By Bruce Nelson
About ten months ago, I decided to go out and test drive, then write about some new vehicles. I thought that I would write about the single most popular vehicle that I see here on the island, a half ton, extended cab, four wheel drive pick-up with a rather high level of trim. So, on a trip home from the mainland one evening in October, I decided to check out the three major contenders for this comparison, the all new Ford F-150 the also new Dodge as well as the not so new Chevy or GMC.
My first stop was the local auto mall and a Ford dealer. This was not the closest Ford dealer to my house, but the one that was closer has always seemed to me to be one of those 'high pressure' dealers, and that was not what I was looking for for this test drive. I stopped in and asked to speak to the sales manager. She came over to me and I asked if I could test drive a new F-150 and take some pictures, although I was not interested in buying one at this time. She looked at me a little funny, and asked why. I told her I was going to write about this for a column so she asked if she could see an example. I said that the columns that I write are on the internet and she could see them there but she said they did not have internet access there. Anyway, after a short conversation with her boss, she came out and gave me the keys to a 2004 Lariat. I decided to look the truck over pretty carefully and take some pictures, but since it was beginning to get dark, I wouldn't drive it until later. I was impressed by the thought and design that went into the new F-150 and it was apparent to me why it was chosen by most journalists to be the finest of the current trucks.
My second stop was at the dealership next door to do the same with the new Dodge. By this time, I thought of a slightly better line of crap to give the sales manager, and the keys were given right to me along with a young salesman. I told him what I was intending to do, and also that I had just looked at the Ford. He immediately started to show me all the features that I'm sure that Dodge told them to show off in response to a possible customer that had already checked out the Ford. The Dodge has 20" wheels, it has regular hinged doors instead of the hidden reverse doors of the Ford. It also had a rather ingenious folding rear seat idea, the seats folded down and became a hard metal floor. A good idea for those who may want to stow tools or other things, that might scratch up the upholstery. Other than that, I saw very little that the Dodge had that could be considered better than what the Ford offered. The biggest difference I noticed was the difference in build quality and material quality between the two. The Ford was so far ahead that respect that it was no contest.
But, believe it or not, that's not even why I wrote this at this time. I never followed up on this comparison test. I got real busy there for a while and by the time I got back to try to finish this up, the new truck comparison was rather old news that everyone had already heard.
About the end of May, I had the opportunity to sell my trusty old 1990 Ford F-150 pick-up. I told my wife that we may want to shop around a little for a replacement truck, and was surprised that she wanted to do this right away. I mentioned that what I thought would be the ideal truck for us would be about three or four years old (darn, no new F-150), half ton, extended cab, four wheel drive, somewhat well equipped, Ford or GMC. After the first stop, my wife decided we definitely needed to get a four door. This really narrowed down our choices, as not nearly as many of these were produced.
We pulled into the same Ford dealership that I had been to before. I asked for the same woman I had dealt with before, but it was her day off. Another saleswoman was eager to help though, and so I told her of my needs and wants in a truck. She said she only had one used four door truck in stock, and that it was a 2001 'King Ranch'. Now, I keep up on vehicles as much as just about anybody, but I'd never even heard of a 'King Ranch'. It is an actual model of an F-150 with a very high trim level and a Saddle Leather interior. I sat in this truck and was absolutely amazed. This truck had just about every option that any Lincoln Town Car might have plus. My wife said she really wanted this truck, so we drove it around and were even offered to compare it with the new models. The price seemed a bit high to me, and because I refuse to ever pay much for any vehicle, I said we would talk about it and call her back. She handed me her card and said "talk about it and make me an offer". On the way out of the auto mall we drove by the Dodge dealer I had visited before, and by a Nissan dealer that was owned by the same company. I turned into the Nissan dealer and told my wife that I had also heard good things about the new Titan pick-up. I also told her that the problem was that since they had just come out this year, it would be tough to find a three or four year old used one. A young salesman came out and asked what we were looking at, and was quick to get us into the drivers seat of the new truck. I told him that it really wasn't in the cards for us to buy a brand new truck, but he said we could drive it to their other lots and see what used trucks they might have. The new Nissan was a very impressive truck. It would probably follow the Ford closely in a comparison. But alas, we did not find anything within our budget that we wanted, so we got out and the young salesman said he would take down my name and phone number in case something came in. We walked in the showroom door to give him our info. where he promptly disappeared. In his place appeared an obnoxious closer, who pretty much wouldn't let us leave until we told him "what it would take for us to drive the truck home today" I told him that my truck was selling the next day and that I would not spend money that was not in my hand yet. That was not a good enough answer for him. Finally he asked how much I could spend for a monthly payment. I told him that I wanted to keep it around $400.00 per month. He said he could not only do that, but he would give me the $2000.00 I was going to use from the sale of my truck to pay off my wife's car. He told me that he could offer this, but he had to run it past his manager. He returned quickly and said "no problem" he said he could sell me a $28,000 truck, add tax and license, add the $2,000.00 from my truck sale, take no money down, and finance all this for 96 months at $420.00 per month. Now, I'm not a math wiz, but this hardly seemed right. It was about this time that I remembered that an employee of mine had come in beaming from ear to ear a few months ago, driving a brand new 350Z. He had gotten this from this same dealer with the same long term, ridicules financing. They called him the next day demanding thousands more down or they would come repossess the car. He drove the wheels off the car for a few days then returned it. I could see exactly what these guys had up their sleeves. How many people come home with a new car, show it off to all their friends and relatives, then when they get a call for more money, they pay it just to avoid the embarrassment. At this point I insisted on leaving, told the closer that even if I changed my mind and decided to buy a Titan pick-up, it would not be from them, and left.
I did return and buy the King Ranch truck from the other dealer. It was probably the best car buying experience I've had. In fact when I was trying to find a "blue book" value on the truck, I got conflicting information on some options, as to whether they were standard on the King Ranch or not. These were no small options, four wheel drive and the 5.4 liter motor. I was told they were standard equipment, but the dealer said they were not. Neither of us had any proof either way. I offered "blue book" price without these added in, and since they had no proof that they were actually options, they said "O K". I later found out that these were not standard equipment and told them before I signed the papers to buy the truck. They said they would stay with the agreed upon price. They also gave a 30 day warranty on the drive- train. During that time we found some other misc. problems. They fixed them for free and even washed the truck for us.
What a huge difference between these two dealers. Which one do you think gets the best "word of mouth" advertising? Who do you think sleeps better at night? Since you have the option of any number of dealers within reach of home, isn't this the real difference between them? The only problem is trying to find out which ones are like the one I purchased my truck from, and which ones are like the Nissan dealer. I know where the rest of my cars will be purchased, Skagit Ford Subaru in Burlington Wa. Bruce.
By Bruce Nelson