Sunday, August 05, 2007

New Wheels

The saga of the insurance settlement continues. In the days immediately following my last post on the topic, I rejected the original valuation with a detailed list of what was wrong with it, along with a copy of my own research on the topic, and demanded that the valuation be re-done on a fair basis of comparison. Oh sure, they told me, no problem. That was on a Thursday.

Friday came and went with no word. I called both adjusters assigned to my case twice in the afternoon. The weekend came and went with no word-- unsurprising, I suppose, since Erie Insurance "doesn't work on the weekends", as the nasty receptionist informed me. Monday morning, I started calling every hour on the hour, beginning at 8 a.m. At 9 a.m., I reached one of the adjusters, who said that he was at another appointment, but would be back in the office within the hour, could he call me back then? 10 a.m. came and went, no call. I left another message. 11:00, 12:00. 1:00... I may or may not have let the words "insurance commission" slip during the 1:00 message. At 1:30, I was filling out a form on the insurance commission website and picked up the phone again to call-- this time from a different phone. The adjuster answered-- how very "mysterious" that he would suddenly be in the office for a number that he didn't recognize on the caller i.d. "Oh. Katze. Um, I just got back in the office and I need to boot my computer up and pull your records. Let me call you back in 10 minutes." Suuuuuure. But OK, if that's the game, I'll play. At 1:45, I called back and left a message that began, "Kevin, this is just getting silly now, don't you think?"

By 2:00, I had the complaint form filled out and decided to wait until close of business to click send, just to give Kevin a fair chance to return the call. At 3:00, I called again from yet another phone and, when Kevin answered, the first thing out of my mouth was, "I have no intention of waiting for a return call that will never come, so let's get this taken care of, shall we?"

Seems that when Kevin ran the numbers using cars that are actually comparable to mine the numbers came up quite differently. "Those Toyotas sure hold their value" was his remark to this. NO DUH. Do you think that's why I might have been utterly insulted by your original offer? The new, revised offer came to $7500-- not exactly a small difference, and much more in line with what I would consider a fair settlement. Ash and I decided that the $400 or so in difference between our average and theirs was not worth fighting over and accepted.

So three days later, we used the settlement as a down payment on a new Toyota Matrix. It was not the car I thought I'd buy, to be honest. When Ash and I first set out, I intended to buy another Corolla. I've had two so far and loved them both. Why mess with a good thing, right? But at the first dealership we visited, the salesman stopped at the Matrix, which was parked right next to the door. Ash was already pretty infatuated with it before the salesman opened his mouth, and after a tour of the safety features and what I call the "cool features" (no idea what the proper automotive industry term for that would be), Ash was in love with the car, and I was developing my own crush.

However, I was starting to hate the salesman.

See, I am not an idiot. I do lots of research before making a major purchase of any kind, and especially before the sort of purchase that you're going to spend what amounts to 2/3 of a year's law school tuition on, and intend to live with for the next decade or so of your life. The second question the salesman asked me* was what kind of car I had previously, and I'd told him that it was a 1999 Corolla CE. So you know, it probably wasn't the wisest idea for him to start his spiel on the safety features of the Matrix by telling me that one advantage of the Matrix over the Corolla is that the Matrix can be ordered with anti-lock brakes, but that you can't get anti-lock brakes on a Corolla. Gee, that's funny-- I could have sworn that I just spent the past 9 years driving around in a Corolla with anti-lock brakes. Trust factor reading at negative 200, Captain!

It's like when I was shopping for my last car. Hulio and I set out together to test drive the two models that I had narrowed it down to after my research: a Civic and a Corolla. At the Honda dealership-- and I swear this is true, even though it sounds like something out of a bad sitcom-- the salesman opened (OPENED!) his sales pitch by flipping down the visor and showing me the lighted vanity mirror. Who does this?? It might have been different had he started with things like safety features and gas mileage, then segued into a tour of the interior that happened to include a quick mention of the lighted vanity mirrors**, but he totally acted like he thought I would whip out my checkbook right then and there.

So Ash and I looked at the Matrix, at the Yaris, at the Scion and at the Corolla. The Yaris and the Scion were rejected as too small-- poor Ash couldn't comfortably sit in either of them. The salesman brought out a Matrix and we took it out for a spin. That's when I started to fall in love a little bit. The interior is very well laid out and surprisingly roomy, given that the Matrix is built on a Corolla chassis. It accelerates well and handles nicely, and it has lots of nice little extras that make a car more pleasant to drive.

We had planned to take a Corolla out after that, but by the time we got back to the dealership, my back was screaming and I was ready for a nap. We made our excuses and started inching toward the door, but the salesman just kept talking, bringing us more brochures, asking us more questions. It took forever to get out the door. Back in the rental car, my first words to Ash were "If we do buy a Matrix, it won't be from that guy."

A few days later, we'd gone to a Pontiac dealership to take a look at the Vibe, which is the same car as the Matrix-- they're even produced in the same plant***-- and Ash's grandfather worked at GM for 45 years, which means that Ash is eligible for GM employee pricing. We liked the Vibe about as well as the Matrix, which I suppose isn't shocking, since the only difference between the two cars is the styling. The quote was at the high end of what we'd decided we could afford to spend, and we decided to visit a different Toyota dealership and see if we could leverage the Pontiac quote to get a better price on the Matrix.

The experience at the second Toyota dealership we visited was much different. Perhaps this was because we came in knowing exactly what we wanted and didn't need to go through all the preliminary stuff. Perhaps, though, there's just a different set of core values at that dealership. I had taken the Corolla there for oil changes once or twice because they're much closer to my office than my regular mechanic, and I was quite impressed with the way the service manager treated me. At any rate, our salesman didn't dish out the crap the same way the first guy did. We told him what we wanted-- a Matrix with anti-lock brakes**** that isn't white, black, or silver, and doesn't have a sunroof (because Ash's head hits the ceiling in the sunroof version-- the salesman at the first Toyota told him he could just lean his seat back further back)-- and then we told him what the quote from Pontiac was and asked him what he could do for us. He searched the local inventory, found a car at a dealership about 100 miles away, and came back with a quote that put the price of a Matrix toward the low end of what we had decided we were able to afford.

I've had it for about a week now, and it's great. I took it home to my wedding shower this past weekend and I was able to fit all the shower gifts, plus 133 candles and holders and 17 glass cake stands, plus a huge basket of laundry, plus a bag full of stuff to make invitations. One of the little things that I really like about it, and it's a silly thing, is that it has a power outlet in the dashboard, a normal power outlet just like the ones in your home. It sits a little higher than my Corolla did, which took some getting used to. It's very easy to drive. It promises to get gas mileage similar to my old Corolla, but it's too soon to really know how that will play out in real life. I've gone through 2 1/2 tanks of gas in about 900 miles of mixed driving, so it seems like it will be pretty comparable-- I was getting about 30 or 31 miles to the gallon in mixed driving and about 34 or 35 miles to the gallon for highway driving.

Next up: dealing with titling the cars, and arguing over medical bills and pain and suffering damages. Hooray!

*The first question was "What brings you here today?", which made me want to answer "We're hungry, could you whomp us up a little chow?".

** Which, STILL! Who buys a car based on the lighted vanity mirror? Especially on the driver's side-- shouldn't you be paying attention to something other than your makeup while you're driving, especially if it's dark enough to need a lighted mirror to see it?

*** I was surprised to learn that Toyota and Pontiac had entered into that kind of joint venture. I guess it's working out well for them because now that I've got one, it seems like I see Matrixes (or, as Ash insists on saying, Matrices) and Vibes everywhere I go.

****Which, apparently, the local dealerships have decided price the cars out of the range at which they can get people in this area to buy. The first time a dealer told us that, I thought it was a load of hooey, but each subsequent dealer told us the same thing, and the stock on lot bore it out. For example, at the Pontiac dealership, they had 20 Vibes in stock, but only 4 had anti-lock brakes. Why on earth would you want to buy a car WITHOUT anti-lock brakes? I think they're one of the best safety innovations since the seat belt! Those anti-locks saved my goose more than once when I lived in Buffalo.


At 2:01 PM , Blogger Sonja said...

I bow to your cutting-through-the-BS abilities. You're an insurance negotiation ninja. It's totally hott.


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