting for your sign.
Hava a nice day  !

Best regards
Biff

Sales and leasing consultant
www.[dealership].com
email: biff@[dealership].com

Well, clearly he still wasn’t getting it. But he sounded a bit desperate in his last message, and he mentioned he only had 1 year’s experience in the job. Maybe his sales manager is a backwards hardass who dictates how they deal, and maybe Biff is just taking all the rules in the car salesman’s handbook so literally he can’t see the forest for the trees. He had a fairly simple opportunity to make a sale here. I had spelled it out for him twice. But he kept blowing it.

I softened a bit. Not enough to actually go there (what, are you nuts?), but enough to send one last response with some advice:

Hi Biff,

You seem like a nice guy, and I like to think that I am too, so I’ll tell you why you’ve lost this sale.

You must have heard of eBay. People do business electronically all the time, without ever meeting each other. Cars, boats, and even airplanes get sold that way. I laid out all the numbers, in detail, in writing, indicating what I was willing to pay. All you needed to do was bid on my business with a fair counteroffer by email or fax. That would have allowed me to consider your price in context and make an informed decision. It wasn’t complicated.

The tactic of forcing your customer to sign a commitment to buy from you before you even tell him your best price is old and tired. I refuse to play that game, and will encourage my friends to do the same. You may be able to sell cars to others that way for the time being, but rest assured that car buyers are becoming wary of such practices.

Your tire package costs roughly $400 more than what I can find by myself at the retail level. I told you, I’ve done the research. It doesn’t help me if you beat the vehicle price by $100 if you soak me on the tires, does it? Why would I waste my time visiting your dealership if you aren’t willing to demonstrate up front that you can be forthcoming about the cost breakdown? Why should I believe I’d have better luck once I’m sitting in your office? I’ve seen the “good cop, bad cop” act between salesman and sales manager before. It’s entertaining, but not productive for me.

I’ll try [your dealership] again in 36 months. Hopefully, you’ll have come around by then.

Regards,

Pierre

I doubt he’ll try anymore, but we’ll see. Anyway, the better deal I found was with the guy who phoned me back earlier. He had a point about the trailer hitch installation being worth more than my target price. Since sending the email, I had downloaded the installation manual for the hitch that fit my model, and it looked like a fair bit of work to install properly. Moreover, I wanted to make sure the wiring for the trailer plug-in is done correctly. True, I’ve done a fair bit of automotive electrical work in my day. But when it comes to a brand new car I’m leasing, I’d rather let someone else hack into the factory wiring before I take delivery. They’re more likely to get it right with access to the OEM schematic, and more importantly, they’re responsible for it.

They were meeting targets on all the other numbers, so that was close enough. The salesguy faxed me a detailed offer to lease, and I was able to verify his figures.

Anyway, that’s where I’m going tomorrow to ink a deal. I will have my laptop handy with the leasing calculator on it, in case they try any last-minute voodoo and I need to recalculate. I don’t foresee that as a real possibility, but when you venture into the car buying jungle, you need to keep your wits about you, and have your venom antidote handy.