by Ben Small
Perhaps nothing causes one to think about murder as much as buying a car.
This thought was recently refreshed for my wife and me during the last week. After realizing that our nine year old Mercedes was going to need major repairs, we decided to trade the thing in and buy a new car.
Being red-blooded Americans, we tried the GM dealers first. But none of their models seemed to fit our needs: too large, too ugly or too small. My wife could live with small, but I’m six foot six, so my height complicates matters. What fits me often is cavernous for her.
Don’cha just love the feeling when you drive into a car dealer’s lot and six overweight guys with fixed fake smiles rush up to greet you like you’re they’re the long lost hometown buddy you used to shoot in the ass with a BB gun?
The final straw at GM was when I pointed to the listing of safety ratings, three out of five in two of the three categories, and the salesman tried to pass the two adverse ratings as being three out of four, not five. The sticker was wrong.
“Uh huh,” we said. “Nice try. We’re gone.”
A new guy for my list of victims next time I get the urge.
His parting shot: “Oh, if you come back and I’m not here, make sure to tell the sales manager I deserve some money.”
One notch higher on the list…
So off we went to Ford. Same story there, except without the blatant lie about safety ratings or the suggested pitch to the sales manager.
We didn’t try Chrysler. I can never remember who owns them, and who wants a car that eats more gas than Al Gore’s house during a spring blizzard?
Toyota was next. Same group of fat guys leering at us as we parked. Funny watching them dance. We changed parking slots, and they moved in unison like Rockettes to cover our transition.
We liked the Rav 4, but my knees were up against the dash. One positive, however, the front and back seats lay down like the old Nash Rambler, so I can spread out, lie down and not see the road, a plus for me when my wife is driving.
Then Volkswagon. We liked the Tiguan, whatever that is, but it’s got a turbo-charged four-banger, which spells “m-a-i-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e” to me, and it’s got a fancy price tag to boot. But I had leg room, even if the storage space wouldn’t hold Paris Hilton’s dog. And I couldn’t help but wonder what Adolph Hitler would say about the new designs added to his bugs.
Finally, we made it across town to the Nissan dealer, where we fell in love with the Murano. The wife wanted one in Saharan Stone, which is the same as Sonoran Sand in another model, both of which look like metallic gold to me.
And the features…oh my! We tend to drive our cars into the ground, which is essentially where the Mercedes is going. And we use TIVO. So we had no idea of the technology changes in modern automobiles: rear sensors and video; an in-car garage opener buried inside the rear-view mirror; blue-tooth technology, so my wife can yell at me on the phone without ever having to take her hands off the wheel; four height settings on the headlights; XM played through a Bose system; umpteen seat settings and seat warmers – this in the Arizona desert, no less – and no key, just some bob-thingee that doesn’t have to be inserted anywhere, and will start the car if the car’s nearby. (A downside to the key-bob-thingee is that you can start the car, run inside to grab something you’ve forgotten, put the thingee down, forget to pick it up, and drive off, only to discover once you’ve pushed the stop button at the mall that you can’t start the car again, because you left “Bob” at home. I can assure you, between the wife and me, that will happen.)
The Murano doesn’t have a transmission as we know it, no linkages to break, seals to leak, no hump running down the middle of the car. The hump, as most people know is not skirt-friendly for women ― just ask Britney Spears ― but it’s very skirt-friendly for men.
Alas, my loss.
Back to the transmission… It’s called Constant Variable Transmission, allegedly the future of automatic transmissions. My son tells me this technology came to us from ATVs. Supposedly, there are no gear changes, no fluid. Belts and pulleys drive the car, supposedly in unison with the accelerator. Can we spell “m-a-i-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e” again? Allegedly, the thing works, but let’s give it a few years before we jump in the air with yay-rahs.
Oh, and it’s got a high definition navigation system, so we may be able to find our way out of our driveway, I guess.
Okay, we’d made our pick. We wanted a Sonoran Sand, Saharan Stone, metallic gold Murano. With beige leather interior.
Why beige? Because we live in the Arizona Desert.
Duh. Who wants to melt into their seat or have to take a shower after a trip to the mall?
Guess what? All the Muranos on the lot had a black interior. Every single one of them. What were these people thinking?
But there was one that fit the bill in Phoenix. It could be driven down the next day.
Deal time. The most enjoyable part of the experience.
Well, we’d planned ahead for this one. We were buying through the Costco Plan, one hundred bucks over dealer invoice.
Ever try to get an invoice from a car dealer? You might be better served investigating who leaked Valerie Plane’s CIA status.
So we reach a deal on options and pricing, everything except the trade-in value on the Mercedes.
Do you feel it coming? Of course you do. The old Bend-Over-I’ll-Drive-You-Home car dealer shuffle.
We were told we had a deal on the trade-in value. “But just let me borrow the key, so the sales manager can confirm.”
Thirty minutes later, we were still waiting, just sitting, twiddling our thumbs. Then the salesman, an African-American old pro we actually liked, came back. “Let’s start the paperwork,” he said.
No key. Not returned. I bumped my wife, flashed a “turn the key” hand signal. She nodded; she knew what was coming, too.
We got to the end price, what we’d actually have to fork over. The salesman did a start, said, “Oh, I didn’t give you the key back.” He walked out the door.
Twenty more minutes go by. Making the customer wait is part of the car dealer’s plan, as most buyers realize. The more impatient one becomes to actually get the car and stop drooling, the more one is willing to pay more for it. Drool can ruin some fabrics, you know.
So the guy comes back, keyless, looking as if he’s just been informed his first born was beheaded by Mexican drug lords. Says, “There’s a problem. The sales manager says he can’t give you that high a figure on the trade-in. He has to go five hundred less. He says I was way too generous, and I think I’m in trouble.”
We’d already planned for this. “Tell your sales manager that he’s cost you a sale, and he’s managed to make my list,” I said.
I grinned. “Nevermind.”
My wife and I stood up. “We know when we’re being played,” I said. “Give us the key and we’re out of here.”
“Wait!” Said our guy. “I’ll be right back.”
Another fifteen minutes, and we’re pacing outside. We’re now playing the game, too. The assistant sales manager walks up to us, a big grin spread across his face. He’s got slicked back hair, a few beads of sweat under his prominent nose and polished nails. The guy is wearing black patent leather shoes. He extends his hand and begins pumping mine. Then he introduces himself, asks for our names, asks about our kids, how long we’ve been around, the whole magula. Then he sees I’m wearing a SigSauer tee shirt. “You a shooter?” he says, his smile never fading.
I nodded my assent.
“Me, too.” And then he tells us about all his guns.
Buddy-time. The guy wouldn’t shut up.
Another addition to my list…
Do I need to say they wouldn’t let us leave? That we got the deal?
Of course not. You’ve been there; you know how the game is played.
And people wonder why car dealers are less popular than lawyers…
Okay, maybe a smidge more popular. I’m a lawyer; somebody’s gotta be below us, don’t they?
I’ll give you the rest of the story in another segment. For now, let me just say, my list is getting a bit crowded. I’d best get the urge soon.