Menu Join now Search

The Car Dealership Culture

I hate buying cars. Loathe would be more accurate. Five and a half years ago I suffered through the uncomfortable haggling that went with buying my new car. I complained so much that in the end my husband left me home and handled it himself. I distinctly remember telling him that this would be my last car because I was never going to go through that again. I also distinctly remember him agreeing with me. He lied through his teeth.
It is now five years later and my wonderful new American-made gas guzzler is now costing a fortune in repairs, consuming most of the gas imported from abroad, and looking worn. So, egged on by my husband and the lure of a more politically correct hybrid vehicle, I reluctantly agreed to buy yet another car. It took me three months to make this commitment and another month of his goading before I agreed to actually go shopping. I did my research first and when we set out there were two cars I wanted to see. I knew their list prices, I had scoped out two dealers within a mile of each other, and I had even considered colors and packages. So when we left I told my husband that we did not need to do any negotiating on this trip. I merely wanted to test drive both cars and decide which one I liked best. We would do the buying on another trip when I knew which one I wanted. He agreed. He lied through his teeth.
When we got to the first dealership a salesman swooped down on us like a vulture, attaching himself to us as we looked around and demanded to know personal information, like our names, what we drive now, how long we had been looking. I stood firm, pointed to a model and said I wanted to test drive that one. We took it for a drive. I smiled politely, thanked him and said goodbye. That’s when my husband betrayed me. “Let’s just see what it costs,” he said, following the salesman to his little cubicle where we would be held forcibly against our wills for the next hour (I kid you not). Before he would talk to us at all we had to provide our names, address and all our phone numbers. The conversation went like this:

Husband: what does that car cost?

Salesman: what do you want to spend?

Husband: we just want to know the cost.

Salesman: I can’t give you a figure unless I know you are going to buy it today.
Husband: we are still looking around, but are getting close and we need to know what we are looking at.

Salesman: I’ll have to talk to my manager.

At this point he goes across the room and I tell my husband that we are done here and I want to leave. But he insists on waiting the fifteen minutes (no exaggeration) while the manager and the salesman chat. The manager looks like he was just released from jail. He is huge, bald and wearing an earring and a pinky ring. Eventually the salesman returns with a piece of paper on which he has written a number. My husband (can you believe this???) proceeds to ask about our trade-in, at which point the salesman confiscates our car keys and leaves us for another twenty-five minutes, keeping us hostage in the showroom. I am now fit to be tied. When he returns he gives us another piece of paper with two numbers on it—but not our car keys. We then are ushered over to meet the thug (I mean manager) who won’t return our keys, but demands to know why we won’t buy the car this minute. He literally will not let us leave no matter how many times we say we have to go. Finally we wrestle our car keys away from him and leave—with the salesman following us out the door to our car, telling us that he’ll take another $500 off if we buy the car today.
I am trying to envision any other consumer product in which you are not permitted to know the price of the item while browsing, you cannot get a price without giving your name, address and phone number, and you are only told a firm price if you will buy it immediately. Is there such a thing outside of the car dealership culture?
At this point I am sweaty, shaking and hyperventilating. But I am somewhat relieved because we’ve gone through it; we have an idea of what we will get for our trade-in and what the actual cost will be. So I say, hopefully, to my husband: at the next place I only want to test the car. We don’t have to talk to anyone in the showroom since we have all the information we need. He agreed. He lied through his teeth.
This time we walk onto the lot and the vulture attacks us. I stand firmly, point at the car I want to try and say I’d like to test drive that one. After the test drive—out of earshot of the salesman—I whisper to my husband that I liked the second car better, and let’s get out of here. At which point he totally betrays me and goes into the showroom to discuss price. We sit in the cubicle, must give our names, address, and phone numbers, and the games begin again:

Husband: we’ve just looked at XYZ car down the street and we know what it will cost, so what price can you give us.

Salesman: I can’t give you a price until you tell me what you want to spend.

Husband: I want to know how much under list you will go.

Salesman: Are you prepared to buy the car now?
ME: Not today. So thank you very much for the test drive and we’ll get back to you. 
I turned and walked out the door believing my husband was right behind me. But they had captured him. Like a fly in a spider’s web, they wouldn’t let him leave. I looked through the door and literally saw him in the middle of the room trying to walk away, with the salesman and the manager holding him back with some invisible webbing. The manager, by the way, was very big, bald, wearing an earring and gold chains.
After ten minutes of watching them hold him, I stomped back into the showroom and stated loudly that we were not going to buy the car today, grabbed my husband’s arm and whispered lethally into his year “what part of ‘we’re leaving now’ did you not understand?”  Meanwhile the salesman followed us out the door saying that he would match the price of the car down the street and take another $500 off if we bought his car today.
We finally escaped and my husband (who was not nearly as agitated as I thought he should be) suggested that I stay home on the next trip and he will handle the rest of the purchase. I was now sweaty, shaking and in need of therapy. I told my husband that he should go ahead and buy any car he wanted, that this will definitely be the last car I will ever buy and I will never set foot in another car dealership as long as I live. He agreed. I know he lied through his teeth.