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  • Scott

8 - Wheelin and Dealin

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

The inspector had given the Tesla a clean bill of health. He even said it was one of the most pristine used cars he’d ever inspected. With his assurances, I now had the confidence to start negotiating a deal on the Tesla. I also had to negotiate a trade-in value on my Challenger. I could have sold the Challenger myself, but I just didn’t want to invest the time and energy. It’s kind of ironic considering I’ve sold at least 20 cars in my lifetime. I wanted to have a deal on both cars almost solidified before I drove out to give me more leverage and to reduce the likelihood of the dealer pulling any shenanigans. But, before I started negotiating, I had to assess each car and get a feel for where the strong and weak points were on these 2+ ton beauties.

My Challenger was in excellent shape. There were only 2 small chips in the paint and two small bits of curb rash. I was prone to curb rash on the Chally because whenever I parked it at work, I’d park way out in the back of the parking lot, in this extra-wide space, and pull all the way to one side of the space. Occasionally I’d bump the curb I hugged and get some curb rash, but it always seemed better than constantly fixing door dings. Fate sometimes has a cruel and ironic sense of humor. I can’t be the only schmo who parks in the boonies and occasionally creates more problems than I solve in the process. Before I took any pictures of the Chally for the dealer, I polished out the curb rash on both wheels. I was in an excellent position to negotiate a high trade-in value for the Challenger.

The Tesla was in great shape too, but I knew there was a missing piece of the puzzle because it had been on their lot for at least 45 days and hadn’t sold. Which was a stark contrast to the Southern California market, where the high-end models didn’t seem to sit on lots for more than 2-3 weeks. They had recently dropped the price, and the car was listed at about $5,000 below market price. This was great news, but I knew there was still some room left to negotiate because the car had been sitting for so long. The dealer was probably tired of dealing with all the attention the car drew. I can only imagine what kind of unsavory characters a 762HP rocket ship attracts. I had a feel for where I stood with the Tesla and the Chally but was still a little apprehensive about the dealership. As I reflected on earlier exchanges, it brought to mind some concerns I needed to sort out before I picked up the phone to negotiate a deal.

What we Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

I was ready to start the negotiating process but there a few things that gnawed at me, little irritating things that accumulated into a cause for concern. Every bit of communication seemed to be lacking with the dealer. Almost every time I talked to someone from the dealer, they held something back or were not upfront about an important factoid. I’ll share some of the gory details in the hopes you’ll learn from some of the things I did right and many of the things I got completely hosed on.

So, let’s rewind a bit, let me walk you some exchanges and a phone call and see if anything raises your eyebrow. Ever since the first emails and phone calls, all communications were brief but far from simple. I dealt with 3-4 different people and was bounced between phone calls and emails. Early on in the process, I asked obvious questions like: How’s it drive? Any dings or scratches? Clear title? Outstanding liens? Do you offer a warranty? Has the car been inspected? Has anyone been murdered in the car? You know, the standard questions. I originally listed 4-5 questions in an email, pretty standard questions, and instead of a quick 5-minute response, I was told to contact the sales manager.

I had picked up the phone and called the sales manager. I explicitly asked about dents, dings, the interior, issues, etc. and I was generically told the car is perfect. I asked a few more questions and got most of them partly answered, but pressed a little for more info, and that’s when things started to get interesting. He mentioned they had someone come out to inspect the car, and they were just waiting on the inspection report. I didn’t really care about the report, I was going to send someone to inspect the car anyway. But every time I talked to someone at the dealer later, I asked about this mythological report he promised. Each time the response was creative and unique: we’re still waiting, what report are you talking about, who told you there was a report, my dog ate it, the report is locked in the maintenance shop, etc.

As you can probably guess, the report never materialized, but more about that later. Back to the call with the sales manager. He made everything seem so complicated and nebulous, it was odd. It was like this was the first time he’d ever sold a car. It was an interesting conversation I’d had with him, so you can see why these past events distracted me from my current task of just getting the deal done. Despite these bits of foreboding, I proceeded to start laying out my plan of attack.

Preparing to Prepare

As you probably noticed, I probably fall unfortunately far on the nerd side of the cool-nerd spectrum. The first thing I did was put together a spreadsheet that had 9, yes 9, pricing scenarios. In each scenario, I started with the list price them I laid out all the details from the pricing sheet the dealer: Selling Price, License Fee, Processing Fee, Coffee and Donut Fees, Paint Protection, VTR (Whatever the fudge that is), Under Coating, Window Tint, Dents and Dings, Fuel Injector Cleaning, total price, payments, etc. then I netted all that against different trade-in values for the Chally. So, what was I doing with all this spreadsheet madness? Each scenario was based on how I planned to approach the negotiation. The first scenario was based on the list price on the website. The next scenario was my first counter, a low-ball. After that, their possible counter, then my counter, their counter, and so on up until the final scenario, which was the max I was willing to pay for the car. Email me if you’d like to see what this sheet looked like.

To some, it might sound excessive. To me, it’s easier to lay it out this way. If I hadn’t laid all this out beforehand, I’d get lost during the negotiating process. It sounds like a lot, but really, all the scenarios are just changing the list price and the prices on all the dealer add-ons. I’m glad I did all this stuff because the only thing I bought at a dealer was my Triumph. All my purchases and sales were through private parties. I expected the dealer price sheet to have the standard document fees, registration, title, etc. but had completely forgotten about the goofy stuff dealers add. And this dealer added some real goofball things- and got caught in more than a couple lies in the process.

Liar, Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

Before calling the dealer, I made a few negotiating notes and created a consolidated version of my spreadsheet. I had a couple big areas to cover, I needed to tell him I was going to finance through them, ask about trading in the Chally, run through the details of their first offer on both cars, and then hash out a final offer for the whole deal. I had my talking points and strategy all set, and I was ready to haggle over the prices of the Chally and the Tesla. I picked up the phone and made the call.

After all the usual pleasantries, we started discussing the deal. I began by telling the dealer I’d be financing the purchase through them. This can be a great tool when negotiating with the dealer because most dealers love financing deals. It’s a big profit center for them because they charge ridiculous interest rates and generally don’t charge many initial fees. I used dealer financing in the past as leverage to lower the price of a vehicle…then turned around a month later and refinanced through my credit union at no cost and ¼ the interest rate. Anyway, back to the negotiations.

Next, I asked if they take trade-ins. He said yes, we do. Over the next 45 minutes, I ended up in another fun instance of unnecessary communication complications, I sent 5 emails with Chally specs and pictures to 3 different people. I was transferred a few times and put on hold for at least 20 minutes. Finally, after that grueling set of emails, telephone hot potato, and a brief tutorial from me on how to use this amazing new thing called email, all his minions got the info and made me a fair initial offer the Chally. That was a key piece of the puzzle, I was ready to move on to negotiating on some undercoating.

It was time to walk through the list of dealer installed items and start haggling over those. I looked at the list on my screen of this wackiness and said, I see there are some add-ons; let’s walk through the list so you can help me understand each item.

I asked Mr. Used Car Salesman, what kind of paint protectant is on the car? Is it like a ceramic coating? Is it a Paint Protection Film (PPF)? What brand is it? He responded and said he wasn’t sure he’d have to check and asked if I could wait on hold? I said sure, not a problem. 10 minutes later, he was back on the phone and let me know the installer was Smart Shield, but that was all he knew. I looked it up real fast and found out Smart Shield is a company in Arizona that does Paint Protective Film (PPF) installations on cars. $900 for a PPF install is a smoking deal if done right and if it was a good quality film. (Lie #1) I retorted, in my best tire kicker tone, that $900 was kind of steep, is the protectant already on the car? If not, let’s just remove that, please. He replied and said, sorry, it’s already on the car, we can’t remove it. I found out later that there is no PPF on the car, instead it’s a very cheap semi-ceramic coating from Armor All. Swing and a miss, next on the list…

I see the window tint is $700, I assume that’s already on the car? Yes, he replied, it’s already on the car. Ok, excellent, good to know, I retorted. Can you tell me what percent darkness the tint is? Is the tint on the front and back windows, or just the sides? He said I’m not sure, let me put you on hold while I check. I replied, sure, not a problem. Unbeknownst to him, while on hold, I pulled up the listing pictures for the car and the listing pictures from the prior sale. I was kind of shocked to see, very plainly, there was clearly no tint on any of the car windows, side, front, or back. He came back on the line and said I just found out it's 50% tint on all the windows. I responded, great, thanks for checking on that, but are you sure it’s on all the windows? The listing pictures may have been taken before the tint was applied, can you double-check the darkness percentages and the windows in person for me? He said, sure, let me go look at the actual car, I’ll be back.

Now, I wasn’t trying to catch this guy in a lie at all. So many goofy things can happen at a car dealer. He may just have gotten bad information…I was still trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Well, guess what? He returned 10 minutes later and said, you’re correct, there isn’t any tint on the windows right now, but the car is supposed to be tinted soon. (Lie #2) I said that’s great, let’s go ahead and just save everyone the time and expense, and we’ll just remove that item from the invoice. I’ll have the car tinted later. He said, ok, not a problem. My prompt internal dialogue chimed in, yeah- it’s not a problem, you shyster- you tried to sell me $700 tint on a car…that doesn’t have tint…that has been on your lot for months, it better not be a problem.

Next on the list was dent and ding. No, that’s not my grammar, it’s one of the many grammatical atrocities committed on an invoice sheet that had less than 200 words on it. I asked about dent and ding, and he said those are just part of the conditioning expenses we incur when the car comes in to ensure the body panels are all clean and straight for the new owner. At this point, I wasn’t willing to haggle over $300, or why you would itemize this...instead of just hiding it in your profit margin. Meh, not worth the effort, moving on.

Finally, I got to VTR. I asked, what is VTR? It seems a little pricey? He said, oh, that’s this thing we do to all the cars that come onto our lot, it’s already on, and we can’t remove it. He continued; we etch the VIN number of your car into all the glass on the vehicle as a theft-deterrent system. I was a little surprised and took a second to gather my thoughts. It sounded like complete hocus pocus to me. First of all, it’s a Tesla, one of the least stolen cars on the planet. Second of all, when has something like this ever been a deterrent? Like someone committing GTA for the 56th time is going to notice the tiny etching in the window and be like- whoa, we got a VTR car here, better back off homie. Let’s say they steal the car and take it to a chop shop. By the time that window shows up in a secondary market, and the etching gets noticed, and someone investigates…it could be months after I’ve already been cut a check for a total loss on the car by the insurance company.

Of course, all that was internal dialogue while I simultaneously tried to figure out what VTR even stood for. I asked the dealer, and of course, he didn’t know, so I looked it up. It stands for “Vehicle Theft Registration.” And the time I didn’t have a chance to research it, but you’d be hard pressed to find an article that is complimentary of this wasteful process with a 15x markup. I found out much later that you can buy a kit on the internet that will do the same thing. It takes about 10 minutes to do the whole car and costs less than $20. Getting back to the negotiations, he said all the cars have it, and it can’t be removed (Lie #3). I said that’s ok, let’s walk through all this again really quick.

I started by reminding him I was going to finance with them. Then I said, so we’re removing the window tint, that’s an easy one. I’d also like to remove the paint protectant charges, I don’t really need that right now. He responded and said it’s already on the car, though we can’t. I said, let’s remove something else then. I really don’t need the VTR, that seems a little excessive with this car, let’s remove that from the invoice. He said I can’t remove that charge, but I can waive the fee for the dents and dings. I recapped and said, ok, great, please send me an updated invoice that only includes the paint protectant for $899 and the VTR for $299. He said, sure, I’ll go ahead and do that.

So that was the first stage of the negotiations. It probably lasted about 2 hours since he didn’t seem to know much about most of the add-ons, and he had to go chase around answers. The next step was haggling over the trade-in value on the Chally. They had made a reasonable offer, surprisingly, but it was on the low end, and aside from a few minor imperfections, my car was super clean. I knew I could leverage that, so I told him I appreciate the first offer on my trade-in, but my car is super clean. When you see it in person, you’ll be quite impressed. With that in mind, how about we come up a little on the value of the trade-in? If you don’t like the car, we can adjust when I get there. He asked, what price did you have in mind? I said about $1,500 more than you offered sounds quite reasonable. It’s a couple thousand less than I’d get elsewhere, but I understand you’re effectively buying the car sight unseen. Again, I promise you’ll be thrilled with the quality of it when I get there. He did the car dealer thing and said he’d have to put me on hold and go check with his trade-in guy, he’d try to get me the best deal. We all know what that means, he knew it was still a great deal, so he probably just kicked his feet up on the desk for 10 minutes while he looked on his phone for more VTR window etching kits on eBay. Ten minutes or so later, my best friend and advocate came back and informed me of the great news, that he worked hard to convince the trade-in guy to accept my offer.

At this point, we’d worked through all the goofy dealer add-ons and settled on a price for the Chally. Now it was time to work on the last part of the negotiation, the actual price of the husky red beauty that had been haunting my dreams for years. I opened with, thanks for helping me to understand all the dealer installed items and thanks for coming up a little bit on the Chally. I continued, I’ve done my research, and I think we’ve got some room to come down in price on the Tesla and close this deal this weekend- you’re buying the Chally sight unseen, and I’m effectively doing the same for the Tesla. He chimed in and said, yeah, we’d like to sell it, but I’ve had quite a few inquiries the last couple of days, someone is coming to look at it tomorrow, and they seemed very interested. I laughed in my head, play #4 right out of the used car dealer playbook. Yes, I thought, and I’ve got a Nigerian prince who just offered me $176,000 for my Chally- we’ve both got other fantastical offers we can entertain. I digressed and responded, oh, well, that’s a concern, but I’m sure we can work out a deal today, and that will save you a visit from another tire-kicker tomorrow. I looked over my detailed spreadsheet, breathed a little, and decided to shift from the plan and just go for broke by anchoring him to a low price. I offered him $3,500 less (6%) than his advertised price on the car, which was $7,000 less than the retail quote on Edmunds. He sounded a little taken aback and said, give me a second to run some numbers. It makes sense that he sounded a little unsettled. If he accepted the offer, the whole deal (Dealer BS + Tesla - Chally) would be $7,500 (13%) less than the initial offer. Astonishingly, just a minute or so later, he came back on the line and said, we can make that work, it’s a deal. I was immediately ecstatic! The deal was done! Huzzah! I got a great price on the Tesla, a very good price for the Chally! I sat there, elated, calm, serene and just enjoyed the moment. The deal was done, the car was mine. Then it hit me, like a paint can to the face, he sure accepted that deal quickly…


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