I’d like to share a tale of warning for travelers looking to buy a car in Auckland in the future. While there is a specific warning to those in Auckland, I think the lessons learned apply everywhere. I came to NZ knowing I wanted a car. I’d done a bit of research and knew there were two used car fairs each week in Auckland (one Saturday, one Sunday). The problem was, it was Wednesday. As nice as Auckland was, I was getting the itch to get out of town and start seeing the beautiful countryside that was the entire reason for my visit.
On the wall in my hostel, there was a brochure for the friendly-sounding Backpackers Car Market (Warning – make sure you read the entire post before doing business with them) that was only a 5 minute walk down the street. As I didn’t have much planned for the day, I headed that way, figuring there wouldn’t be much – but at least I could have a look and get a feel for prices.
As I walk in, the owner gives her well rehearsed pitch about what makes here place so great (We don’t set the prices, the owners do. There are a lot of cars here, but only a few that I think are a good value. We can give an honest opinion. We don’t negotiate for you – it is up to you. I know the NZ market, etc, etc.. Have a look around and let me know what you are interested in.). Very convincing, friendly and disarming. I’m a sucker for someone that I feel is genuine – and she came across great. There were a couple of Subaru wagons on hand that looked like they were what I was looking for – with prices around $4,400. I hadn’t done much research to this point – but this was at the upper end of the range I’d seen. Not enough to suggest it was a complete rip-off.
I head to the counter to speak with her – she asks if anything caught my eye I mention the Subarus. Her eyes light up – and she says ‘Great cars, to be honest, those are the best on the lot. Those plus one or two others are the only ones I’d drive myself (Maybe she was being honest – but I’d love for someone to go in, pick what looks like the worst car on the lot and see if you get the same reaction). We’ve got 3 on hand, but they are going quickly. The woman in front of you just took the black one, and I wouldn’t recommend the blue one’. She then gives a sound reason to stay away from the blue one (inspection raised some costly red flags) – making me trust her even more.
So, I took a test ‘drive’ in the remaining Subaru (‘test drive’ for them means the customer riding shotgun, not driving…). Rode very nicely, no noises or other issues. Was in good condition inside – though the paint job had seen better days. At this point, I’m not thinking too clearly. She’s got me convinced the car will be gone soon (alarm bell 1), they never have this many in (alarm bell 2) and to top it off – I’m almost guaranteed to sell it for what I paid or more (seriously, I can’t believe I didn’t walk out then). Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe I’m just too trustworthy – but at this point, I’m thinking the price may be a bit high, but not so much that it wouldn’t be okay just to get it over with. What’s the next step? Shell out $155 for a mechanic inspection done by the guys across the street (I wonder how much of that she gets? I’m sure it is a number greater than zero). The bad news is, I did it. I still feel like an idiot – I NEVER do things like that. Chalk it up to a painful but not terrible learning experience. The good news is that gave me a four hour break to think.
I then went into full on research mode. Prices for similar cars across various NZ websites suggested that $4,400 wasn’t insane as the car had fairly low mileage – but most of the ones for that price had been on the market for a while or had immaculate exteriors. Then I searched about her company. Turns out I should have done that before handing over the cash. It wasn’t that she was stealing money – but there were countless reviews with everyone having a sour taste and wishing they’d gone elsewhere after learning how much money they could have saved. I made up my mind – I was going to go back, see what the inspection said and offer her $3,500. In my mind, I was willing to pay $3,700 at most. Might be able to do a few hundred cheaper elsewhere – but I was okay with that.
Here is where I go from feeling like she’s living off the naivete of backpackers to placing the company at the dishonest end of the spectrum. I come back, and the inspection calls out $350 worth of items that HAVE to be fixed before the car could get it’s next required government approval (WOF), plus a few hundred more of things that should be taken care of. Suddenly this car just went from $4,400 – to a more realistic $5,000 with everything taken care of. At this point I know I’m walking away – no way she comes down to $3,000 or less. So I ask – how do I negotiate with the seller? I’m not willing to pay $4,400, but would like to at least make an offer – especially one factoring in the $500 surprise that just landed on everyone’s lap.
Her response? The minimum the seller will take is $4,200. End of discussion. They had no idea what the inspection had shown. I’m certain she knew that before taking my $155 – figuring at least she’d get her cut of that if I wasn’t willing to pay the yet-to-be-communicated minimum. Also – I’m not so sure there was a sellar. Many of the reviews I read talked about her selling her own cars mixed in with those that had actually individuals behind them.
Maybe the whole thing was just here trying to charge above-market rates. I don’t have a problem with that – buyer beware and all that – but the dishonesty and overall approach left me with a very sour taste in my mouth.
Moral of the story? Take your time. Do your research. Does it sound too good to be true? It is. I’ve been on this earth long enough that none of those things are new to me – but I still managed to part with cold hard cash when caught up in the moment. Hopefully this helps at least one person avoid doing the same. In my next post – I’ll share my positive experience of getting my new car