Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Negotiating--With Jackals

The insurance company called late last week and said that they were totalling Gloria's Corolla. The frame was ever-so-slightly bent, and the full repair would have been only $600 less than the value of the car.

So Gloria's been car shopping.

Younger DQ readers won't remember what it was like shopping for cars in the "old days." In the 1970's-1980's, trying to buy a car usually meant negotiating with a sociopath. I think half the cars sold in the United States back then could be attributed to Stockholm syndrome. Their basic strategy was to keep you in negotiations for so long (with the attendant emotional humilation as they hit every single button they could find) that their angry ramblings started to make a weird kind of sense.

It's not like that anymore, thank goodness. Or so I thought.

Gloria drove quite a few cars over a three or four day period and decided that she liked the Toyota RAV4. So she decided she wanted a RAV4, and Eli 5.2 decided he wanted a red car. The RAV4 Gloria had test-drove was red, so everything was lined up. I told Gloria I'd go up with her to the dealership (Classic Toyota in Round Rock) and help with the negotiations.

This car wasn't brand new, by the way--it had 180 miles on it, and had been purchased from "Toyota Financial Services" or something--but the saleswoman had already assured Gloria that they'd "do something" in terms of a price adjustment because it was used.

So we go to the dealership, fully loaded with all the relevant Consumer Reports price information. This was a 2006 RAV4 with the "Limited" options package, and the MSRP on that model was $23,105. We also knew what everything cost the dealer. Normally, this is essential and extremely helpful information when negotiating with a dealer.

Today, not so much.

We arrive at the dealership and I take a look at the car for the first time. There's no window sticker with a list of features and prices. Very, very odd. There is, however, a little piece of paper on one of the side windows that says "$26,999." That's all that's written on the paper.

Warning flag raised.

We sit down with the saleswoman (who Gloria really likes, so I'd like to buy the car from her). She's taking information from Gloria for the title, and finally I said "We really need to talk about price or there won't be a reason to have information for the title," and she pretends to look surprised and stops writing.

"Of course," she said.

"Now this is the 2006 RAV4 in the 'Limited' edition," I said. "Are there any other options?"

"There's a cargo net," she said. "That's the only other option."

"What is the MSRP on this car?" I asked.

"Well, the MSRP doesn't matter, because it's a used car," she says.

"Okay, but what would the MSRP be for this car?"

"I don't know," she said. Warning flag number two goes up. This is a Toyota dealership and they won't tell me the MSRP of a car.

"Let me tell you, then," I said. "The MSRP on this car is $23,105. So can you tell me why a used car costs almost four thousand dollars more than the same car new?"

"Well, we know that's a crazy price," she said. "Crazy. We didn't put that price on there."

"So what price did you put on there?" I asked.

"No price," she said. "Tell me what you would pay."

Second warning flag. They don't even have a price. Bizarre.

Like I said, Gloria really likes this lady, she likes the car, Eli likes the car, and I know it's a popular model. I tell the saleswoman that we'll pay $23,000 (excluding TTL), and I tell her that I consider that a very generous offer (which it is--it's way too soft). She makes me write down the offer on a piece of paper and initial it, then she walks off.

She's gone for about fifteen minutes, which I expected, so I keep track of how long she's actually gone (which I'll use later). Then she comes back with her "boss" (aka bad cop). "I'm required by law to disclose to you that this vehicle had hail damage at the manufacturer," he said. "They made a three hundred dollar repair, but it voids the paint and perforation damage warranty." He kept repeating the phrase "required by law," like somehow it's bad for me that I'm finding out the car had hail damage.

Outstanding. Nice job waiting until after I've made an offer to tell me that.

"So how much does it cost to repaint this car?" I asked.

"About thirty-five hundred dollars," he said. "But do you know how much three hundred dollars is? It's four bumps!"

"Understood, but it means I'm missing part of the warranty, which has value," I said. So how much will you take off the price for the loss of the warranty?" I asked.

"You tell me," he said. Great. Dickheads on parade.

"Fine," I said. "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go sit in the car and call the two other Toyota dealers in town. I'll be back in about fifteen minutes." So I go sit in the car they're trying to sell me and call other dealers. I tell the first one that Classic is trying to sell me a used RAV4 for almost four thousand dollars over MSRP.

He starts laughing.

Hell, I'd be laughing, too, if they weren't trying to sell it to me.

"Would you be charging over MSRP for a new vehicle, let alone a used one?" I asked him.

"No," he said. I'm surprised he didn't say you tell me.

I stayed in the car until I'd made them wait as long as they'd made me wait previously, then I got out and went back in.

"The other dealers laughed when I told them the price," I said.

"We don't even want this car!" the boss protested. "We just want it off our lot!"

This dealership has a used car lot, but this car somehow isn't over there. Instead, it's the only used car on this entire lot. And that's strange, but this is all strange, so I don't pursue it.

I tell them I'll offer $22,500, and again, I let them know that offering only six hundred dollars below MSRP for a used car with no paint/perforation warranty was a softball offer.

The boss and saleswoman go off and come back twenty minutes later. "My manager says he can't go any lower than $23,900," he says. I started laughing.

"So let me get this straight," I said. "This car is used and has no factory warranty for paint or perforation damage, and you're trying to sell it to me for almost a thousand dollars over the MSRP of the new version."

He shrugs. "That's as low as my manager says we can go."

"How long do you have to wait before you find people who want to pay more for a used car?" I asked.

"Would you like us to look for a new car for you?" he asked.

"Thanks, I think I've had enough," I said.

I started gathering up our paperwork, and after the boss walked off, the saleswoman said (in a low voice) "I'm really sorry. I didn't know about any of that." The look on her face, though, was of someone who been caught with both hands and a foot in the cookie jar.

So no car for Gloria. There's another dealer in town, one that hopefully isn't batshit insane, and she's going over this afternoon.

They even have a RAV4 in stock, and it's red.

This should be easy, right?

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