Adding to the fleet

The family fleet, with the new addition

In the next couple of months, my wife’s employer is pulling the cars it allowed a handful of staffers drive home at night. That’s a perk she’s had for many years, and eliminating it blew a $10,000 annual hole in our budget, and it also meant we had to get her a commuter vehicle.

But not just any commuter vehicle, of course. It needed to be a commuter vehicle that would get her to work in terrible weather, and could be used as a work vehicle on occasion. And we needed to get that in the absolute worst environment I can ever recall for buying a new car.

The weather requirement meant AWD, and AWD meant a SUV; I wasn’t going for the gas-sucking cartoons that pass as pickup trucks now as commuter vehicles, and they’re not ideal snow/ice vehicles anyway because of the lack of weight over the rear tires.

But my wife loves her a pickup truck. We’ve had Old Blue (which is black), a 2001 Ford Ranger, for over 12 years. We bought it as a way for her to get around if I wasn’t home — she could drive the company vehicle to and from work, but nowhere else — and as a utilitarian complement to the small cars we generally owned. She made it her own, slapping on bumper stickers and a fuzzy steering wheel cover. I have fond memories of her driving up to the house in Old Blue, with Dexter sticking his head out of the driver’s side window, barking at me. But Blue needs a chunk of work now, and it’s about time we gave her to someone who will do that work and enjoy her a lot.

Anyway, if you’ve been following the headlines, you know the deal: New cars are in short supply, thanks to chip shortages and transportation issues and general nonsense. That’s the market we had to launch into, and since it looks like it’ll get worse before it gets better, I wanted to shop now instead of waiting for winter desperation to lock in.

I tried to push her toward a small SUV, even though she really wanted a pickup. She wanted POWER for all of those times she has to race at 10 mph on her crawling commute, but she wants what she wants, so I tried to accommodate her on that front. But I also found that a couple of manufacturers had launched mini-trucks — think modern El Caminos — and thought those creations might sit in the middle of the Venn diagram for the kind of cars we wanted.

In the end, we looked at four vehicles: A Mazda CX-30 turbo, a Subaru Crosstrek, and the mini-trucks: A Hyundai Santa Cruz and a Ford Maverick.

The first shock was this: Sticker prices are a freaking comedy. For example, we enjoyed the CX-30, but it was marked at $4,000 over list even though it was the end of the model year, meaning the immediate depreciation if we bought it was going to be enormous. And ordering was pretty much out of the question; the salesman said he wasn’t sure when he was going to get new stock of any kind, much less any car that was ordered from the factory in Japan.

The Crosstrek went out the window as soon as we got in it: It felt cheap but it wasn’t. And even with the larger optional engine, it was the lowest-powered of the potential picks and my wife wants POWER, if you weren’t paying attention.

We both liked the looks of the Santa Cruz, but it’s the hottest vehicle in America right now and the only model with POWER that we could ever find ran over $40,000 at LIST — before the F.U. markups many dealers were tacking on. And I was worried that today’s cool look would be tomorrow’s leisure-suit styling.

That left the Maverick. The truckette is crazy cheap at the base level (under $20K) and can be ordered with a hybrid engine, which was appealing enough to my wife that she considered waiving the POWER requirements. However, it can’t be obtained in all-wheel drive in that configuration, so that was out. There are about 100,000 people waiting for their Maverick-with-a-hybrid orders, but the occasional 4-cylinder-turbo AWD model is making its way to showrooms, so we started looking that way.

I found a well-appointed one on AutoTrader that was coming in to an Alexandria dealership, reached out to them, made an appointment and my wife and I headed in…to be told it had just been sold. It had only arrived two days earlier on the lot, and rightly or wrongly, this felt like a routine to drag us into the dealer anyway. We are the wrong people for that approach, so we left…

…and we got called back even before we got home again. The Maverick sale fell through because the buyer couldn’t qualify for financing, the dealership said (we will never know if that is true; you can understand my skepticism). I had to work, but my wife was off and went to test drive it, liked it and gave me a yell. I didn’t need any convincing; it wasn’t too truck-y for me, gas mileage was OK, the crazy-low inventories on dealer lots made me a motivated buyer and I thought it was safer on the down-the-road resale front than the Santa Cruz was likely to be (again: Today’s funky style is tomorrow’s leisure suit).

Next came the negotiation, which wasn’t all that bad except for the initial offer. I was told that I could have the truck for a mere $3K over its MSRP. I expressed my feelings about that in a direct manner. However, I did offer them list price.

Now, I’d typically never do that — I’d look up comp sales in the area and aim for that price — but this was a brand new, hot model that probably could have gotten list even in a normal market. I also strongly felt the car sales situation was going to get even worse soon. This also was a 2022 model, not a 2021, so I wouldn’t have to eat a year of depreciation by buying an end-of-year new car. We added in a couple of aftermarket accessories that put a little more meat on the bone for the dealer, they offered us great financing and we came to a deal.

And now it’s in the driveway. The spray-on bed liner was added yesterday, and we’re waiting for a locking bed cover and an aftermarket audible backup warning that my wife wanted (she’ll have to park in some not-fun situations). But we also dealt with near-empty dealership stocks and eye-popping pricing. It was a bad time to buy a new car, but we got a vehicle we wanted at a price we were willing to pay, and that’s about all you can ask right now.

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