Unrelated to anniversaries of any kind:
Yesterday Lola did indeed take me with her on a Prius-test-driving expedition. We went to the Toyota dealer near my place. The salesman we talked to was nice, and friendly, and didn't push too hard at first. He said they didn't have a 2005 Prius she could try out, but that the 2004 model was identical in every respect. (Later, he casually mentioned a couple of differences.)
He came along on the test drive—I'm never clear on whether that's standard or not, having never actually gone on a test drive from a dealership before—and spent most of the drive pointing out various features of the car, but in a reasonably nice way. I sat in back and marveled at the continuously updating "current MPG" display on the dashboard, showing anything from 12 to 99 miles per gallon at any given moment. We were also very taken with the high-end package's built-in telephone capability—your cell phone can talk to the car via BlueTooth, and there are phone controls built into the steering wheel. Oh, and the in-dash navigation system in the high-end package does voice-activated navigation, though I suspect that you have to pre-program addresses; I doubt you can just speak an arbitrary address and have it give you directions. But I could be wrong; I haven't checked.
Anyway, when we got back to the dealership, he took us inside and started taking down Lola's information, and it gradually became clear that he was attempting to get her to buy a car through the simple expedient of filling out a contract and handing it to her to sign. She noted that she wanted to negotiate a price before signing anything; he said that all the Toyota dealerships in the area had agreed to sell all new cars for exactly MSRP, no more and no less. She told him (truthfully) that other dealerships had offered her (small) price reductions; he said that she could negotiate a price after her car arrived (there's about a two-month backlog in Prius orders at this point). Which would require putting down a thousand-dollar nonrefundable deposit. Which is just ridiculous. Eventually he went and got his manager, who said the same thing about no dealership being allowed to offer a reduced price, and then he said that since he wanted her to buy from them, he would be willing to work with her. He then offered to throw in the floor mats free.
Lola said she would get back to him later, and we left. We poked around on CarsDirect (thanks again for the pointer, Jenn!) and gradually concluded that the dealerships she'd talked with were pulling a bit of a fast one: they say they'll give a reduced price for the car, but what they actually mean is that they'll throw in the ridiculously expensive floormat package (over $200) for free, thus giving a reduced price for the car-plus-floormat package that just happens to come to the exact MSRP of the car-without-floormat package. Makes the customer feel good (you're getting a whopping 1% discount!) without having to actually come down on the price of the car. Not illegal, arguably not even immoral, but definitely deceptive, because they don't make clear that that's what they're doing. I suspect that it's common in a lot of sales industries to have overpriced extras that you don't expect to actually get money for most of the time, so you can throw them in for free to make the customer feel good; I'm pretty sure that was true with the mattress dealers I talked with when I was buying beds a few months ago, for example.
Later, I looked at the Civic Hybrid on CarsDirect; significantly lower price than the Prius (CarsDirect can actually get the Civic Hybrid for lower than invoice), but I gather it's slightly less environmentally friendly, and it doesn't have all the cool extras the Prius does. On the other hand, the cool extras are expensive, and I suspect I'll like the Civic better as a car. I briefly considered the natural gas version of the Civic, but it has a range of only 200 miles and requires 12 hours to refuel (which you do basically by hooking it up to your gas line at home), so I think it's not quite right for me just yet. Anyway, I think my next step will be to go test-drive a Civic.
I didn't drive the Prius—I think I'll be a little twitchy about driving for a bit, and I didn't want my get-back-on-the-horse experience to be with an entirely unfamiliar and rather expensive car—but I did sit in the driver's seat for a bit while it was parked, and though it was reasonably comfortable, the seat back is still not the right height to fit my neck and head the way I want it to. And the sloping hatchback provides an odd window of rear visibility; not awful, but not nearly as much as I'm used to, and with a solid horizontal bar across the middle of it. I imagine I could get used to it pretty quickly, but I want to look at other alternatives first.
(I'm getting ahead of myself; it's vaguely possible that the insurance company will repair my car. But it seems awfully unlikely.)
Hey, I seem to have forgotten to ever link to the excellent but long 9-part series Confessions of a Car Salesman. Edmunds.com hired a journalist, Chandler Phillips, to work undercover at two new car dealerships in the LA area: a high-pressure Japanese dealership and a low-pressure no-haggle American dealership. The resulting story is fascinating; a must-read for anyone considering buying a car.
Oh, dear, it's gone and gotten late. I was considering staying home today—not feeling entirely well, and slept badly. (Woke up at 4:30 to rustling noises; dozed; woke up again at 5:30 to a sharp snapping noise that I was sure was the mousetrap; dozed while fretting about whether I'd set up the mousetrap in such a way that it would harm the mouse, and about five times in a row dreamed that I was going across the room to check on the trap and then woke up and realized I was still in bed; finally got up at 7:30 and checked the trap and discovered that it hadn't been sprung at all; went back to bed, slept for an hour and a half but had a violent and scary nightmare.) But I'm feeling a bit better and more awake, so I should go to work. Hope my bike is in working condition.