05 April 2011

The Battleground of the Used Car Showroom

I hate buying cars.  I cannot express how much I hate buying cars.  Actually, it's not so much the buying of cars that I hate; it's the inevitable feeling that I've been ripped off.  This is the consequence of the high-pressure sales tactics used by car salesmen.  Let's face it, whatever they say, they are after taking you for every penny they can.

When buying the car we are about to replace, I think I was taken for a mug, at least on the sale price of the car.  Actually, it's the best car I've ever owned and my way of getting my own back on Car Salesmen everywhere has been to run the car until it is almost falling apart, thereby depriving them of further income for twelve years.  Serves them right for selling me something so good. 

Where I scored on that deal was on the finance of the purchase.  I was in the fortunate position of being able to play the dealer off against a high street bank which was keen to encourage borrowing (remember those days?).  The car dealer's finance package was more expensive than I could get from the bank.  So, immediately, they offered me a better rate.  I went back to the bank who did likewise.  Back I went to the car dealer and they offered me a lower rate still.  If this is not evidence of greed, I don't know what is.  They were keen to sell me the finance, even at the rate least favourable to them.  They were more than willing to hide those less favourable rates from me.

We began our current quest and had our first run-in with a car salesman last Sunday.  Now, he seemed like a nice guy, and he may well be, but you have to remember that the affable nature of the car salesman is part of his toolkit: he is trying to build rapport, to make you feel that he is your friend, to induce obligation in you.  He is not your friend, he is a predator. 

We had hardly set foot on the lot and begun looking at a car that was of interest when our friendly salesman accosted us.  He was very helpful, doing as much as he could to show off the features of the car, get the engine running, get us into it for a test drive.  This is all part of the obligation building: I have bent over backwards for you, now you do something for me.  Actually, the battery was flat so he had to go away a couple of times, which gave me chance to look around the car and pick up on a few things that caused me concern.  I suspected it had been in an accident, although later he assured me that no car that had been would be on the lot.

Prior to the test drive, he coaxed us into the office.  He explained how he was there to agree a sale that was mutually acceptable to us both of us.  He took down our personal details, address and contact numbers and such, found out what we were trading in.  After the drive, he sent us off for a free cup of tea while he talked to his boss.  Then he turned up with the first offer, including all the extras that would enhance our purchase and boost its resale value. 

Somehow, he had begun to reel us in, even though this was the first car we had looked at and we were not really ready to buy, being not entirely sure what we wanted.  We declined all the extras, vacillated over the part-exchange offer, and generally looked like we weren't going to buy.  He left us to think while we drank more free tea, and he went to see his boss again.

Back he came with the next offer.  What amazes me is that I knew exactly what was coming but still felt hooked in.  A much improved part-exchange deal, extras thrown in, a more manageable final price.  But the deal was only if we signed up today, and they were about to close.  The offer hit me like a sledge-hammer.  Could I afford to pass this up?  Can't I have time to think about it?

This is a well-documented ploy and it is crap.  'Look, we are doing you a favour...'  No they are not.  If they were happy to sell it at that price today, they would be just as happy with it tomorrow.  Whoever came in the next day and showed interest in that car probably had exactly the same offer thrown at them.  Next time I hear this, if I am genuinely interested in buying the car, I will come back with a lower, counter-offer that I will not extend to the following day...

There are other ploys that we weren't subjected to: 'I only need one more sale to achieve my target and get my bonus,' for example, meaning, 'Look, we're friends now; you can do me a favour.'  Not my problem; I'm buying a car, and your personal financial arrangements with your employer are no concern of mine.  And you're not my friend, I don't know you from Adam.

We walked away.  We didn't want that car anyway.  At least the experience served to clarify in our minds that we don't know what we want.  And that it is a buyers' market.