This documents what I went through to buy a 2019 Honda Clarity from a California dealer, and had it shipped by truck to my home in North Carolina. A lot of folks on this forum helped me do this and I wanted to share my experiences of what to expect.
The back story (skip if you want) - My wife has been thinking about a new car for a while. She currently has a Honda Accord Coupe (2013) and was thinking recently about what her next car might be. She has said she wanted an “electric” car for her around town driving, but also wanted a car she could visit the kids ( KY) or her mom (FL) with no restrictions (i.e. finding a charging station in the middle of Eastern KY or South GA). I am the car guy in the family so I started looking around to find something that would fit the bill. I knew she wanted to be able to charge the car up at home- she wants to try and use less carbon. And, we have a 20kW solar array, so in theory, the charging would be with solar power.
In doing some research, it quickly became apparent that very few “hybrids” were available that were Plug in hybrids. And then among them, very few had much range. I looked at the BMW i3. But given that once you run down the battery, you are limited to 60-80-mile legs between fill ups did not seem ideal. The Clarity seemed to be the best of both worlds…enough electric only range for most of her around town days, but with reasonable range if the battery is depleted. So, I started looking at buying a Clarity…this was last summer. I saw deep discounts were available, at least in CA. But very few cars were in the East. My local dealer did not have one. I at least wanted to drive one because I have heard that some plugin hybrids don’t do well in the mountains (the last 1/2mile to our house goes up about 800 ft)) and I wanted a car that was not going to be a hassle for my wife.
So life was busy and I kind of put it on the back burner. In September we were down in Atlanta visiting friends, and they had just bought a Clarity. Last one on the lot, and they got a great deal. We really liked the car. We were not offended by the fender skirt (kind of remained me of my old 71 Chevy Caprice!) I look some more on line, but no cars in the area. But again, none in the area. Honda’s inventory search function is terrible, so you really have to work to find cars. All the cars look to be in CA. About the same time I found on line that Honda said they were only going to sell in CA. I kind of threw in the towel.
Then just before the new year, my wife and I started talking about her next car. No big rush, but she was looking forward to a new car…she did not like the 2-door that much…she had agreed to the two door for me (less boring than the 4 door model we had previously had). I was off work for the holidays so I started looking what it might take to buy a car in CA and bringing it to NC. Our oldest son lives in San Diego, so we thought maybe he could drive it out for us (and we would get an excuse for him to visit!). After some reading, it looked like it might be possible. So, on Dec. 30th, I jumped in and started talking to dealers about buying a car in CA.
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So, I have bought a car using the Internet a few times in the past, but I always closed the deal in person. This was going to be different. But some important things about dealing with car dealers over the Internet:
1) Set up a throwaway email account. If you don’t, you will have people filling your email with messages for months. My email is “[email protected]
gmail.com” XYZ are my initials. You don’t have to be coy. When I am close to a deal, I give them my real number and email, and ignore my junk mail address until I think about buying another car. I found over a hundred old messages when I looked this time
2) Don’t ever put your real phone number on any initial corresponded. Just make up a number, or they will be calling you to hounding you for months. Later, when you are close to a deal, you can share your number.
3) Car dealer do not expect to do business on line. The internet is only used to bring you into the dealership.
4) They don’ read your emails. It will take multiple messages to get them on the same page (on anything). They also often have the emails go all over the dealership, so you will have multiple people form the same dealership trying to talk to you.
So December 30th, I started emailing dealers in SoCal (Thinking my son in SD might be driving this car to NC for me. There area ton of dealers. I picked mainly on how many Clarity's they had on the lot., thinking the more they had at the end of the year, the more willing they would be to deal with me.
I found a number of important things out in this initial screening:
1) The guys with the most cars were not necessarily very hungry. The dealer with over 50 Clarity's offered a nice discount, but then took a good bit of it back with Dealer installed options ($1880 with which was supposedly a 50% discount!). I had one dealer claim door guards cost $500 even though Honda lists them on their website at $52. Anyone who insisted on dealer added options I eliminated if they were not willing to eliminate. I eventually spoke to 21 different dealerships. I used a excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all.
2) Honda was offering (and still is through March) a $4000 discount for cars bought in SoCAL. But the car must be registered in CA to get this. I weighted the options and decided it was not worth it for me to try and get this. If I registered in CA, I would have to pay Cal sales tax, and registration. Then I would have CA plates for at least a year, then I would have to pay 3% sales tax in NC when I registered it here. Plus, the hassle of cops pulling you over with out of state plates, and the risk that registering a car in CA would make CA think you should be paying income tax. Not worth it (and maybe might cost more when always said and done.
3) If you want to avoid CA sales tax, the car must be trucked out of state (not driven). There is a special form CDTFA-448 rev. 8 that 4SallyPat and 2002 turned on to! Many dealers will balk at helping you avoid sales tax and even imply you are up to something shady. I sent a few the form, but it did not help with dealers with this mindset. My car is in transits, so I have not had to complete yet. The dealer is the one at risk and who should really want this. I plan to fill out even if the dealer doesn’t and get notarized just so there is not a hassle down the road. Dealer will want you to pay sales tax and get the $4k discount, not matter what you say to them. If they insisted, I just moved on. Expect to continue to get random messages from these dealerships. Even after one guy says they will not work with you; another salesman will contact you. I would just reference my spreadsheet and say, “Joe insists xyz, if you can work with me on this, lets talk”. It never did any good in my experience. I had one dealer insist I give them a bill of lading before they would quote me a price. Again, I just dropped them off the list
4) I had a blanket spiel I sent every dealership. They often would not read this and ask me questions that I had answered. Again, they just want to get you to come to the dealership. If I were doing it again, I would write it up once and then cut and paste it into emails, as I typed the same thing a lot. I always told them” I am interested in a 2019 Honda Clarity Base. I live in North Carolina and I will be trucking the car out, so I do not have to pay CA sales tax. I will be paying cash. I am not a Veteran, I am not a recent grad (Two incentives that are currently running). I will not qualify for the $4k Honda incentive. Please give me your best price, including any fees, paperwork charges, etc. I want an out the door price.”
Dealers will ignore that last part and you will need to fight to get that. And they will try and charge you “fees” that don’t apply even after they have come to grips with the fact that they will not be registering the car for you in CA.
5) So where is the market at (Jan 2020). Dealers will give you $2500-2700 off list. My best offer was $31,596 out the door at a dealership in San Diego. The only negative thing about this dealer is they insisted I would have to have my son sign the paperwork for me (I initially told dealers my son was in San Diego. When it became apparent, I was going to have to have the car trucked out, I stopped revealing this). I don’t know if I could have gotten the to change their mind or not dealer (and my son was willing and lived 15 minutes away so I could have done the deal), but I went with a dealer in the LA area…for a silly reason…my wife wanted a green car. My wife has been around me car shopping for 37 years now. She knows how to deal with car dealers and to not let them hook you on things like color. But I also like colorful cars and am not a fan the white/grey/ black of current cars. I read “How to get to Yes” years ago, and I always keep a backup plan or a BATNA (Best alternative to a negotiated agreement). So never eliminate a dealer who might work with you until you get to sticking point you can’t deal with. I negotiate for a living, and I actually believe in being honest, even with car dealers. But don’t do so without an escape hatch. So, I called the guy with the green car once I had a deal for the boring colored car (the guy had every color except green and red). His price was $1000 high. I told him, I’d like a green car, but I will not pay a grand more for one. He sort of matched the price. He said he match the price, but then wanted to add the “fees” in. I negotiated the fees to $168.75 (down from about $600 which included fees for registering in CA) and told him he had a deal. I also believe you have to let folks save face, so since I had gotten what I wanted, I gave him the $168. So my out the door price was $31768.75 for a Green 2019 Clarity Base.
6) Other details. Once I had a deal, I told them to Fed Ex the paperwork. I made a mistake here. I should have had them Scan the paperwork first. Because two things. They Fed Exed it by some obscure method that took 8 days to arrive. I did not know the Pony express still ran out in California. And, they continue to play dealer games. They told me a check would be fine. But then they wrote the contract up as showing a monthly payment with 16% interest. They said it was a back up plan in case anything went wrong with my check. I balked ( I still had my back up plan, I never dropped the guy with the better offer). I smelled a rat. I insisted they redo it, and this time email it to me first. They insisted on showing it as a “loan”. They could not wrap their heads around the idea that they would apply my payment on line 6. G- Cash, Cash Equivalent, Check, Credit Card, or Debit Card. Some how that’s “not how we do things in California”. But I finally got them to show the terms of the “loan” as due immediately, zero interest”.
I was going to pay by check, but in order to speed things up, I decided to wire them the money so there would be no delay waiting for them to clear my check.
7) Arranging a truck. I went on line and there are a million truck brokers out there. I sent in a few requests and got maybe a dozen responds (you submit via basically a super broker who sells your name to the actual brokers. The brokers offer you a deal and then you can choose to accept or not. They farm your actual job out to an actual trucker. Definitely use your junk email and fake number here! I chose based on reviews and BBB rating. Not that I trust BBB, but if they give you an F, I’m worried! I had to put off the truck several times, but they were very flexible. This trucker seems to run multiple trucks per week from the west coats to the east. Delivery time is a week or less (I had expected up to two). But my car is still not here. I set it up to have the salesman and his manager available to help get the car released. I asked them and the trucker to confirm they had picked it up. Crickets. These guys are not great at communication. I called the trucker and he kind of said they had picked it up Wednesday Evening. Its now Friday and I am hoping the car will be here by next Wednesday. Final price to ship. $175 to the broker, and $925 to the trucker. $1100 delivered to ten minutes away.
I am having the car dropped at a local WaffleHouse. Big open parking lot, a place to wait in case the driver is late. Not up the side of a mountain. Trucker liked I was making their life easy. We’ll probably buy the driver a meal when he shows up.
8) So how long will this take? I had a deal by Jan 5th, but it’s taken another two weeks to finalize, get them paid and the car picked up. It will be about a month when all is said and done.
9) I’ll have to pay 3% Highway fee (basically sales tax for bringing in a car from out of state,. Buying a car here, the sales tax is 3%. NC does not credit you for paying sales tax somewhere else, so don’t get conned into paying sales tax in CA and expect to not have to in your own state. The dealer will try and tell you this but check your own situation.
So, I looked a few days ago. Over 500 2019 Clarity’s in the LA region. The dealers are not selling many (I checked a few, and most have the same number they had on Dec 30th). At some point the guy with 50 of them is going to have to drop his silly idea of basically selling at list and come down. I read it as a buyers’ market. And now 2020 models are showing up. So, I think you should be able to get some really good deals.
I don’t want to get sued for libel, so I am not publishing any dealer names here, but I if you PM me I’d be happy to share the two dealers who I thought were reasonable.
Final notes ---Buying from an East coast dealer
During all this, I kept looking for a closer car. I found a few in New York, Virginia or Maryland. All were way high on price (MSRP and above). One lady never could figure out that I was going to do everything remote and kept insisting I drive on down to the dealership.
As an aside, As I was doing all this, I asked my local dealer if he could order a Clarity. He says no way. Then, a few days later a used clarity shows up. I call, but it is quickly gone. Then two new white ones show up on line. So, I grab my wife and we drive down. We decide if we had to we can live with a white one. We get down to the dealer and the cars are vaporware…on a truck coming from CA. But they want to start negotiations at MSRP and add on top of that. Since then, they seem to have sold one, and have six silver ones. But they are not competitive on price.
So there are a few cars on the East Coast, but it definitely not a buyers’ market.