Monday, August 24, 2009

How Does Anyone Stomach the Purchase of a New Car?

I am driving a car with a hundred thousand miles on it. I happen to like it and take pretty good care of it. It's one of those 4-cylinder ugly-cute hybrids that the Japanese seem so good at making, and you can pretend it's an SUV on some days but you don't have to pay for all the gas you'd need if you had the real thing.

One day I thought I'd see about getting a sedan from the same company--I like sedans, too, and I like it when they are pretty sleek and pretty good on gas. So I went to a dealer whose name seemed to profess a propensity for being Friendly, not expecting them to be anything but ordinary and somewhat on the slimy side.

I came away with my convictions intact: I find it hard to believe that anyone can stomach the purchase of a new car except very rarely or when one really needs to do so.

Of course, I started my research on-line and found out that leases were going off at two-twenty nine a month and that my car had a blue-book value of around sixty-five hundred bucks. The amount owed to the bank was a little less than that amount. Perhaps perversely, I wanted them to take my car instead of the up-front fees they usually ask for (a couple of grand) to get the lease started.

Maybe this is what doomed the transaction from the start. But I got the distinct impression that the dealership expected to relieve me of my vehicle for considerably less than it was worth, sell it for considerably more than it was worth, and still make me pay full freight on the lease. Why not?

The offense is in the way this transparent unfairness is often tricked up by car dealers. I think they believe their customers must be idiots (because buying a new car is inherently stupid?--I don't know).

It started with the salesperson telling me that a certain "he" had said my perfectly presentable car was "in rough shape" and that they couldn't come anywhere near blue-book. When I pointed out the difference in dollars and cents, I was told that "he" would not "insult me" with an offer that approached the blue-book value. Also, that the blue-book "didn't really follow the market", which was an amazing thing to say about the industry-standard price guide.

I figured this combination of reverse terminology and outright denial of fact must be part of the not-so-subtle bag of tricks the salesperson deploys to confuse the buyer. It confused me, but only in the sense that I wasn't sure if it was a trick or if the salesperson might be running low on batteries somehow. The resultant lease offer was fully more than a hundred dollars a month more than my research had suggested it might cost (and what the company's national advertising campaign proclaimed).

Then came the math part. "Even if I could get you another thousand" on the car, it would only bring the price down by thirty dollars. On the other hand, if I paid them two thousand up front, the price would come down by at least a hundred dollars--a three-to-one ratio in their favor.

I asked what happened to the two-twenty-nine, since we weren't even close. "Where did you see that?" It was as if I had brought in a dead rat and had asked to have it appraised. That it had been seen in a "national advertising campaign" was treated as if it had been transmitted to me by aliens in a heiroglyph unreadable in the car-dealership domain.

This led me to the conclusion that they had no need to sell a car to me, and I shook hands with their salesperson and left.

I may hang on to my car for another hundred thousand miles. It may be less insulting to my pride to drive around in a dented old rustbucket than to feel the chill of car-dealer slime applied liberally about my head and shoulders any time soon.

So my question remains: how can anyone put up with it? No other type of transaction is ever as rife with chicanery. How do they sell even a single car except to the careless, desperate or innocent? I will continue to ponder.