Chad got a new car today: a new Toyota CE Corolla for $13, 783.51 out the door.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) was $14,305, not including tax, licensing, and tire fees – so I say we made out like bandits.

The whole process of buying a new car for cheap was not without a few glitches and headaches, though. Chad’s old car, a used Toyota Civic hatchback was on its last legs, so we (I) had already been doing some informal research on cheap new cars. It takes some footwork, there are no fancy extras, and you don’t have much color choice – but if you can handle all that, you really can save thousands of dollars on a new car.

The best deal I had heard about was a brand new “fleet” car from the I-10 Toyota dealership near Palm Desert. My friend bought one there for under $13,000 last year, so that’s the first thing I tried.

A “fleet” car is apparently a stripped down model of a car sold to corporations in quantities enough to merit the title “fleet.” And it seems that just about every major car dealership has a fleet department, which may or may not be associated with the internet department.

Friday, Chad’s car developed an unhealthy cough and fever and slowly sputtered to its death in the Target parking lot. The death was anticipated, but it was still a pain in the butt, because it all happened in Laguna – and I was still in Joshua Tree and planning to head out that same evening.

I called down to the I-10 Toyota and got a quote for $13,647.00 for a new 5-speed manual Corolla with air conditioning and a CD player. Sounded great! So I quickly devised a plan where I would drive down, buy the car, switch all my stuff over, leave my own car in the lot and drive into Laguna like a hero in the new car that same evening. Seemed too good to be true… and it was. TWO hours later in the same car dealership – it turned out that the guy helping me was new and had misquoted the price of the car. Supposedly he was getting chewed out while his very un-sauve senior partner quoted me $14,100. I was getting irritated, but the price was still good and Chad was still willing to go for it – and besides he had already transferred all the money into my bank account.

After I accepted that offer, the sleazy managers tried to up the price again! What scumballs: it was all very good-cop-bad-cop. I pulled the plug on the whole deal and may I suggest NEVER BUY A CAR FROM THE I-10 TOYOTA DEALERSHIP. It was big, big waste of time.

I did like the guy (the new guy) I was working with, though. On the way out, he whispered to me that I might get a similar deal from the Cerritos or Longo Toyota dealerships – that they were huge dealerships in the LA/OC area and would have fleet departments.

The next morning Chad and I started the car hunting in earnest. Chad signed up online through toyota.com and costco.com. We also called a few fleet departments: Longo Toyota ($14,495.89) and Cerritos was about the same. San Juan Capistrano Toyota offered us $14,535 – but with life-time oil changes and tires. We made it clear to the sales people that we needed to buy a car by the end of the day, and I feel that it made a difference.

Online researching proved to be our best bet. I played a little phone tag with the Costco guy – but through internetautoguide.com we had an immediate email back from Ali (949.678.7629) of Power Toyota Irvine. We ultimately got our car through them. When I called to follow up on Ali’s email, Ryan (949.510.2211) offered us a red Corolla at $13,793.15 all told! That was only $150 more than the Palm Desert scam and substantially less than what the other dealerships were able to offer us. In the end it was Ken Banfill (951.515.6997 or banfillk@autonation.com) who helped us, but all three of those guys work together in the internet (not fleet) department there. The good news is that the check I wrote was not one penny more than the original quoted price of the car. And we even got a few hamburgers, sodas, and cookies out of the deal, as they were having a Tundra promotion this weekend.

So after signing a mountain of paperwork (including one that makes it clear that “Nothing else is promised or implied” and another form that was literally three-feet long…) we are the proud owners of a good-looking Toyota Corolla.

That new-car smell really is as intoxicating as they say.

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