The Long View

The Virtue of Patience

My first car was a compromise. I wanted a Mustang – a very specific Mustang – but I was too impatient to wait the six to eight weeks it would have taken to special order it. So I bought my second choice, and within six months I’d wrecked it and parted ways with no regrets.

Thirty-six years later I found myself with the opportunity again to get the car I really wanted. This time though I did not hesitate, I made the decision on a Saturday afternoon, and the salesman said that, being Sunday in Germany, the factory was not taking orders. I promised to be back Monday.

I’m certain that it was my unwillingness to compromise that cleared the way for the phone call on Sunday that told me the precise car I wanted had just arrived at a dealer in Phoenix. I booked a flight and drove it home the next Saturday.

Rudy Delivery Interior

I refused to compromise on my first BMW purchase, and the Universe answered with the exact car I’d been looking for –  in Phoenix, Arizona.

It may have been Ran Klarin, a longtime friend and colleague who inspired me.

Ran’s spiritual practice lends a serenity that betrays no extremes of emotion. While capable of deep empathy, compassion, and appreciation of beauty and excellence in the arts, the kind of excitement that the prospect of a new car would inspire in a car nut like me seems foreign to his nature. I like to think he’s had to work on that.

Thirteen years ago Ran came to me looking for a co-conspirator to help in his search for a sport coupe. We drove a few and he settled on an Audi TT. He never hesitated to order the car just the way he wanted it, and was perfectly content to wait months for it.

Ran with new TT 2000

Ran Klarin with the first car we worked together on, an Audi TT for which he patiently waited months to get it exactly as he wanted it.

Two cars later, toward the end of 2011, Ran was ready for another change. We once again considered several candidates, actively searching for used examples of a couple, with the Porsche Cayman rising to the top of the list. But used ones were little less dear than new ones, if you could restrain yourself from ordering the kitchen sink.

Porsches are famous for that – the length and potential for budget-busting of their options list (e.g., carbon fiber brake discs – $1,850 per corner). So the cars that are available on the used car market are often loaded up with that stuff. That drives their prices up.

Those for whom such financial decisions rank with you deciding whether to order the chocolate sprinkles on your Coldstone vanilla cone don’t bat an eye, but what do you really gain with such frills? Not much.

A base Cayman is arguably the best handling car you can buy, other than the same car deliberately optioned for track day use. It has a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, leather on the seats, all the power accessories you need, iPhone and Bluetooth connectivity, and steering that connects the wheels directly to the involuntary muscle control centers in the brain.

On top of that it’s among the sexiest-looking cars on the planet.

With my finger on the pulse of the model cycle, I knew that the recent introduction of a redesigned Boxster meant a new Cayman was close behind. My prediction that the replacement would debut at the Los Angeles International Auto Show proved spot-on, and as we viewed the car on the stand, Ran’s proven patience was rewarded with stunning design refinement, lighter weight, and better fuel efficiency.

Once they began accepting inquiries, I pestered 14 dealers in three states, finding three who, contrary to normal practice with highly anticipated new models, offered discounts. Allocations arrived in the second week in January, and we were quickly at Downtown LA Porsche, who offered a $2,000 discount, placing the order. Fifteen and a half weeks later all that patience (and my hard work and expertise – ahem!) paid off.

Ran With 2014 Cayman - Delivery 05-03-13

Nineteen month’s or so after we started the process, Ran Klarin’s patience is rewarded with one of the first of the stunning 2014 Porsche Caymans.

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Loyalty Pays

Great Service Means Repeat Business

I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time. My clients are not usually satisfied with the level of service I provide, but are rather surprised and delighted with it. That’s partly because it is difficult for people to understand what I do until they experience it.

My first client availed herself of my assistance three times before moving from the Los Angeles area to the East Bay, yet has come back to me twice since. I even did a deal for her locally while she was swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, driving the car up and running it through a car wash before delivering it to her up there.

The record though, goes to my latest repeat client. Back when BMW introduced the E36 version of the famous 3-series, I worked with her to acquire a 325is coupe. Five cars later, she is now driving the sixth car I have helped her with.

Twenty-seven months ago, she had not noticed the lease on her Lexus was running out. We only had a week before she was not going to be available to make arrangements to return it and get a new car. The Lexus was banged up and needed bodywork before we could return it, and on top of everything else, she had not driven it in so long that its hybrid battery had died, requiring Lexus to come out and reboot the computer, and me to drive it enough to recharge the battery.

I managed to get the repairs done practically overnight and return the Lexus, while finding a new BMW 3-series sedan in the right color and equipment, cutting about $100 off her lease payment. The dealer brought the car to her home, we did the paperwork on her hall table, and we wrapped the whole process up in only four days.

That was in 2011.

Delighted Client With her new 2013 BMW 328iIt only took two days this time. Delighted client with her new BMW 328i.

That lease had a strange term – 27 months. When the time came, I called the same dealer that had provided extraordinary service on the previous car, Nick Alexander Imports, and spoke to the same people.

It’s no surprise that a car dealer to whom I’d already brought business (They’d provided a 128i Convertible for another client of mine, along with some others) would give good service, but these people are over the top. They once again delivered the car to her home, doing the paperwork on the same table as they did in 2011, and giving her the full orientation and familiarization drive.

The base price of the BMW 328i had climbed about $3,000 since 2011 and they didn’t have the exact car on the lot, but with a little schmoozing on my part, they were able to provide a car with the same equipment at almost the identical lease payment – and they absorbed the remaining payment on the old car along with most of the cost of repairing the dings and dents she’s accumulated in her 27 months of driving.

So although it’s not a given (I don’t go back to Santa Monica BMW for instance), giving a dealer repeat business pays off in both cost and service. Of course, most people do not buy a car every year, so my higher frequency helps get that great pricing and service. Contact me. I may be able to do the same for you!

Oh, yes – one other advantage of loyalty. I give a 10% fee discount to repeat clients.

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The Insurance Offer Was WAY Too Low

Totaled and Frazzled

Corolla RF Corner

Right Front Corner of 2003 Toyota Corolla LE following collision. The angle of the wheel should be a clue, but there are subtler bends in important frame components that led the insurance company to declare it a total loss.

A car crash is a hugely disruptive event. To start off you are probably hurting. That’s a bad condition under which to be making important decisions. Then there are the insurance issues, car repair scheduling, rental car hassles, physician appointments and general screwing up of your routine.

On top of all that, if your insurance company decides the repair cost plus the salvage value of your car is more than the replacement cost, you have a “total loss.” Now you have to find a replacement. No wonder a recent repeat client called me as soon as she could.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

This was a perfect example of how my services can’t be broken into convenient catch phrases.

The client was traumatized.

The body shop said they could repair the car for $7,000 but she didn’t know what that would entail.

The insurance company wanted to give her a check and be quit of it, but she was afraid that she would not get enough from the insurance to replace the car with one like it.

She needed immediate intervention, and she knew who to call – me.

The Big Picture

After starting a search for a replacement, my next action was to see the car and talk to the estimator at the body shop.

2003 Corolla SE Right Front Quarter

The body shop said they could repair it for $7,000. Would that make it whole? There are so many questions. Would you know what to ask? 

The car had subtle bends in seemingly unimportant bits of sheet metal, but I could see that they were in fact part of the car’s unit body – its frame. So even if repaired, straightened and aligned, there would always be a question of its structural integrity – its ability to protect the occupants in case of another crash.

Then here’s the value issue. This was the top of the line for the Toyota Corolla when it was new, an LE with automatic transmission and the optional wood grain interior trim. It was eight years old, and yet it had only 34,175 miles on it. Any Toyota starts off being a valuable car in the used car market, just because of the name. This one, in its pristine low mileage pre-crash condition was what the used car dealers call a “cream puff.”

Adding to the value issue, I have had clients who successfully sued for Loss of Value because a car with a history of collision damage does not command as high a price as an unmolested car. Add to that the fact that the car would be saddled with a “salvage title” label (No one loans money on a salvage title car.), and it becomes virtually worthless in the used car market.

So the obvious decision was to get as much as she could from the insurance company for a replacement, find one, and buy it.

Other Issues

One of the most important pieces of advice I give my clients in cases like this, where the other party is at fault, is to let your own insurance company do the work. That’s why they are there. They are professionals who have an axe to grind of their own. They want to soak the other party’s insurance company for as much as they can get.

It prolongs the process, but in the end it makes sure that eventually your deductable is paid, and your rental costs are fully reimbursed.

That’s the theory, at least. I had a couple of challenges to make sure those benefits accrued to my client. The most important, and the most valuable to my client, was getting her the full value of her car from the insurance companies.

What’s It Really Worth?

Her insurance company ran a standard evaluation for her car, which involves finding local cars like it and listing what their asking prices are. That works great – most times. But these were not “most times.” Used cars had jumped in price due to the flat economy. People were buying used cars because they couldn’t afford new ones.

Their report, which ran on for 40 pages, including 23 of “comparable” car listings, none of which on close examination was comparable at all. All were “CE” trim line, two levels below hers. None had mileage less than double hers, except for one stripper with a manual transmission. They offered her $11,339.92.

That’s where I really make my reputation for service. In order to rebut their price, I had to find a car with comparable mileage, and they only gave me a day to do it.

Blue 2003 Corolla

Blue 2003 Corolla Right Side from Front

Her 2003 Corolla had 34,175 miles on it. Without a comparable car to evaluate by, her insurance company was going to give her less than replacement value. This is the car I found for her, another 2003 Corolla – in her favorite color – with 18,143 miles on it!

Fending off offers based on formulas and third party evaluations, I continued my search. Fortunately that was a Friday, the day when the trade-ins from the previous week are prepped and hit the lots. Working quickly (These cars are truly “gone in sixty seconds.”) to get all parties (insurance company, buyer, seller, me) coordinated, making the 80 mile round trip to the dealer three times, I located and secured a car with not only similar, but lower mileage.

To put the icing on the cake, they saved her (and me, but that’s not the point) an 80 mile round trip to pick up the car. They delivered it to her door, doing the paper work in the comfort of her home on the living room coffee table.

Oh yes. Through my diligence, I persuaded the insurance companies to reimburse her for $14,436.85, $3,096.93 more than their initial offer.

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Meet You in the Middle

They Aren’t Making Those Any More

I’ve had clients as far away as Huntsville, Alabama, so when a repeat client in the Bay Area called to ask for help locating a Toyota Avalon in a color combination they couldn’t find, I was unfazed. My experience has been that often dealers say there are no cars available in your choice of colors or options to talk you into buying a car they have on the lot that isn’t exactly what you wanted.

In this case the dealer went a step further and said that the color combination they wanted wasn’t being made any more.

That sort of thing is not unknown. I had another repeat client show remarkable patience once when the redesigned Ford F-150’s came out and the black leather seating package he wanted was on factory hold for three months. He really wanted that black leather though, and special ordered it. He was rewarded with a “first in your zip code” truck when he finally took delivery.

But in this case the dealer just appeared unwilling to work for my client. Many of my referrals are the result of some such disappointing dealer performance.

To make a long story shorter, I found that the color combination was indeed rare, but after doing an exhaustive search of every dealer within 300 miles of The Bay, I found a dealer that had not one, but two in that combination.

Meet you in Hanford Avalon

We really rolled out the red carpet for this client. Here’s their Avalon XLS all tanked up for the drive home and open for inspection after picking them up at the train station. Did the first dealer really think the Silver/Charcoal combination was discontinued, or were they just lazy?

Of course, the car was 200 miles from both of us. They would have to drive there, pick up their new car, and drive home in separate cars. That is, if they did not have someone dedicated to providing complete service.

I checked the Amtrack schedule and found that they could take a train to the Central California town where the dealer was located. We coordinated schedules, and I arranged with the sales staff to pick them up in their new car at the station. Unfortunately I learned that Amtrak has no train service from the Los Angeles basin to the Central Valley. So I drove to the dealer myself to make sure everything was set up, meet them at the station, and be there for them throughout the process.

We had most of the paperwork done over the phone, so for them it was a matter of signing the documents, getting familiarized with the car’s features and controls, and driving home in their new car.

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