It was a dark and stormy night, or Joe buys a Saturn. -----------------------------------------------------

It was a dark and stormy night, no really. It took six hours for the usual 4.5 hr. drive from Tallahassee to Orlando. Hard rain the whole way. A dark start to what would be a muddy weekend.

It was my brother's birthday, that was the origional reason for going to Orlando. I wanted to celebrate it with him and not spend the weekend in the dealership, but since there was no Saturn dealership in Tallahassee, I wanted to get a car while I was there.

Although I'm happy with the new 95 SC-II I purchased, it was not the "Saturn Experience" that I had hoped for. I drove from Tallahassee to Orlando (270 miles) on a Friday looking for a 5-spd black-gold SC-II with the power package, spoiler and nothing else.

Here was the problem: I was somewhat educated. I had shopped my car (1986 mazda 626) around to about 9 dealers in Tallahassee and had two firm offers for $1600 ($1600 was the NADA wholesale value of the car). I could have sold the car myself for about $800 more, but I was in a hurry and not too thrilled with the thought of having a million phone calls to my house. In short, I was willing to settle for $1600. I had also secured financing for my car at my credit union for 6.25%. Since Saturn has a no-haggle policy on the price of their cars, I figured that getting the car would take about the same amount of time as getting a Big-Mac at lunch... WRONG. Well on Saturday morning we, (my brother, roommate, and myself), go in and I talk to the Salesman Dave Maharaj at Saturn of Orlando. Dave was a nice guy and we went over what I wanted. He didn't have any of the black-gold '95 SC-II's in stock, but after checking Saturn's computers, found two in the area that could be delivered the next day. (The next day was important as both my roommate and myself had to be at work on Monday). I asked him to have my car appraised.


He came back with an offer of $500 for the car. I laughed in his face. I told him that he had better do better than $500 or I'd buy and Acura, he went back to the back of the dealership to "see what he could do". 20 minutes later he came back saying that he'd give me $1000 for the car, but that was about the best that he could do... (Interesting to note how the value of my car doubled in 20 minutes.) I told him that I'd take $1000 for the trade if he takes $600 off of the price. He said that the price of the Saturn is non-negociable, I said that my price isn't either, so try again Dave or I'm leaving.

Let's do some quick math lest you think me harsh in my treatment of Dave: I can get $1600 in Tallahassee for my car, cash. NOTE this is only the WHOLESALE value of the car and I'm losing $800 on it by doing this. The Saturn that I wanted was about $15,000 (one of the most expensive). The markup on Saturn's is about 10%(including factory to dealer incentives). At 10% they are making $1500 profit off of me without considering the profit they will make from my trade in car. Now a bit of background on the car industry. Most dealers don't buy the cars on their lots. Most have a factory lease program where dealers lease cars from the factory on a per-month basis. The 95's had been out about 3 weeks, and most cars are leased for less that $60/month typically.


They would make $1500 - $60 = $1440 off of the saturn for keeping the car on their lot for less than 3 weeks. They would be able to resell my trade for about $2,400-$3,000. Their total profit off of the sale would be $1440 + let's be generous $2400-$1600 =$800, which brings the grand total to $2240 for a total outlay of less than $60.(Note this is if they give my $1600 for my trade and can only sell it for $2400, a worst-case scenario for them.) Sure they have to pay for lighting and the building, but I'm not in a sympathetic mood when it comes to me losing 100's or 1000's of dollars.


Wondered if the office was bugged. After the 1st 20 minutes of trade-in negociations, Dave was in the back of the dealership "Seeing what he could do", I said "Ok 5 minutes and we're gone.." 30 seconds later Dave came pinning around the corner blurting, "Sorry it took so long, I just need a few more minutes" Hmmm...


I explained to him that I know a bit about how car dealers work, and explained the above math to him. (Note: He's looking less happy by the minute).

I told him that if he couldn't get me $1600 for my trade I'm leaving (Hey they have an Acura dealership in Tallahassee). Dave goes away again, comes back after about 30 minutes, telling me with a sorrowful look on his face, "Joe you need to work with me on this one ",Dave told me that the best he could do is $1500. This is about hour 3.5 at the dealership, so I caved in...."Ok I'll take $1500, but lets see what $100 option you're going to give me for free...". (OK maybe it wasn't a total cave-in..)

He volunteered floor mats, I didn't want the $75 floor mats for $75, never mind $100. I decided on the center console, it was $110, and I told him that I'd pay $10 for it. He laughed and says ok.

With a hopeful look he offered, "You'll be financing with us ??".

I replied kindly, "No, I've arranged for my own financing."

"But how ??, you're from Tallahassee, how will you do this on the weekend ??"

Dave slumped noticably in his chair as I pulled out the pre-approved loan draft from the folder and he muttered quietly "I should have known." (In case you didn't realize, dealers get big kickbacks from finance companies and it's also a great way to slip in things like term-life and unwanted paint protection, as well as the classic rule of 78's loan as opposed to the simple interest loan...cha ching).

Now, Dave said that he needed a $500 deposit before he would have the car delivered, as a token of my intent to buy.(As if I'd spend 3+ hrs out of a weekend haggeling with him for fun...) I said ok, after all the car is 100% refundable in the first 30 days, so I figured "what have I got to lose ??", little did I know. One of the things that Dave was supposed to have done during this time was to call the other dealership with my (Boy I'm ahead of the game here with that my statement) car to make sure that it existed and was available for delivery. Dave had showed me that the car I wanted was in the computer, at another dealership and that there were two cars that exactly fit the color and options that I had wanted. Dave had gone to make sure that he could have one of the cars that I wanted delivered tomorrow. I wrote the check for $500 and felt happy knowing that Dave was going to call me to let me know what time I could pick the car up tomorrow. JOY JOY JOY.


A little after 6pm Saturday, I got a disturbing phone call from Dave, It appeard that he couldn't get the car after all since there were only two in the area with the options and color that I had wanted, and one of them had been sold. (This info not entered into the computer yet) The other car that fit the bill was being held for some people who were getting financing approved (also not in the computer yet).

I went ballistic, Since he was supposed to have checked this before I gave him $500, I was not too damn happy. After my blood pressure calmed to a mellow 240 over 120, I sweetly mentioned that I'd be in tomorrow to see what we could work out,(car or money back). Little did he know that I would be bringing SISTER.

SISTER was a mean girl from the get-go, (As a little brother I have scars to attest to the above). To add to her natural charm (She once smashed her deans computer in college with him on the other side cringing), she's also the auto editor for a newspaper, and deals with car dealing critters regularly. Another noteworthy tidbit on SISTER is that it is absoultely impossible for her to become embarrassed, it simply does not happen.

Where I preferred to use indifference and logic to get my way (Yes you're making money even if you give me a fair deal on my trade), SISTER preferred the shotgun approach. Go berzerk quickly, stay berzerk until person cringed, caved, and apologized for breathing. So we proceeded Sunday morning back to the dealership. Dave was there and appeared happy to see us (Yeah right, if he was happy to see us, this soon changed). To make sure that we would be communicating clearly, I first asked for my deposit check back. This way I'm free to leave the dealership at any time. Well wouldn't you know it, but the safe was locked and couldn't be opened.....(Interesting to note that on Sunday they have no problems taking money, just giving it back...) Enter SISTER, She went ballistic to the point where I'm feeling bad for the guy. Dave wrote me a personal check for $500. I was happy with this arrangement, SISTER wanted to check the bank to make sure he had enough money to cover the check. My next move was to find out what's out there that was close to what I want. The main problem was that the 95's had only been out for about 2-3 weeks, and there hadn't been a massive shipment yet.

Dave took us back to the computer room..."We don't normally let customers back here"..

"I'm sure" snarled SISTER.

Dave was looking more and more uncomfortable, SISTER was looking at him as if he were lunch. I was getting more and more unimpressed with the whole process, but I still wanted a car.

Dave, was trying to calm the fury and came out with "Trust must be earned..." in some sort of supplicative offering.

SISTER kindly replied "Damn right it does...What can you do for us ??"

We looked upon the much vaunted computer, and Dave (He really was trying to sell a car) helped us select one that's in the area, and close to the options that I wanted. Now the problem, they couldn't have it delivered on that day, and I'm going back to Tallahassee that night. Here was where the service came in,

Dave said "I'll personally drive your new car to Tallahassee, do the paperwork there, and drive your trade back". I was really happy with this, SISTER lunged forward and spat, "What are you going to do for my little brother if these cars on the computer are vapor-cars like the ones that were supposed to be delivered today ?? You promised him a car today, he gave you money, and where is it ??" (oooh.... I like her)

Dave looked bewildered and quietly said "Ma'am, why do you hate me ??", I almost laughed.

I asked him what he had on the lot that's the closest thing to what I wanted in terms of options. Dave showed me a white SC-II that has exactly everything I wanted in it. I hadn't considered a white car, but it looked sharp and I made my decision. "I'll take it".

What followed was the usual 2hrs of signing papers and going over papers and writing checks to everyone and their mothers. Dave was nice enough to help me out in a big way for insurance.(Bonus Dave points for this) I had PIP/liability on my old car, I needed Comrehensive/Collision/Theft for the new car. It was Sunday, so most, if not all, insurance places were closed. Dave had sold a Saturn on Saturday to a couple that owned an insurance company. Dave called them and they came to the dealership with my insurance.(I had already called about 6 insurance companies to find out what my rate would be a week before, and these insurance people were right in line, and they worked they on Sunday...Bonus).

It's now about 7:30 PM Sunday, and I'm really tired/hungry.

All in all Dave was a really nice guy who did a great job in the face of an onslought of horrific proportions, but I didn't get the total "Saturn experience" I was expecting. I guess if I hadn't haggled on the trade(Losing additional $1100), and wasn't upset about the car I bought not being there(NOTE: THIS was the big problem), there wouldn't have been a problem. Then again, if I went to any dealership, took nothing for my trade, and paid list for the car, I guess I'd have no problems there either.

One thing that I had to laugh at is that Dave had many "Salesman of the Month" plaques hanging in his office, and he mentioned that fact during negociations. Well, guess what that means, he screws the customer better than the other salesmen. These plaques weren't given by the customers, but by the dealership. This means that he is making more profit for the company, while convincing customers that they got a good deal by the time that they leave. I think that they should have kept these plaques in a secret room where the customers are never allowed to enter :^) I mentioned this to him, and then added, "I don't want the salesman of the year, I want the guy who's just about to get fired for give great deals and cutting slim profit margins too often." At this Dave simply smiled.

The interesting thing is, that for all of the turmoils and troubles, I only got a fair deal, not a really great one.(I think that it's still a lot of car for the money, but they still made their money off of me).

Most of the rough time that I had would have been prevented by a few more weeks time, with the dealers getting more '95 Saturns in every day. The whole incident with not being able to get the car delivered would have been avoided. I regret spending the whole weekend buying a car, but the fact that I only had two days led to me spending two full days buying the car.

On the bright side, I really like the car. On the dim side it looks like GM is going to re-absorb Saturn. Funny it's the #3 car company in customer satisfaction behind Lexus and Infinity, while GM is mud-sucking down near Yugo levels, and GM is looking into scrapping the whole Saturn philosophy..... And people wonder why GM has been on the brink of folding so often.

I highly recommend Remar Sutton's "Don't get taken every time". Had I not read this book I might have taken the $500 for my trade, taken dealer financing, and come out as a much poorer person with the same car.

To avoid further dark and stormy stories, Joe's recommendation:

Read "Don't get taken every time".

Shop your financing.

Shop your old car and sell it so that you don't have to dicker with the dealer where you are buying your car.

If you're getting a saturn, order it or make sure that they have what you want in stock.

Smile at the ease of the process, enjoy your car.

Not all Saturns the same price

My brother saved over $1000 by purchasing a Saturn SL in Orlando rather than West Palm Beach. It seems that the WPB dealer was charging for undercoating(done at factory), Scotch-guarding (done at factory), and a few other DVF (Dealer Vacation Fund) items. After mentioning to the WPB salesman that he didn't want the DVF items and that Saturn of Orlando would sell him the exact same car for over $1000 less, the salesman replied "Have a nice drive to Orlando".

So he drove 2.5 hours and saved $1000.

The funny thing was that 2 days later the WPB salesman called my brother back to see if he was still interested in the car. The salesman became furious when he learned that My bro had already bought the car in Orlando...


I recently took the car to Saturn of Orlando to be serviced for a few minor things.

  • The rotors needed to be turned. 2K miles took until 5K to get to the dealer
  • A window needed to be adjusted.

    Saturn's services was AWESOME. The car was finished on time and it was all covered by warranty.

    More Service

    I AGAIN needed to have my rotors done 9K miles... Had to wait until 12K to get to a town with a Saturn Dealership.

    Brought the car to Saturn of Stuart. Melinda Lastinger did a great job of getting my car in and out. I had taken off from work on a friday to get my car worked on, and took it to Stuart Friday Morning. I was waiting at the dealership, and Melinda made sure that the car was done by noon(In at 9:30). Saturn of Stuart also washed and vaccuumed the car(Nice touch).

    I'm dissappointed that the rotors needed to be done twice in under 10K miles, but at least the service department has been superb.

    More Service

    Saturn of Tallahassee finally opened, and just in time. The rotors went again and were replaced this time(Turns out the first 2 times they just resurfaced them. It looks like this time they got it right, as I've put over 6K miles on the new ones without a problem. On the down side, after this last adjustment, when I turn the wheel all the way to one side I hear a scraping sound from the brakes. The service consultant at Saturn of tallahassee tells me that this is normal If it was normal, then why didn't the new cars do it, and why did it only start after the car was serviced here ?? No answer, and I'm waiting for free time to take my car to an independent brake shop for a 2nd opinion. They were nice, but they may be at the limit of technical expertise at Saturn of Tallahassee.

    CARveat Emptor Great WWW site for buying cars...Joe Rates it a must read.

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