This is the story of how I bought a car, and made a car salesman feel used.
I’ll spare you the boring details, but we found a three bedroom apartment. It has exposed brick (like any hip Chicago place should), surprisingly large rooms, and an updated kitchen that is really an updated kitchen. The price difference between Grand Rapids and Chicago reminds me of jumping from a warm, smooth, rock heated by the summer sun into a frigid mountain pool where mountain-pool-dwellers are waiting with tridents to stab you. That is to say, it’s shocking. We signed the lease and waited to move in. In the meantime, I needed a car.
HOW TO BUY A CAR
“You know what, Bart… I want to stop before I say something that I’m going to regret.” Pause. “But you know what…” Apparently he wanted to not stop before he said something that he was going to regret. “I just…I feel used.”
This is the story of how I bought a car, and made a new and used car salesman feel used.
Rewind to January, 2013. I drive with Ben to the VW dealership and I test drive a new, white, TDI golf. These are the cars that run off diesel fuel and get around 42 MPG. It’s a fun car, small, handles great — all that jazz. But it’s white. It looked very boring. The guy who gave me the keys called it a “standard grocery-getter”, which made it sound sexy. He introduced himself as Chip. (Which is similar to his real name) “Chip, I’m thinking about a TDI Golf six-speed.” “OH, what a great car! I probably don’t need to tell you anything about the car, you TDI guys do so much research.” Interesting approach. Chip proceeded to not tell me anything about the car.
When I finished driving around, Chip asked, “So what’s your timeline?” “I’m moving to Chicago in June, so sometime before then.” I was intentionally vague because I didn’t want him hounding me before I was ready to make a decision. As turns out, I didn’t have to worry about that.
I had six months to work with, so naturally I decided give Volkswagen an offer they couldn’t refuse: I wrote them a letter asking them to give me a new car. I waited. I received a tweet back from their social media people who said, “nice post, you thousandaire”, quoting my blog. Because social media folks aren’t in charge of giving away cars, I waited for my letter to make its rounds among the top VW executives. It must still be making its rounds. I’m expecting a VW any day now. In fact… it’s probably sitting at my old address! How could I HAVE BEEN SO FOOLISH.
After putting all my eggs in the free-car-basket and losing that basket, I had to make a decision. I called Chip in June about trading in my beloved Crown Vic, which he said I could absolutely do. I drove that beast in, and they told me that I would get $2,500 for a trade in. (This prompted me to write an ad for the Vic on Craigslist, that was promptly removed.) While I was there, Chip drove out the same exact white TDI that I took for a test-drive back in January. It was dirty, and had just been hosed off in an attempt to make it look less dusty. Hmm. No one seemed to want that thing.
I told them that I didn’t want to do the trade-in because I’m not a moron and I don’t feel like throwing away money. Chip called me later and asked what was holding me back. “I’d like some more for the trade-in. I know that I can get at least $4,000 for the Vic, and I know that you guys have had that TDI hanging around for a while and I’m guessing that you want to get rid of it.” I figured we could work out a good deal. Chip got a little defensive:
“You know, Bart, we have a saying in the car business. ‘A seat for every seat’. Which means that if you don’t buy it, someone else will — now I hope you’re the one who buys it! But someone else might like white, while you don’t. It’s a preference thing. Besides, these TDI’s aren’t going to be around forever. The next model year doesn’t come out for a while…” blah blah blah
Note to those of you who are thinking about buying a car: These car guys love to raise the urgency level. If you don’t buy today, LOOK OUT. Who knows? Maybe all the Volkswagens will disappear by noon tomorrow. I mean, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to sell this thing for a year, but maybe…maybe a tractorbeam takes these things up to space! Hell, I don’t know! What I do know is you need it NOW!
He gave me more reasons about why I didn’t have a leg to stand on and then came back with,
“So what do we have to do to make this happen?” I told him I needed more for the trade-in.
“I’ll see what I can do for ya, Bart! The Crown Vic isn’t exactly a hot commodity right now, with gas mileage and the size… The sales manager and the car appraiser are both at a classroom session and they are the ones who make the decision.”
A day or two later, Chip called.
“Well Bart, I was able to get a little more, but not much, but it’s still something!”
“Alright, how much are we talkin’?”
“I was able to get you $2,600 for the Vic”.
Stop traffic. You got me one hundred dollars more. I spent $100 at Costco last weekend by mistake. (I’m not proud of this — I went in for hummus and saw five other things there, thought I was getting away with murder (murder being a good deal on groceries) and then found out that I was getting away with $100 less than I had when I walked in.) This is a big investment, man. Offering an extra hundred bucks sounded like this to me: “You’re an idiot, right? Aren’t you? Well here’s an extra hundred. Take it and be happy, you dumb kid who doesn’t know anything.”
I’m a little frustrated at this point. On facebook, I notice that my friend Nick works for another VW dealership in town. I send him a message. “Hey Nick, I’m having some trouble dealing with the folks over here.” I told him what I was looking for, and he talked to the sales manager, told me that they could get me a deal. Just bring the car by and we’ll see. A few minutes later, I got a call from Chris, the sales manager at the first dealership (Chip’s boss). “Bart, what do we need to do to get you this car.” “I need more for the trade-in.” I felt like a broken record. Remember when I told you guys this three days ago? Same thing.
“Bart, if I can get you $3,000 for the Vic, do we have a deal?” Pause. “Because I don’t want to go to my car appraiser and ask him for this favor and then have you not take it, because then the next time I ask him for a favor, he won’t give it to me!”
Your car appraiser? The guy who works with you and for you? You don’t want to ask him for a favor? At the time, I thought, “Oh gosh, he’s right. That would be really too bad for him. Maybe I should make this decision based on what is best for this car salesman and not what is best for me.” Looking back now, the manipulation there was pretty fun. He asked again, “If I get you $3k, do we have a deal?” The one thing I regret about this whole process: I said “Yes”.
He sends me the sales invoice, I see the numbers, and I get a call from a guy at dealership #2. Nick’s boss. “Come on by with the Crown Vic, we’ll give you a good deal”. I go, and without any drama they offer me $3,300 ($300 above what dealer #1 offers.) The car they have is newer, it’s the color I want, updated rims, comes with more stuff. Also, the dealership is cleaner, looks more professional, and the people were good to me. Then there was the hard sell.
Me: “Great, I like the numbers, I want to go home and sleep on it.”
Sales Manager: “It’s a good deal. We did right by you, don’t you think?”
Me: …Yeah, and I appreciate it — I just don’t want to make a sudden decision.
SM: Ok, no problem. We’re just talking, no pressure.
SM: So what’s holding you back?
This guy doesn’t want me to leave without signing papers. When I realize that people are giving me the hard sell, or trying to convince me of something — even when I know that it’s the better option — I shut down.
Me: I just want to think about it.
SM: That’s fine…just know that it gets really busy in here tomorrow so it might not be easy to get you this car by the weekend.
Me: No problem.
SM: And you know Murphey’s Law! You’ve got a good deal for that trade-in now, but you leave that lot…
His last resort was telling me that JUST MAYBE I would get in a car accident on the way home. He really did not want me going back to the other guys and getting a better deal. I laughed and thanked him for his concern for my car’s safety, and took off.
I called them the next day and told them they’ve got a deal. I felt like I should let the other guys know, so I called dealer #1 and told them that I wasn’t going to buy from them. Chris did not handle it well.
“Hey Chris, I just wanted to say, thanks for all your help. I’ve really appreciated everything, but I’m not going to go with you guys”
Bruce: Who beat my price.
Chris: –Who beat my price.
Me: dealer’s name
Chris: [Sighs] I knew it! I knew it! It’s the kiss of death whenever I send the sales paper out!
What the hell am I supposed to say to this? Dangit Chris ya shouldn’t have given it to me then! And for that matter, if it always happens, shouldn’t you know better?
Chris: Because the competition knows exactly what I’m offering.
Me: …They offered me a car in a color I actually wanted and I didn’t have a hard time—
Chris: –You told me yesterday that we had a deal. You agreed. You said…
He started questioning my character, which wasn’t awesome. I did tell him that we had a deal a day earlier. I did not feel good about that, but that I felt more comfortable with the other dealership. He said something about me not keeping my word, and not being a good person. What I didn’t need was life lessons from this man. This whole conversation was worse than breaking up with a girl. It was worse than cancelling DirecTV (because they are a bunch of fine-print scammers. They still send me mail: “We miss you” “Come Back” “Was it something I said?” They now send me letters in faux hand-addressed envelopes).
Life lesson continued:
Chris: What would it look like if we agreed on a price and then you came in and I changed the price on you? You said that we had a deal.
What kind of a jackass example is that? I’m the customer! Of course you’re not going to change the price on me. I didn’t know what to say. At this point I was just walking around my house listening to his complaints.
Chris: Chip worked real hard on this, and I’d like to make this happen for him.
Me: And I appreciate what he did, I just don’t—
Chris: —We were talking about a white model, do you want a gray? I can get you a gray.
Me: I was talking about the white model because I thought you guys wanted to get rid of it and that you’d give me a good deal on it.
Chris: I had no idea that you wanted a gray one. If I get you a gray one, for the same price, do we have a deal?
Me: …No. Sorry.
Chris: [Big Sigh. Long pause.] You know what, Bart… I want to stop before I say something that I’m going to regret. [Pause.] But you know what, I just…I feel used.”
Me: Look, I don’t feel like I owe you guys anything. I didn’t sign anything for you. If you hadn’t jerked me around with the trade-in, maybe we’d have a deal. This is my first time buying a car. I didn’t go to this other dealership and give them your sales invoice and say, “beat that!” They told me they could give me a good deal on it and they did. With no hassle.
We finally ended the conversation and he wished me well with the new car. There was no talk of “just being friends” when this was over. “We can still hang out in the same friend groups, right?” “Will it be awkward if I see you?” “See that guy, right there? That was my ex-car-dealership-guy.”
What. A. Nightmare.
Nightmares aside, I have it now and I clocked 51 MPG the other day.
Now that I have my car, It’s time to move my stuff to Chicago. For that, I’ll need a rental truck.
For next time: “How’s My Driving? Call 1-800-I’m-Driving-A-Freaking-Budget-Rental-Truck.”