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Test Drives for Him and Her

Posted on 02 September 2008

In their respective humiliation, they observed things that will be of interest to anyone currently in the market for an automobile.


Affecting an innocent, doe-eyed demeanor, and attempting to exude as much of a “rube” vibe as possible, I stepped into a certain foreign car dealership and, professing my automotive ignorance, announced that I was looking for a car. Within three seconds, I was approached by the sales manager who told me to “have a look around, take your time and come see me if you have any questions.” He then smiled and proceeded to follow me around the showroom like a starving dog. Other salesmen circled.

“You know,” one of them said. “There’s never been a better time to buy … we have a special on financing this month.”

These days, with “bottom line pricing” becoming more popular (dealers show what they paid for the car, and what they stand to make from it, virtually eliminating the haggling process), dealerships stand to make more on the financing of the car than they will on the car itself. The first thing the salesman mentioned to me was financing, before he even suggested a model. Then, he directed me to a clumsy looking convertible, his approving nod making me a party to some sort of understanding that all guys like convertibles, even those who live in cities in which winter seems to last forever.

Being the cautious and modest person I was supposed to be, I decided to test-drive a popular mid-range, mid-priced car with a V6 engine. The salesmen nodded to each other.

We walked out to the lot, and stopped at a white model that listed for $5,000 more than I had told him I was able to spend.

“Now what color are you interested in?” he asked.

“White’s fine.”

His eyes lit up. Now there was more on the line than a simple test-drive. He might even be able to sell me this car. After all, I did put myself forth as a bit of an uninformed pushover with $20,000 burning a hole in my pocket. He began to extol the virtues of a white car.

Once on the road, I shed my shy persona and commenced beating the car like a family mule. I floored it, weaving through Boston traffic, swerving, braking hard. At one point, while cresting a hill at 60 MPH I joked, “Whoa, feels like it’s going to come off the ground!” while the salesman furtively grabbed for the door handle. After fifteen minutes, he suggested we return the car to the lot.

Back in the dealership he stressed the virtues of the car: the V6 engine, suspension, brakes and whatnot, then went on to the safety features. He then looked me dead in the eye and asked:

“Now, what do I have to do to get you in this car today?”

“Sell it to me for $20?” I responded.

“Ha ha ha. No, seriously.”

“I am serious,” I said. “Well, actually, I want to take a look at some other makes and models before I make a decision.”

“I understand,” he said understandingly. “Well, Joe, I hope you’ll come back and see us, even if you decide on another car. It was a pleasure meeting you. Before you go though, let me introduce you to my manager.”

The soft sell wasn’t working, so now I was going to have to face King Rat — a balding, smirking, greasy character with an easy “I played-football-in-high-school-and-haven’t-done-anything-since” way about him.

“So which one did you drive?” he asked.

“The ____,” I said.

“Well, are you going to buy it?”

“Not right now, I haven’t looked at any other cars yet.”

“But you liked it, right?”

“Sure, but I have no frame of reference.”

“Well, you know what you should do? You should buy the car you like, get all the options you want, then let us help you pay for it.” He grinned at his coworkers, who nodded at me.

I shuddered, thanked everyone for their time, and went home to take a shower.


When Joe returned from his test-drive ready to submerge himself in a bath of cleansing soaps and oils, I was pretty nervous to wade into the same shark-infested dealership that very afternoon.

I walked into the showroom and eagerly looked at every model I happened to walk by, as the receptionist called one of the sales reps to the floor. He sat me down and asked about cylinders, power, doors and locks, and then proceeded to tell me a little bit about the variety of used cars they had on their lots.

I was a little surprised that he mentioned a used vehicle because I hadn’t explicitly said anything that would indicate that was what I’d been looking for. In fact, I’d dressed up in one of my favorite “young professional outfits” and had even opted to wear my black half-boots instead of my favorite work tennis shoes in order to present myself as a more “serious” buyer — the kind of buyer that would purchase a new car.

When I mentioned I was actually looking to buy a new car, I seemed to catch his interest just a bit more. So we checked out a couple of the new models on the floor, and he pointed out their various features: “Take a look at this neat cupholder! Check it out! You can put your glasses or garage-door opener here! Look at this — do you have children? Well, when you do, you can attach their car seats right on to that!”

He popped the hood — which surprised me since I expected to be talked right through this part — and took me through all of the safety features, telling me a little about the engine, and then cracking up when I asked where the oil was. (Remember, I was attempting to come off as a total naif.)

On the test drive, we chitchatted about everything from my bike to his children and really didn’t focus too much on the car itself.

It wasn’t until after we’d gotten lost and un-lost in the downtown area and were heading back towards the dealership that he started to ask about how much I intended to put down and how much I planned to pay a month. Now, I think that in doing research for the test drive, I’d punched up the online car-buying calculators one too many times and had a slightly skewed perception of how much somebody actually pays for a car. When I started speaking in numbers, he looked at me, shut his mouth, re-opened it and said, “Wow. Are you sure you don’t maybe want to go for a Beamer?” And I thought I was being conservative.

Back at the dealership, I watched as my salesman and his manager conferred for several minutes in hushed whispers before approaching me and telling me how much money I’d save in the long-run if I took the 3.9% interest rate financing package with the money I was willing to put down.

I walked out of the dealership car-free, but fairly certain of the fact that the salesman would become my new best friend. He wanted my number and my email and a timeline on when I’d be making my decision to that he could “follow-up.” While he encouraged me to certainly look around, he wanted to make sure that I would love my shopping experience with his dealership so much that I would go to him whenever I needed a car — now and forever.

While I was wary the entire time I was there, I certainly didn’t feel the need to go home and rub myself down with cleaning fluids. Sure, there was some pressure to make a decision fairly soon, but I didn’t feel like I had to beat anybody off with a stick.

I did, however, walk out feeling that those helpful online car-financing calculators should have disclaimers and warnings attached.

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