I have recently retired the Geek Machine and, reluctantly, became a first-time car buyer. On 3 hours of sleep, I plowed through 6 states in 13 1/2 hours, dizzy and dirty as hell coming out on the other side of heavy rain and troublesome, wobbly handling. The mission: buying a car.
“This is the part of my job I hate,” the emissions inspector once told me. “Did you know your [muffled jargon being spoken over the sound of shrieking tools].” “What?” I yelled over the background noise. “Your engine is about to blow up.” Well, shit…
Things I have concluded after owning a Mazda for 10 years… I should’a bought a Toyota. Some people are Ford families. Some people are Chevy families. We are a Toyota family. And that I detracted from destiny meant lots of money in unnecessary repairs and retirement before the car’s 10th birthday.
I don’t like buying a car, or pretty much any purchase where simple details suddenly turn into a summary of overall vagueness. The salesmen are obviously trained to get the best deal for their employer. Except now, those employers happen to be one of the industries hurting most in the “economic climate,” to speak of it so euphemistically. Although, I did have a secret weapon on hand: The Grandma. Innocent looking old lady who quickly becomes financial cookie and bold negotiator as soon as we start talking the finances. “You go with him and tell him what kind of car you’re looking for,” she forewarned as we began turning in the lot. “I’ll do the talking when we sit down to start talking about the money.”
Grandma, a former salesperson, is what Yoko Ono might call no bullshit.
We only had one day to pick out a car and this time I wasn’t detracting. Except the first place we went to was Hyundai. By Grandma’s reasoning, my first cousin drives the Sonata, and I should see what I could bargain one down to. Grandma has a routine about her, and values the story of a good bargain. As soon as we got to the house on Friday, she had already been telling my aunt a story about a mix-up of prices for nectarines at the supermarket that afternoon. I just listened quietly, adoring that consistency about her.
The Hyundai dealership was previously a Dodge dealership owned by the same family. The salesman, who told us he’d only been in the business eight weeks, said the Dodge’s were awful cars. Grandma should know, she bought two there. One was a purchase just one month shy of the Florida Lemon Law going into effect, so when the air conditioning leaked ice cold water on the driver and passenger’s feet and eventually, the door fell off, they gave up on Dodge. “My boyfriend [a police officer] said that Dodge Caravan’s are the easiest cars to break into,” I told him, happy to have some detail to share in accordance to his conclusion that the manufacturer made a lousy car.
Well, we showed up to test drive a new Sonata. Only there was no such thing. The ten minute explanation could have easily been synthesized down to: they all went off the lot during the Labor Day Sale and they didn’t get enough new inventory in yet. Though, from the looks at the left-heavy lot full of brand new Elantras (and no other new Hyundai), perhaps it was an overstock, rather than understock problem that was really to blame.
The salesman was nice, but he had told us he previously worked as a land engineer and lost his job, the house, and the two cars. Now, he and his wife were driving a ’94 Camry and they were pretty happy with it. This vaguely felt like something out of Glenn Gary Glenross, something to make yourself either seem sympathetic or allows a connection to the people you’re trying to sell. Well, so long as the bottom line price is to my liking, he could tell me his blind mother needs and eyeball transplant.
To the Elantras!
It’s kind of sporty, I figured. Though every one had an options package at the cost of an extra $1500 that I sure as hell didn’t need. Can’t I just opt out of the options? All I wanted was A/C, but this is ridiculous! Well… no. Why are they called options? The ride was smooth. The car a bit sporty. The gas mileage…. meh. The color blue. Okay, so let’s start talking price.
What I liked about the Hyundai salesman is that he wanted to start talking about numbers right away. Toyota has a different strategy. One guy shows you the car. In our case, one guy (someone my grandma spoke to previously and asked to help us again) praised another guy who showed us the car. Then he introduced us to the finance guy. But Hyundai dealership just had the one guy to set it all up. Understandably, they’re a smaller place. They can’t compartmentalize every friggin thing, which creates more of a personal connection with the salesman you’ve been dealing with the whole time. (And, hopefully, he or she isn’t an asshole).
Rob. Rob was chatty. He liked to explain about Beacon scores. And how he loves his Toyota. And life in upstate New York and briefly, Virginia. Because I’m from Maryland. And at least 30 people in 8 hours would all announce some personal connection to the state, the only one who might have been most entitled, though was the final salesman who, beaming when he saw the old license plate coming off the Geek Machine (with some effort thanks to no-tamper screws), asked me where I was from and told me where he was raised in the state. “I miss the crab cakes,” he said.
Finally, we got down to price. I already broke the first cardinal rule: never go to high when you’re asked how much you want to spend. “About 15 I said,” aware of only the list prices I looked up on the Internet. No, no, that’s not how it works! Go low. Stay low. It’s their job to try and work with you. Not the other way around! So, Grandma takes the floor. The suggested price is still too high. “What kind of interest rate does this come with?” she leans over to ask. Beacon score vagueness. Can someone just give us a definite answer?!
Grandma pulled out the newspaper add of what the Toyota dealership was offering for their sales event. The salesman points out that we should be weary of these ads. They only have one stock number. Which means there is something about the car. Alarm bells should be ringing, Winston! It was an exercise in stalling. Since his demonstration carried over to another ad, too.
I like exercises, too. When the price wasn’t to our liking, we stood up and said we may be back, but that we were going to Toyota for now instead. The salesman looked desperate and called over his shorter supervisor when he heard Grandma had bought cars from Bob Dance before. I caught their eye-to-eye unspoken negotiations about how to handle. You have the white shirt and tie on, you do it, Manager! Manager explained fantastic everything was in what was being offered, but Grandma remained ever the skeptic. I was just hoping for a swift exit so we could get to Toyota. We had a our quote. Now to see what we could do with it.
We parked in front of the Toyota dealership way on the other side of town and sat out the hail storm before we could go in. The salesman grouped around the cars and looked over the edge, as though they were wary of hail dents forming on the cars. It wasn’t quite that bad.
“You there, with the oversized umbrella, how’s bout helping us out!”
Now… let’s talk cars! No wait… where’s the bathroom?
Ok… let’s talk cars!
I think the salesman was Jamaican or Haitain, but I wasn’t sure if it was rude to ask. He looked so young, but his hair had already almost all grayed, and almost to white. Were it not for that, I would have guessed him to be 30. He showed me around the lot, sharing his oversized umbrella.
“Bus Stop Wendy, she’s here I say, ‘please share my umbrella.'” I knew what I wanted. A Corolla. Or a Yaris sedan. The gas mileage was outstanding for both, and the prices were managable too. And yada, yada, yada, it was a Corolla we eventually negotatied for. A red one. A red, sporty, graceful ride with such cherry pickup. And I would eventually christen it Lola. (Spoiler!) To the Negotiator, my good man! And we were asked to sit and wait for Ross in one of the small, cubed offices enclosed in glass walls. Now we play the waiting game.
It took about 4.5 hours to buy a car. Ross started collecting all of his information for credit applications before ever discussing price. “Do you want some of my blood, too?” Grandma asked, feeling the questions to be rather intrusive after a point. But, Ross explained, it’s the way things are done now. What with the banks giving loose loans to people who couldn’t pay them. Ross took the rough payment plan we sketched out to see what kind of deal he could make for us. And he would walk back and forth at least 10 times, from the cube to the office just behind it where he waited behind a desk, talking to clerks standing at computers like he was a waiter waiting for the cook to correct an order or check if there could be an alternative to the cilantro garnish.
Did I say waiting game? I meant stalling! Grandma stopped Ross from asking any more questions before we started talking price. He flipped the paper over and said, “I have it right here… $15,999.” That’s funny, I remember telling the salesman I wasn’t willing to spend more than $13K I thought to myself, then backtracked and realized that it probably wasn’t information exchanged in our hand off to Ross. As much as Grandma likes this particular Toyota dealership, having bought three or four cars here before, I didn’t like the way they did business. Rob back at Hyundai stuck to being vague when we asked about details. The Toyota guys’ strategy was just to justify rather than negotiate. Don’t tell me what price you’re going to give me the car at, ask me what I want to take the car for. Especially having announced that I was definitely buying one that day, in order to get back home tomorrow.
Where is my dueling glove?!! I need to slap this man immediately!
Poor Ross, he looked so flush in the face when, after all that, we negotiated a better trade in price, and I held the pen to look over the final deal. Um… what is this $156 for floor mats? Are they lined with pure gold? His first answer? “But these floormats say Toyota.” Well, show me where to sign! Or at least how to get out of here so I can go back and get Hyundai, jerkstore!
I sat with arms crossed while Ross explained that, to get a deal on the 7 year warranty I purchased, they had to do that with the floor mats. Oh, I get it. So to get a deal on one item, you have to increase the price of another. I should be in that business. All you have to do is shift a bunch of numbers around to make the customer feel happy. It’s like playing Oblivion and hoping all your interactions are the perfection combination of social skills that don’t piss someone off. Well, you’ve exposed the game Ross. Now I will sign, and accept the world’s most expensive floor mats so you don’t start crying.
But wait, there’s more!
Ah, paperwork. At least the Financial Services guy in the paperwork office was entertaining. They may reserve all the light-hearted guys with a sense of humor to this point since there’s a relief in getting to this stage. There should be, when you spend at least one hour signing through a stack of paperwork. My hat (if I still wore it) goes off to whoever the poor sucker is that is assigned to sift and process all that paperwork. Carbon sheet after carbon sheet after carbon sheet (and repeat). And after all that, you have a car… and carpel tunnel syndrome!
At the very end, we waited for Funny Financial Services Guy to clean up the car (why didn’t the shop guys who handed it over just take all the stickers off and clean the windows?) and hand over the keys. ” I drove red, graceful, sporty Lola off the lot and waved goodbye to The Geek Machine sitting in the parking space. Half covered still in music and skateboard stickers. Missing a hubcap. Dented in the door by a powerful shove of AC’s hip. First car, say hello to my new car.