Roger Marolt: The Devil wears a nametag
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we live in Paradise, but occasionally we must head to the dealership to buy a car and then we are convinced otherwise. It is a unique type of punishment, a cruel joke of Queen Necessity even, that draws us to the confinement of a salesperson’s desk for the torturous wasting of a day required to obtain the freedom of personal transportation. It’s like enduring a four-stage herbal cleanse in order to enjoy an ice cream cone now and then with a clean conscience.
I have been thinking about buying a Toyota 4Runner for some time. It is a young persons’ vehicle and, thus, irresistible to a boomer like me. It epitomizes my self-image — a scaler of mountains, tough as a box of rivets, strong as a shot of whiskey, lithe as a yogi, wholly immune to undercarriage rust.
The problem is I am cheap and the 4Runner is not, and so I have done more thinking than buying. Then fate intervened to render my parsimony impotent against the enticing aroma of noxious chemicals, declared possibly carcinogenic by the state of California, outgassing inside a new automobile.
It was a hot day in Texas visiting my mother-in-law with my wife’s Honda in desperate need of an oil change. I took it to the local Toyota dealership, which only makes sense in an alternate universe. While waiting, I strolled the lot, baking asphalt softening the soles of my Adidas so it felt as close as I will come to know the feeling of trodding fresh lava.
I know the Glenwood dealership can’t keep 4Runners on their lot. The best they could do is a slot on the list for delivery in late September. But, in Midland, they had 10 lined up collecting West Texas dust on their hoods. It was Saturday morning and I was alone on the lot. Both good signs of a bad local oil and gas economy.
A salesperson appeared like a mirage. We took a test ride, which is the setup for the real ride they hope to take you for later. I made an offer for $6,000 less than the sticker asked. He rolled his eyes, took it to his manager, and rejected it, but invited me to talk things over. As fixing my mother-in-law’s grill was on my to-do list and buying a car wasn’t, I begged my leave.
I stopped at Taco Villa for lunch while mentally prepping for my chores. Dreams of a new car danced nowhere near my head; I couldn’t hear the drumbeat. The waltz around the lot had been time-wasting anesthesia, blocking the pain of aimlessly fiddling with my phone in the waiting room as the alternative.
Around 4 my phone buzzed against the spare screws and washers in my pocket, my hands tangled in the new gas regulator line on the grill. Who the hell can this be? I ignored it. Then came a text, at which nobody has willpower enough to resist a glance. “Are you serious about your offer?”
Yes, I pecked, but that is my price, out the door, no extra charges for dealer handling, clearcoat protectant, document prep, or floor mats. So assured, I woke my wife from a nap and headed for the car dealer maze of jumbled numbers, every escape route cordoned with red tape and piles of BS.
I prepared for the worst and was justly rewarded. The deal is in the details, my job was to find it. They let you stew at the sales desk while they talk baseball with the “manager” in his glass office, taking more time than drafting the Treaty of Versailles. Eventually they produce the sales contract. The first line contains the price you agreed to, below that are many numbers randomly combined, seemingly pulled from the lotto tumbler. It is one time you wish for your accountant and attorney on the clock flanking you.
It is like a sudoku puzzle. I went up and down, side to side, over and over again. I knew their job was to screw me. I squinted. I stood up. I stretched. I took deep breaths. It was in there somewhere and I was in this for the long haul. Then, there it was: “Dealer Inventory Tax”! What the…? It was a $1,700 tax they more or less made up. Hours later, after bouts of theatrical shouting and pen throwing for effect, I drove off in my new car. All’s well that begins with low expectations.
Roger Marolt knows the best plans are laid to waste at car dealerships so he has learned to make none when he must go. Email at email@example.com.