On my way to work this morning I remembered how frustrated and angry I was with a particular car salesman last Fall, and how I’m over it now but the story’s still great. So for all of us to enjoy, and for posterity, here is the story of Braden vs. Jeff the Car Salesman.
I wrecked my Chrysler Concorde on October 2, 2007. It was very sad. It was even more sad when I was informed that my insurance company declared it a total loss, even though the damage was slightly less than the value of the car (I think it’s if the damage is more than 70% of the value of the car, it’s totaled, and mine was something to the tune of 90-95%). It was a great car. It looked good, it ran great, it was roomy, full of awesome features and luxury things that a guy in his mid-twenties with my income doesn’t usually have. I was actually planning on driving it until the engine could not possibly carry it another mile, possibly another six to seven years or more. But I had to say goodbye and look for a new vehicle.
The following weekend – a three-day weekend – I began my car search. I started by driving up to Shoreline on 99 to the Enterprise Car Sales office. This place was suggested by one of my bosses, and it sounded appealing because the commission structure for their salesmen is something like $500 per sale, so their goal is to sell you a car that works, and not get you in the most expensive one they can. This was perfect for me because I crumble in high-pressure situations, especially sales situations, and I didn’t want to get taken. Since my total funds from the accident were going to be a little over $6000, I figured I could easily finance $2000-4000 and get a decent $8000-10,000 car. However, I was informed by the guys at Enterprise that when it comes to car loans from banks, they don’t like to do less than $5000 in financing. My brain is slow, so at that moment I realized I could only get a car for $6000. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of payments I could handle, but I did know that financing anything over $4000 was too much. This “realization” was an error in thought, and I will return it later, but know that at this point this is how I was approaching my car search.
I looked at what Enterprise had, and nothing was that impressive, neither in my old price range or my new price range. So I left with their business cards and positive impressions and drove south again on 99, towards home but stopping at the other various used lots on the way. One of these lots was a Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealership named Town and Country. Since I loved my Concorde so much, and was hoping to find another one or at least a decent Chrysler to replace it with, I stopped in. Their used lot was NOT priced for me. There wasn’t a single car under $16,000. I know that these places can come down in price, but with my negotiation skills I’m not expecting to get anything down to an affordable range, even my now-disregarded $10,000 range. So nothing in my immediate vicinity is affordable, and there’s one corner of this small used lot that I can still check out, or I can turn around and get back in the truck that Al Gray lent me for the week. Well, I made the fateful decision to check that corner . . . and as I was walking there I saw him coming towards me.
“Hi, there! My names Jeff!
“Hi, I’m Braden.”
“Hello, Braden. So, seeing anything you like?”
“Um, actually everything seems a little out of my range.”
“Well what’s your range?”
Here comes the first of a long string of people-pleasing Braden moves, where the grade-schooler in me comes out and I lie about things in order to not appear out of place. “Uh . . . I can’t really go over . . . $12,000.”
“Well there’s this one over here!” he said as he took me over to a dark grey Sebring. “It would have to come down a lot, but we can work something out.” The 2003 Sebring was priced at around $16,500.
I continue to try to play it cool rather than just dismiss interest and leave. I act like I’m giving the car a once-over, and notice that the grill on the front is somewhat busted, and there’s some scratches on it. Before I can say anything, Jeff speaks up again, “Would you like to drive it?” I can remember not wanting to, but I don’t remember saying no. So he got some keys and we took it out.
During this test drive, Jeff makes small talk. “Are you originally from Seattle?” “No.” “Where are you from?” “Illinois.” “Oh, really? Wow! What brought you out here?” “My church in Illinois started a new church here a little over three years ago, and I moved out here to be part of it.” “Ah, I see. <weird look> I’ve been going to the same church for about four years now, I like it . . . blah blah blah ” Great. Now he knows I’m a Christian. And a serious one, too, because the list of church-goers who would move across the nation for the sole purpose of joining a church is a bit short. Ask anyone who knows me today and they’ll tell you that I’m not ashamed of my faith, nor do I ever hide this fact about myself. But in high-pressure sales situations like this was about to be, it’s not in my best interest for him to know this.
We get back to the dealership. “So, how about you come inside and we draw up some numbers?”
Well, I like the car. I don’t know what I can afford, really. I think it makes sense to see what the payments on this thing would be, and then I can run that number into my budget at home and see if it’s doable. So, yes, Jeff. I’ll come inside.
We sit at his modern, open desk, decorated with family photos and pen cups and some paraphernalia for some college team that I can’t remember. I fill out a form that allows him to run my credit and he says he’ll be back in about five minutes. Well . . . he’s gone for 15-20. I didn’t leave because that would be rude. I guess I’m the kind of person who will not leave conversations unless it was understood between all parties involved that the conversation was over. Plus I wanted to see if I could afford this car. I’m sitting at his desk, looking out of the big glass display room, watching the Saturday traffic roll by, listening to the hustle and bustle behind me, hearing the humongous projection-screen television playing some football game about ten feet from me . . . and then Jeff pulls up outside in a black 2005 Dodge Stratus.
Back inside, he sits back down across from me and shows me my credit report. Upon seeing it I feel very proud of my median score of 777, and I then think about how cool Stryper was, make a mental note to get another report someday so I can figure out how many credit cards I’ve destroyed but never canceled, and then listened to Jeff.
The prices for the Sebring per month were somewhere in the mid $200’s, depending on the amortization. It’s about this time that I figure out how to afford a more expensive car. I’ll spare you the boring details on that, so just know that I know that I can, but I still didn’t know how much I could afford monthly. I keep saying I have to leave to figure this out, but he keeps pitching. Then, without transition, he starts the pitch on this black Stratus he had pulled up in. It’s virtually the same car, but with the Dodge name on it so it’s cheaper. Plus it’s a 4 cylinder rather than a V-6. And, though he didn’t say it, I can tell from less than ten feet away that it’s covered in scratches. He pushes and pushes for me to test drive this one, too, so I do. And we come back to “look at some more numbers.” The rates he shows me aren’t much better, and I keep trying to keep quiet to not lead him into thinking that I’m interested, but he takes my silence as a challenge to keep trying. I guess his interpretation makes more sense. I keep saying nothing, and he keeps dropping the price. I don’t become interested until he says he’ll see if he can get me the car for $10,000 at $150 a month. I decide that if that price can be done, I’ll get it. $10,000 for a two-and-a-half year old car with 27,000 miles on it? Tell me you wouldn’t if you could.
So he keeps me waiting another 30 minutes, and in the meantime I call my roommate and have him look up stuff about this car online, on which he reports mediocre reviews. I also do a closer inspection of the car and not only notice more scratches and scuffs, but one of the tires has a very significant tear in it. Finally, Jeff returns to the desk. “We’re a ways away.” In the same breath he starts showing me payments of $190 and saying the car will cost at $11,500. “Really, Braden, $40 isn’t all that much more a month.” Yeah, that’s what he said. No joke. $40 was one week’s gas money for my Concorde, so actually $40 is a lot more a month, Jeff. I kept saying that I had to go home to check my budget.
“Here!” He flips a piece of paper over in front of me and hands me the pen, “Do your budget right here. Write out your expenses. You make this much a month, how much is your rent? You spend, what, $100 on groceries a month?” The sad thing is that I was starting to crumble so badly that I actually attempted this for a few seconds. But my budget is pretty detailed. Ask someone who’s seen it. There’s no way I could do it from memory with pen and paper.
He kept dropping, though not as much as he did before. Since I am one to easily feel trapped in these high pressure situations, I begin to think that I have to take what I’m given. I begin to forget that I can keep looking if I just walk away. I begin to forget that I’ve, at this point, only looked at four cars. I stopped knowing that I’m supposed to be the one in control, and that if I walk away he’s the one who looses. Forgot all of that. Plus, he started to add in, “Hey, today is Saturday. It’s supposed to be our big money making day, and it’s been dead around here. It’s past 2 p.m. and we haven’t made a single deal yet. We’re desperate today so we’re willing to push the line to sell a car. You’re getting a steal on this thing. If we’d had a normal Saturday, we wouldn’t have dreamed of coming this low.”
Well there you have it. This pricing is a one time shot. I know because he just told me. I’m trapped, now.
Eventually he gets the car down to $11,100 at $170 a month. I don’t want it for that price. I don’t even want this car. But remember the things I forgot . . . so he heads back to the back to talk to that “guy” that these salesmen are always talking with, and I go back out to look at the car a bit closer again. I talk to my dad on the phone, and I just felt so sick to my stomach about the whole situation. Jeff returned and he was beaming, which meant he got the pricing he wanted. So he sets the papers and the pen in front of me–the pen and papers to authorize him to draw up the papers for the financing–and waits for me to sign. I can’t get this sour feeling out of my stomach, and he sees me hesitating, “it’s a good car, Braden.”
“It has a lot of scratches on it.”
“Well we haven’t even cleaned it up yet. Remember we just got it on the lot today and we hadn’t gotten it ready to be shown yet. We’ll get it washed and waxed and most of those will be buffed out.”
“I noticed one of the tires is in really rough shape.”
“Um . . . well, see . . . the thing is I’ve already come down in the price so much already, there’s really not much I can do about new tires.”
I’m already defeated. “Okay.”
So I sign the papers, and Jeff smiles from ear to ear and enthusiastically shakes my hand, “Great doing business with you, Braden. This will take about 15 minutes to get ready so go ahead and enjoy the game over there and I’ll come get you when it’s time! And you’d better get my name out there and send some referrals my way from that church of yours, okay?”
“Okay.” For the record that wouldn’t have been my response had I not been so belittled at that moment, and certainly wouldn’t have been my response after this last retreat. Eh? Anybody with me? Okay, moving on.
So I sat on the couch in front of the giant television and watched some game I didn’t care about and liked much less than I normally would have because I was not happy about my decision. I start to think about how I’m not even sure if I can afford $170 a month. I think about the possible repairs I might get stuck with on top of the cost of the car. I think about the damaged tire. I’m freaking out.
The 15 minutes that I was promised turned into 20, then 30, then 40. The longer I’m away from Jeff’s high-pressure sales, the more rationale returns to me. I’m kicking myself for not just leaving when I should have. I’m groaning at how upset I am with myself for trying to not look like a doofus for standing in a lot of $16,000 cars and only being able to afford $6000. I’m screaming on the inside because I had managed to forget that I had no intention of actually buying a car that day. I’ve never done this before, and I have no idea how obligated I am. They’re drawing up the papers for the financing. Does that mean I’m stuck? Can I still walk? I have a sneaking suspicion that Jeff won’t give me a straight answer if I were to ask him (besides, he was already smarming up a couple of new customers ten feet to my right). This is where I begin to remember God, and I prayed really hard, “Okay, I really need help with this! I don’t know if you can get me out of this, but I really screwed up and I let myself get walked on and I need a rescue!” And then suddenly it crossed my mind to call someone who would know. I call my friend Brandon, as he and his wife had just recently bought a couple of cars . . . but he didn’t answer. So I called my dad again and asked him.
“You’re not obligated at all until you drive off that lot, son. Actually, you technically have two days after you leave to change your mind, but that’s all a lot harder after you’ve signed the papers for the financing. If you haven’t signed the financing papers, then you can just leave.”
Great! Thanks, Dad! Thanks, God! So what do I do? I walk back inside.
“Hey, Braden!” shouted Jeff as I walked back in the doors. “They’ve got everything ready, man. I’ll take you back there.” I try to muster up the courage to say that I’m walking, but I can’t (remember my thing about not being able to end conversations unless everyone involved understands its ending? I’m getting over that now, but at that moment I was still unconsciously abiding by the rule). Jeff takes me back through a narrow hallway into a small office and sits me down across from a young man, probably younger than me, and introduces me. I can’t remember his name. I wasn’t listening. I was working on trying to figure out how to leave, and I knew I had to do it before I put my signature on that paper that this young cat slid in front of me. I didn’t know if I could do it with Jeff there. He held some intimidation factor over me. It was strange. Jeff wished me well and headed back out the sales floor to keep smarming. This new guy marked some lines for me to sign and initial. I took the pen in my hand, looked at the paper, and . . .
“Look, man. I got really high-pressured into this, but the truth is this is the fourth car I’ve seen on my first day looking, I’m not that happy with it, and I’m not even sure if I can afford this.”
The guy is obviously stunned. “Well, if you’d like I can go see if we can come down in the price some more.”
I didn’t want to explain to him that Jeff had “already come down as far as he can,” and frankly I didn’t care at that point. We walked back through this narrow hallway, him ahead of me, and he steps into a little booth area with a bunch of banking guys in it and I heard him say, “hey, do you guys think we could come down in the price some more for Mr. Boast?” His voice trailed off in my ears because as he talked to these bald guys in a glass office, I kept walking, right out the front door. I walked out in a way that it was right behind Jeff’s desk, and his back was to me. I knew that if he saw me leaving, he’d stop me, and I’d be at his mercy again. I walked as quickly to the truck as I could without making it look like I was running there, and drove out of the lot just in time to hear Jeff running behind me, “WAIT!!!”
The adrenaline rush that followed was like crack. Or at least I’d assume it was like crack. I’ve never done crack. Believe it or not. Well, during the nearly, count them, 4 hours I spent at that dealership, Enterprise had called me and left a message, letting me know that they’d come across a car that might fit my budget better. So I start heading back up there to see what they had. In the 5-10 minutes it took me to drive there, Jeff called me four times. He left a message the second time, and that message was nearly three minutes long. I got to Enterprise and shared my story with them, and they looked up the 2005 Dodge Stratus on Blue Book . . . and the Blue Book value for perfect condition was $11,500. Jeff went $400 under that and said it was the best deal possible. I asked for a minute to call Jeff back, as I felt it was an honest thing for me to actually speak with him. They obliged, and what I thought would be a 30-second, “Sorry, I’m not comfortable about this right now, if I change my mind I’ll let you know. Bye,” phone call actually went like this:
“Braden! What happened man? I thought we had a good, low-pressure thing going here! I’m telling you, you’re getting a good deal on this car, man. This is a steal! If it’s the scratches you’re worried about, we’re going to buff them out!”
“Sorry, Jeff, but I’m not comfortable about this right now, if I change my mind I’ll let you know. B–”
“Well, Braden, I can’t guarantee you that I’ll be able to get you the same price on a different day, man.”
“That’s fine.” And then the conversation from my end turned into the following:
“Uh-huh. Yeah. Jeff? Jeff. Jeff. Jeff. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Right, but– Jeff. Jeff. Jeff? JEFF! Jeff. No. Jeff. No. Jeff? No. Jeff? No. I have to go. I have to go. Jeff, I have to go. Jeff. Jeff. Jeff. No. Uh-huh. Jeff, I have to go. Jeff, I have to go. Jeff, I’m going. Jeff, bye. Jeff, bye. Jeff, bye. Bye. Bye. Okay, fine. Thank you. Bye.”
I finally get off the phone, talked with the Enterprise guys and yada yada yada not interesting I didn’t like the car they had and it’s not important.
Sunday. The next day. The Blue Sky Anniversary Party. The one we had in the auditorium because it rained on our first planned day and then on our rain day. While preparing sandwiches, I got a phone call and a voice mail. From Jeff.
“Hey, Bradeeeeeen! Jeff here at Townandcountrychryslerjeep, and I just got out of church myself [emphasis added] and I was looking over our deal here, and I think the key is that if we can save you just $500 that that will make all the difference, whether it be in the down payment or on the total cost of the car. [He then proceeded to redundantly repeat what he’d just said about $500 for about two minutes]. So I’ll be here for a few hours today, go ahead and give me a call! Bye!”
I did not call back.
The next day I had off from work, so I spent it looking for cars again. While I stood in a lot not far from D’CLAM, I received another phone call. I reached for my phone and started opening it before I could stop myself. I knew before I looked who it was.
“Bradeeeeeeen! Jeff here! How you doin?”
. . . and I hung up.
Not three minutes later I get a call again. From the same number. I don’t answer this time, but I listen to the voice mail shortly after. Please note that this is verbatim. I listened to this voice mail so many times I memorized it.
“Hey, Braden, this is Jeff. Look, I’m really sorry that you feel so bad about dealing with me that, as a Christian, you’d just hang up on me like that and not even give me the day of time. I really felt like I deserve better than that, but that’s okay. I hope you have a nice life and that you find the car you want. Okay? Thanks! Bye!”
To be honest, I felt like the world’s biggest heel. I felt like I’d misrepresented God’s Kingdom. I felt that I’d just put a small seed out there for a bad reputation for Blue Sky Church. But within a day I was over it. Good riddance, Jeff.