Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pull My Finger

Even my favorite grandson Kellan doesn't fall for this.  Yes, that Kellan, the fart-adept six-year-old.  But here I am, victim nonetheless.

This isn't really about fart jokes.  It's about buying a car.  Judy's old Acura only lasted 13 years, so it was time.  My plan was simple:  Honda Accord Sedan, alloy wheels, white.  Period.  This may be the most common car in the universe.  So it all came down to - - - price.

Now, I consider myself a bit of a sophisticate at price negotiation.  23 years of practicing law, 18 years of engineering, and a subscription to Consumer Reports all have made me an expert.  Or so I thought.  Here was my strategy:  search for prices on line, pick the best one, solicit bids on-line, and buy for something close to the on-line price.

In your dreams, old man.

Before I started, I read a depressing article on the website by an undercover reporter who signed on to work for a couple of car dealers.  It described all the tricks of the trade.  Like designated salesmen who greet you as you get out of your car.  As they shake your hand, they pull, ever so gently, towards the door.  This allows them to establish control, among other questionable things.  But I knew that.  I was prepared for anything.

On a whim, I pulled into Autoway Honda out on Rt 19.  Steve Yeager greeted me as I stepped out of my car.  He shook my hand.  He pulled.  I grinned a wise grin.

Undeterred, I let Steve march me around the Certified Used Honda Corral.  We looked at cars in the 2007-2009 range.  They were labeled $16,000 to $22,000.  Sigh.  New Honda LX-P's list for $23,500, give or take.  I may have to buy new.  As many of the articles suggested, good used cars are at a premium.

Suddenly, Steve fetched up short and gasped.  He pointed a trembling finger at a bright-red price sticker on a car in the target age range.  "My God!" Steve exclaimed. "Look at that price!  That must be a mistake."  The sign said "$14,500."  We spent a moment or two discussing the special features of the tired old car.  It had mudflaps, taped-on pinstripes, and 45,000 miles on the clock.  Steve pointed out the pinstripes.  I was embarrassed for Steve.  (By the way, if you think I've changed the names to protect the idiots, you're way off.)  I eventually drove a 2009 LX-P with only 6500 miles on it.  Sticker price was $100 below the sticker price on a new car.

I left Steve with a handshake.  I pulled.  He looked at me funny.  I silently vowed to run Steve down if I ever caught him walking along the road.

So I executed my Internet plan.  I solicited bids for a white LX-P.  I got fewer responses than I expected.  One of them was from Gerry Spence at Tampa Hondaland.  He bid high.  I bid low.  We almost met in the middle, but he was at $21,500.  That included taxes, everything.  It included $400 for a new registration.  He was still too high. I said, "Sorry.  So long."

I waited.  Gerry emailed.  I ignored him.  I know how to play this game.  Sophistication is a rare commodity in this world.

Gerry called Judy.  "I really want to make a deal," he said.  I rubbed my hands in glee.  I returned his call.  He ignored me.  He knows how to play this game.  The hunt for the perfect deal was on.  I was breathing heavy.  So was Gerry.  Mano-a-mano, no?

Gerry called me back, and I was home. "It's a very good deal," he said.

I was beginning to believe he may be right.  I said, "OK.  You have $400 in there for a new registration, right?"


"I've changed my mind on the registration and will transfer the old registration.  That's $100, right?"


"So the price is $21,200 with the transfer?"


"I'll be there in an hour with my checkbook.  Draft up the contract."

Cutting to the chase, I had the keys to Judy's new car in my hand when Gerry's sales manager sat down in front of me.  "Mr. Newton, there's been a tragic mistake."  Okay, he didn't really say, "tragic."  But that was implied in his sad delivery.  He continued, "The paperwork was made out for $21,500 with a transferred registration.  That's the price."

I looked at Gerry.  He didn't have the decency to look embarrassed.  I left.  (I'm leaving out some theatrics here.)

The next day, while my blood pressure was still settling out, I drove to nearby Crown Honda, which had not responded to my on-line bid request.  I spoke to a sales manager, KK.  I told him the story.  I said, "$21,500, with transferred registration."  That was the deal I walked away from at Hondaland.  He hemmed and hawed, but briefly.  We shook hands.  The negotiation took two minutes.  The car is in the driveway tonight.

When I left, I shook KK's hand.  He didn't pull.



  1. Newt,
    David Coleman here of the Wainwright/Bergsten clan. Been lurking and reading your blog for a while and loved the New Car report. It reminded me of buying a Jeep back in the Mid 80's. Jim Witt in Lowell, "Push it, Pull it, Tow it, $1,000.00 Trade In". Yea, well I can do one better, I can drive one in!! My Mom had been driving one of those crazy Saab 96's with the 2-cycle motor, 4 on the tree, started with a butter knife and looked like a VW Bug on acid. Went in, made the deal, THEN sprung my trade on them. They were NOT the least bit happy and balked on me. Came home and called The Sun (where the ad had run) claiming a bait-and-switch on Witt's part (actually my bait-and-switch)and drove back with my brother Bruce because we basically had nothing else to do and this seemed like something to do. I think if they thought they could have gotten away with giving us a "blanket party" out behind the dealership they would have called the boys out of the autobody shop to help. Lowell Sun had called wanting to know what was going on and threatened to pull the ad. The turning point of the negotiations came when Bruce told the Sales Manager that as he worked nights, he had spent a week the previous month on public property across the street from Peter Hallisey's with various "uncompementary" signs in protest of a bad transmission in his new Chevy truck and had plenty of time to do the same on Middlesex St. As we DROVE into the lot to pick up the new Jeep in our trade, the Sale Manager was barking at us to pull the Saab around back as the 2-cycle engine was creating a giant blue cloud of smoke in front of his showroom. I handed him the butter knife and told him as it was now his, he should be the one to move it...


  2. That's sweet, David. If I wasn't so determined to just get it over with, I might have made more noise or marched around with signs.

    Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. Somewhere I still have your "Cousin Everett" article and may post it here one of these days.