Thoughts From a Car Dealership
I went through with it – I bought that new car. In order to do it, though, I had to spend around 5 hours in a car dealership and I’m still not entirely sure why. In general it was a surreal experience. Here are some of my thoughts:
At the Dealership
When I walk in, there’s nobody to greet me. I wait awkwardly for the receptionist to become available.
It’s around 11:00 a.m., I know exactly which car I want, and I know it’s in stock (even printed out the window sticker from the website, VIN and all) and secretly I’m totally cool with MSRP + taxes & fees. I’m hoping this will be quick.
Somebody from the back area notices me eventually, shakes my hand, then calls over a sales person.
Sales people are easy to spot – they’re usually young (fresh out of college maybe) and a little awkward. Edmunds can tell you why. Either you fall into the typical high-pressure mold and advance up the ladder, or you wash out. If you haven’t read it, now would be a good time to take a break and read the Edmunds car dealership undercover article.
Joe, the salesman, shakes my hand and asks me what I’d like to see. I hand him the window sticker. This is apparently a first. He checks to see if the car is in stock. He has the VIN, this should be a simple database check.
20 minutes later he says it’s in stock, by which he means it’s in their storage lot in Hackensack. We’re in Paramus. We can do a test drive as soon as he gets the temporary plates.
20 minutes later he has temporary plates. Now he needs to procure a car from this lot to drive to that lot.
The dealership stereo (a laptop wired to some loudspeakers) is blaring Sandstorm unironically. Apparently this dealership runs on 100% EDM.
20 minutes later we’re finally ready to go. We drive over in a Chrysler 200 decked out with leather and LCD screens. This is a really nice car – but boring. It reminds me of my old LHS, but without the air of absurdity that comes with a 17-foot-long land yacht.
Getting the Car
The second lot is a non-descript industrial plot with a small warehouse. The 20 minute inventory check apparently wasn’t very detailed, so we drive around the lot jamming the PANIC button on the key fob until the Dart calls out.
Joe tries to clear off the hood and windshield first. He fails. All of the snow is now frozen into solid ice. Since it’s mostly on the passenger side, he gets in anyway.
The car doesn’t move. It’s pretty clear that the wheels aren’t touching asphalt at all – just sheets of ice.
He asks me to get in while he pushes from behind. No dice. Normally you could rock a car back and forth until you make enough headway to get out, but the Jeep behind the Dart is parked too closely.
Since the tires are no-go, we throw it in neutral and try pushing with two people. It doesn’t work, and I’m glad – because it probably would’ve been very bad to have a driverless car rolling around a tightly packed parking lot.
We get in the car to warm up. I joke about how we’re giving new meaning to “working for the sale.” Joe forces a token chuckle. He’s trying to figure out if he’s got hypothermia in his fingers.
We get the lot custodians to come over eventually. They say they can get it out. I assume that means they have rock salt and shovels. Nope, they’re just way more aggressive than Joe and I were.
Remember that scene in Galaxy Quest where Laredo pulls the NSEA Protector out of spacedock and scrapes it along the wall for an uncomfortably long time while everybody cringes? Picture that but with the front bumper and a wall of jagged ice.
Joe tells me to get in the driver’s seat. The drive back to the dealership is going to be my test drive.
It’s terrifying to drive an unfamiliar car over 3 inches of hard-packed snow ice down an extremely narrow lane lined with brand-new unsold cars.
The test drive is extremely uneventful. New Jersey daytime traffic doesn’t exactly allow you to open the taps. The Dart so far seems pretty good at being stuck behind buses and box trucks.
You can’t check your blind spot with a sticker on the window. Extra terrifying!
Negotiating a Price
We finally make it back to the dealership. I have to stand around a bit while Joe tries to find a desk. Despite the sales people having assigned desks, they just grab whichever one is unoccupied at the moment. There are almost never any desks available. This doesn’t project competence.
There are massive murals on the wall for each Chrysler brand that they sell. The Chrysler one is a blurry beach in winter, straight out of a Valium commercial. Jeep is a bunch of tree trunks from the pacific northwest. Ram is a backdrop of harsh horizontal wooden beams, like you’d see in a barnyard gate. Dodge is a timelapse night shot of taillights on a highway giving a strong sense of motion (and lots of bright red lines).
Chrysler really knows its brand identities. We need to figure out our brand identity like this at work.
I wonder which brand pairs with nonstop EDM.
We finally find an open desk and Joe breaks out the dreaded four square worksheet. He writes down the actual sticker price, my cash down payment, and leaves to get a number on my trade in. More waiting.
It turns out my trade in depreciated $2000 in about 8 months. I spent $400 more on repairs last year than I’ll get on my trade in.
Joe has to go to the desk to get the rest of the Stupid High Numbers. More waiting.
The numbers come back written gigantic in black sharpie. The desk has literally left no room for negotiation.
The sale price, trade-in, and down payment are all good. The monthly payment seems off. I send Joe back to get the interest rate (missing, natch). It’s 3.9% APR, so I pull out my handy-dandy amortization table. There are apparently over $5,000 in undisclosed charges. I insist that this can’t be markup – somebody screwed up the math somewhere. Joe goes to check it out.
Apparently, breaking out an amortization table is a quick and easy way to get into a negotiation session directly with Bill, the floor manager, who comes over and shakes my hand.
Bill shows me the charges, shows me that there are no hidden fees. Bill tries very hard not to acknowledge the fact that the monthly payment is now magically $65 cheaper.
Apparently it was the optional extended warranty that they just naturally assumed I would be buying. Smooth.
We finally do hammer out a deal. $1250 off MSRP, 3.9% APR, $4,000 trade. NJ tax is fixed at 7%, and the dealer’s fees are about $750. Maybe I could’ve done better, but just getting floor manager Bill to itemize seems like a victory in itself.
A random guy walks by, thanks me for my business, shakes my hand and walks away. Joe says he thinks that guy’s a floor manager. I never catch his name and he never asks mine.
I pay the cash down payment and it’s off to Manny for financing. I never see Bill again.
Manny shakes my hand. Nice to meet you.
Manny says it’ll take a while, so I should grab a cup of coffee and hang out in the waiting room. Were they withholding coffee and cushy chairs as a negotiation tactic? I wonder if I had asked for a cup of coffee at the outset, would it have thrown off their game?
After failing to find a lid, I take a seat and respond to some work e-mails. Dr. Oz is on the 60″ TV doing some embarrassingly awkward skit with Wanda Sykes.
There’s a dad and his son waiting for a repair. The dad explains that Dr. Oz’s first name is Memet. “No dad, his first name is Doctor. Doctor Oz.”
There’s a creepy guy muttering to himself and tapping on everything, possibly compulsively. He looks at the empty room and decides to sit directly next to me.
“They always make you wait all day” he says. I say nothing, pretending to be busy with my phone. I’m really taking that picture of him.
Joe calls me over, thank god. I’ve gotta hop on this phone call to Geico he made on my behalf. That’s weird, but whatever. I get to sit behind the desk because the phone’s cable is too short.
Salespeople get really comfy chairs.
With the insurance squared away, Manny tells me what progress he’s made. 3.8% through my bank because I’m a current customer oh and by the way are you sure you don’t want that extended warranty? I have to say no 3 different ways before he stops asking.
Joe and Manny both head off to do something I guess. Who knows at this point? What time is it even?
There’s a saleswoman looking at me and smiling. The sales people are always smiling, but this is awkward.
There’s a Minnie Mouse calendar on the cubicle wall. She’s not looking at me, she’s looking at the desk. Joe apparently set me up at her desk and she’s waiting for me to leave.
I get up and pretend that I’m looking at the showroom cars. She ducks in and retrieves something from her drawer. They have got to fix this desk situation. This is insanely unprofessional looking.
It takes about half an hour or more for Manny to figure out the paperwork with the bank. He eventually has a massive stack of forms for me to sign. He didn’t expect me to read them.
Sorry Manny, now you get to wait for me.
After we get through about 2 dozen, it’s a done deal. Manny shakes my hand again and I realize I need a bathroom break. I leave my paperwork with the front desk and head back toward the waiting area.
There’s no soap in the men’s bathroom. I’ve been shaking hands, trading pens, and passing paperwork all day in a place where none of the men can wash their hands.
I collect my paperwork and try to find a place to sit out of the way. Out the window I see my trade-in and my new car. For a minute, I feel bad. My Caliber was a good car, and I’ve been through a lot with it. My daughter knows it only as “daddy’s car.” It may be a hunk of poorly assembled inanimate steel but I still hope the next guy learns to love it too.
Joe comes over with a screwdriver and the temporary plates. He can’t install the plates because the screw holes aren’t drilled into the bumper yet. How is this a thing? All US and Canadian license plates are the same size, and every jurisdiction requires at least rear plates. How do the cars not come out of the factory with mounting brackets?
He’s gotta pull the car into the bay so he can get the holes drilled. When he’s done he calls me in and tells me I’m good to go. Well, except that we skipped the whole “get your shit out of your old car” step.
Also, thanks to the valet, he has my house keys.
I pull the car around and start unloading the Caliber. For all of its faults that car sure had a lot of storage. It’s 20 degrees and my fingers are numb when I finally get done.
Time to Go
I shake Joe’s hand one more time and try really hard not to think about it. It’s now nearly 4:00 p.m. – I’ve been at the dealership for almost 5 hours.
I’ve had my fill. I don’t want to come back here for a very very long time.
I give the Caliber one last look before I pull out. Good bye, and good luck old buddy.
I get home and take a photo of the car to share on twitter.
Then I go inside and immediately wash my hands.
I scarf down a Lean Cuisine and head out the door again to pick up my daughter. The lighter evening traffic means I can finally get a real test drive in. It’s freaking great.
The Caliber was called underpowered but that wasn’t entirely true. The CVT didn’t have as much range as it should have had – low gear wasn’t low enough, high gear not high enough – and that gives you 0-60 in 12 seconds. But above 15 MPH mashing the gas pedal gives you a satisfying smooth wave of power that, thanks to CVT, doesn’t let up until around 50 MPH.
The Dart is another beast altogether. It leaps forward in one massive immediate burst, like a cat pouncing on prey. I need some time and some clear road to get used to it, I think.
I bring my daughter home and have a family dinner with my wife, do the dishes, and settle in for the evening.
My EZ Pass is still in the Caliber. I have to go back tonight. I call Joe and he puts it aside for me to pick up.
After I put my daughter to bed I head over to the car dealership.
When I walk in, there’s nobody to greet me. I wait awkwardly for the receptionist to become available …