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Buying a New Car: You'd Better Have Patience

2 December 1997

Barb and Bill
went up the hill
to purchase a new Ford

When they were through
both said...Whew !!!!
We couldn't afford Accord.

Barbara has a sixteen year old Mercedes Benz SL with 160,000 EZ miles on it. Althogh there are Daimler-ites who insist that Benzes are just getting broken in with the second time around on the odometer, the ZF automatic four-speed trans was making Tuetonic rumblings that, when translated into west coast English mean "watch out...I'm about ready to let go!"

Bill had the day after Thanksgiving off from work and told Barb that her next repair bill--if the gear box packed up--would take a GI loan to finance. Time for a new or newer car. She agreed. After an hour at The Auto Channel's buying guide, they zeroed in on a new Mustang, Chrysler Sebring, or Mitsubishi Eclipse. The criteria for this major purpose was weird. It wasn't based on styling, gas economy, raw power or even current customer and dealer rebates. The deciding factor, aside from low mileage was the overall length, what would fit into her messy (I never throw anything out) garage. The new wheels couldn't be longer than 185 inches.

The first stop (and the only one as it turned out) was Theodore Ford, a local Ford dealer who has been a fixture in the community since the Model T days. The car prospect duo looked at Mustang convertibles and then the coupe, because this model fit the template they had mentally determined to be Plan A.

Enter Mohammed. Smooth, swarthy, handsome, four in hand, perfectly coiffed. He introduced himself and got the buyers' first names. In the retail car sales world the pervading credos are:

Sales person: Sell yourself...then the car
Factory: Sell the sizzle/thrill/appointments
Dealership: Sell the deal
Remember Mad Man Muntz of Muntz sports car fame? "I want to give them away but my wife won't let me. She's crazy!"

Mohammed quickly found out that Barbara was for real, had her MB title and her check book, and she didn't want to spend all day in the dealership. She picked out a Ford factory reconditioned '96 Mustang: correct length; six cylinder, but not a slug; all the right goodies, but not overloaded with gadgets; air; full power; duel airbags; nice appearing tires. At 30,000 miles, it was about right odometer-wise, she could look good in this car, and there were some miles/months left on the factory warranty. This was probably the car for her, but she still hadn't looked at the Mitsu and MOPAR models. If Mohammed had anything to say about it, she wasn't about to go across the street. No, he didn't throw her car keys on the roof, but they were getting increasingly hard to find as the afternoon wore on.

Now comes the rub: the value of her Mercedes. She had paid 27 grand for it as the SECOND owner. She was in a state of shock when they told her that the dealer might allow $3,500 as a trade in. It was too old for the dealer to retail, so he'd have to wholesale the car or have it taken to an auction.

At this point Bill enters the negotiating. He thinks he knows something about cars and car dealings and threw out terms like "over the curb today," "buy for cash," "factory holdback," "customer incentives," "roadside assistance," etc. He was a sophomore compared to the dealership guys who peddle cars 60 hours per week.

Now the negotiating gets serious. Mohammed goes into his "good guy-bad guy" mode. He's the good guy and his boss--who is in the back room and who no one ever sees--plays the heavy. The boss has all the numbers and a Reynolds & Reynolds computer program that can do amazing tricks, in HIS favor of course. This guy and his magic box is the mystery man and his interfacing with the public consists solely of broad stroke notes and numbers in fat felt pen (royal blue) scribbling on white paper.

Poor Mohammed. He's now out of the picture. Although he's our conduit to the "mystery man," his role has been downsized to errand boy.

Mo: "Tell me...what WILL you pay for the Mustang. Make an offer"
Barb: " Ten grand and my Benz"
Mo: "Let me see if I can talk the boss into this"

Now starts the paper/notes flow. The counter offer from the mystery man. Barb says "No way, but if you throw in Tax/license I'll write a check for $XXX"

The messenger goes to the mountain and comes back with, are you ready for this? A note that starts out "OK, you win . . . here's what I'll do for you . . ."

One note said, "OK, but if I do this I'll have to get a new job." I asked about the mystery man's script writers. The prospective buyers had been in the store for over two hours, and when they finally arrived at a deal they were told that it would take another hour to prep the car and do the paper work. Barb and Bill didn't want to wait an hour, but said they'd give a good sized deposit and return the next morning to pick up the car, sign the zillion documents, and drive away with a clean car, full tank of petrol, second set of keys, and an owners manual.

The sales people didn't want them to leave because in retail auto parlance, the buyer is the biggest rip-off artist in the sales scheme. Don't let them walk. Lose their car keys, do anything to keep them. Poor Mohammed, he'd consulted his "Keep Them In The Showroom" instruction manual but still couldn't stop his buyers from exiting.

Barb and Bill left, and did return the following day at the appointed hour. No, they did not stop the deposit check, which would have illustrated that they'd do anything to get away from the place the previous day.

The papers were signed, and a check for the full amount given to the paperwork guy. Plates were transferred, and Barb drove away in her like-new car, sans extra key and owners manual, and with very little gas in the tank.

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel