Friday, May 23, 2003

Quite the eventful week here at the compound, with the spousal unit graduating from nursing school on Tuesday and the purchase of a new (to us) but used (to the dealer and anybody else) car. My wife and I both hate—HATE!—car shopping, which is fun and interesting enough when you're just looking (and can still keep the car salesman at a comfortable but cordial arm's length) but excruciating when you're trying to buy and you're therefore forced into the mud to grapple with the Forces of Hucksterism.

Since our car was pretty low-mileage and still covered under the manufacturer's warranty—and maybe in part because business appeared to be pretty slack while we were there—we were subjected to the gauntlet of sales pitches for everything from rustproofing and fabric protection to extended warranties and loan insurance. In other words, all the stuff that consumer advocates warn you not to fall prey to. All our research indicated that they really couldn't have been making much money off us, so they may have been especially motivated to push a few high-markup add-ons. The list was so long that I fully expected the finale to be a pitch for timeshare accommodations in the Ozarks.

A couple of things about this sideshow particularly irritated me. The first was that the process of closing the deal on the car took two or three times as long as it really needed to, since it involved two separate sales presentations from two different dealer spokesdroids. Next was one salesman's insistence that the dealership was making no profit from extended warranties, was in fact losing money on them, and was offering them with only the best interests of the customer in mind.

My favorite part came toward the end, when the salesman asked my wife, the primary purchaser, to initial in several places a form confirming that she had declined to purchase options described by one consumer's group as "worthless or overpriced. The form listed every single option offered and she had to initial off on each one, as if the dealer needed to protect itself with a written legal record of your stubborn shortsightedness. There was really no purpose to the form that I could see, no reason for its existence other than to apply that final bit of sales pressure at the last possible moment.

At the time my wife asked me, in front of the salesman, if I thought she should get at least some kind of extended warranty, and I told her as calmly as I could that I thought it was a bad idea. After we got home she said that she probably would have said yes except that she could see that I was getting flushed around the face and red-rimmed around the eyes, and she was afraid that if she had bought the extended warranty, the top of my head would have blown off.

Anyway, wish us luck with the new car.


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