By now, long-time followers of this blog will have a pretty good sense of what I think of the dealership car buying experience. It’s pretty much a blood sport. At this point, though, I’ve had so many bouts in the ring (a.k.a. the salesman’s cubicle) that I’m starting to give as good as I get.

In my last post, I described the rationale for picking my target vehicle (a Ford Ranger) and settling on a dealership. The story picks up again as I drove one afternoon to Steele Ford in Halifax with the salesman’s over-the-phone assurance of:

  • The trade-in value of my Dodge (pending appraisal by the dealership)
  • The cash purchase price of the Ford Ranger (Based on the quoted amount on my trade, I was content at this point with the MSRP minus the $6K that Ford was discounting)
  • The extra spiff they were throwing in (a choice of three airfare+hotel vacations)

Upon arriving at the dealership, I sought out the salesman I had spoken with and asked him to get the most critical piece out of the way first: the appraisal. If they were going to bait-and-switch me, the trade-in value of the Dodge would be their first tack. (“Gee, sorry, Pierre. When we told you your truck was worth $20K on trade, we were assuming there’d be no surface rust on the trailer hitch. It’s actually worth $18,500.”)

Thus I politely explained that I didn’t want to talk about anything else until we’d firmed up their number. I handed the keys over  to the salesman and went to the waiting room to work on my laptop as they inspected the Dodge. When the salesman returned a half hour later, he confirmed the original offer for my trade. Great! This allowed us to proceed to the next step: drawing up the deal.

The salesman handed me off to the F&I guy for this part. We’ll call him Fred because I can’t remember his real name. I had come prepared with a spreadsheet on my laptop that included all the relevant numbers for the transaction including a/c tax, sales tax, trade value, vehicle price, etc. I let Fred punch the numbers into his system and then walk me through them. I made adjustments in my spreadsheet to make sure our numbers lined up. One thing I did not like at all was their “admin fee” of $399. Admin fees are to be expected in any dealer vehicle transaction, but they’re basically just a fancy name for profit. Four hundred bucks is a bit rich for filling out a few forms and trying to sell me an extended warranty and undercoating.

But, I thought, they’re throwing in a vacation to Vegas, or Cancun, or a cruise. Plus, they just offered me full wholesale value for a truck that probably needs new rotors all around and a front shock absorber and God-knows what else. Let’s just get on with it.

And so we did. At one point, one of the forms I had to sign was an acknowledgement that the vehicle was being received in good order with no kilometers on it. That’s when it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually seen the truck yet. “Can I have a look?” I asked.

You see, you should always inspect the merchandise. My father had told me the story of when he purchased a Ford truck in 1978, completing all the paperwork on what he thought was a new truck before finding out that the dealer had sold him a demo. Plus, sometimes inventory databases have incorrect information, and I wanted to ensure that the truck I was buying really was the one I wanted.

Anyway, Fred said,”Uh, sure,” and dialled the salesman’s extension. He spoke a bit, listened, then related that the truck was still being PDI’ed and it wasn’t quite ready for viewing yet.

“OK, I’ll wait.”

With that, I was asked to return to the waiting room so the guy could get some other stuff done. This was fine, because I had my laptop and I could get some work done, too. A few minutes into my various tasks, my mind started wandering to the vacation I’d soon be taking, and which one I’d choose. I walked back to the F&I guy’s office.

“Can you show me the details of this trip?” I asked. He hemmed and hawed and told me what his understanding of it was. “Right,” I said. “Do you have the paperwork?”

He picked up his phone and dialled another extension. A few minutes later, someone showed up with a brochure with a tear-off coupon on the back page. I thanked him and returned to my spot in the waiting room to read it.

Now, wouldn’t you just guess it, but what the brochure described was nothing at all like what I’d been told. First of all, the “vacation” was really just some hotel in Cancun. I had to send this company some money to cover taxes and admin fees and such, and then cover my own airfare to get to Cancun. At the time, the swine flu was taking Mexico by storm, so I was eagerly scanning the text to find mention of Vegas or the cruise. Oh, there it was: if I paid my way to Cancun and stayed in this unknown free hotel, a few months later I’d have the opportunity to pay more fees and taxes and THEN I had a choice of a Vegas trip or a Cruise.

This, of course, smelled of rancid tuna. I turned to my laptop, which, thankfully was on the waiting room WiFi, and Googled the company name on the brochure. The words “time-share” and “scam” were quite prominent on the first page of search results. Indeed, in Cancun, I would have had to sit in a 4-hour time-share presentation to get my coupons for the Vegas trip or cruise.

Back to the F&I guy’s office. “We need to renegotiate,” I stated flatly, showing him the brochure.

He sighed and dialled the salesman’s extension.

To be continued