February 26, 2014


buying a carHas the process of buying a new vehicle improved online? We looked at experiences with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz three years ago. This time we’re looking at more companies.

Make An Offer

Have you been asked to make an offer? How annoying. How are we supposed to know what to offer, especially on a used vehicle? Can’t they make a fair offer and compete on factors like service (e.g., free loaners, work completed on time), location, facilities (cappuccino anyone?) and hours (open on Sunday!).

Acura (MDX)

We test drove an MDX around 3 PM on a Tuesday. We weren’t able to stay for a price quote. The advisor said he’d send us the information later that day. He didn’t. No call until Thursday evening around 8 PM while I was driving in bad weather. He offered to call on Friday but never did. Would you return or give this dealership your business?

Audi (Q7 Diesel)

This experience was fine. The advisor answered our questions and phoned back as scheduled. However, the only vehicle we could test drive had the wrong engine and trim. Do you feel comfortable buying without trying?

BMW (535i xDrive GT)

We test-drove two well-equipped 5-Series Gran Turismos. One dealer’s had a loud rattle at some speeds. The other dealer was worse. The car stopped running on the way back. The warning light said the oil pressure was low and shut the engine off. Luckily we were at a traffic light and the warning blinkers worked. The dealership didn’t send anyone to our rescue quickly. After 15 minutes, I braved the chill, snow and slippery sidewalks to walk back to the dealership. Would you want to go back?

Hyundai (Genesis)

We got a test drive but not with the trim level we wanted. We were given misleading information. We were told that buying was better than leasing because we could return the vehicle anytime and get a new one. Really? How was the value set? By appraising the vehicle. You can do that anywhere anytime but will likely lose during the process.

The salesperson was talking to other people while I was there (a phone call, a person walking by). While waiting, I sat in the rear seat of a Genesis R-Spec and closed the door. It wouldn’t unlock! I tapped on the glass and called out. The rescue only took a minute but felt much longer. I returned the next day and this time my wife got locked in. Why hadn’t the childproof locks been deactivated?

At a second dealership, we were told there were no vehicles for test drive but to wait. This wasted time and didn’t change the outcome. Perhaps the salesperson wanted us to think he tried … before pitching a different vehicle. This guy also talked about himself a lot.

Neither advisor followed up. The dealerships were scrunchy and didn’t build confidence in the level of service they’d provide.


We had a bad experience with Infiniti in 2005 and have never returned. That’s unfair but that’s life. At the time, we went on a test drive and the license plate that hangs from the trunk fell off. The salesperson was with us the whole time and knew we hadn’t opened the trunk. He made us feel that we were to blame and left to retrace the path. Would you feel like returning?

Jeep/Dodge/Chrysler (Grand Cherokee Diesel)

This is the worst experience ever. The doors and windows were plastered with signs saying we’d be treated like VIPs because of the big autoshow underway. We told the receptionist we wanted to test drive the new diesel Grand Cherokee. She called a salesperson. He declined to help, saying he had a meeting in 20 minutes. She said she’s find someone else but didn’t. There were other advisors around but no one offered to help. After minutes passed, we told her we were leaving. No one made an attempt to stop us. Would you like to get your vehicle serviced here?

Land Rover (LR4, Range Rover Sport)

The website calculators don’t give a clear understanding of the cost of leasing. We drove to the dealership … but it had moved. Even with GPS, we couldn’t find the new location. How long would you search?

Lexus (RX350)

The first dealer didn’t have the trim we wanted in the showroom or available for a test drive. We tried a lesser version. During the test drive, we heard the clink of glass from the back. We later found out this was from a case of beer. Maybe that’s a bonus for buying? The salesperson asked good questions. Why did we like diesel (which he didn’t sell)? How does Mercedes service compare with BMW?

We returned two days later within 30 minutes of closing. No receptionist. No one there bothered to talk to us. This time we noticed the small showroom didn’t have the F-Sport, GX or LX. Would you buy what you can’t see or compare?

I visited a different Lexus dealer between other meetings. The experience here was good. They had all the vehicles indoors and I got a test drive (though on a model with a lower trim). I didn’t have time to discuss price. However, I did chat with the sales manager who emailed a proposal which met all our requirements.

Mercedes-Benz (ML350 Bluetec)

We were sent on a test drive on our own on icy roads during a storm. No advisor. We didn’t mind. Maybe they knew we already had a Mercedes? Our usual advisor likes to demonstrate the vehicle first and always comes with us.

Mercedes has corporate stores in the Toronto area. This is ideal because all the inventory is consolidated (no need to visit different locations). There are also lots of demonstrators. I have an advisor in their head office and an advisor in the dealership of my choice (the downtown flagship).

Despite these resources, I never got an answer to a basic question: if we buy our current vehicle at lease end, what’s the scheduled maintenance for the upcoming years and how much would that cost? I asked several times. Instead, I was told that maintenance could be very pricey after the warranty. The problem is with the reliability of the electronics. Replacements are pricey. That’s not reassuring. It seems that the focus is on selling or leasing new vehicles.

Overall, the experience here was the best. Have you visited a corporate store?

Toyota (Highlander Limited)

The trim level I wanted wasn’t available for a test drive. I drove a more basic version (no heated steering wheel!) which only had fuel for 17 km. Unlike the experience at BMW, we made it back. The experience was good. I said I’d return after dinner with my family and asked that the Highlander be fueled.

When we returned, we waited only to find there was nothing to test drive. Apparently the vehicle was in for repairs. How reassuring. Why hadn’t the salesperson (who just started a week ago) saved us a trip? We couldn’t test a 4Runner either because the advisor who drove the demo truck left 15 minutes earlier (probably while we were waiting).

Toyota dealer 2 had no receptionist and no Highlander in the showroom. A salesperson offered to help us “in a minute” after finishing with another customer. We left after the minutes passed. The Sienna on display had a broken door hinge.

Toyota dealer 3 had the Highlander but only with a lower trim level without a heated steering wheel or blind spot detection. The vehicle took a while to heat up and the steering wheel stayed chilly throughout. Could we go on the highway? No, that was discouraged to save time. Customers were encouraged to do that at a different dealership and then buy here. Could we drive the 4Runner? Nope. No test vehicle because the model didn’t sell well. Could the lack of a test vehicle be a reason?

We went back inside and got tired of waiting for the salesperson (who only had three months of experience). I wanted to tell the receptionist we were leaving. She must have seen me but continued talking to a co-worker.


There are still huge opportunities to improve the experience of visiting dealerships and the quality of the advisors. Overall, corporate stores feel best and reduce the need to visit multiple dealerships that sell the same brand.


PS We’re on the verge of making our decision and ending the shopping process for a few more years.

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