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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.


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I just bought another car                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Oct/03/2013 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Behavior, Common Sense, Perspectives,

Cars are really fantastic. A car gives us the freedom and mobility to move back and forth by 5 or 500 miles in a day. Cars are available in a variety of colors and styles. Much like the clothes we wear, these choices are great because with all the hours we spend in a car; it’s nice to be seen in the car that fits our likes and character. I recently purchased my fifth new vehicle in 35 years. It’s unfortunate that something so integrated to our culture and our personal lives can be so difficult to buy.

I have to admit that I dislike shopping, whether a pair of pants or a new car, browsing the racks and trying things on is distasteful for me. I don’t have any issue with making a decision when faced with a variety of choices; it’s the misdirection and hurdles that take all the pleasure out of visiting a retailer. There are the shirts that are 20% off, but a little research would show that they just moved the price up by 25% the previous night before hanging out the big discount sign. Big ticket items like appliances and cars are notorious for the deal making pressure of “You need to buy now because this special deal goes away tonight.” I buy because I need to, but shopping just isn’t much fun.

The car I have driven nearly every day for the last 19 years has been a Nissan Pathfinder. When my wife and I initially purchased it we had a small child in a carrier and we knew we would be growing our family still more in the next couple of years. The basic 4-door Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) was a great solution for us. It was easy to load kids, car seats, and eventually all the paraphernalia associated with raising an active family in America. At 17 miles per gallon (MPG), it was never super efficient, but we were more worried about a practical and reliable solution to our automotive needs. Our oldest is off to college now and his brother is not too far behind. Additionally, with gasoline hovering around $4 per gallon the Pathfinder was getting expensive for the daily work commute. Of course, with 227k miles on the odometer, the fear of looming maintenance expenses was growing despite its reliability to this point.

The next car’s mission I had determined was to be a reliable commuter vehicle that got at least 32 MPG along with a small list of additional criteria. My wife enjoys the shopping experience and she took my short criteria list and quickly identified a short selection of cars for my review after work. I’m a realist and know that if I want efficiency, I have to give up some performance. Despite my concession, the first vehicle I test drove was a disappointment. My wife was prepared and quickly moved me to the next potential car on the list. Fortunately for me, the Honda Insight that she introduced me to drove nice, accelerated reasonably well and met or exceeded the other criteria on my list. At this point I had transitioned from a shopper to a buyer and the salesman quickly escorted us to one of the cubicles for sale immersion.

I naively thought it would be easy from this point on; I’m a buyer who wants a car. They have cars to sell and one I want, it should have been a match made in heaven. I guess there is a reason I buy cars so seldom and car salesman get branded as a less than wonderful metaphor. In this day and age of internet research there is no such thing as a secret; spy agencies and car salesman don’t seem to have accepted this reality. My wife had already done the online research, we knew the invoice numbers and we knew what other retailers were offering the same car for, but we still had to negotiate for 2.5 hours. Even after the basic haggling began to fade we still needed to talk about the fluff. This dealer installs an aftermarket alarm system on every car on its lot, but it is not absolutely included. We were told how great this already installed alarm was and it’s only an extra $900 on price. When we said we didn’t want the alarm at that price they said “they would have to deactivate it.” I’m sorry, if the alarm is really that special, they would be removing the key parts for use in another car. Deactivating it and leaving it behind means the alarm is worth less than the 60-90 minutes of labor it would take to remove it.

Twice during the price negotiation our salesman had to get up and go talk with the sales manager to find out if he could close the deal we were seeking (maybe he just needed to pee). At just over the 2 hour mark we thanked the salesman expressing the fact that at least now we knew what we were going to buy, now we just needed to find someone to meet our price expectations. We didn’t make it out the door before someone with a sales manager title stopped us. We explained what we wanted and 20 minutes later we had the deal inked that was virtually identical to what we had asked for over 2 hours earlier. I was looking forward to getting some dinner and feeding our son who has been sending irate text messages about the condition of his stomach. To my dismay, we weren’t actually done with the ducking from the high and tight pitches yet.

When we finally got to sit down with the finance specialist to sign the contracts, it started all over again. He had a host of vehicle protection plans, maintenance agreements, alarm systems and vehicle finish sealers to try and sell us. All of these would have added to the cost of the car and many came with versions of the “you must buy this now” under threat of never being able to get it later. I suspect that sales at this point in the process are focused on the notion that the buyer is worn down and more vulnerable to saying “yes.” Fortunately, it was approaching 10PM and he wanted to go home as much as we did so the pressure was minimal and we all looked forward to being on the other side of the door.

I am enjoying the car very much and am confident I made the right choice. I could write a complete second chapter on the bad experience I went through with my new car, the dealership and ownership support on day-one, but I will save that for beer conversation.

It is likely that I will purchase at least a couple of additional cars in my life. Buying through a dealership is not an experience I will do again. A few cars back my wife and I spent a Saturday going to dealerships to determine what we liked and disliked. After the research phase, we went online and found a great price that was less than any local dealership with virtually no pressure tactics or inflated add-on. The only down side to the online method was waiting 2-3 days for the delivery. I’m older and I’ve learned my lesson; buying through a dealership is not worth the abuse or anxiety as they seek every opportunity to increase their profit at the expense of customer abuse and manipulation.

I will say that in the bag of manuals and promotional literature provided by my dealership was a brand new bible. I’m not sure if the bible is an ominous sign for prayer and the future of my car, or a signal as to the hypocrisy of the abusive dealership experience.

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Roger Babson
It is wise to keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.
 
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