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Buying a car

It was Saturday afternoon. One week had passed since we were married. While she went to work during the week I slowly settled into our new home and unpacked my few belongings, some of hers, and some household items I had purchased online from their boxes. We ate a simple lunch of delivery pizza while we set up the house and put things where they belonged. The kitchen was a mess and we didn’t even have a proper place to sit as we ate. She was standing against the counter by the stove and I sat on a plastic chair with the pizza in my lap, a measly napkin separating the cheese and grease from my jeans.

“So which car do you want?” I asked her.
“I haven’t thought about it. What do you think?”
“Well for starters, I’m not getting an SUV.” She was keen on SUVs back then.
“I don’t want one either, gas is too expensive these days.”
“Alright, let’s see then…I’m not getting a minivan either. We could get a nice coupe.”
“No, I want four doors. Two doors are a pain to get things and people in and out of.”
“What things and people would you be carrying?”
“I don’t know, but something always comes up. I had one before for a while and I didn’t like it.”
“Well what if I want one?”
Her response wasn’t in words but just a look. She let her shoulders down and hung her head sideways as if to say “Come on, work with me here.”

“How about a smart car?”
“Too small.”
“How about…” then I remembered the Scion wasn’t available in Canada.
“Let’s get an Acura,” she suggested.
“No I don’t like Acuras.”
“Audi?”
“No.”
“BMW?”
“No.”
She didn’t suggest again so I asked, “Next?”
“I don’t know what comes next alphabetically.”
I had to laugh. I wasn’t sure either but I said, “How about a Citroen C5?”
“What’s that?”
“I’m kidding. You can’t get that in North America anyway.”
“Alright, seriously. What do you want?”
“Let’s just get a Lexus. A hybrid one.”
“OK.”

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I read up on the car I was looking at during the day next day and on Monday evening we went to a dealership to have a look. There was a family walking around the showroom, and a couple examining the red SC coupe on display. We decided on the GSh because the LSh was too big for us.

“Good evening madam, sir.”
“Hey buddy, what’s up?” The salesman, a well-dressed gentleman with slightly graying hair of about 45, was taken aback at my change of tone in talking back to him. I was dressed down, in jeans and a sweatshirt. I don’t think he would have even taken me seriously were it not for my wife, who hadn’t changed out of her work clothes before we came.
“See anything you guys like?”
“Yeah, that.” I pointed to the GSh. It was the only GS they had on the floor; red, with every cosmetic option offered installed.

He proceeded to walk us around the car and tell us about it: “3.5L V6 hybrid engine producing 339hp, CVT transmission, traction control, SULEV certification, 18-inch wheels, etc…” Something had piqued my curiosity so I asked him.

“Why is it labeled 450h when it’s a 3.5-liter engine?”
He laughed, insinuating that I had thrown him a curveball. “Well sir, as you probably know these designations aren’t always dead on indicators of engine displacement, and that’s not just with Lexus. Our engineers felt that with the inclusion of the hybrid electric motor, the engine was effectively functioning at the performance of a 4.5L V8, which if you compare figures with engines of that size, is true.”
I wasn’t convinced or unconvinced but I admired his effort to give an answer with some detail (and not use some sales trick to talk his way out of the question). Plus, this wasn’t an issue that would keep me from buying the car, so we proceeded to talk numbers.

“Gary, at this level of purchase I want service as good as the car I’m buying.”
He nodded. My wife sat by me and quietly listened.
“I’m not going to bother haggling with you over the price of the car. What I want from you is a promise that if we ever have any problems with the vehicle we can bring it back here and you will personally take care of us.”
“You got it.”
“Thank you. Would you mind if I had a word with my wife?”
“No not at all, please.” He immediately got up and left his office, closing the door behind him.

I turned to her and asked “Do you like the car?”
“Yeah, it’s beautiful. It might be too big though.”
“Don’t worry about that. It’ll keep us safe and it’s not a guzzler. So you’re sure? Do you want to look at anything else somewhere else?”
“No I don’t care, I like it. It’s up to you.”
“Alright.” I got up and opened the door. Gary returned.

“What did you folks decide on?”
“What color do you like?” I asked her. We hadn’t talked about that. Gary showed us the brochure with the color swatches.
“Silver?”
“Are you sure? Everyone drives silver. How about black?”
She thought about it as she looked at the swatch in front of her, as if waiting for it to speak to her, then said “Sure, black looks nice.”
I hesitated for a minute, not sure whether she really liked it or was feeling pressured and would rain down on me later. “How about this bluish color?”
“No, I like the black.”
“OK.” We decided on Obsidian, the darkest shade of black offered. For the interior she chose the creamish Cashmere. (“Black on black would be too much.”)
The car thankfully came with everything standard except floor mats, which we elected for. The only other change I made was to upgrade from the standard warranty to an extended one (Extra Care Protection as Gary called it) of 48 months/120,000 km. It wasn’t so much the extra mileage (120k vs. the standard 100k) I was after as much as the added benefits such as roadside assistance, trip interruption, and vehicle rental assistance.

“Now, Gary, here’s what I’ll do. I’m going to give you a blank check. Write in a reasonable figure; include everything down to the last cent – delivery, registration – everything. If I like it I’ll sign it. If I don’t I’ll tear it and we’ll walk out of here.”

I admit it was a bit dramatic of me, but one of the worst things for me is shopping around for things and negotiating on prices for them. I still hadn’t recovered from the culture of bargaining I was thrown into in India for four months. I didn’t want any more of that, not now, not ever. Naturally Gary was a bit taken aback. He excused himself and left his office with the check to consult with his boss. He took my signed consent to run a credit check (even though I was paying cash). Meanwhile we examined the car more thoroughly (Gary had given me the key): we tried out the seats and examined the cockpit and the view out from it; our fingers and palms made introductions with the knobs and shifters and got used to the feel of their leather upholstery; we played with the electronic controls, found out how fast the seat reclined or raised and lowered at the touch of the button; we sat in the backseats to take in the view we probably wouldn’t see except for a handful of times in a year; we tried the wipers, the brand-new blades of which left very faint streaks on the crystal-clear windshield. I realized suddenly then that we hadn’t even taken it for a test drive. It was too late now since I had decided before even coming to the showroom that that’s the car we would be buying, so it didn’t really matter.

Gary returned and, although the check was still blank, he had the final figure in his hand on another sheet, along with a breakdown of how it was derived. I looked it over. I showed it to her even though she didn’t care to see. She gave it a cursive one-over and handed it back to me. I appreciated her trust in my judgment and capability to spend what was now our money.

“Looks good,” I said and smiled, but the regular check was no good. I would have to return tomorrow with a certified one. We could pick up our new car next Monday.

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“Wasn’t that a bit rash what you did back there? Shouldn’t we have shopped around at a couple of dealerships?”
“I wasn’t lying when I told him that service mattered more to me than the car. I researched online yesterday and this is the best Lexus dealership in all of Ontario in terms of customer service. Gary seemed like a genuine guy and I do believe if we ever have any problems he will help us personally. He won’t just tell us to go see the Service department.”
“But why did you just give him a blank check?”
“I really dislike negotiating. I feel like it sours relationships. Hopefully Gary saw how efficient I was with my own time and with his, and he’ll reciprocate in kind in the future. He actually didn’t charge us that much. We paid MSRP plus all the standard charges, which isn’t bad for that car. I was kind of testing his integrity by doing that. I wanted to see if he would take advantage of the blank check and risk losing a potential customer, or if he’d be straight-up with us.”
“Have you pulled that kind of stunt before?”
I looked over at her as I drove us home in the rental car. “It wasn’t a stunt sweetheart, it was business, and I was genuine in my offer. I guess I didn’t tell you what happened with me in Bombay.”
“No, what happened?”

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