We were recently in an accident in which our car was totaled while we were at a dead stop. This meant being forced into buying a new car. I say, “forced” because I absolutely despise the entire process – I do not understand people who enjoy it.
As I went through the process this time around, I tried to reflect on why I hate it so much. Here's what I've come up with.
I know nothing about the back-room world in which automobile purchasing actually takes place, nor do I want to know. I want a car which takes me to point “a” to point “b.” That's it. I don't drive that much, nor do I like to drive that much, so if my car turns on and is air-conditioned in the Summer I'm happy. As my needs are simple, I want the process to be simple. I know the dealer needs to make a living, so I'm fine with a markup — if they put their best price for the car on the sticker, with markup included, all would be well. In fact, this practice was why my first two cars were Saturns.
I never appreciate being a captive audience. I don't appreciate this in churches, I don't appreciate it in meetings, and I certainly don't appreciate at a car dealer when I know I'm being manipulated. When I go somewhere, if I meeting length hasn't been set I mentally give people a certain amount of my time. After that time passes my frustration level begins to grow. When I go for a test drive, I'm fine giving someone an hour of my time. They can get my basic information, prep a car for a test drive, and take me to their desk to give me some extremely rough numbers. After that, I'm done. If I like the car, I'll be back.
This isn't how dealers work, they do everything but chain you to their desk. They hem, they haw, they talk to you about “your new car,” and they do not respect you. When you say, “Please, I need to think about it, and I have other cars to look at,” they smile and say, “OK, let me go get you one last thing before you go.” Then they bring in someone else who actually tries to make you feel awful for abandoning the dealer without allowing them to treat you well.
At our recent visit to Burlington Toyota, that's exactly how we felt. Even if we had liked the car we took on a test drive, we never would have given them our business. They made us feel stressed, pressured, and almost afraid. The process at the dealer was a form of mental and emotional assault. When we finally managed to flee, my wife described our feelings beautifully, “I feel like I need to take a shower.”
I'm a public speaker by vocation – and in the past I've been an actor. As such, I often can spot a phony rather quickly and I don't want such people to act chummy with me. It doesn't matter if it's in church or on the car lot, when I encounter someone who is using their best “what can I do to put you into a new car/salvation/membership today?” I shut them out. The more they continue to use my name like we were intimates, the more tightly I shut down. Needless to say, this makes purchasing a car excruciating.
I don't appreciate the adversarial system in which a dealer tries to sneakily pry as much money out of my hands while pretending to be one of my best friends. I don't want my “friend” to quote me a price and then disappear when I tell them quite plainly I need to test-drive other cars before making a decision — only to return with a number over $100 less a month than the previous “well this is the best I can do” number. It infuriates me.
Contrast my negative experience with the dealer at which we did get a car – Burlington Volkswagon. At this location we test drove two cars, and let our salesperson know, “We are not buying tonight, we need to check other cars first.” The salesperson did his job, he touted the benefits of going with VW and took the time to give us some rough numbers. Then he gave us his card and let us go home. There was no pressure, just a laid-back experience in which he let us make up our own mind. When we returned the next day to check out the trunk space in one of the cars, he welcomed us back. When we asked to see a different model he took us out and waited for us to say we wanted another test drive. When we came back he offered us a decent deal which was slightly more than we wanted to pay, but after some finagling (and some great help from a friend on the other end of my text messages) we actually went with the deal as presented. Why? Because we felt we were being treated with respect.
As I look back on my life, I find a recurring pattern. In any situation where I find myself being deliberately backed into a corner I have a consistent response — I resist. When churches are pushy, I check out. When salespeople shove me, I won't buy. When car dealers take me hostage, I will fight for my freedom. What has always worked best for me is when someone expresses what they believe their benefits are, and then leaves me alone to make up my own mind. Why? Because when people give their best pitch and then let me walk away, I think they might actually believe what they are saying. For me, this makes a huge difference.