How To Buy A Car…And Retain Your Dignity

Years ago I had an office in the old library building in Wayne, PA. The guy in the next office, Ben, worked for the Ford Motor Company as coordinator between dealerships in the area. He had worked for Ford since getting out of the Navy after the Korean War. He had great stories about Ford, including Allentown’s Lee Iacocca and the origin of the Mustang (according to Ben, Iacocco needed a quick answer to Chevy’s Corvette, so he told his designers to put a sporty new body on the Ford Falcon and – Presto! – an American icon).

Ben also told me why people don’t trust car dealers. 

During WWII, American automobile plants became war machine plants – making tanks, Jeeps, airplanes, etc., instead of cars. After the war, there was pent up demand for new cars. According to Ben, until supply began to catch up to demand, a buyer might go into a dealership and make a deal for a car for delivery several weeks or months later. When it came time to pick up the new car, the dealer would have either sold the car to someone else for a higher price or simply demand more money. 

Haggling over the price of a car continues to this day, with a few exceptions. Saturn (before GM and unions throttled it) offered a fixed price for new cars, as did the original Prius and now Tesla. CarMax and others do the same with used cars. But haggling is still the rule.

If you like combat, buying a new car is nirvana. If you don’t, it’s like getting a tooth pulled in slow motion. Last week, it was my tooth… uh, turn.

Here’s what I learned:

Don’t read Consumer Reportsor Motor Trendor Car And Driveror any of the other magazines that review cars. They get very detailed about everything from mileage to interior space to engine details. Too much detail can kill the fun. I read one article on Honda CRV’s that compared something called a CVT to a normal transmission. 

CVT, CVS, CBS …who cares?  

If you want to actually drive several cars before deciding on which one to buy, don’t tell anyone. Especially the sales manager. 

I test-drove a Hyundai in Downingtown, PA. When I asked the salesman for a brochure, he said he’d ask his manager.  About ten minutes later a somewhat annoyed guy sat down in front of me, said he was the manager and, instead of giving me a brochure, said,  “What do I have to do to sell you a car today!?” 

I decided to be honest: “Actually, I’m not buying a car today. I just wanted to drive one.” 

That’s when one of us decided I should leave. Without a brochure.

Do join Costco or AAA. They have negotiated bottom line prices with a variety of dealerships, so you just have to tell the dealer you’re a member to skip several days of negotiations.

Do compare prices with nearby dealerships, but don’t confuse Wilmington DE with Wilmington, NC.  That would be very stupid. 

Don’t get upset when you agree on a price with the salesman and he takes you to the “Finance Manager”, who is really just another salesman, who says he’s videoing you and spends the next hour trying to sell you a whole bunch of extras, from warrantees to floor mats. Then, when you decline, he refuses to close on the car until you sign a legal document saying you don’t want any extras.  

Remember, he’s just trying to be helpful, kind of like high school, when your teacher described the benefits of memorizing the periodic table.

Don’t read the manual before you start driving your new car. Americans are known for not reading directions until all else fails, so you have a legacy to uphold. If the new car is more computer than car, just ask your kids how to turn on the engine, radio, navigation system, and parking break. Everything else can wait until you’ve mastered your smart TV.

And most important, don’t tell anyone how much you paid for your car. Ever. They’ll just laugh at you.

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What’s Wrong With Birthdays

I used to love birthdays.  Particularly my kids’ birthdays. They were so cute. And they were so happy with things like balloons and candy – easy stuff.

As kids grow into teenagers and adults, the special nature of birthdays evolves. My kids became more discriminating as they grew. Shrieks of glee and laughter now required more than balloons and candy. They required things like preparation and thought. 

That’s OK, because I was always up to the task. At least in my mind.

My kids developed adult judgment at a reasonably early age – kindergarten, I think.  That’s the first time I saw eye rolls from them or heard the term “Dad Jokes”. 

What most kids don’t know is that growing up or “maturing” is an ongoing process. Some people call it “gaining wisdom”, but, really, it’s just growing up. 

Breaking news, kids!  You’ll never completely mature. You’ll just get better at faking it.  

My biggest advance in that area came last week at the twins’ birthday party, when I realized most kids survive their parents’ immaturities very well. In fact, that’s what I told the twins – “You guys survived your upbringing really well!” 

Well, no. To be honest, I said that to my grandchildren. 

When my kids complain about their upbringing, I bring up baseball or tell Dad Jokes. If that fails, I bring up politics. Works every time. (And you thought only politicians knew that trick.)  

Aging is different than maturing. Aging is when you can’t hit the golf ball as far, when you stop recognizing the movie stars on the late night shows, when the answer to a trivia game was an everyday staple of your youth. 

Aging is when the “old days” were your heydays.

I’m not there yet. That is, I am not aging, despite what my doctor, my neighbors, or my kids say. And there’s a good reason for that: I don’t want to. 

Why age, when you don’t have to? It’s a choice, not a requirement.

Now, I’m not suggesting people past their prime try out for the NFL or join the Navy Seals. But I am suggesting you can walk around the block a few times instead of around the living room. 

And you can change some of the basics of life. For example, a few years ago, I stopped celebrating my birthday the old fashioned way. 

Instead of adding a year at each birthday, I subtract a year. Last year I was a year older than I am this year. And the year before I was two years older. 

I can hardly wait until next year.

And with each year, I get two benefits: I feel more energetic and I have an excuse for doing stupid things: I’m younger and we all know how stupid younger people are.

Now, I do occasionally meet resistance. The receptionist at my doctor’s office is getting suspicious, so this year she asked me, not how old I am, but what year I was born. Fortunately I quickly did the math, and she dutifully changed her records.

I do not want to lose Medicare, though, so next year I’m going to tell her I have a special dispensation from the government. On account of my unique medical condition of I’m part of a hush-hush government research project, code name: Button Benjamin. 

I’m not worried about my social security payments – I’m just a nine-digit number to them and they to me.

My high school classmates are so decrepit, they haven’t noticed that I’m attending reunions for the younger classes; I tell the younger ones I transferred into their class my senior year, but it’s OK if they don’t remember me right away.

My college classmates are not as easily fooled. But they’re very nice. They just put an arm around my shoulder and tell me I’m doing fine.

The dog doesn’t care how old I am as long as he gets his walks and his treats and can sit at my feet while I watch old reruns on TV. That’s what I like about my dog. He never judges.

As you can see, getting a year younger every birthday works quite well.

What’s wrong with birthdays? Nothing. 

Next week: the difference between senility and dementia… if I can remember.

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