AUTO-BY-TEL IS A DELIGHT
From Robert Walker: “I had to comment on www.Auto-by-Tel.com after your recent less than glowing commentary. Last year I bought a new car through Auto-by-Tel, and it was an unalloyed delight. I filled out the online form specifying the car I wanted and sent if off. A few days later I received a call from a local dealer. They didn’t have what I wanted in stock, but after chatting a bit I decided to order it from the factory; at less than MSRP [manufacturer’s suggested retail price] naturally. Off went my deposit check, and a couple of months later I received the call that my new car was at the dealership. The dealership was not convenient for me to visit, so for a modest fee they offered to drive it to my workplace. I carpooled to work that day, then wandered downstairs at lunch to sign some papers and a check, and to see my new car. Drove it home that evening, never having met the dealer or set foot in a showroom. The only surprise was that on the day of delivery they announced that they were giving me a $750 rebate. No doubt a bargain-hunter could find a better deal, but for those of us who don’t care for the chase, Auto-by-Tel is a joy.”
BUT NOT FOR EVERYONE
From Brad Sandman: “I tried Auto-by-Tel in ’96 when I was shopping for a new vehicle. I got called by a dealer, and visited the lot. They didn’t do anything differently from dealers I visited on my own. They even tried to explain how those Internet prices are not accurate. I complained to Auto-by-Tel, but never heard back.
“I took my www.edmunds.com prices to another dealer, and they refused to admit that my prices were accurate. I walked out when they wouldn’t let me talk to a manager. It didn’t stop them from calling to make the same lousy offer. I did find a dealer who would come close to the Edmunds price, but they didn’t even want to discuss my trade-in.
“I ended up using a service here in the Bay Area — 800-CAR-CLUB. For a $50 fee, they guaranteed to beat my best price by more than the cost of their service. In addition, they put my old car into the wholesaler network so I would be contacted with book-price offers. Sure enough, they found a dealer to sell me the new car I wanted for a few hundred less than my best haggling. Even better, I got four or five offers (sight unseen) for my used car from wholesalers for $5500 — about $1500 better than any dealer offered as a trade-in.
“I ended up selling my old car for $6400 by advertising for free in www.classifieds2000.com, but it was nice to know I could have bettered the dealer trade-in with no effort. One of the wholesalers told me that the dealers ALWAYS profit on trade-ins, because they turn around and sell them to the wholesalers for book price.
“I strongly urge people never to trade in a used car at the dealership — you may be tired of the old car, but it’s still your money. I guess if the car really is worth nothing, then the token offer from the dealer is better. But they almost always jack up the cost of the new car to compensate. No free lunch.
“I ended up taking a loan from my credit union for the balance of the new car at a full point less than the interest rate at my normal bank. Plus, I’ll pay it off early to minimize the total interest I’ll pay.
“Overall, I found that the best use of the Internet was the information available to consumers. My advice to new car buyers: know the prices, deal on the total cost of the new vehicle (not the payments or financing), and sell your old car yourself.”
From Ralph East: “I really felt enthusiastic going into the A-B-T program and came out VERY dissatisfied. Let the buyer beware. I believe an in-person visit heavy on negotiation will produce the best price. If you want convenience and the euphoria of a few key strokes to buy your car, then convince yourself of the A-B-T system being to your advantage.”
From Curtis Allen: “Your column struck two familiar notes with me. First, a bad experience with an Auto-By-Tel (ABT) dealer. We were shopping for a new Chrysler Town and Country LXi 2 years ago when I decided to try ABT. Worse than getting a lame call back from the dealer, I got NO call back. I received an email confirmation that my request was forwarded. Several attempts to contact the dealer by email and phone stirred no interest. I’m convinced that the ABT dealer had little or no incentive to sell a popular model to an ABT lead at a low profit price when he knows that auto will sell easily itself.
“Well, we finally bought that Chrysler somewhere else. We did not choose the extended warranty. We have had numerous trips back to the dealer for a variety of repairs; transmission leaks (twice), water pump (left me stranded on Xmas eve), break handle and a door handle. We looked into the lemon law, but here in PA we were past the time limit for that to help. My wife finally got so disgusted that she wrote a scathing letter and sent it off to about a half dozen Chrysler corporate execs (names and addresses found on the Internet). The letter described, in detail, every repair, dates and where it was done. About 2 weeks later we got a response from a VP of customer service. Chrysler offered us an extended warranty at no charge. I’d call that a success.”
A.T.: I’m impressed.
From GK: “In your March 17 column, you responded to a women who wrote:
I clicked the ad, searched for my old make and model, and found a deal (basically 1/2 the miles, 50K versus 95K, at a 10% premium over my insurance payment for the totaled car).
“You wrote: ‘Couldn’t have said it better myself … except that I typically buy used cars, not new.’
“Andy, it sure sounds to me like that 50,000 mile car she bought probably was used; somewhere in being driven 50,000 miles the ‘newness’ usually wears off.”
A.T.: Good point. I must be losing my mind.