Buy or Be Where?

Car shopping. Is there a more peaceful, relaxing way to spend the entirety of your long-awaited weekend? Well, yes, yes there is. Ranking up there with root canals, food poisoning and IRS tax audits, car shopping is one of those activities we love to hate, and try hard to avoid. It is one of those activities that puts you in direct contact with the sort of creepy person whom you’d otherwise avoid like the plague, unless you typically enjoy hanging out with hitchhikers. Once you set foot on the car lot a charming flock of “helpful” sales staff lumber forward beneath a haze of aftershave and cigarette smoke. These individuals will work to become your best friends in the span of a few sentences and begin sharing bits of personal trivia in an attempt to imprint upon you like a regurgitating seagull. If this dynamic wasn’t creepy enough the salesperson will then invite his sales manager over for some twisted role-playing; this sales manager acts as a creepy dad to the already creepy salesperson who now needs your help passing some creepy rite of passage with his old man. “He drinks because I haven’t made a sale today”.

Ignoring our creepy companions and holding our breath against the aftershave we return our focus to the task at hand; finding an affordable family car. Unfortunately, this self-inflicted trip to the auto mall wasn’t even to get a new sexy set of wheels, in fact, on the contrary we were actually bringing in a new sexy set of wheels to trade in for that affordable family car after realizing that the other was way out of our monthly budget and also remembering that we still had kids, and making some of them ride in the truck-bed is still illegal in 30 states (silly safety regulations).   This was definitely a blow to our automotive moral.

There’s a HGTV show called Property Brothers where a nice young couple is asked to list out all of their hearts desires in describing their perfect house. The first stop is then to a move-in ready house that fits them to a T and makes the young couple giddy with anticipation and eager to sign the papers. At that point the Property Brothers casually reveal that the house is completely out of reach; being $100k over their budget, and not even currently on the market. They then inform the young couple that they’ll instead need to find a rundown piece of crap that they’ll fix up and be forced to accept as a decent compromise. This is exactly the experience we had going from a beautiful truck that we loved to being forced to accept a decent compromise. Which brings us back to the dealership.

After they efficiently undervalued our aforementioned beautiful truck in three simple steps (1)take your keys, 2)go for a smoke, 3)make up a number), it was time to begin the real dance; tactical sales. This is the tried and true process of selling a car that dealers preach like a Tony Robbins self-help presentation. The first step, “create a sense of ownership”. This is where they encourage you to sit in the driver’s seat, picture yourself driving, fondle the car keys and eventually pee on the rear tire to mark your territory. “See that couple across the street there walking their dog,… they were just looking at this car, not five minutes before you arrived, and I think they’re ready to make an offer. No pressure but you really should pee on the other tire too if you’re serious about this car. More coffee?”

Step two, “create a fog of war”. This is where any requested information is presented in as much mixed and muddled terms as possible. If you ask to compare apples to apples you are presented with fruit salad. Features and options are intentionally shuffled so that inexplicable price fluctuations seem to be completely justified. “This one doesn’t have the seat warmers but it does come with a Flux Capacitor, which accounts for the extra $5999 on the bottom line, and colder seats on your bottom line,… ha, get it,… your ‘bottom’ line?! More coffee?”

Now the fun begins, with step three, “the numbers game”, or more accurately “the shell game”. This is when they start throwing out a collection of numbers, shuffle them all up under the empty coffee cups and then ask you to try and find the one that holds to your original budget. They begin by intentionally showing unrealistic numbers to make the real ones look better moments later. “If you were a homeless street junkie with single digit credit scores you’d need to provide one kidney and a pinkie toe to get the numbers below $3000 a month. But you and I, my friend, go way back, a good 20 minutes and I can tell you are better than that so let’s see what we can do.” From here interest rates are slowly massaged, loan terms and trade in values are adjusted on a whim and all of this is done in a painfully slow motion barter system between the salesman, the sales manager and I assume the Great and Powerful Oz positioned just off behind the curtain. After a few rounds of this you notice that while the monthly payments have magically declined from the original ludicrous amounts they haven’t even begun to address the actual over-inflated price of the car.   The real action hasn’t even begun.

And so begins the fourth, and supposedly final step, “breaking down the buyer”. This is where your dream team of creepiness attempts to wear you down until you’ve lost your will to live much less your ability to barter effectively. They rely on mental fatigue, coffee bladder and low blood sugar to motivate you to sign anything they shove in front of you. The greatest testament to the amount of manipulation they’re dishing out is to see how adamant they are about making sure you don’t leave.   They know that once you step foot out that door those webs of manipulation melt away, and you will come to your senses faster than spotting a cop car in your rear view mirror. Armed with this knowledge the final dance becomes the attempt to try and maintain your target payment while trying to pretend that you’re ready to walk away from the deal at any moment (as if you’d want to do this all over again). Suddenly the thrill of the deal begins to course through you. You become empowered by this new sense of control over the negotiations. You now have a bargaining chip which you can use to back them into a corner and bend them to your will. At least these are the types of deluded thoughts that flit through your mind as the dealer does his best to contain fits of laughter over your gullibility.

After you’ve bartered your little heart out and settled on the final payment that is over your monthly budget but not painfully so, you feel a sense of pride for sticking to your numbers (or what you think were your numbers). And just when you think it’s all over and it’s time to drive away they stick you in the room with one last creepy vulture wanting to sell you gap insurance and vinyl siding for your barn. As he begins to explain the necessity of gap insurance you pass out from low blood sugar only to wake up six hours later in seedy hotel bathroom in an ice filled tub with a throbbing pain where your kidney should be. Luckily your affordable new family car came equipped with a nifty navigational system that can direct you to the nearest hospital.


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