Not Yet Willing to Put on Brakes for Toyota

Ad Age Reporter Discovers Complications of Getting a Deal

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CHICAGO ( -- 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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Not Yet Willing to Put on Brakes for Toyota
Ad Age Reporter Discovers Complications of Getting a Deal
In addition to a surprising number of shoppers, the dealership had cleared out most of the showroom cars to make space for what it told me was a reception for about 200 recent new-car buyers. Apparently the dealer does this all the time. But this Saturday, the assembled crowd clearly wanted to talk about the recalls. Owners were brought through the service area, given a box lunch, and looked both angry and bored, glowering at the poor service rep droning recall information into a microphone, his face hidden behind printouts.

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.

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