Friday, April 18, 2008

Goodbye Canyonero

It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved member of the family. Even when they get old and crotchety and start to fall apart, you remember their younger glory days and are loathe to let go.

So it was for Canyonero, my trusty 2002 Pontiac Aztek that served us faithfully for six years and rolled safely through a Georgia ice storm to delivery hubby and I, along with two fish, three cats and a bird, safely from Chicago to Duloc Manor.

I have no photos of Canyonero, but the pics. below are an accurate representation:

I loved its boxy butt and its general homeliness. It was my first SUV, and I hate SUVs, so it was a way of subtly thumbing my nose even as I gave in to a desire for safety and space. At the time, I was driving a micro-Neon, so with 80% of the cars on the road being big, honkin' SUVs that could crush me flat I knew I had to get something to put me on equal footing. But that didn't mean I had to like it, and it pleased me to know that my hideous vehicle was borderline painful to look at. But that was then and this is now...there are much uglier vehicles than the Tek. Still, in its day it was considered...uh...unusual.

I came to love the Tek, which was well equipped at a reasonable price and which had tons of room and all sorts of little comforts. It even had take-away storage bags in the doors and a cooler between the driver and passenger seats. If they were still available, I would have bought a new one in a minute.

But alas, they are not and Canyonero was starting to show its age. First a power window problem, then the body control module. We had those things fixed; next, the air conditioning went out (which is a fatal flaw in Florida) and the brakes started squeaking. Was our beloved vehicle going to become a money pit? Sadly, we decided it wasn't worth the gamble.

Since Azteks have gone the way of the dodo and Florida orange groves, we studied up an decided on a Saturn Vue. It's still a GM product and, like the Tek, the base model is pretty loaded. Also, I am eligible for a GM supplier discount so we'd get a little money off the Saturn pre-set price. We wanted a 4cylinder base XE model with no extras and were almost 100 percent open on the color. Should be an easy purchase, right?


First, it's virtually impossible to find a 4 cylinder XE with no options. Most have the preferred package or a bunch of things we'd never use, like a CD changer and roof rails, that boost the price by hundreds of dollars.

Next up is a common Florida trick: loading them with dealer options that add no value, like paint protector and fabric coating ($599), window tint ($199), and pinstripe ($199). The actual cost is pennies on the dollar, but they boost dealer profit by upping the price of the car by $1000 or more. For some reason this was not as predominant in Illinois except at certain dealerships. In FL it seems to happen across the board.

Last but not least there's another money-waster that is as common in Florida as lizards and lovebugs, although it's a problem in other states too: the documentation fee. In theory, it's for filling out paperwork etc. although that would be akin to your doctor adding on a $25 receptionist fee and $15 paperwork generation fee to your office visit. Still, if it was reasonable I wouldn't balk. In Illinois it's capped right around $5o by law. In America's Wang, which has no such restriction, it can run anywhere from $299 to $99. That's almost pure profit! Thankfully (or so I thought), it's capped at $75 under the supplier program.

But as we started looking, I quickly discovered that the cap is "voluntary," and fully 50 percent of the dealers we spoke to didn't want to honor it. When I mentioned it to the first dealer we called, the person I spoke with acted as though I had just said, "Your mother wears combat boots and should have killed herself the day before you were born." Jeez, all I was asking for was something GM said I was entitled to! They promptly got crossed off the list.

The first one we actually visited in person also gave me guff about the doc. fee. They also didn't want to budget on the worthless extras, although they finally offered 'em at half price and acted like it was the best deal since Manhattan was purchased from the Indians for $24. Since we already had financing worked out, they would have had an easy sale if they'd simply sold us the vehicle at the pre-set supplier price with the proper doc. fee and without charges for the bogus extras. But they dug in their heels, so we walked.

We checked with another dealership that sounded good on the phone but that changed their tune when we walked in the door. Also, their XE Vues all had the preferred package which is a legitimate up-charge but which we just didn't want or need. It featured things like heating mirrors (uh, this is FLORIDA!) and a power seat. I still might have considered it but they, too, clung to the charges for padded extras so once again we hit the road.

We called another dealership that was amendable to the proper supplier price and doc. fee, but they just didn't have the car we wanted. Once again, their lot was full of preferred packages. Sigh! They said they could order a car to our specs, but there was no guarantee that the current rebates would still be in force.

At this point, we were feeling rather defeated. Maybe it was a sign that we should just keep Canyonero, fix the air conditioning and brakes, and pray for the best. Still, I am nothing if not a thorough researcher when I'm considering a big purchase. I found one more dealership that actually appeared to have two suitable Vues. No preferred package! Granted, they had $80 floor mats but I figured I could suck it up and pay for those if everything was in order.

I called to confirm that the cars were still available and explained right off the bat that I wasn't going to pay for bogus extras package. No problem. The cars actually had $1400 in dealer additions but that was removed from the equation up front. Then we got to the doc. fee and hit a sticking point; they would only go as low as $150. That rankled me; not so much the amount as the principle. If the GM program says $75 then that's what it should be. I hung up at an impasse but decided to take a ride out there. If I was standing there was a check in hand, perhaps they would make that final concession.

Hubby and I piled into Canyonero for one last shot at replacing it. We had already gotten a good quote for it at CarMax, so if we sealed the deal we'd be stopping there to sell it. My excitement at potentially finding the right Vue after such a long and fruitless search was tempered somewhat by feelings of melancholy at the prospect of losing my boxy maroon friend. Still, after all the game playing, hubby was only giving us 50/50 odds of making a deal so perhaps Canyonero would remain in the family after all.

At the dealership, we made a beeline for the Vues but were inadvertently heading for the used car section. Fortunately a salesman popped out to point us in the right direction. I explained that we had spoken to a manager over the phone and gave him our bottom line. He showed us the two suitable cars and then we went inside for the classic kabitzing with the manager.

At first I got the same $150 doc. fee line that I had gotten on the phone; at least they were as good as their word in removing the padded extras from the equation right off the bat. I reiterated that I had my bottom line and that I would buy right that moment if they would give on the $75. The manager and salesman went off for more discussion; as time ticked away, I asked hubby, "Want to go outside and look at the cars?" That's a virtually sure-fire way to hurry things up. They don't like you to leave the sanctity of the showroom; outside is much too close to leaving. Sure enough, we didn't even make it to the door before they intercepted us with the good news that we had a meeting of the minds on our numbers. We'd be getting our new Vue after all!

Now it was time to commit to a color. From the start, hubby's preference had been orange but those were virtually impossible to find, especially in a stripped down XE. I favored Gold Cashmere and Mystic Blue (he also liked the blue). I could have lived with the Sea Mist Green, but hubby hated it with a passion so we dismissed it out of hand. We also dismissed black because it's too dark and I want a visible car and white just because it doesn't ring our chimes. Silver seemed to be popular on the car lots, but although we didn't totally eliminate it hubby wasn't thrilled about it because it's the most common rental car color. He imagined being lost in a Disney parking lot, surrounded by dozens of silver Vues, frantically trying to isolate ours. I thought the two grays and Deep Blue were rather dark, although not intolerable, and maroon was pretty but the old wive's tale about red cars getting hit more often was dancing in the back of my head (even tho' maroon Canyonero was unscathed for six years).

Since the only two cars on the lot that fit our criteria were Deep Blue and Gold Cashmere, that narrowed things down considerably. I knew hubby was cringing at the Cashmere, although he would have deferred to me. But I knew he really liked the Deep Blue, as he once owned a Neon in almost the exact same color. We named that car Bruiser, since its paint was the type that shifts color depending on how the light hits it. It went from blue to purple to almost black. I gave my blessing to his choice and the Deep Blue car officially became Canyonero's replacement.

Paperwork always takes too darned long, but that's a given with car buying. We plugged through all the documents and signatures and probably made the finance person's day by buying an extended warranty. I know they're overpriced and Consumer Reports advises against them, but for us it was worth knowing we would have five years of bumper to bumper peace of mind, backed by GM (NEVER by an off-brand warranty). Ironically, every time we've bought one it has ended up more than paying for itself in car repairs somewhere down the line.

Eventually everything was signed and sealed. I made poor hubby go over the numbers just to make sure they didn't slip anything in; after our experiences at the other dealerships I was wary. But all was well, and soon enough the salesman was pulling our new car to the front with its first full tank of gas. It only had 7 miles on it and was still reeking of that wonderful new car smell. We named it B2 (i.e. Bruiser II) in honor of hubby's former blue car.

Next it was off to CarMax to sell poor Canyonero. I got lost making my way to 417 and had a chance to try out OnStar's navigation service firsthand (you get a year of free service with a new Vue). I have to say it was pretty cool!

Now I'll have to watch CarMax's site to see if they put Canyonero on their Orlando lot. I suspect they will, as CarMax seems to do a pretty good business in Teks. It only has 44,000 miles on it, which is great for a 2002. I hope that whatever new family buys it will love it as much as I did and get some more good years of use from it.

Goodbye,'s truly the end of an era!

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