Of Triggers and Vehicle Shopping

FYI: This is one of my infrequent non-tech posts.

We all have things that set us off…  situations that trigger visceral reactions of discomfort and maybe even anger. And we all handle ourselves differently in those situations. As I get older, I’m working hard to recognize and control reactions to my own triggers. This is for my own well-being and for the benefit of anyone who might also be in the blast zone at melt-down time. Unfortunately there is one scenario I don’t know if I will ever make peace with, and that would the vehicle buying experience.

I’ve never tolerated injustice very well, and I do not like participating in games that have rules that you’re not allowed to really know. I feel revulsion for those who prey on others, and simply don’t tolerate bullshit unless it’s under the heading of fun- and there is nothing fun about being played like a fiddle by unscrupulous humans out to separate you from as much of your hard-earned money as they can through a wide range of despicable tactics. There is  much about the typical car-buying experience that rubs me wrongly as it hits all of the above points. After X trips to the lot over the years and dealing with the process, I no longer even attempt to be civil. I’m not sure my physiology would even let me at this point. I see the lips start to move, and I know I’ve entered The Liars’ Zone, where scruples simply don’t exist.

One example: I recently stopped at a stereotypical sleazy dealership with my wife to get a sense of pricing on a specific truck model. We did a little spin around the block, and before Slicky Boy would even begin to divulge what the mostly arbitrary make-believe price was, he wrote out by hand on a blank piece of paper “Once I hear what the price of this vehicle is, I’ll be willing to make a deal today” or something to that effect, with a line drawn where I was supposed to put my signature.

WTF is THAT? Really- what is that supposed to amount to? Is he stealing my soul by getting my signature on some idiotic hand-scrawled declaration? Somehow gaining control by having me commit to something nonsensical that he hand-scrawled out on paper? Sorry Slick- F U in spades. And your troll manager back in his cave. This was bizarre, there is no other way to describe it.

My wife, being very perceptive, knew approximately what would come next and had the good sense to excuse herself (“uh, I left something in the car…)”. I kept myself together for about 30 seconds and then had to get out fast before I exercised a platinum-grade spewing of some of those special combinations of naughty words I learned during my military career, punctuated with obscene gestures you only come to know by growing up around Italian people. Managing those triggers.

But sooner or later I’d have to face reality again. My 2007 Jeep was showing it’s age, and the need to purchase wasn’t going away. My wife and I both have good jobs, but we also have three kids in college and a range of normal life expenses that haven’t let us amass the kind of dinero that lets you stroll onto a lot and wave a wad of bills around as cash buyers. So unfortunately, I needed something from this tribe of people I generally loath as they practice what to me see seems like government-sanctioned organized crime.

I had to make peace with it all, somehow.

And I did. But first I tried the CarGurus thing, the TrueCar stuff, and similar casting of the net to find “the best” price on what I was looking for across dozens of dealers. I also locked onto in my mind what I was willing to spend with no exceptions whatsoever. I NEEDED to have some control in this horrible process, I realized, but I knew that the enemy doesn’t want you to have any control.

I opted to try to “negotiate” (if you can call what I ended up doing negotiation) 100% online or on the phone. I wanted zero “on the lot” time fighting the fog of price and arriving at terms. Most dealers wanted nothing to do with it, and simply stopped responding after a couple of go rounds because I wouldn’t come to the dealership to get worked despite being very serious about buying a vehicle. Then I found someone who responded in a way that I felt very good about.

Finding a candidate truck with the specs and potentially the price I wanted from Internet scouring, I did the online inquiry by filling out the “I’m interested” form.  A gent named Mike came back via email urging me to come in and test drive it, etc- but I’d already driven these trucks and so opted to tell him “I gotta do as much of this as possible without coming to the dealership, no offense.” To Mike’s credit, he answered all of my questions, did not give off the typical obnoxious/pushy dealer vibe, and got me to the point where I said:

  • I’m interested, but will take care of my own financing (part of the control thing I realized I really needed)
  • Here’s what I will pay between cash down, my own loan, and the trade in of my old Jeep- total, drive it home, not-a-penny more
  • No interest in other vehicles, other finance options, or any further negotiation

It took a few hours and a phone call, but Mike got me. He let me have control, understood I wasn’t doing The Game that his industry fellows would have preferred, but still made it happen.

With this process, I kept my triggers in check. I never felt disadvantaged by a skewed game I’m nowhere near savvy enough to play the normal way. We both did OK in the deal, and I feel like I avoided metric tons of dealer assclownery that would have absolutely set me off me had I tried to get to the same point in person. For me, it really is THAT bad. I’d rather have another vasectomy than play car dealer games. Thankfully Mike was empowered to do it MY way for a change, and I applaud the dealership for helping me to feel like I actually did OK on this one, and on my own terms. And by that, I mean not just price-wise, but also process-wise.

Here’s what I ended up with:

dodge

So- if you are in upstate/central/western NY and find yourself in need of a vehicle, I can actually recommend Doan Dodge in Rochester. The showroom is fairly gorgeous, and they obviously move a lot of vehicles. My guy at Doan was Mike Huynh, and I recommend him as well. Which is a first for me, out of the many car dealers I’ve dealt with throughout my life. 

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