By ARTHUR VIDRO
Twice in my life I bought a used car.
Both times, there were no signs showing the prices. Instead, you had to ask. I suspect the answer would depend on how much money you had. I think it’s better if all customers get charged the same price for the same vehicle. (That’s why I loyally bought new from Saturn during its too-brief existence.)
My second used car purchase was in October 2018. The salesman asked me my price range. I told him how much I had saved up, and that was all I would spend. He nodded, smiled and tried to bump up my buying range, but I refused.
We settled on a car and price. Then he tried to steer me toward a financing plan. I have no idea if the plan was good, but it’s foolish to take a dealership’s word for how good its financing plans are. Instead, visit your bank, credit union, etc., and do the research. If you must borrow to buy, then take the time to investigate.
Yet car dealerships (excluding Saturn) pressure potential buyers into signing up for a purchase and a loan before he or she can head home and think it over.
As the agent typed data about me onto his computer, he casually asked for my Social Security number.
I answered that it wasn’t necessary, since I wasn’t asking for credit.
He replied he needed that number because otherwise they couldn’t run a credit check on me.
I stuck to my guns. “I’m not asking for credit, so why do you need to run a credit check?”
He again peddled the financing plans his dealership had access to.
I reminded him again I was not going to borrow money for the purchase, and added that if giving him my Social Security number was necessary to buy the car, then I’d rather not buy it.
He sold me the car anyway. The dealership made less money on me, because I didn’t finance any part of the purchase.
As unpleasant as the experience was, it was far nicer than my first used-car purchase.
In 1992, young, naive me visited a dealership along a bus route that ran past my apartment.
After I answered the salesman’s first question – “How much money you want to spend?” – he explained the pickings were slim. He showed me a 1987 Plymouth. But the car had no owner’s manual. I said I would need a manual, but the salesman dismissed my concern with fast patter about how I could easily arrange for a photocopy. (If it were so easy, why didn’t the salesman procure the manual?)
The salesman wanted me to sign the papers right then and there. I explained I didn’t have on me a checkbook or credit card or enough cash. He said the car might sell in the meantime – for someone else was interested in it, he said, though I doubt this was true. He created pressure to get money out of me as soon as possible.
I escaped by pointing out I had to catch the last bus of the evening to get home. I fled and thought about visiting other dealerships another day, but the notion of spending time with more salespeople soured my stomach.
On my return visit – I rode two buses there straight from work – I agreed to buy the Plymouth, even without the manual. Just to be done with the ordeal.
But it was suppertime; I was hungry and wanted to go home. The paperwork to buy the car would take time, and if I stuck around to deal with it, I would develop headaches or worse.
So I told the chap I’d make a down payment and return on Saturday, a much more convenient time for me to do the paperwork.
He practically begged me to stick around and finish the purchase.
Just to be nice, I complied. (Foolish me.) I asked him why it was so important I buy the car right away instead of the upcoming weekend.
“Because that’s next month,” he explained. “I need the commission for this month.”
He would make the same commission on my purchase no matter when I purchased it. Yet he pressured me solely to get his money in month A instead of month B.
But he appreciated my sacrifice. For as I was leaving in the Plymouth, he asked with concern how far away I lived. I told him three to four miles straight down the road.
“In that case,” he advised, “you might want to stop for gas on the way. You might not have enough to get home.”
Gee, what a sweet guy.
If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.