In these days of joblessness, I’m not paying much attention to the dates on the calendar. I was shocked a little bit (though only a little) when someone mentioned to me Sunday night that the next day was Columbus Day, America’s most ignored holiday (but good luck finding a bank that’s open). Well, Columbus Day weekend, whether I ever have it off again ever, is always going to be remembered for one specific thing by me.
Keep in mind that its been two years, including a leap year, since the following events took place, so I thought that today, October 13, 2009, was the two-year anniversary of my day with Jeff the Car Salesman–but it turns out that these things actually happened on October 6-8, 2007, not October 13-15 as I had thought. REGARDLESS! If you’re reading this and don’t know this story, you’re in for a treat. For all intents and purposes, this is just a copy-and-paste re-post of the story I placed here in April 2008. The exception is that I’ve edited it to make the story flow better (and I’ve kept it all in past-tense this time, instead of both past- and present-tense as it was before; now you may read it and relax that it is grammatically correct) So without further ado (get comfortable), I give you, 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 – Columbus Day weekend – I began my car search. I started by driving up to Shoreline on Aurora 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. This 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 only rationalized what they were telling me, which is that I’m stuck with a car that will cost $6000 or less, or $11,000 or more. I had not messed with my budget that morning to see how much of a monthly payment I could handle–but I did know, without doubt, that financing anything over $4000 was too much. This “rationalization” was not actually my only option. A little creative thinking and I could have been back in that range I wanted, and I would do just that in a few hours, but know that at this point this is how I was approaching my car search.
I looked at what Enterprise had available 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 Aurora, 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 with which to replace it, 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. I glanced around me and saw one corner of this small used lot at which I had not yet looked. I debated turning around and getting back in the truck that Al Gray lent me for the week, and leaving . . . but 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?”
Okay – I need to interrupt. As mature as I like to think I am, sometimes I find myself in situations that make me feel like I’m alone and awkward again, like I was in middle school and high school, and that boy comes out and lies about things in order to not appear out of place. So, I answered Jeff.
“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 continued 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 there’s some scratches on it and the grill on the front is somewhat busted. 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 either yes or no. I must have said, “yes,” though, because he got some keys and we took it out.
During this test drive, Jeff made small talk. “Are you originally from Seattle?”
“Where are you from?”
“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. While I’m, of course, not ashamed of my faith, nor do I ever hide this fact about myself, in high-pressure sales situations like this was about to be, it’s not in my best interest for him to know this.
We got back to the dealership. “So, how about you come inside and we draw up some numbers?”
Well, I liked the car. It drove just like my Concorde. Since I didn’t know how big of payments I could handle, it made 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 was doable.
So, yes, Jeff. I’ll come inside.
We sat 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 do remember it wasn’t UW. I fill out a form that allows him to run my credit and he said he’d be back in about five minutes. Well . . . he was gone for 15-20. I didn’t leave, though. I’ve thought about why a lot since then, and I’ve only been able to conclude that I’m the kind of person who will not leave a conversation unless it is understood between all parties involved that the conversation was over. Of course, there’s the other factor of this, which is that I felt as if Jeff was in control of the whole situation and I had to follow his lead; as you’ll continue to see, I was not at my most assertive that day. (And yes, I really did want to see if I could afford that car, too.) I sat 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 pulled up outside in a black 2005 Dodge Stratus.
Back inside, he sat back down across from me and showed me my credit report. Upon seeing it I felt very proud of my median score of 777, then thought about how cool Stryper was, made 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 I turned my attention back to Jeff.
The prices for the Sebring per month were somewhere in the mid $200’s, depending on the amortization. I knew that was way to much, but I still didn’t know how much “enough” would be, so I told him I had to leave to figure this out. Well, without transition, he started the pitch on this black Stratus he had pulled into my line of sight. It was virtually the same car, but with the Dodge name on it so it’s cheaper! Oh, also it’s a 4 cylinder rather than a V-6, and had less features. But they looked similar. Oh, and I could tell from less than ten feet away that it was covered in scratches. He pushed and pushed for me to test drive this one, too, so I did. When we come back, we went back inside to “look at some more numbers.”
The rates he showed me weren’t much better (I think the lowest one was like $195 a month, even though the car was around $2000 cheaper). I stayed quiet after each of his suggestions to not lead him into thinking that I was interested, but he took my silence as a challenge to keep trying. Eventually I realized that sitting there was doing neither of us any good, since I didn’t know my numbers to begin with, but every time I’d mention that I needed to find out what I could afford for sure, he’d drop the price or propose some other course of action. (Now, as he continued to pitch, I begain to realize a more creative way to use the money I had to get back into the price range I originally had; I’ll spare you the boring details, but just know that I’m back up to a $10,000 limit).
So I kept saying nothing except, “I need to go home to go over my budget,” and he kept dropping the price. I didn’t become interested until he said he’d see if he can get me the car for $10,000 at $150 a month. After a few seconds of thinking, I decide that if that price could be attained, I’d get it. Ten thousand dollars 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 kept me waiting another 30 minutes, and in the meantime I called my roommate and had him look up stuff about this car online, on which he reports mediocre reviews. As I talked to him, I also did 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. I also called my dad, who opened his Consumer Reports booklet and found the same things my roommate did. Finally, Jeff returned to the desk with a solemn smile on his face, “We’re a ways away.” In the same breath he started 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. Forty dollars was one week’s gas money for my Concorde, so actually it is a LOT more a month, Jeff.
I told him again that I had to go home to check my budget. “Here!” He flipped 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 under his pressure that I actually attempted this for a few seconds, and then felt BAD that I couldn’t do it. However, my budget was pretty detailed; ask someone who’s seen it. There was no way I could do it from memory with pen and paper.
To my surprise, he didn’t pressure me to keep writing out my budget, he just went right back to dropping the price, though not as much as he did before. My full collapse under pressure at this point was imminent, and I begin to be trapped in the mind-set that I have to take what I’m given this next time around. I had been sitting in that dealership for so long that I was starting to forget the world outside of it. I was forgetting that I could keep looking for other cars if I just walked away. I began to forget that I had, at that point, only looked at four cars. I completely forgot that I’m supposed to be the one in control, and that if I walk away he’s the one who loses. Forgot all of that. Plus, he started to add in his sob-story, “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 got the car down to $11,100 at $170 a month. I didn’t want it for that price. I didn’t even want that car, but remember the things I forgot . . . so he headed back to the back to talk to that “guy” with whom these salesmen are always talking, and I go back out to look at the car a bit closer again, and I just felt so sick about the whole situation. I looked at the scratches again, I looked at the scuffs, I looked at the large tear in the tire, and I went back inside and sat down. Again. Jeff returned and he was beaming, which meant he got the pricing he wanted. He sat 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 waited for me to sign. I couldn’t get that sour feeling out of my stomach, that I had lost and that was about to pay too much for a car I didn’t want. I sat and looked at the paperwork, then back out at the car, then back at the papers again. He saw 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 was already defeated. “Okay.”
So I signed the papers, and Jeff smiled from ear to ear and enthusiastically shook 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 squirrel-ified at that moment.
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 started to think about how I still wasn’t sure if I could even afford $170 a month. I thought about the possible repairs I might get stuck with on top of the cost of the car. I thought about the damaged tire. I was freaking out.
The 15 minutes that I was promised turned into 20, then 30, then 40. The longer I was away from Jeff’s high-pressure sales, the more rationale returned to me. I was kicking myself as I realized I could have just gotten up and left. I was so upset with myself for trying to not look like a buffoon for standing in a lot of $16,000 cars and only being able to afford $6000, instead of manning up and admitting I was in the wrong place. I was groaning on the inside because I had managed to forget that I had no intention of actually buying a car that day.
I had never done this before, and I had no idea how obligated I was. They were drawing up the papers for the financing. Did that mean I was stuck? Could I still walk? I had a sneaking suspicion that Jeff wouldn’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 when I finally remember God, and I prayed, “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!” Suddenly it crossed my mind to call someone who would know. 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 did I do? I walked back inside. sigh . . .
“Hey, Braden!” shouted Jeff as I walked back in the doors, “They’ve got everything ready, man. I’ll take you back there.” I tried to muster up the courage to say that I was walking, but I couldn’t. All that same lack of control I felt before was returning. Jeff led me back through a narrow hallway into a small office and sat me down across from a young man, probably younger than me, and introduced 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 guy slid in front of me. I didn’t know if I could do it with Jeff there, as it seemed he held some intimidation factor over me. I just knew if I said something in front of him, he’d play some words on me that would make me see “error” in my own decisions, and make me give in. Jeff wished me well and headed back out the sales floor to keep smarming. This new guy, significantly less imposing, 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 was obviously stunned, and a little worried, “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 got up and walked back through that narrow hallway, him ahead of me. He stepped 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, so 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. I tried to pull out of the lot, but the car in front of me wasn’t pulling onto Aurora. I got more and more nervous that I wasn’t going to make it, but finally the car turned. I pulled forward and had to wait for around six cars to pass by, and each second that ticked made me more and more anxious. Finally, traffic was clear enough and I 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. Well, during the nearly four (count them: FOUR) 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,” I responded, 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 3rd 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 because of Chris Columbus and all, so I spent it looking for cars again. While I stood in another lot on Aurora (but much smaller and much farther south), I received another phone call. I reached for my phone and started opening it out of reflex, and I knew before I looked who it was. I had my earpiece in, too, so I technically already had the phone to my ear. I was stuck.
“Bradeeeeeeen! Jeff here! How you doin?”
. . . and I hung up.
Not one minute later I get a call again. From the same number. I didn’t answer that time, but I listened to the voice mail shortly after.
Please note that this is verbatim, as 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 [sic]. 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 somehow been a bad Christian. I felt that I’d just put a small seed out there for a bad reputation for Blue Sky Church. It continues to amaze me how he held that power in him to make me feel like I was the one in the wrong, no matter what. But within a day I was over it, and I’ve cherished this story since. I look forward to my next car purchase so that I am able to actually maintain the upper hand–but I can tell you for sure that I will not be going back to that dealership on Aurora again.
Good riddance, Jeff.