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The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Consumer Issues - From Our Archives

Buying a new car
Jerry Slafsky

There are many "life experiences" that are rather unpleasant and that most people try hard to avoid. Going to the dentist is one that comes to mind immediately. You really have to be a masochist to enjoy having your teeth drilled. Another is attending funerals. This is especially true if you really didn’t know the deceased, it’s the middle of the winter, it’s a cold and snowy Sunday, and your team is in the playoffs on TV. My usual response is "send a card and make a donation."

Most men will do just about anything to avoid being dragged to a bridal shower, engagement party, dance lessons, or a house warming. In situations like this, even a visit to the dentist is preferable. Women, on the other hand, find all kinds of reasons not to go on camping or fishing trips - "honey, you go with the boys… you’ll have much more fun." What they haven’t said is that before hubby crosses the state line, they’ll be off to the mall for a "shopping experience."

Then there’s the "buying the new car" experience. For most of us, it occurs about every five to six years (or 115,000 miles, whichever comes first). This is one of those life experiences that can fill us with joy and anxiety at the same time. First, there’s the happiness that comes with buying a new vehicle - the new car smell, the new features and dent free fenders. But first there’s the anxiety that comes with facing the auto dealership’s high-pressure sales tactics, stalling practices and the hackneyed phrase "I’ll have to run this past my manager."

Nevertheless, for us that time had arrived. It’s been over thirteen years since we bought a new car. True, we did purchase two trucks during this period but they were, well… trucks. Not that they were inexpensive when we bought them; they did have cruise control, electric windows, and a tilt steering wheels. But recently we decided to buy a new vehicle that was not a truck, so we began a series of visits to various auto dealerships. Our criteria was simple; it had to have a comfortable ride (we drive from New Hampshire to Florida), seat at least six people with ample leg room, have four-wheel drive and be able to tow at least 5,000 pounds (our boat). Oh yes, I also wanted a few of those nice little "do-dads," like a navigation system, moon roof, surround sound, keyless entry and a hands-free cell-phone calling system.

So our search began. At the first dealership the salesman informed me that they didn’t have anything on the lot similar to what I wanted because they didn’t have much call for that expensive a vehicle. Expensive? "Well, if you did have a vehicle like the one I’ve described, what are we looking at in price" I naively asked. The price he quoted was more than the combined amount I paid for my first two houses! After the shock wore off, my wife reminded me that no one pays the sticker price; that all the dealers wanted to move their stock out to make room for the new models and that perhaps we could find a used or demo car at a lot less than half the national debt.

So off we went to the next dealership, where we found what appeared to be the perfect fit… a nice ride, plenty of leg room, hands free cell phone calling… but wait, there’s no navigation system; only the driver’s seat is electric, and there’s no moon roof. Sorry; for the cost of a full year at Harvard University I want a little more. Our odyssey continued.

Several dealerships later, I saw "it." It was b-i-g, jet black, covered with chrome and I could hear it calling my name. The test ride confirmed it - this was "the vehicle." It had a navigation system, a rear sonar system (so you can see what you’re backing into), a power-sliding sunroof, and eight way power seats (with built-in warmers of course), gas and brake pedals that adjusted to the drivers leg length and when you turned off the key the driver’s seat slid backwards for ease of exit. But what really got me was when the salesman pushed a button on the door and the two side-view mirrors folded in against the car so you can squeeze into narrow parking spaces! Now all we had to do was negotiate a reasonable price.

I’m the first to admit that "bargaining" is not my strong suit. My thought process has always been that he has a car he wants to sell so he’ll offer to me a price that’s reasonable and that I can afford. After all these years, I should know better. Fortunately for me (and my checkbook) my wife, one of the kindest, gentlest people on God’s earth, upon entering an auto dealer ship, is immediately transformed into a cross between Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible. Once she has decided what she is willing to pay, nothing the dealer can say will change her mind. They sell the car to us for that price or we walk.

I’ll make a long story short; we got the car for the price we were willing to pay. Now if only I could turn my wife loose on the gas companies, they would be paying me to fill up the tank. So if you’re about to buy a new car and need someone to negotiate the price…

© Jerry Slafsky Oct 18th 2009

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