When an option isn't optional
Until his retirement, Buz Winchester was one of the most savvy lobbyists in Annapolis. As the chief advocate for the Maryland State Bar Association before the Maryland General Assembly, he kept a close eye on a wide range of bills and developed a keen nose for "snakes" -- those deceptive little bills that conceal their true purpose but inevitably line the pockets of some special interest.
Winchester was always a vigorous advocate for his client, but he sometimes found time to lend his skills as a legislative herpetologist to reporters, including this former member of the State House Bureau.
It is thus with great pleasure that I pass along Winchester's account of his recent foray into the jungle of car-buying, where there is also an abundance of reptiles.
Recently my wife and I decided to buy a new car after our trusty 1994 Volvo croaked after 208,000 miles. As you may remember, my wife has worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for over 35 years and I’m the Chairman of the Maryland Green Building Council, so it should come as no surprise that we agreed to look for a hybrid vehicle, specifically the Toyota Prius.
Since we are both in our 60’s, and drive our vehicles well beyond their normal shelf life (Question: Do cars have a shelf life?), we decided to go for broke and buy the top of the line- a brand new Toyota Prius V! We did the necessary research and found that we could get this baby for under $30,000 if we bought the basic car without all the optional bells and whistles. By far the most elaborate bell or whistle was the NAVIGATION PACKAGE which would give us a DVD system with JBL AM/FM, 4 disc CD Changer, USB Port w/I Pod, Music Streaming via Bluetooth Blah, Blah ,Blah. Now Mike, my wife and I are simple folks. Give us a reasonably priced good bottle of wine, some cheese, a baguette, and some soothing music on a sunny Saturday afternoon and we’re happy. What is even more important when we are in the car together after 40 years of marriage we actually enjoy talking with each other without unnecessary distractions.
There were three other considerations that we factored into our decision: (1) Over 90% of the miles that we would put on our new car would be between our home in Galesville and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation near Annapolis; (2) Both my wife and I are part of a diminishing breed of drivers that actually use and know how to read a map; and, (3) Given my unfortunate disability that prevents me from understanding how to operate all these new and wonderful technological innovations (This E mail is about as complicated as it gets for me), having all of these doo dads only would give me something more to break. We agreed that the NAVIGATION PACKAGE was not something that would enhance our driving experience.
So there we were in a local car dealership right in the middle of the “Cash for Clunkers” extravaganza. A very nice young man approached and asked if he could help us. We said yes he could and told him we wanted to buy a Toyota Prius V. After the test drive and about an hour of hearing about things we already knew because we had done our research we placed down a $500 deposit and were told it may take a few weeks to find a Prius V because they were “selling like hotcakes!” (Well, maybe he didn’t actually say “hotcakes” because nobody under 50 years ever says “selling like hotcakes”.) We said that’s OK we’re patient people, after all we’ve waited 15 years to get a new car, so a month or so more wouldn’t be a problem. Before we left the dealership we made it clear in no uncertain terms that we did NOT want the NAVIGATION PACKAGE.
Over the past few weeks we heard from our nice young salesman on several occasions who with some excitement informed us that he had found a Prius V in the color we wanted. Then his tone changed. He told us unfortunately the vehicle he found had the NAVIGATION PACKAGE. We said “Sorry, please keep looking.” Finally, this week I decided to pay the dealership a visit. The nice young salesman saw me arrive and politely arranged a meeting with his manager so we could plot a strategy to locate and get us the car we wanted. When told of the dilemma, the manager frowned and shook his head. “I’m very sorry sir,” he said “ it may take us up to a year to get you a Prius V because they’re not making them without the NAVIGATION PACKAGE and we will have to special order one from Japan which will involve an additional shipping expense.” I replied “ Wait a minute isn’t the NAVIGATION PACKAGE an option.” He answered “Yeah it is, but it’s a mandatory option.”
In the next few days I intend to visit some used car lots.