Let’s Talk About Listening

We often hear about communication and how important it is. There are some places, however, where communication does not seem to matter. I had to take my car in for service today, and I observed something that really got me to wondering.

I drive a 2001 Kia Sportage. It’s a decent toy SUV, and I’ve enjoyed the 2 1/2 years I’ve had it. Lately I’ve noticed a rattling from the undercarriage that has gotten louder. Sometimes I wonder who is more annoying: me or the people with the bass set too loud on their car stereos. I think there should be a law that nobody should have to listen to your music in traffic. In any case, I finally broke down and called the Nissan dealer where I bought the car and booked an appointment for this morning. I worked late last week to flex the time in case the service took a while. It turned out to be a heat shield that was loose. It wasn’t even covered by my so called "bumper to bumper" warranty, but the job took less than a half hour so they only charged me $44.

I’ve never been one to sit around waiting rooms. I noticed the dealership had 3 desks set up with a network jack labled "High speed internet access". Had I known that, I would have brought my laptop and a network cable, but I didn’t know that. They didn’t provide wireless, or else I could have surfed with my Pocket PC. I figured rather than watch whatever ABC calls their morning show on the waiting room TV, I’d walk around the showroom. It was raining all morning, so I couldn’t walk around the lot. A salesman asked if he could help me. I told him I was waiting for service, but my wife and I had talked about trading the Kia in for something bigger. I had very tight and specific requirements, but if he was willing to listen I’d talk. Why I have not learned that car salesman CAN’T listen, I don’t know. I shared with him what we were thinking about. My wife and I typically buy a used car. She likes lower mileage. When we bought that Kia, we bought it because it was about 3 years old and only had 21000 miles on it. It was a very good price and everything worked out. In fact, our payment is about $170 a month. We’re comfortable with that. We live on a single income so my wife can be home with the kids, and our other car is long since paid for.

I told the dealer what I was looking for and what we had to work with.

  • 4 wheel drive- we like that in the winter and in very bad rain. It’s come in handy. It also helps the car hold it’s value.
  • Seating- we have two small children, and so the back seat in the Kia is taken up by two child seats. If we have another child or we want to take somebody else out with us, we can’t use the Kia.
  • Payments under $200.
  • About all the downpayment we have is the equity in the Kia.

Now at this point, if the car salesman were "honest", he should have just laughed at me and told me to get lost. I would have. We’ve been watching used Dodge Durangos, and there are just getting to the price range where we could trade the Kia in and keep our payments at the same level. We’ll wait a while though. Rather than laugh at me, the salesman handed me an umbrella and we walked out to the used car lot that they have across the road. He pointed out a few cars like the Tahoe (like that would fit our price range) and mentioned a Hummer they have coming in today. He also asked if I’d be interested in a lease, to which I said "no". Several years ago, a Navy buddy of mine and I were talking about a friend who entered into a really screwy lease. I was asked to come up with an acronym for LEASE, to which I thought a few seconds and came back with "Losers Easily Are Sucked into Extra payments". After we got back in the showroom, he went in the back and came out and said they have an Xterra that might work. He took my keys to have my car appraised and we went for a test drive in the Xterra. He kept saying that he could see me in that car and could see me going home in it. I think they teach them that in car sales school.

After we got back, he went to work out the finances. After carefully explaining my requirements, do you think the dealership came back in the ballpark? Do you think I drove an Xterra to work today rather than my Sportage?

Here is what they came back with:

  • They’ll pay off the Kia
  • They’ll drop the price of the Xterra from $17something thousand to $16 something thousand.
  • I put down $1800.
  • Payments at $409 for 60 months or $399 for 72 months.

The Xterra was a 2002 with a stick shift. It was a very nice ride. The dealer also told me that it had a 4.0 and got 21 to 28 MPG.  A friend of mine has an Xterra. I remembered him telling me that he wished the 4.0 liter engine was available when he bought his, but it didn’t come out until another model year. I didn’t know what year he bought his car though. I asked him later and found out he has a 2002. He also reports gas mileage of nowhere near the dealer’s reported mileage.

So what do you think I did? Find out in part II.

Just kidding. If I thought I had enough regular readers, maybe I’d keep you in suspense and do a part II, but I won’t. I politely declined, reminded him that my family is on a single income and we would prefer to keep our payment lower.

Now I am not disparaging their efforts to work out a deal. I thought that this was a very good deal and if I’d had more to work with I would gladly have accepted it. However, I listed my requirements and they can be compared with this offer. When we bought the Kia, the experience was very positive and this dealership did a very good job, which was why I was willing to purchase another car from them.

I’m not sure why car dealers do that. I would much rather be laughed at and told to get off of the property than spend an hour test driving and being told that a deal can be worked out along the lines of what I’m looking for when even I know that it can’t. I pretty much figured that was how it would end up, but I did have a slight spirit of optimism despite my past car dealer experiences. I guess it has been demonstrated that no matter how much the customer lowballs the dealer, after the test drive the customer will find a way to make a $400 a month payment when he originally said he could only do $200.

I decided a long time ago that a car is nothing more than an appliance. It’s a very nice appliance, but many of us treat our cars like an extension of our personalities. I realized that it’s just a $20000 toaster, and I treat it accordingly. As cool as the Xterra was, I walked away and drove my Sportage home. I can enjoy it once again without that darn rattle.

As an anecdote, here are a couple of my worst car dealer experiences:

  1. When I was 21, I found out I was promoted to E-5. I decided for some reason that I should get a new car, even though the truck that I had at the time was going to be paid off in 6 months.  I went to a Mazda dealer outside the base to look at the ’95 Protege. I told the salesman I’d only do it if the payments could be kept where my truck payments were, which was around $170 a month. He kept telling me it was no problem at all. Later, in the finance manager’s office, I was told the payments would be $350. Why did the salesman tell me over and over again that it would be no problem? I couldn’t afford that, but out of pride I ended up buying a ’93 MX3, which I drove for 10 years until the moonroof seal started to go and the fuel pump went. That car served me well for a decade. I always said that I couldn’t have been screwed into a better car.
  2. A few years ago, my wife and I bought a 1999 Ford Windstar from a dealer. When we got home, we were looking at their website and we saw a Windstar that looked just like ours listed for $2000 less than what we paid. I printed the page and ran outside to check the VIN, and sure enough, it was the same car. The dealer said that a 3rd party manages their website and they can’t be held responsible for false information. Sure. That Windstar didn’t last too long, and we ended up trading it in for the Kia that I drive now. (That dealer, Cherry Hill Subaru, is no longer in business. Serves you right!).



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