On Buying a Car

Do you have a car? Of course you do. Is it a new car? New cars are amazing. They have more tech in them than my house, and my house is like a technology superstore. But you know what I don’t like? Keyless cars. And pickles. But this is not the “pickle post” I’m writing; it’s the car-buying post. Anyway, keyless cars.

Keyless cars make me nervous. A workmate of mine had one and he told the following story:

He was preparing to go on a long trip and his wife came to see him off. She waves him goodbye and he drives happily down the freeway for quite a while. Just as he’s thinking he would like to stop, he realizes that he doesn’t have his key. The car had started because his wife had her key in her pocket when she was seeing him off. And so he cannot stop the car because he cannot start it again. He has to turn around and head for home…and hope he has enough gas in the tank (and a sturdy enough bladder) to get him there…

And that’s exactly the kind of thing I’d do – except I’d have stopped the car before I realized. I mention this as a loose introduction to the subject of buying a new car.

The psychology of buying a car is fascinating, even if some of the tricks of car salespeople have become something of a cliché at this point. My wife bought a car recently and I went along for moral support and to use my mental checklist of car-buying tricks to pass on to you, both my readers.

Personalizing the office. The first time I bought a car, the salesman was on point: photos of family members on his desk, sports pennants on the wall, a motivational poster or two. Look at me, it said: I am a caring family guy just doing his job to feed my adorable kids. I exist outside of work: I care about sports because I am a guy and you can rely on me. And look how motivated I am! You can be that motivated too, in the car I have chosen specifically for you. On my second car-buying experience, the guy had many fewer things on the wall. But the world had moved on. This guy just happened to have his Facebook page open. While we waited, he took me through photos of his wedding. We were best friends, if not Facebook friends.

Asking his manager. (Why aren’t there female salespeople?) On the most recent car-buying experience, our salesman went to his manager three times. Maybe he felt that we hadn’t swallowed the hook deep enough. Maybe we looked like we would get away. Would his manager let us take the car for the weekend while we decided? Yes, he would!

Discounts. This really happened. During a test drive, the guy focused on my awesome, cute, and highly intellectual English accent. He loved it. “Say “smashing’,” he said, “and I’ll take $500 off the ticket price.” I was offended, patronized even. I said, “Smashing!” and I felt like a master negotiator.

Talk as if you’ve already decided to buy. My wife called this “Manifesting the purpose”, because she’s good with the wordings. It’s not a subtle process, though. Minutes after meeting our sales guy, he introduces us to some of his co-workers: “They’re buying a car today.” We are not buying a car today; we are test driving. But, all through the process, he keeps up his reality; he is manifesting his purpose through his sentence structure. Never “If…”, it’s “When…” From choosing the color of the car for the test drive to confirming which bells and which whistles you want on the car you’re not here today to buy, he’s creating the reality. And it works.

Backloading the expense. Before I came to this country, I’d never understood the phrase “Waiting for the other shoe to drop”. This is what it means in a car-buying context: You look at the car, you drive the car, you decide to buy the car, you spend an hour or so discussing the details. And then you’re left alone. You turn to your partner and you say, “I can’t believe they haven’t tried to sell us the extended warranty.” She turns to you and says, “Maybe they don’t do that any more because people hate it?” You’re both waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it won’t drop just yet. It has to be the right time – you have to really be done with the whole process, to be worn down, to be prepared to sign anything to get the hell out of there. And then, they bring in The Closer who will get you to pay for the thing you promised right at the start that you didn’t want. And you’ll negotiate him down just enough to feel like you’re in charge. And then you’ll sign. And the thud of that other shoe will be heard echoing down the hallway.

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