Buying a car seems a lot like trying to get laid pre-Tinder, although I don’t have a large sample size for either. Everyone has a different style, but in general it’s this terrible dance of posturing, prodding, circling, attempted mind reading, push-pull, perception management. Bottom-line results are a function of time and effort allotted and supply and demand.
At a Toyota dealership this Memorial Day weekend, my closing line featured a visualization of what the guy looked like with his shirt off. It could have worked just as well at the bar with the right setup.
Here’s approximately what I said after the boss of the boss of our salesman introduced himself with an alpha-strong handshake and asked for an assessment of the situation:
Me: You know when you’re at the gym and making gains right…
Him: (nodding, instantly gets it, looks like an undersized big-conference high school linebacker who aged well and maybe tried MMA for a while)
Me: I know you hit the gym.
Him: Nah, I (unassuming mumbling)
Me: No, just looking at you, I know you are shredded underneath that shirt. So you’re making these gains at the gym and then you go to Del Taco (point across the street at Del Taco) and waste it. That’s what’s happening here. We worked very hard to get this discount, and now we’re wasting it with this optional package that we don’t want.
Him: OK I understand, I can remove that for you.
Me: Thank you, I would appreciate that.
Him: So we remove that, we have a deal? (extends hand)
Me: Yes, 100 percent. (shake hand)
I thought it was pretty clever to drum up that analogy on the spot based on his physical appearance and enlist the visual aid of the Del Taco sign. It wouldn’t have worked on a non-bro. My antics either resonated with him, or more likely, he sensed I was a little crazy and it wouldn’t be worth his time to go down the rabbit hole of trying to screw each other like rabbits.
A coworker I call the Professor described the car buying process elegantly when he said that at a certain point, they’re not trying to f*** you anymore and just want to get the deal done. It’s just a matter of getting to that point.
That took work. At various moments, I was unsure which side was being the bigger douche. My wife said she had to look away a few times because it was so uncomfortable.
When the 24-year-old salesman tried to treat me like a drunk girl on Tinder during last call at the bar and get me to fill out a credit application before I saw the price, I didn’t decline too graciously. I said and repeated, “How does that make any sense?”, and in retrospect it might have sounded like I was badgering him to answer a rhetorical question. It was most definitely rhetorical, as evidenced by his lame response, “It’s up to you.”
Still, we worked on the numbers amiably together as I readily referenced a stack of hodgepodge quotes that served as a strategic prop. I kept pumping him up and would later do so in front of his bosses, in theory making an advocate out of him.
When his manager took over, intensity escalated as it tends to do with resolution approaching. The highlight for me was after I overstepped and questioned his integrity, I apologized and reached across the desk and cupped the top of his hand in mine. Twice. Isn’t that what pickup artists do, a derivative of negging and establishing physical contact?
He wasn’t the least bit offended by anything I said or implied because he knew perfectly well he was trying to hustle me. I pulled up the calculator on my phone over and over trying to decipher his cryptic worksheet with numbers an Enron accountant couldn’t make add up. The best was a $457 “copies” fee that apparently was a glitch. It didn’t affect the total though, which is why I say I overstepped.
We went at it for a good half hour. Our salesman later told us this second-level boss is called the “closer” internally. Well I worked the pitch count up on Kenley Jansen and outlasted him. I told him straight up I’m a grinder, and he got the biggest kick out of that.
I just kept going back to the numbers, sometimes trying a new approach, sometimes typing in the same thing and pretending I was trying to find a solution, sometimes acknowledging good parts of the deal, sometimes ignoring them.
At one point he walked away and said “You’re thinking too much,” which you love to hear when making the second-biggest purchase of your life from a commission-based salesman. Just for that, Kenley, why don’t I foul off a few more pitches.
The point of contention was, I’m sure, a common one. We agreed on the sale price, a few grand below MSRP. But surprise, when drawing up the contract, it turned out those three optional features the salesman pointed out earlier were already installed and cost a few grand.
Sir, do you think I am actually retarded? I know I’m not supposed to use the r-word like that, and if you’re a loyal reader and offended, I’ll change it. If you’re a casual reader, we can talk about it. But I was just so exasperated, and I don’t curse. I suppose a biology-based epithet is worse though.
The features that somehow morphed from optional to inextricable in 15 minutes were a GPS hookup, nitrogen-filled tires and some protective coating crap.
He said he would give me one for free. Oh joy, Great Benefactor, how could I be so lucky to stumble on this generous sale. No.
After some more jostling, he offered to charge only for one, $895. No. But in my mind, I knew we were in my target price range based on a month of research.
This is where the time allotted came into play. I didn’t need to present a brilliant argument or logic. He wasn’t negotiating on merit or intrinsic value anyway. I just needed to waste enough of his time that could be spent closing another deal.
Multiple times Kenly went through the benefits of the package and told me I was getting 3-for-1. Multiple times I told him I wanted zero-for-zero. I didn’t even listen to the benefits to avoid the distraction. Everybody knows these contrived packages are how they get you.
Fortunately my wife is the best listener I know and pointed out if the coating required a two-part installation, we should be able to waive the second and pay half. This prompted our salesman (not Kenley) to march over to the big boss, and then came the 60-second Del Taco close.
I had been just about ready to go halfsies on that $895 rather than drag it out with the standard charade of threatening to walk. Instead, we paid none of it and ended up $2600 below sticker price. Plus they matched a wholesale leather quote we got at $1100 when the typical rip-off dealer price we were seeing was over $2000.
I want to make clear in this picture I was not doing the black frat hand sign made famous by Shaq, which I’m told is offensive for non-members to mimic. In this case, I was going for the Randy Moss touchdown celebration that’s kind of like a breaststroke motion or peering through bushes.
It felt appropriate because when Randy Moss was once asked by a reporter how he planned to pay a fine, he responded, “Straight cash, homey.” That’s how I paid for the car, except I put the maximum $5,000 on credit card to get points and financed a small portion to get a $1250 rebate. I’ll pay off both in the first month so it essentially was straight cash, homey, although I think Randy meant physical cash which is beyond my means.
Ultimately, I think we haggled our way to a solid if not remarkable deal for a 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE Hybrid. This is where supply and demand comes into play. Pursuing a new model with very limited inventory and pent-up interest, we had poor negotiating leverage.
Most dealerships did not even have RAV4 Hybrids in early May. The few that hit the lots sold rapidly. A couple of Orange County dealers would not budge on sticker price and said these models were actually going for more, which was probably a stretch, but some online sources did confirm this.
This was a hard car to get, let alone get a good deal on. Worse, my wife and I have nearly inverse utility curves, and she insisted on black exterior, black interior. There were too many needles in the haystack for her liking, so she figured we should be more specific.
I felt like the schmuck waiting in line for the latest iPhone or trying to outbid some nerds for sneakers. I loathe the idea of being a slave to self-imposed superficial wants. One color is acceptable, really?
I bring this up only partially to rebuke how particular my wife is with aesthetics, but mostly to make the case that we fought for and earned a good price based on the parameters.
Hybrids are incredibly cool to us, given both our cars are pre-Obama and have CD players in the console instead of touchscreens. My wife is obsessed with her new ride and looks great in it.
She says the black-on-black and hybrid engine make it feel like a Batmobile. So that’s pretty awesome, and also pretty awesome we got it without the jokers at the dealerships taking us for a ride.
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