Taken for a ride

Last week, as I entered the elevator of the building, another tenant turned to me and gleefully exclaimed, pointing across the garage at a new Jeep, “See that Jeep? I think I’m going to buy it.” 

I could tell immediately that this guy (a younger man, in his 20’s) was in trouble. He was smitten. He was a stranger, but sharing all of this, unprovoked. I had just come home from work, after a long editorial review meeting, followed by a trip to the grocery. So the logic gates in my mind were pretty shot. But the dialog basically went as follows:

Him: “Yeah, I just went over to test drive it, and they wanted over $600 a month for it. But I got them down to $350.”

Me: (still sort of shocked at being pulled into this conversation): “Wow. That is… a big difference. Interesting that they’d do that after the end of the month.”*

Him: “I thought so too. He said their sales month ends on the second day of the month.”**

Me: “That’s… different.”

Him: “I told them that I needed to go home and let my dogs out, but if they’d get it down to $300, we’d have a deal.”

We arrive at his floor before mine, and I can’t process the whole conversation before he exits the elevator. He steps off, I say, “Well, good luck in your decision!”

I go up to my floor and head to my apartment. A few minutes pass, and I crunch those data points in my head. I think to myself, “Holy shit. I need to stop that kid.”

I went downstairs, but the Jeep was already gone. I felt guilty for a little bit, but I noticed the next day that the Jeep wasn’t there, an older vehicle was instead. Obviously the deal hadn’t occurred.

Let me explain why I was concerned. When I used to sell cars, there was this bullshit form that they insisted that we use as we sold the car. It was a con. This sales grid is basically it.

It works by trying to nail you down on one or two data points, by making all of the other (important) data points variable. For example, if they see you focus on the monthly payment as the most important vector, they’ll swizzle the deal by making the payment term longer, or lifting your down payment. Other variables that come into play are your trade-in (but you’ll generally get stiffed on that), any options or extended warranties they’ll try to tack on, or the interest rate you’ll pay. Effectively it’s the old shell game con – and they try to appease you by meeting the one or two numbers you won’t waffle on, but do so by being vague about others.

Of course, all of these terms are available when you’re signing the contract, but by that time, backing out of it can be physically or psychologically challenging, if your brain can clearly process all of the key paperwork being thrown at you.

I don’t necessarily wish I could go back and talk the young man out of buying the Jeep, per se. But I would really like to know more of the metrics involved in the dealer’s side of the negotiations. I suspect that the dealer was primarily playing with the payment term or the down payment.

Many purchases, like a car or a home, can easily become driven primarily by emotion rather than logic. Some salespeople will prey upon this. Never be afraid to walk away from a potential purchase if your emotions are guiding you, and not your brain.

*This dialog happened on February 1. Car dealers are famous for offering deals that expire at the end of the month, as that’s often how sales bonuses from manufacturers line up.

**That the dealer told him this was extremely suspect. I don’t think I believe it. It’s possible, but doubtful. Instead, I think the date given to him was arbitrary, to try and close the deal.

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