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Last week, my wife and I were seriously shopping for a new Honda Odyssey minivan. We had spent much of November researching and looking at different minivans, test-driving different trim levels, and had settled on trying to get a 2008 Odyssey EX-L. So we used the internet to contact every Honda dealer we could find in Maryland (plus several in Virginia) to see what prices people would give us on last year's model. With the economy bad, there were quite a few out there... most dealers seemed to have a few left on their lots.

Saturday morning, we rounded up all the dealer responses and picked out an e-mail from a dealer about 45 minutes away with the best price. The dealer's internet sales rep quoted us an "out-the-door" price (including tax, tags, freight, and with a useless accessory package thrown in for free) of $27,400. So we dropped our daughter off with her grandma to babysit for the day and drove over to the dealer. We both test drove the Odyssey, liked the color, and noted that they had about 20-30 2008 EX-Ls still on their lot.

We went inside, ready to get our checkbook out, and the salesman filled out a purchase agreement with a price of $29,000. What happened to our "out-the-door" price quote of $27,400? The salesman said that he had to charge us $1600 for clearcoat paint protector and fabric protector. We said no, Consumer Reports says those are useless and worth less than $100. The manager tried to tell us that all dealers do this, and we would have to pay this wherever we went. We said no, and other Honda dealers we spoke to last week were either specific about not charging this, or told us up front that this was included in their "out-the-door" price quote. A higher level manager offered to cut this in half to $800, but he had to make a profit on the car. We said no. This is a 2008 model, you have 30 identical ones on your lot, and we had quotes from other dealers in this price range. Also, we have two good cars, and this is an unnecessary, but affordable, luxury for us. Finally, after conferring, the managers declared that they would not sell us the car for the $27,400 that they had promised in e-mail. So we walked out with no car.

We were really steamed about this dishonest bait-and-switch internet pricing. We had wasted almost our whole day. We left the dealer and went to a nearby Toyota dealer to test drive a comparable 2009 Sienna minivan. We liked it, and may wait until next summer/fall to try this whole cycle over again of buying a 2009 when the 2010 models come out. We also stepped back from the whole car-buying madness and decided we could put our money and sanity to use elsewhere for now.
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