advice from a fake consultant

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

On Suckers, Or, How To Buy A Car

Note: your friendly fake consultant believes after several serious diaries in a row, it’s time for a different take. More serious writing will be returning tomorrow.

I write today as a car buyer who was actually called “cold hearted and mercenary” by by a car salesman who couldn't actually "beat any price".

Let me tell you my story.

The girlfriend’s (25 years and she hasn’t killed me yet!) 2001 Subaru Forester died with 259,000 on the odometer, and it fell to me to negotiate the price for the new one.

Have you seen the movie “Suckers”? It’s a two-part movie. The first part is a fictional story that revolves around a car dealership-but the second part is a tutorial by Joe Yanetty, the actor / screenwriter / actual car salesman in real life that explains the economics of buying a car, and offers these three pieces of advice:

--Never fill out a credit application. Just as with the Miranda warning, “everything you say can be used against you”. Yanetty says the car dealers will use the answers on the credit app to decide how much to charge you, and the contact information to call you back.

--Do a “clean” deal. No trade-ins or financing. This allows for an apple to apple price comparison across dealers.

--Dealers will try to apply time pressure (“What can I do to get you in this car today?”). Resist.

With this advice in mind, I was on my way.

We identified exactly the model, and the options, and the retail price of the car by going online. I already knew that getting about 15% off of retail would be doing well, so that was our goal price.

In order to make it as fun as possible, I went to my friend’s house with my laptop and a cell phone.

I then called every Subaru dealer in the State to get a quote for the exact same car. As I called each, I’d tell them the lowest price so far, and challenge them to beat it. I’d also tell them the exact invoice price associated with that quote, just so they knew I was being honest.

My friend Lee suggested I lie a bit about the quotes. I told him there was no need-the combination of Yanett’s advice, and the natural desperation of car dealers would be enough.

Are you a “South Park” fan?

Eric Cartman is trying to sell fetuses in an epic episode of the show. He calls each stem cell research lab in Colorado to get the best price, and as each one gives him a quote he says: “You’re breakin’ my balls here-breakin’ my balls…”

I thought, “I could do that…” So I did. The sales rep would quote me a price, and I’d say to them (and I can prove it-I have witnesses) “You’re breakin’ my balls-c’mon, can’t we do better? Breakin’ my balls…”

At the end of the first day I had 4 finalists-the dealer that quoted me the lowest price, and the three dealers who swore they could “beat any price”.

So the next day I called the first dealer-the “low price” dealer-and told them I would be calling the other 3, getting their best price, and allowing him the courtesy of making the final offer after they had their chance.

He told me his price quote was already as low as it could go, and that when I called back it would not change.

So I called the next dealer. I explained to him that I would be calling the other two next, then the first dealer for his best offer. Only now there was a twist. I was not going to divulge the lowest offer, and he would have to guess at the best price.

Oh yeah, one other twist. Remember how dealers use time as pressure? I told him he had exactly five minutes, and then I would call back for the best price. He flat out declined to make any offer, after hearing the quote from the first dealer.

On to dealer number two. Told him the same story, and the current price on the car. And that he had five minutes to beat the price. At this point he told me he didn’t like the “cold-hearted and mercenary way you do business”, and also declined to make an offer.

My heart has rarely been as swelled with pride as it was at that moment. A song played in my head, rainbows danced in the sky, and I think if I had died right there I could have died a fulfilled man. But I still had a car to buy.

So there’s now one dealer left to call

I tell him that we’re heading to the bank to get a cashier’s check, and we need his offer. We’ll be calling back in five minutes. Five minutes later, he says he can beat our current best offer by $150.

My response: “So you’re telling me that I can bring you a check for $21,200, and I will be driving off the lot with the car?” His response: “Let me check.”

For us, having to check after saying he could make that price equaled immediate disqualification.

It took about 90 minutes to drive to the winning dealer, do paperwork, and hand over a cashier’s check. In that time there were seven missed calls.

All from the salesman who had to check to see if he could really deliver the price he said he could deliver. Only now he was undercutting his own price. Call number four was a $21,250 offer. Call six: $21,200.

Even though we didn’t get the lowest price, 2 of 4 dealers could not beat the price, and the third couldn’t really be trusted, so we considered the extra $150 a good investment. Plus, we actually respected the winning dealer for giving us the best quote the first time.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's how to buy a car.

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