7 October 2004

Now it can be told

My Prius arrived! Three days ahead of the most optimistic estimate! Now it’s purchased, time to tell the whole story…

I started the search on September 16th. Calling the local Massachusetts Toyota dealers quickly established that they all had ridiculous wait lists; the best wait time I was quoted was a year. However, the situation wasn’t completely hopeless—according to the online forums like priusonline.com and priuschat.com, dealers often get cars that are a color or a package that nobody on their wait list wants, or nobody on the list who wants the car can get financed at that particular moment in time.

Because we wanted the high end package with the GPS navigation system, I had a hunch that the legendary thriftiness of New Hampshire residents would make it a promising place to hunt for unwanted Priuses, not to mention that you can’t fit a gun rack on one. Another point in our favor was that we weren’t too fussy about color—we’d take silver, gold, green, red, maybe even black. So, I started checking every single New Hampshire Toyota dealer that had a web site, searching their inventory, and calling or e-mailing all the ones that actually had a 2004 Prius listed.

Almost the first response was from Autofair Toyota in Manchester, NH. They called me back about half an hour after I sent an e-mail. They said that the 2004 Prius they had on the lot was being shopped to their wait list, and that someone would likely take it even though none of them had said they wanted the BC package. However, they were expecting two more BC package cars in October, and could put my name down for one of them. The incoming cars would be brand new 2005 models, and they expected them to be at the dealership around October 10th-14th. Price would be MSRP—no special markup.

I should explain that unfortunately, a lot of dealers are taking advantage of the constrained supply of vehicles by adding $3,000-$5,000 to the price. Since the MSRP already includes a healthy profit, and the dealers get a bonus from Toyota for selling the cars immediately, people on the Prius forums have been rather scathing about the practice. I have no real ethical problem with pricing up—after all, it’s just supply and demand—but I had already decided I would rather buy a second hand temporary car than pay over MSRP.

The Autofair sales associate told me up front what the total price would be, including their processing and admin charge—a mere $121, whereas I’ve been quoted up to $500 elsewhere.

I explained up front that I wanted to continue to look for a car actually available, and they said all they wanted was a $100 deposit, which would be fully refundable if I managed to get a car somewhere else first. Again, other dealers are asking for $1,000 deposits, and some are even demanding non-refundable deposits. Autofair seemed completely reasonable and up-front about everything, so I agreed.

There then followed a couple of weeks of anxiousness about whether the car would actually turn up in time for our move to Austin, TX. During that time I believe I checked every single Toyota dealer web site for Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, plus I e-mailed and called a few places that didn’t even have web sites.

As of this morning, I still had no lead on an actual Prius available any time before the last week of October. And then Autofair called. My car had arrived.

Of course, it’s not as simple as it ought to be. Massachusetts makes the whole process as difficult as possible, in an apparent attempt to stop people buying cars in New Hampshire and dodging tax, or not getting insurance. Since I didn’t manage to find a description of the process anywhere, even on the RMV web site, here we go…

I have to:

  1. Get the money from the bank as a bank draft.
  2. Go to New Hampshire, exchange the money for the certificate of origin and an RMV-1 form. Don’t collect the car, because Massachusetts doesn’t allow any kind of temporary plates, and has no grace period for vehicle registration.
  3. Return to Massachusetts and physically go to a state-authorized Massachusetts insurance agency, certificate of origin and RMV-1 form in hand. Then I bend over and take it, and get the RMV-1 form stamped to say I now have insurance.
  4. Take the stamped RMV-1 form and bill of sale to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in downtown Boston, pay tax on the car, and exchange the form for a Massachusetts license plate. (Hopefully the USPS will successfully redirect our mail, ’cause we probably won’t be here by the time the title deed arrives 4 to 8 weeks later.)
  5. Take the license plate back to New Hampshire, and pick up the car.

Not that I had any intention of committing any kind of tax fraud; the only question was whether I could wait and register in Texas rather than go through the paperwork twice. In fact, MA is cheaper than TX, so I suppose I’m winning, but…

One added wrinkle is that the certificate of origin is transported separately from the actual car, and hadn’t arrived today, so they’re going to FedEx it to me. In the mean time, I can read the user manual. The car itself had only just been removed from the car carrier; they obviously called the moment it came in. Its audio system hadn’t been connected up and tested yet, it hadn’t been fueled, and there was still plastic film on the wheels. But, I did get to sit in it. Very nice, extremely ergonomic driving position. The sales guy seemed as excited as us.

Once we get to Austin, I have to get new insurance from a non-Massachusetts agency, because the MA agency don’t deal in out-of-state insurance. The new agency has to fax the Massachusetts one to say I’m insured with them, and then my MA policy can be cancelled. Only then can I get my MA license switched for a TX license; apparently if you switch the license before switching the insurance the police computer will flag you as uninsured.

We also went for the Toyota Platinum Warranty: 24/7 roadside assistance to the nearest Prius-trained Toyota dealer, and they’ll pay for a replacement rental car while they fix the Prius. I got the 6 years of extra coverage from Autofair, because the price they quoted me wasn’t much more than the ultra-cheap price I’d seen on the Internet, and I was obviously feeling very well disposed towards them!

So anyway…Prius! Prius! Prius!

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