Saturday, January 11, 2014
The new car, part 2
I am a mission-oriented shopper. Decide in advance what you want. Get in, get out. Done. Browsing is for bookstores only. Nothing else. Unless, of course, it can't be helped.
It could not be helped when my car died a couple of days after Christmas. When the service agent told me how much it would cost to bring my vehicle back to functional life, I asked to be referred to the sales department. Before long, I was in the clutches of an eager sales representative. Let's call him “Pete.” We immediately embarked on a magical mystery tour that I have yet to understand, but which I will strive to relate. Except for some small details and slightly rounded numbers, this is exactly what occurred.
New or used?
Pete asked me where I wanted to go, the used-car lot or the new vehicle showroom. There were some holiday specials to make the new cars more attractive, but I preferred to see what the used lot had to offer first. (I really didn't expect to end up pricing the new automobiles; I'm more of a bargain hunter than that.) Pete had two cars on offer that he thought I might like, especially since both were updated versions of my deceased vehicle. One was a 2007 hybrid and the other was a 2006 V6. The V6 was perky like my old car (also a V6), but the 2007 hybrid was no slouch. The hybrid was listed at $13,500. The V6 was a year older, but was listed at $18,000. I took each car out for a test drive and decided on the hybrid. I wanted to move into the 21st century.
It was about 4:30 when I made my choice, mere hours after my old car had been pronounced dead. I didn't haggle. It's not my nature. I was ready to go. I was not, however, taking into account the time-consuming rituals required by the process of car purchasing.
I had my checkbook in my pocket and I was ready to pay cash. The sales rep turned me over to his manager. The sales manager was bluff, unkempt, and overly friendly. I didn't really care. I could pretend to be buddies for a while. He handed me some paperwork to fill out. The manager—let's call him “Jim”—disappeared for several minutes into the rabbit warren of offices adjoining the sales floor while I sat on a plastic chair at a Formica table and sipped some water that Pete had fetched for me. When Jim returned, he pulled out the chair next to mine and took a look at the form I had filled out. He scratched out a big chunk of it because I was not applying for credit.
“With tax, license, and fees,” he said, “it comes to fifteen-five.”
It seemed sufficiently shrug-worthy. “Okay,” I said. ”Exactly fifteen thousand five hundred.”
“That's right,” he said, and watched while I wrote out a check. But he left the check where I placed it on the table. “Hang on a minute and I'll be right back,” he said.
A special offer
This time it was a longer wait. I was getting fidgety and irritated. I just wanted to get it over with and figured that a trouble-free customer like me should have been whisked through with a little more efficiency. But only half an hour had trickled by since I had said, “That one.” It was hardly at the ordeal level yet.
Jim was back. He sat down at the table. He had a piece of paper in his hand. It bore an easily-read number: $16,600. I scowled. My check for $15,500 was still on the table in front of me.
“We're going to be giving you a discount,” he said.
I kept quiet. In my opinion, the number in his hand did not reflect a discount. Jim was ready to explain how wrong I was.
“Your car was posted on our website at a special price, which we have to respect for walk-in customers, too. We're dropping the price a thousand dollars for you.”
Okay. That did sound like a discount.
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“And we're going to offer you a two-year extended warranty on the car's electrical system for only twenty-one hundred, which is a great deal for a hybrid like you're buying.”
Ah. An extended warranty. Dad used to make a lot of money selling those extended warranties to customers who purchased consumer electronics from him. Dad's advice to family members: Never buy an extended warranty.
“No, thanks,” I said.
Jim acted startled. Maybe he was.
“It's a great deal. The whole thing comes to only sixteen six.”
“Yes, I can do the math, but I'll pass on the extended warranty.”
Jim pulled himself together and stood up, the piece of paper still in his hand.
“Okay,” he said. “I'll set things up.”
“What do I do with this check?” I asked.
“You won't be paying that much,” he said, so I tucked it back into my checkbook.
Pete came over while I was loitering at the showroom windows, watching the sunset. He asked me if I needed anything.
“No. I'm just curious how much longer this is going to take.”
“Oh, no more than another five or six hours,” he said.
I gave him a sharp look. “Just kidding!” he assured me, an awkward smile on his face. I was not particularly amused.
We had killed an hour and a half by the time Jim emerged to conduct me into the inner sanctum where their finance guy was ensconced in a messy, paper-crammed cubby. With a heavy Slavic accent, the finance guy asked me to take a seat in front of his desk. He proceeded to collect my signature about two dozen times on about fifteen different documents. (I'm not even counting all the places I had to initial.) The finance guy mentioned that they had a special offer on an extended warranty for my car's electrical system. “This is a very good deal for a hybrid. They are very complicated.” I assured him I was declining the opportunity. He mentioned it three or four times before I was done signing papers. He finally stopped after I inked a document that stipulated I had been offered the extended warranty and had turned it down in the full knowledge of how wonderful it was.
“Do you know how much this car is going to cost you?” asked the finance guy.
I was wondering if I would be ambushed at the last minute and end up refusing the deal.
“I already cut a check for fifteen-five,” I said, “but Jim says that's not right.”
“Yes, no way are you paying that much.”
That, at least, seemed the right response. He punched some numbers into his computer, scribbled things on the final document, and turned it toward me for my perusal and my signature. I was paying $14,150.
“This is it, then? I can cut a check for this amount?”
“Yes. That exact amount.”
In retrospect, nothing makes more sense now than it made that night. The dealer could have sold me the car for $15.5K. I even cut the check. Then we went through this rigmarole where they tried to get me up to $16.6K. When the fat lady finally sang, I was paying only $14.2K. What was up with that?
It sure wasn't my steely-eyed resolve and virtuoso bargaining skills.