I don’t know how many cars I have owned over the years, but it has been quite a few. Most of the early ones were clunkers purchased via private sales and I am sure the sellers were glad to see me coming. But as the years progressed and I became slightly more financially stable (definition: was able to swing another bill and still eat at least twice a day) I moved up to buying my cars from dealerships. Up until that time, I thought everything had a price and if you wanted it, that’s what you paid. Can you say “lamb to the slaughter boys and girls”? I did not know that cars sold for whatever they could wring out of you and I, at that time, didn’t even know how to spell ‘negotiate’, much less invoke it.
I remember my first experience. I was wandering around a used car lot when I was approached by a rather large man who handed me his card which read “the round man with the square deal”. I should have known I was dead meat, but I continued to look at several vehicles, secretly wishing I was somewhere else. It wasn’t until he said “you know, I’m not going to let you leave without buying a car” that I got really nervous. I thought I was never going to see my wife again, I had visions of physical restraints, and suddenly I had to pee very badly. That in itself turned out to be a Godsend. I asked if they had a restroom and he said there was one over in the new car showroom. So I trotted over there and was twice relieved, so to speak, because I was able to sneak out the other door and circle around until I reached my car. Probably the only time that I at least broke even.
I never believed in magic until I observed a car which I had negotiated down to $22500 suddenly become $25900 once the deal was committed to paper. I have always harbored a sense of trepidation when I stepped onto a lot, and that is one of the reasons why. Lesson 1) The guy with the big smile and the firm handshake is not, repeat, is not your friend. He/she is under a lot of pressure from their sales manager to sell cars and rest assured they are going to reapply that pressure to you.
Over the years, I have come to realize that car buying is a contact sport and you need to train for it just as you would for any competition. So I try to incorporate as much savvy as I can manage. I do a lot of homework on the web before I begin to shop and it makes a big difference. I was buying a Camry once and after establishing a price, to include tax, title, and plates, I visited the dealership to see and test drive the car. I then asked for the quote in writing so I could review it with my wife. I later returned with my wife and a cashiers check, made out to the dealership, in the amount we had established. This surprised the salesman as I had not stated that this would be a cash deal. In fact, they had already drawn up papers to include proposed finance charges. That’s when he uttered the now all too familiar words “I’ll have to run this by my sales manager”. Shortly, he returned with the manager who advised that I needed to buy the extended warranty. I said I didn’t want it and pointed to a poster touting Toyota’s high industry ratings for maintenance and safety. After a lot of haggling, he finally said “well I can’t sell you the car for this amount”. So I stood up and in an elevated voice said “fine, if you won’t honor a written agreement, we will buy our car somewhere that will”. Several heads in the showroom turned, and this of course horrified my wife. I took her arm and we left. While we were walking to the car she asked me what we were going to do. I said “we won’t get off the lot”. Sure enough, as we got in our car, our salesman came toward us waving his arms. He said they had decided to take my offer and, after a short display of indignance, we allowed him to escort us back inside where we finalized the deal. Boy, that felt good. For once, I was the round man with the square deal.