Dealers Can Fight It, But The Way We Buy Cars Is Changing

I can walk into any electronics store and buy a new freakishly large super hi-def and razor-thin LED television set with super hi-def surround sound audio just as quick and painless as if I were buying new underwear. I can just grab what I want, throw down the paper or plastic and maybe sign a thing or two, and I'm out the door in less than fifteen minutes.

However, the difference is that, unlike a new pair of bloomers, a new massive TV set isn't exactly a minor purchase. While you aren't likely to finance it on 84 months, if you want a good one you're still going to spend a few hundred of your hard-earned dollars. And I could substitute the TV for a cell phone, an iPod, a laptop, a living room sofa, expensive jewelery, a high end American guitar, and nothing would change in comparison to that pack of skivvies — most of those things still cost more than your typical bi-weekly paycheck and yet you can drag one home way quicker than what it took to earn the money you needed to buy it.

I wish I could say purchasing a car from a dealership is as easy. But the simple truth is it isn't. And I can think of a million other things I'd rather do instead of going through the motions to take a new car home from one. For example, I'd rather have my next-door neighbor give me an impromptu castration with a pair of old garden shears. I'd rather slow dance in a salmon costume with a grizzly bear. I'd even rather have dinner with Fred Phelps.

Visiting a dealer is about as pleasant as riding a rusty roller coaster that collapses in on itself right near the end as the person seated behind you stabs you in the head with a hunting knife. And despite countless promises to the contrary by dealerships across the Union, the experience doesn't waffle much.

You show up to the lot greeted by a salesman who's an overdressed watery-eyed optimist that always jerks you around on the price because the sales manager he keeps running to is an undiagnosed sociopath, and then when they're done raking you over the coals, they turn you over to the finance guy who's a closet rapist. It's really no wonder that Congressmen and car salesmen have roughly equal public approval ratings.

Now I'm sure some of you out there are probably already saying to yourself, "That's all crap, buddy. Every time I buy a car, I go in there armed to the teeth with numbers and math, and I know how to stack the deck in my favor on a deal. There's a little extra work, but it's not the nightmare you're making it out to be. It's pretty easy and I've found the salesman is always willing to work for me." Ha, yeah. Alright.

If there is one thing a dealership is good at, it's taking buyers from all walks of life to the cleaners hand over fist. You can be strong, confident and mature or a total meathead in his early twenties who doesn't know the difference between a LSD and LSD. It doesn't matter. They're going to "talk numbers"with you just the same. If you do play hardball, they'll just put on a big show to make you feel better by letting someone scribble a load of chickenshit on a piece of paper, all the while telling you they moved the moons of Neptune to make this deal happen "just for you."

They're not making a deal happen for you. They'll just pick up whatever money they were shaving out of the asking price by charging you a few hundred bucks for doc fees, prep services, and so on when they send you to the finance guy. And before you say that's where you should skirt the middle man, both you and I know that almost everyone is going to wind up financing through the dealer anyway and will be eager to get everything over with at that point, so why waste air?

I've also left trading in your old car out of the equation there, too. If you're trading in or trading up, my best advice to you is to show up on the dealer's tarmac bent over the hood with your pants already around your ankles. Sitting up a huge neon sign with an arrow that reads "COME ON IN" wouldn't hurt, either.

The whole process plainly sucks and it's in need of permanent reform. Something has to come along and uproot the established order once and for all. But the real question is will the winds of change finally blow into town?

It isn't like reform hasn't tried to happen. During the '90s, both Circuit City and General Motors experimented with way we buy cars with CarMax and Saturn dealerships respectively. They both kept prices flat, which was supposed to keep haggling pretty much out of the equation. GM also decided to put Saturn's salespeople on a salary instead of paying them commission, which theoretically kept pressure on the buyer low. Even better, Saturn dealers also had a full 30 day or 1,500 mile return policy that gave unhappy buyers a full refund.

It was a step in the right direction, but neither CarMax nor Saturn dealers managed to really shake things up when the smoke cleared. When Saturn folded, GM's other brands didn't implement the buying process nor refund policy at their dealerships. CarMax, I think, has turned out to be mostly a bunch of hot air. Buying a car from them doesn't seem like it's much better than going to Hometown Stealership, and the fact they corral their cars in like unruly livestock on an Iowa dirt farm is annoying.

It's worth mentioning that Toyota's Scion division sort of adopted Saturn's no-haggle pricing strategy, and Toyota's iFi financing plan is certainly better than going the buy-here-pay-here route if you have the budget but a credit score worse than Greece. But, again, I don't see Toyota and Scion's approach being widely accepted.

So they all ultimately fell short. But fear not, real change is finally on the horizon. Texas and New Jersey's money-grubbing backwater politicians may have succeeded in delaying the inevitable (with no thanks to a bunch of sissies who own dealerships), but Tesla's method of manufacturer-direct sales will certainly put an end to all of the bickering about pricing, which means more sociopaths will be out of work. You can finally just pay one price for a new car the same as you would an iPhone or a Macbook from the Apple Store.

Speaking of iPhones, thanks to Citroen — out of all the manufacturers out there — it's likely you'll be able to buy your car like you would a smartphone from an AT&T retailer in the near future too. When the adorably batshit C4 Cactus cute-ute hits showrooms, our friends in Europe will be able to buy one either on a pay-as-you-go setup or for one flat monthly rate on a three year contract that includes the cost of the car, insurance, and maintenance. How painless is that? If it's successful overseas, don't be surprised if an automaker Stateside (cough, probably Tesla, cough) gives it a try. Say farewell to that rapist in financing and say so long to leasing.

It's going to be nice. I'll always love cars more than I do my boxers, but soon I'll be able to say I like buying a new car just as much as I like buying new underwear. Besides, I never really wanted to wear a salmon suit or have dinner with Fred anyway.


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