CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- As the Toyota recalls captured national attention and irate consumers flooded the airwaves in late January, I thought it seemed like a great time to haggle. It wasn't crowded when I arrived at Toyota of Elmhurst, Ill., that snowy Saturday morning, but it certainly wasn't empty.
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That's not to say they were angry about the recalls; I didn't ask them. And somebody who'd spend a Saturday driving to the sticks for a soggy sandwich and half-hearted soothing is probably always angry and lacking in things to do.
That said, if I'd spent $22,000 base on a new Prius without working brakes, I might glower, too. Still, haggling for a 2007 Prius over the din that Saturday, I felt empowered. The dealer knocked a bit off the price, but I didn't stick it to them like I might have. It was probably obvious that I really wanted the car. The salesmen, still trading on "dependability," laughed off my concerns about relatively high mileage, saying, "This is a Toyota. You'll be driving this 100,000 or 200,000 miles."
This was to be my fourth Toyota. First was the 1984 car of my childhood, mine for a few sweet months until I totaled it. Next was the '93 Tercel and then a barely used Prius in 2005.
Prius owners were clubby then, chatting about gas mileage and features. Strangers stopped me on the street to ask how I liked the car. I sold it in 2007, and with the nearly steady Blue Book value and an HOV pass from a maxed-out hybrid incentive program, it was easy to charge a premium. But for two years I sighed as they passed me on the street.
In hindsight, it would have been even better to go and haggle a week or two later. And after reading about a Tennessee woman's uncontrollable, 100-mile-an-hour journey -- nearly into oblivion -- I might not have gone at all. But I love my new car. And other people were buying Toyotas that Saturday. I waited an hour for the finance guy, and watched as a second "new-car-buyers reception" was ushered in.
It's also vaguely possible that the dealership had some reservations about my certified, pre-owned car that had been inspected end-to-end. When I hopped in to drive home, I shouldn't have been surprised to see there were no floor mats.