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Misadventures in Buying a Vespa in Southern California

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With high gas prices, the sales in scooters has risen. We should know. We've been trying to buy a Vespa for the past three months in the height of summer and found that most SoCal Vespa dealerships had a hard time holding onto their stock. Not that they were complaining as they were able to easily charge a premium for the much sought-after scooters boasting fuel economy 78 mpg and up.

Case in point, a very aggressive salesman at the Vespa dealership in Marina del Rey quoted an out-the-door price for a 2009 Vespa LX 150 at over $2,000 higher than its MSRP. Taking a look at the breakdown of costs he told us over the phone, there were extra fees called "dock fee" and assembly and freight/destination was $787 (FYI a 2008 Maserati GranTurismo's destination charge costs $563 more and that's for a 4,000-pound $100,000 car).

This prompted us to call other Vespa dealerships in Southern California to comparison shop. Sherman Oaks and Riverside had quoted us lower prices but we felt uncomfortable by their "car salesman" aggressiveness.

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Our last call was to Vespa Thousand Oaks where owner David Meyer answered the phone. His out-the-door price for the LX 150 was comparatively low and a breath of fresh air. There was none of the mysterious charges that MDR quoted. Plus, there's no charge for shipping the scoot from Thousand Oaks to our home in West L.A. 33 miles away. MDR couldn't offer the same, not even for the mere 10 miles away.

Apparently, all David's customers like his dealership, too, as evidenced by the walls of pictures of satisfied customers and the scads of positive online reviews. They even have group rides where all the customers come together and hit the road on their scoots. It's only the second year of this dealership's existence and it's already one of the top five Vespa dealerships in the country; No. 1 in June this year.

When buying a special scoot like a Vespa, we found it is best to purchase from a dealership specializing in scooters. The Marina del Rey salesmen couldn't answer many of our questions about our new bike and had failed to tell us important things like the break-in period for the tires and even simple things like how to easily put the Vespa on its kickstand. They don't even fill the gas tank halfway for you; merely giving you "enough to get to the gas station."

At Vespa Thousand Oaks, the Vespa orientation was quite different in that it was actually thorough and informative. We learned what to do if we lost our key, how to fill up the gas tank, how to lock our bike and even how to cancel the turn signal. Of course, we just chalked up MDR's lack of Vespa knowledge up to the fact that since it also sells ATVs, dirt bikes and sport bikes it can't possibly be the expert of all things. It's like trying to buy a good pair of running shoes from Big 5 instead of a specialized running store.

BTW, Thousand Oaks even fills up the small gas tank for you as they want to start you off right. Here, they're very supportive of their customers and anyone wanting to get a scoot.

So the moral of this Vespa shopping experience is, in case you didn't already know: 1) Never settle for the first quoted price; 2) always comparison shop; and 3) only shop at scooters-specific dealerships.

Photo by Caroline on Crack