Three years ago, I bought an aged Mercury Cougar (call her Deirdre, as I did, though some, alleging a similarity in color to a certain nauseating TV character, called her something else entirely) from a friend for US$1800. This past weekend, I traded Deirdre in on something newer, and according to the paperwork, they gave me $2195 for her. Quite a return on my automotive investment? Hardly. This big cat, while simple to operate, was costly to maintain and according to the Kelley Blue Book, which presumably knows about such things, she was actually worth something around $800.

This minor disparity explains much about the world of car buying, which I last visited twenty years ago and didn't miss at all. Apart from the fact that most vehicles now have sticker prices with five digits before the decimal point instead of four, things haven't changed a whole lot: it's still a Turkish bazaar without the Turks, without Islam's strict rules of ethics. At least the sales staff doesn't wear plaid suits anymore.

Not to slam my particular salesman or his dealership, mind you. He was just going through his standard spiel, and I was doing my best to keep it from overwhelming me. A couple of times I headed for the door. Why this most expensive of consumer products is sold in such a fashion is utterly beyond me. At the very least, it would seem to discourage repeat business except that if they all do it, you don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

On balance, the deal I got wasn't bad. Based on what the pundits and I thought Deirdre might be worth, and subtracting that from the total contract price, her replacement wound up about 13 percent below the dealer's asking price, not too shabby for a smallish (well, technically, "mid-sized") sedan. So presumably everybody's happy: the dealer got some money, some of which went to the salesman, and I got a car I can live with, without completely destroying my budget. Kelley doesn't think I got gypped, and neither do I. Still, when it comes time to put Molly out to pasture, I hope the handful of "no-haggle" dealerships has grown to a full-fledged throng or that Saturn has finally brought out a new model I like. The thought of having to go through this again some time in the next twenty years makes me cringe.

The Vent

8 September 1998

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 Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill