Help with buying a new car (Honda Element)

I’ve never bought a new car, and I have bought at used car (and was pretty much screwed in the process), so I thought I’d ask for some advice in going about the negotiation process.

So far, I have done my homework and read reviews, looked at features, etc. so I know what I want: a Honda Element EX. I’m not sure if I want 2WD or 4WD yet. I don’t live in the country, but it does snow a lot here.

I’ve gone in and done the test drive and asked my questions, and set up an appointment to bring in my trade. I wanted to make sure all my credit cards were paid off to get my utilization very low (I have pretty much no debt) and to make sure my last payment on my old car went through. My trade-in is a really crappy 1996 Chrysler Cirrus with a big dent in the trunk (still functional) and it leaks oil (needs a new oil pan). It’s got like 130k miles and the AC is broken. It sucks.

He was pretty vague on the pricing, but the does list sticker price pretty plainly. Apparently, he says there is a special deal on low financing for the Element only, I guess they’re trying to move those (1.9, 2.9, or 3.9 depending on length of the loan). Also, he stated in an e-mail that there are “special incentives” for Internet customers, but when I asked him in person, he was pretty nonresponsive on telling me what those are. He said “Well, I’m sure if you’ve looked on the Internet, you probably have a good idea of what price you want, so all there is left is for us to come together on price.”

Has anyone bought Elements this year and what sort of price did you get?

Is the sticker price really arguable on new cars? I know I didn’t argue on used, but I argued a lot on the trade.

Has anyone had good/bad experiences with the Element model?

Any other advice, warnings, and so on would be very much appreciated.

My wife and I purchased an Element this past winter, it’s an excellent choice. It handles really well, turn radius is incredible… the interior is comfortable and easy to clean and when you remove the rear seats it can haul an unbelievable amount of stuff. It’s our favorite vehicle and we haven’t had a single regret since purchase. I Paid about 19,000 for mine… no moonroof however.

lokij, thanks for responding. Did you get the LX or the EX model? I’m assuming because you got no moonroof, it was a 2WD (4WD only for moonroof). It still handles well? Have you driven in the snow?

Did you purchase new or used?

There’s been a couple of threads on the element I’ve seen. One I started two years ago when I was thinking of buying one, and another more recent (and a few others, upon search).
here and here’s mine

I did go ahead and by an element two years ago. And probably sometime this week, we’ll have put 50000 miles on it (we bought new, it had like 150 miles to start with). I’ve had very good luck with it, and it’s pretty fun to drive.

I think I listed some expirences in the other threads, but I’ll try to hit the highlights here.

First the negatives:
Visibility. This is probably the most annoying thing about the car. The A pillars (they hold the front windshield in) are fairly wide, so they can block some of the view to the sides. I’ve got a little used to it, but it can be a distraction. Definetly test drive before you buy.

Only two passengers in the back seat. The back seats are removable, which is pretty cool, but the draw back is that there isn’t any place for a third seat belt, so if you have more than two passengers you’re out of luck, or you can take a chance.

For the positives:
Looks. It’s a pretty distinctive look, and it seems to polarize people. They love it or hate. I love it.

Interior. It’s cavernous. It’s carpetless. With two kids and a dog, it was a perfect choice. There’s also tons of leg room. My wife has her seat all the way back, and the boy in his booster chair still can’t reach her seat to kick it :slight_smile:

We took it to see relatives again for the third year in a row, and it’s so much more comfortable than doing the same trip with a Ford Escort, even though we have another kid. It was nearly 1000 miles, but it was a fairly easy drive.

Let’s see, what else? One thing that might concern you (or not, but it did me) is that the side profile doesn’t seem very aerodynamic. But here in Kansas where 35-40 mph winds are routine and 60-70 mph winds are not uncommon, I’ve not had much trouble. Certainly no more than the aforementioned Escort. And with gas here at $2.25 (or better), you might want to know I’ve been getting a fairly consistant 22-24 mpg (LX 4WD). I’ve seen as much as 27 (only once though), and I don’t think I’ve ever been below 20, but the majority of our driving is highway, with a little bit of city.

One last thing about the 4WD. It’s not actually 4WD. Basically when it detects wheel slippage in the front, it will apply power to the back wheels, you don’t really have any control over it.

Sorry to have rambled on, I do really love this car (my wife does too, but she’s not quite as enamoured with it). If you have specific questions, let me know.

Take care,


I have a 2003 Element DX, which I bought used (and which the previous owner had helpfully upgraded by adding a CD player and aluminum wheels). I love it. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do. I can haul all kinds of stuff in it (the spouse and I both play hockey, and it holds two huge hockey bags quite nicely) and even more if I take the seats out. I wanted a vehicle that could haul things but that wasn’t an SUV or a minivan (I just don’t like minivans) and this one fits the bill nicely.

One small negative which most people probably consider a positive: I don’t like the “half suicide doors.” They’re kind of a pain to open, especially in close quarters, and it’s usually easier just to put things in from the back. Also, if you forget and try to close the front door first it makes an annoying (and embarrassing) “clunk.” You have to close 'em in order, back one first.

As another data point to the poster who mentioned visibility problems–I’ve never noticed any, so YMMV.

So far it’s been a fun, easy-to-drive, reliable vehicle with a quirky style that I like a lot.

Thank you all for the feedback.

Could you give me information about price paid? I am pretty dead set on the Element, I am mostly interested on negotiating a price at this point.

Sticker price is what is known as MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). It bears no relationship to the Invoice Price (what the dealer pays for the vehicle). You want to be somewhere in between. Unless a dealer is in the hole on a car, he will not sell the car below invoice. The retail price is going to include the dealer’s ‘pack’ (overhead costs) and profit. On an Element the difference between MSRP and invoice is not that large. According to Intellichoice, you should be looking at about 18,977 for a new 2WD EX, and $20,269 for the 4WD (automatic). Intellichoice shows the 2WD LX automatic at about $17,063, and the 4WD automatic LX at $18,355. These are target prices for a savvy buyer.

It sounds like your used car is going to be strictly wholesale priced. Check the NADA site to see what that is. In all likelihood, the dealer doesn’t want your used car, because he’s going to be unable to sell it other than to a junk dealer. Anything over wholesale or bottom retail is not going to happen on a trade for a new vehicle that is already sale priced. The dealer has cut his margin and is not going to be able to do an ‘over-allowance’ on a trade.

Don’t allow the used vehicle to become part of the discussion on the new vehicle. If it becomes confusing, the salesman is probably practicing what is called “creating cognitive dissonance in the buyer”. This is a method taught by most sales trainers. In this case, a salesman will say something that is a complete non-sequitur (do you walk to school or take your lunch?), and is usually regarding money and your trade. This gets your left brain looking at your right brain and going “huh?” Without giving you time to think about what he just said, the salesman will pressure you for an answer. This tactic is used to throw you off the line of questioning you are trying to pursue. Settle the cost of the new vehicle, then settle the trade value, but don’t get the two discussions mixed together.

When you go to the dealer, ask the salesman again what the incentives are that he mentioned. If he’s vague, ask to see the Sales Manager and voice your complaint. If he’s vague, ask for the General Sales Manager. Understand that if you negotiate a good low price, the dealer and the salesman are going to make the minimum profit, so they’re not going to want to include any incentives or extras. But if they were mentioned, the dealership is required by law to give them to you. Hold your ground. If nothing else, you may get some free oil changes out of it.

Wow, Chefguy, thank you for the detailed and informative post. I also visited the Intellichoice web site that you mentioned (which saved me some money – I was going to pay for the Consumer Reports version).

Is the target price likely? It looks like it’s only $200 over invoice, which seems very small a profit margin (though there is the $500+ ‘destination fee’).

Are they going to ask me about undercoating and those sorts of things? If so, are there any options along those lines that I should consider?

A couple of pointers-

Go to and you can get a free price quote (make sure to click the ‘pricing’ tab, not the ‘get quote’ tab) and you can get a quick view of what others are paying.

The awesome interest rate offers they have are pretty awesome. However, it is very tough to get the “lowest possible price” along with “low interest offer”.
They will usually only give you one or the other.

Trade-ins are a losing battle. If you can find a way to do it, sell the car on your own. You will get 3x the amount selling it on your own than what they will give you for it. Especially since your not trading in a Honda. The Honda dealer now has to find a Chrysler dealer to sell your car to and still make a profit. And the Chrysler dealer wants to sell it to the public and make a profit.

Don’t fall for the “what monthly payment can you afford?” trick.
Sure we can get you a payment for as little as XX$$. But can’t you afford XX$$ + $20 each month? And we didn’t tell you but this is a 7 year loan. Oh, we never include interest charges when we calculate your monthly payment, that’s tacked on later.

Savy car salesmen work with what’s called a 4-square. Each square has a number in it. Price of vehicle, monthly payment, interest rate, trade-in value.
If they make it seem like they’re giving you a deal in one of the sqaures they’ll be sure to make it up in another one.

If you take away trade-in (sell it yourself), monthly payment (don’t let them talk about it), and interest rate (secure your own financing), all you have left to negotiate is the vehicle price. And that makes it fairly simple.

  1. Get a the cost of the new car all firmed up BEFORE you even start negotiating your trade-in. Don’t let the dealer lump it all in as one transaction. First you work out the new car, then you agree on what the tradein is worth.

  2. Check with your local bank as to what kind of rates they are offering, before you make the trip to the dealership. I’ve never actually used my own bank for a car loan, but I’m sure that I’ve looked more in control when I had the info going in. I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced that the rates I’ve been quoted have been lower because I walked in with a quote in my hand.

  3. Keep an eye on the length of the new loan. The payments may look low, but how much does it come to when you add it all up. 5 years can be a long time on a car, and there are places pushing even longer terms.

  4. Take EVERYTHING the dealer tried to talk you into with a grain of salt. Do you really need the undercoating? The extended warrenty? Stuff like this can be big profit makers for the dealer.

  5. Enjoy the Element. We’ve had on for 2 years now, and love it. It’s huge inside (leg room, head room and shoulder room). It’s hugely versatile. And you’ll never lose it in the parking lot.

Thank you all for the outstanding advice. I went out and also did some additional reading about some of the mysterious fees and add-ons. I am excited about the Element, but don’t want to fall in love so much that I get a bad deal. The way it looks, I am going to go in laden with notes about definitions of fees, invoice vs MSRP prices, releavant laws, etc. I hope they’ll be running scared!

I bought a 2003 in 2003 for 20,150 with all the bells and whistles after driving a POS for years. You’ve already done one important step…the walk away. Dealers hate to see people leaving the lot in their POS. The next thing to do is call the dealership in the next closest town, tell them the price your dealership gave you and ask them to beat it. They will give you a lower price. You will then go back to your dealership with the price they gave you and get it, or something better. Mine was stickered at 22,500. Consider getting rid of your POS yourself.

Oh yeah, and I love it love it love it! I have only used the AWD a few times, but those back wheels kick in and you start going where you wanted instead of where momentum was taking you. I recommend the added cost for the AWD. I’ve had some minor warranty issues and Honda went above and beyond to make it all better. I only have 30,000 on mine, but it has been on a 4000 mile road trip and loves to haul my bike and kayak, both racks aftermarket installations by my dad. I also get 26-27MPG interstate depending on what I’ve hung on the outside.

Oh, yeah…and welcome to the cult. I am hoping to keep mine forever.

My wife and I bought a 2003 model in Jan of 2004. We paid $18,100. We got a 4WD Honda Element with A/C, CD player, power windows, etc. The price included everything. Tax, title, everything. We had our financing lined up and we had no trade in since our previous car had completely died.

We went on a bunch of different websites such as to get quotes. We also went through Costco’s website which if you are a member can give you a break or a fixed price on some cars. By this point we had a bunch of dealers calling us. I was also looking at which is a message board devoted to Elements. They have a section on Dealers there that I used to get a good idea of what I expected to pay. I did most of the talking on the telephone with the dealers. I would tell them what I wanted and how much I wanted to pay. Most of them balked. One dealer didn’t. My wife and I went over there and then she proceeded to haggle even more. We can to an agreement on the out the door price and behold, we had a car.

BTW, it is a fun car. I’ve used it for moving stuff, by furniture, including a love seat, a china cabinet and more stuff from IKEA at different times, than I really want to keep track of. It is also easy as hell to clean. I love the car.

These guys do this for a living, they’re not going to agree to a deal that isn’t profitable for them. The good ones don’t mind letting you see them sweat since they know that’s what you want to see.

Don’t worry about beating the saleperson, work on getting the deal you want on the car.

Yes, it’s very likely. Dealers also have what is called a “holdback”, which I won’t go into here, that helps pad the profit line. Car dealers work on volume sales, not massive profit per vehicle, unlike the RV world where I work.

The finance guy will try to hit you up on extended tire warranties, undercoating, fabric protection, payoff insurance in case you die, etc. I would say a resounding NO! to undercoating and other protections. Tires are a maybe, payoff (life) insurance can be obtained through your own car insurance company or your bank.

Oooohhh! Good catch! My Element was my first car purchase and I was astounded at all the things they wanted to sell me. I said no to all of them. Again, they pulled out the whole “only $X per month” to make you think it was cheap. You might consider taking a longer financing period. That was the one thing they talked me into (yes I financed through the dealership). The concept is quite simple if you do the math. The difference between paying over 3 years and 4 years was very little in monthly payments, but with the extra year, alot more in actual money. I was going to finance for 3 years, but got the 4 years with no penalty for early pay-off. This gives me the flexability of deciding what my monthly payments will be. I pay more than I have to each month and therefore am paying ahead. Now, I will have a mortgage payment starting on Sept. 1 ( :eek: ) and can decrease my monthly car payment to the 4 year minimum payment so I don’t run out of money. My finance company credits my payment to the next month, so I also have the option of not paying for several months since I have already paid that principal (le?).

Clear as mud? I thought so! Basically, if there is no penalty for paying early and they credit extra funds to the principle (al?), you can take a longer loan and pay it off early, or if you lose your job or buy a house, you can cut back on the car payments.

By the way, despite what the movies show you, it’s not always a scam when the salesman says “I have to check with my manager”. Our managers desk ALL deals and approve ALL final offers, including amounts for trades.

Have you heard of They list a base Honda Element EX 4WD for $19,946 and a 2WD for $18,654, at least in my zip code.

They’ll give you a no-haggle price on exactly what you want; they may not be the cheapest, but it’ll give you a concrete figure to have the dealer beat (and if they can’t beat it–may as well buy from them).

They’re a legit company; I bought my VW Passat station wagon from them a few years ago and was happy with the transaction. They basically find a vehicle that matches what you want at a dealer and you buy it through the dealership’s fleet sales guy.