Sunday, June 10, 2012



After our last 4-digit repair bill our mechanic suggested that it was probably time to stop investing money in our 13 year-old VW Passat.   When your mechanic tells you that, it probably means two things:

  • You have a very good mechanic.
  • A great mechanic probably would have told you this a couple of repairs ago.

So, Hank and I prepared to buy a new car.  We did a ton of research online and visited many dealerships to test-drive certain models.  Mostly what I learned from this experience is that being a salesman on a car lot is probably way more annoying today than it was the last time I bought a car (back in the 20th century).

People don't buy cars the way they used to.  I can sit at home in my bathrobe, look up invoice prices, compare features, email dealerships asking for price quotes, and not leave my house unless I either need to see a car in person, or am actually ready to buy a car at a pre-agreed-upon price.  What's left for the guy on the lot to do?  Narrate my test-drive and hope that the next customer is less annoying.

For example, we strolled into the Hyundai dealership and asked to test-drive an Elantra one afternoon.  The salesman was super knowledgeable about the car, telling me about the various buttons while simultaneously announcing haughtily that he didn't care for the look of the new Porsche.  I interrupted him early on in the test-drive and explained that we only had a few minutes available for the drive.

"Oh... ok, "he said disappointedly.  "Well, I definitely want to let you see how the car handles, so we'll check out the turning radius, go up some steep slopes, and drive down the REAL curviest street in San Francisco."

Sounded good to me, so we took off.  After about 60 seconds, the salesman said, "Uh... do you always... um... drive this way?"

Given that I was driving exactly the way I always do, which is pretty damn reasonable, I said that I was.  We continued the obstacle course of a test-drive he had planned out, and then I reminded him that my time was about up.  

He suggested the best route back to the dealership and then as soon as I changed lanes to get into a shorter red-light line, he said, "Wow, um... you know, you are NOT going to get the stated gas mileage if you drive THIS way."

I didn't end up rejecting the Hyundai BECAUSE this guy criticized my driving, but I would have liked to.

Meanwhile, the Acura salesman made no such faux pas.  By this time, we had narrowed down our choice to two cars, the Mazda 3, and the new Acura ILX.  I explained to the Acura salesman that we recognized that his car was nicer than the Mazda, but there was a large price gap between the two.  We had not had any luck pre-negotiating a price online with this car due to its newness.

"How much flexibility do you have on the price?" I asked.

"Zero.  I have no flexibility on the price," he stated firmly while simultaneously making a zero symbol with his thumb and forefinger.

"Zero?" I repeated, "You can't move the price at all?"

"Nope," and he crossed his arms across his chest.

"Well," I said, looking over at Hank.  "I guess we need to to figure out exactly how much more this car is worth to us over the Mazda 3.  It costs about $7,000 more, so let's see if it's worth it to us."

Hank agreed and we launched into our calculations in front of the salesman.

"It's got a fairly quiet ride," I started, since I knew that was a plus for Hank.  "That's probably worth about... $1,500?"

Hank agreed while the salesman watched.

"And alloy wheels!" the salesman added.

"That's worth zero." I replied.

"Alloy wheels are worth zero?!?!" he asked, stunned.

"Look, I don't care how much they cost to make.  They're not worth anything TO US.  This calculation is  about how much more this car is worth to us."

"Alloy wheels improve your braking distance!" he insisted.

"Ok, but this car is hundreds of pounds heavier than the Mazda 3, so it could very well have worse overall braking.  Unless you can show me that the braking is better, alloy wheels are worth zero to me."

The salesman shook his head in disbelief as Hank and I continued our calculations.

"Oh!  Remember that you noticed that dome light in the car is further from the front?" I noted to Hank. "So when Daisy turns it on to read in the backseat, it won't bother us as much!  How much is that worth?"

"That's worth about $300," Hank replied.

"What??" the salesman sputtered, "A dome light is worth MORE than alloy wheels?!?!"

"Yes, worth more to US," I explained again.

We continued down this path, adding in arbitrary amounts for incalculable things like "overall niceness" and "ipod integration".  By the end of the process, we had made up about $3,500 of the $7,000 difference between the two cars.

So, we're the proud owners of a Mazda 3.  Can't wait to do this again in a dozen years.

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