Monday, March 20, 2006

Would You Buy a Car From This Man?

I'm what car salesmen refer to, derisively, as a "stroker." I can be seen driving thru the lots or sitting in cars in the showrooms or taking an occasional test drive of the latest and greatest at my favorite dealerships on an almost weekly basis, both here at home or down in Kentucky. But I've not bought a new car in a couple years, and I've not bought something I care much about--that is, a car like I'm expressing weekly interest in--since 1999.

I wasn't always a stroker. Salespeople used to get dollar signs in their eyes when they saw me approaching, and with good reason. For a decade there I was replacing my wheels on about a 15-18 month rotation. But these days, as tends to happen, my priorities have shifted and I don't really have the luxury of throwing so much money away on depreciating a regular stream of new cars. So I've become a stroker. When the new salesman hears "airline pilot" in our introductory chat, I can tell that a lot of promise and indulgence flows from this by reflex, but over time even that promise begins to wear a little thin. So I've become the kind of guy they put a picture of in an invisible part of their cubicles under the heading "Beware! He Won't Buy."

Still, some of my local Appleton guys are indulgent of my proclivities and impotent passions, and a couple of them in particular have become first-name buddies from my regular visits. They're usually the ones who are car guys too, and they appreciate my love of an industry that produces this stuff, even if any personal profit on their part by way of my visits is clearly somewhere down the road. One of these guys, we'll call him "Bub," works at the local Toyota dealership (I'm most partial toward Honda & Toyota and have owned a dozen of these two brands without even counting the motorcycles) and, while not of the first rank of sales-buddies, we know each other. He's given me a couple of test drives over the years and we've had several other short chats; but I had not talked to him in a year.

Well, a month or so ago I paid this dealership a visit in the early evening, intent on looking closely at the new Avalon, and maybe even thinking about wrangling a test drive of same. Once inside, I was approached by an unfamiliar creature--let's call him "Skippy"--and the usual inquiries were made. Almost immediately I asked whether there was still a guy working here, "Bub or something like that--I can't remember his last name," and Skippy said, dismissively, "well, I think there's a 'Bub' in used cars, but..." His voice trailed off, while he gestured lazily toward the other building as though he were referring to a foreign country. Knowing that I was not buying a car this evening--after all, I am a stroker--I said fine, I was only looking anyway. He got a key and we walked outside across the lot to a line of shiny new Avalons.

Who should we meet along the way, but... Bub himself, who remembered my name and was clearly put in a bit of a lather by me and my latent promise running naked to the hungry arms of his upstart of a new coworker. "Hey, Bil, right?" (shaking hands) "Yeah, it's Bub! Hey, great to see you again!" he said. "If you get ready to do something be sure and look me up." After he was out of earshot, Skippy began to think differently about his response to my initial question. "Hey, I mean, if you guys, like, know each other and stuff, maybe you just ought to talk to him," he said, as though this were an original and spontaneous thought.

When Bub came back out, the Defense presented its case: "Just so you know," I said, "I did ask for you when I came in." "...Really..." he half-asked, incredulously. Turns out they had had some problems with this kind of poaching in the past and he was concerned since this was, after all, how he made his living; it's a commission job. Absolutely, I agreed. Well, you know the rest of this part of the story: we had a great test drive and discussion about pertinent matters, etc., etc. I went on my way with a positive experience and a fresh brochure in my grubby mitts. (By the way, the car rocks, even if it seems a bit staid. The objective performance of even family sedans has made quantum leaps in the past 20 years, but that's another post.)

Fast forward a month. My father-in-law calls yesterday and announces that he bought a new car last week--a Kia minivan (I was not consulted in advance...)--and he's going today to pick it up, and asking whether I, Car Guy, would like to go along. Of course I'm going along. So he picks me up and we drive over to the dealership with the requisite titles and cashier's checks and maintenance records and begin this transaction so well-known to me. And who should his sales person turn out to be but... Skippy. I didn't recognize him at first; I mean, I had never been to the Kia dealership before and, hell, he and I had spent all of two minutes together a month before (with, naturally, about 20 other car guys intervening since). But he looked funny at me and said he might remember me from the Toyota dealership. Still no light bulb for me, since I'd been in there a hundred times over the years (though I did think immediately about what a sad comedown for him to have been selling Toyotas at a pretty nice dealership and now to be selling Kias at this dirty little rathole). But gradually the fog lifted for me, helped by his odd sideways glances and the slightly inappropriate level of attention paid to me, the guy who was not driving any part of today's transaction.

It seems that Bub's discussion with his manager a month ago after our test drive had resulted in Skippy's ass getting fired! And now today he was faced with the unfortunate choice of 1) ripping on me for my role in him losing his job, or 2) not jeopardizing the sale of the day which would assist his paycheck. In the end, the paycheck won out and he reconciled himself to playing dumb, and the deal went off without any hitches that one did not expect at a Kia dealership.

This is today's lesson: Nature seeks equilibrium.

In other news, a different router brand has, as I hoped, fixed all issues and we are wireless. Cutting edge, circa 1995, but still.


BrianAlt said...

I went to go buy a new car this weekend. But they wouldn't give me shit for my 1993 Volvo 850. So I'll keep it, cause it still drives great and only has 82k on it!

wunelle said...

Volvos are funny. I had one a long time ago, a 1974 242. It had a stubby, sporty 4-speed shifter with a square knob and a gigantic, tractor-like steering wheel, and the mechanical fuel injection was so loud it sounded absolutely like a diesel. It was so slow it would have been faster to walk. But it would start easily in -40 degrees and would produce heat in 30 seconds.

But something was ALWAYS breaking: rear drive shaft universal joint (three times), heater blower motor (twice--and an almost unbelievable pain in the ass to get at & change), radio, lights, etc. I had a couple friends with them as well, and it seems they're either indestructible or, more frequently, they're CONSTANTLY on the fritz. If you got a good one, 82K is just getting broken in!

Esbee said...

I have never walked onto a dealer's lot without buying a car, and I've never spent more than an hour on a lot. I do my research, decide, then go. The poster with me on it would say, "Time is money. Waste her time, and she'll give you less money."

The last three cars we've bought from CarMax, and I cannot recomment them enough. I don't think I'll probably ever buy new-new again.

wunelle said...

This is my wife too. She does not like cars. They are a means to an end. To me this is like saying that music exists to provide backdrop to movies ;-)

I like new not because it's financially smart (it's obviously not) but because the latest design efforts are part of the interest; by the time today's most advanced models are available used, there is a newer version available and the clock starts over. Plus I hate having to rely on someone else's maintenance for however long.

But none of this, for me, is really very practical. It's just an unfortunately expensive hobby / passion. (At least I'm not obsessing about airplanes!)

Joshua said...

I love the sticker on the car behind him, "No Job? No Problem!"