The alternate reality of buying a car

I’ve bought two cars in the past twenty years. Both were equally-traumatic experiences, probably because I’m not accustomed to haggling, know very little about the process of buying a car, and the wounds caused by salesmen who were dishonest by nature never healed.

This time, I decided that it’s not worth it to buy a new car, so I looked online for the model I want (a Honda CR-V for less than ten grand.

With the internet and all, it should be straight-forward. Do a search, narrow it to a car I like, go to the dealer, have the car looked at by a mechanic, pay, and drive away.

Man, was I WRONG.

Yesterday, as I approached the dealership I was greeted by half a dozen people standing outside. As I saw the group, all I could think about was that my daughter better never bring anyone looking like this home when she grows up. I realize that all generalizations are wrong, but this was just surreal and all rules are off.

They told me to ask for Carlos, who greeted us and introduced Henry, who would take care of us.

I asked him about the car I saw online for $8,940 and he confirmed that it was still available and then proceeded to ask for my personal information as he filled-out a form in his computer and then took my driver’s license to make a copy of it. He came back about five minutes later with a key. I think we sat there for about 20 minutes, as every time he got up he didn’t take less than 5 minutes to return.

We drove the car around for a bit, and even though there wasn’t any financing available for this one, he asked how much I wanted to finance and how much I wanted to pay per month. I told him that I don’t budget per month but per purchase and he didn’t push on.

When we got back to the dealership, he started scribbling numbers on a sheet of paper.


“What are these?” I asked.

695 is the prep fee, because we have to prepare the car.

595 is the internet fee, because we have to advertise the car.

198 is the window etching.

398 is the documentation fee.

176 is the motor vehicle fee.

Then there are the taxes (7%)

In other words, a car advertised for $8940 ended up costing about $2,500 more after everything’s said and done.

What irks me the most is that the internet fee and the “prep,” which is nothing but an obscenely-expensive car wash seemed so bogus. At least, unlike the last time I bought a car, they didn’t present the $200 window etching sum as some official-sounding fee. I, of course, refused that one and he took it off, but not the bullshit “prep” and “internet” fees. (I’m pretty sure that the other fees are also crap.)

Either way, since I liked the car and valued my serenity more than the satisfaction of telling this man what I really think of him and every other car salesman in the world, and because I figured I’d have to face the same crap regardless of where I go, I just swallowed hard and said that I’d think about it.

He said that since this is memorial weekend the car wouldn’t be available next week and I said OK, good for you.

He asked for a moment and came back with his just-as-sleazy-looking manager, who said that we could put down a deposit of as little as $200 and they’d keep it for us. I asked in three different ways if the deposit would be refundable and he said it would. I had him write it on the front of the contract and sign it. I also asked if I could take the car to a mechanic to have it checked and he also agreed, so I gave him my credit card.

Today, as the mechanic checked it, he balked when I told him how much I was going to pay for the car and he also found a number of problems with it.

When I returned to the dealership, I showed the report to Henry and told him that I wouldn’t be buying the car. He showed me another for about $19,000 (newer model, with warranty) and asked, again, in three different ways, what other fees they’d piggy-back on this one. I would end up paying about $21,000 for this one.

I told him that I’d think about it and in the meantime I want my $200 back.

“Today’s a Saturday, so the office is closed, but they will reverse the charge on Wednesday.” I could’ve been a hard-ass, but decided not to. I can always call citibank and refuse the charge (or so I hope). No point wasting energy on this.

We’ll see what happens. Especially because I can’t find the contract now. Don’t know if I misplaced it or, through sleigh of hand, he kept it.

The bottom line is that people need cars and all dealers act the same sleazy way. This is one industry I will never feel sorry for.


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