Here’s today’s metaphor for today: If I am going to get ass-fucked by some old guy I’ve never met before, I shouldn’t need to beg him to use a bit of lube. What could I be writing about? It could only be the delightful process of shopping for a car. Rather than the fun and exciting experience I always imagined it would be when I was a kid, car shopping doesn’t suck quite as hard as breaking a vertebra.
I had a car I loved dearly. She was a 2004 Mazda 3-series 5-door sports wagon. She was incredibly fun, quite practical, and one of the most attractive automobile models on the road. Her name was Aubrey, named for the character in Something Positive. Aubrey had less than five miles on her odometer the day I drove her off the lot, full of excitement and joy. There turned out to be only one glaring problem with my beautiful girl; Mazda can’t seem to build a reliable automobile. In confirmation of that thought, the service manager of the dealership where I bought her recently pointed out to me that with 66k on her I should expect I’d be having some pretty serious mechanical problems. I am pretty confident that the sales dept would prefer he not say shit like that.
Now it is important to note that I made a big mistake when I bought her. The Mazda-3 had only been out for about six months in the U.S. that day I drove her off the lot. The expected reliability for the Mazda-3 was quite good, as was the expected safety rating. As it turns out, the 3 did not do nearly as well as expected in the side impact crash tests, and at least Aubrey turned out to be plagued with mechanical difficulties, which is more common in a brand new model. It began to look like a better and better idea to send my beautiful Aubrey off to a new home and get a car that isn’t going to spend so much time in the shop at what is considered to be a low number of miles for a car bought in the last few years.
Enter the rough ass-fucking! I made the decision that if I was going to be trading in my Mazda-3 it would have to be for a car which met our needs at least as well if not better. That meant it had to be a wagon or truck, fit three of us plus a dog pretty comfortably, get reasonable fuel economy, have an excellent and proven reliability and safety record, be at least vaguely interesting to drive, and preferably do better than Aubrey in the snow. Also, as we were likely to only clear about 2k after paying off my loan on the Mazda and my folks were kicking in 3k; I wanted to be able to buy it without owing any more on the new car than I do on Aubrey (about $7600). Only one vehicle met those requirements, the Subaru Forester. Two days of intensive internet research later and Fireheart and I were ready to go drive some cars.
Let me describe this process. It all started before we walked out the door of our house with the selection of appearance. I am wearing white Dockers pants, a patterned golf shirt I got from my 65 year old father, and on my left wrist I wore a solid gold Hamilton watch I inherited. That’s right, for a day I was magical transformed into a wealthy and preppy looking young business owner. Only the small tattoo on my wrist and the slightly oversized earring in my right ear betrayed me as being a bit off from my projected image. I hate this shit almost as much as Fire hates dressing fem; she even put on ordinary red nail polish. I did not bring Summer as I knew I would have an easier time if I was perceived as a normal married heterosexual. If you think this is all over the top you have never gone into a dealership to buy a car.
We had already contacted the dealerships we were going to visit to confirm that the car we were interested in was available so we had a salesperson expecting us already. Before we get to drive the car there is paperwork to fill out. This I understand, as if I was to wreck their car they want to have some confirmation that I have, you know, a license and such. We discovered that the 2003 and later Foresters were quite nice, and that I couldn’t stand the thought of owning one of the 2002 or earlier ones. This was not a status symbol issue or anything, the car was completely redesigned in that time and the driving experience and ride were totally different. The only ’03 design or later the first dealership had was an ’05 with far to few miles and far to high an asking price. However, I was willing to go along with the salesperson, who we had told in no uncertain terms that this car was out of our price range, when he started pressing me to run the paperwork for the ’05 Forester. There was a slim chance that they would offer me a good enough price on the Mazda to make it viable.
Price on the Mazda, which brings us to the first really crappy thing (other than attitude) which happened at every dealership I visited. I’d already researched the dealer trade-in value on my car and knew that I could expect between $9k and $10k. I also had to tell the salesperson what I still owed on the car before they would give me a trade in price. When the salesperson came back with the offer it was about $50 higher than what I stilled owed the bank. When I asked about why the offer was so much lower than blue book value the salesman hemmed and hawed a bit but when we got up to leave he ran off and came back with an offer of just slightly less than I expected to get but only if “I could commit right now.”
The one condition on my parents helping us out with the 3k cash down on the new car was that they wanted to be a part of the process. This meant I was not going to commit to anything without consulting them. I had made this clear to our salesperson at each dealership and at each dealership they tried to force a commitment out of me. Usually they gave me a song and dance about putting down a deposit on the car I wanted.
The problem with this whole approach is twofold. First off I know that screwing me is an option on the table after the shell game around my trade-in value. This does not make me inclined to trust or to commitment. Secondly, I am not one to give in when pressured. Certainly I don’t give a shit about the salesman enough to fall for the hurt and betrayed routine. That was usually the direction they went as soon as it became clear that they were not getting a sale right then. As I now drive a Subaru Forester, clearly I was not just wasting their time because I had nothing better to do, but that is the attitude they most often took.
I did eventually find a car for the right price with the features I wanted (mostly safety features) at a place that was willing to give me a decent trade in value. The buying process was another nightmare, but this one marked by incompetence rather than deceit. I sat and read every single document I was handed in exacting detail, even when assured it didn’t say anything different than the salesman had already told me. I found so many errors, some very serious, that the paperwork had to be sent back five times to be redrawn. I was there for over five and a half hours. Once I had agreed to purchase the car, I was suddenly much less important than a prospective customer. Then the dealership had to send someone up to my house the next day to deliver documents without which it was illegal for me to be driving.
I know that lately I have been bitching about life shit more than I prefer to in BS. The issue here though is not really a personal one for me. Unlike the previous post about me physical therapist, there was nothing personal here whatsoever. My problem with the car buying experience is specifically that this was not personal. I felt dirty, depressed, and vulnerable after visiting each dealership and that is what the industry aims for. Everything about the car buying process is designed to make one feel like a supplicant.
As Fireheart said, the experience is designed to make you feel like you are or should be begging the salesperson to let you buy a car from them. With that in mind I was able to avoid some of the tactics that seemed designed to that end. For instance, at every dealership we went to the chairs for customers were noticeably lower than the chair the salesperson sat in. I kept expecting someone to come over to me with a paper smock that ties in the back like you have to change into at some doctor’s offices.
Another comment of Fireheart’s sums up the entire experience. She said “You know, every time I am on my way to a car dealership I tell myself that my memories of how smarmy and sleazy car dealers are has been embellished by my imagination and that the reality can’t really suck that hard. Then it invariably does.”