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9 - Catfished by a Car Dealer

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

Super excited would be a gross understatement. After months of searching and pining, I’d finally sealed a deal on the car of my dreams. The next step was to drive all the way to Arizona and pay for that chunky red spaceship. Of course, I’d also have to deal with the impending separation anxiety from getting rid of my Chally. I planned the trip, scheduled a pickup time with the dealer, and sat down to have an important conversation with my wife. I told her all the issues with the sales manager got my hackles up. I said we need to be prepared to walk away from the deal at any point. If anything doesn’t feel right, I continued, I’m ready to cancel the purchase and just write this trip off as a fun weekend adventure. She understood and agreed that we could just turn around and go home if we felt like we were being lied to or misled. It’s a good thing we had that conversation. It would be a long day, 6 hours to AZ, a couple hours at the dealership, then a 6-hour drive home. I called the dealer and let them know we’d meet them around 1:00PM and asked to make sure the car was all charged up when we got there so we’d have plenty of juice to get home. We loaded up the Chally for her final road trip and headed off to a beautiful blistering suburb just 20 miles east of Phoenix.


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The drive to the depths of Arizona was pretty uneventful. The most difficult part of the trip was knowing that it was probably going to be the last time I got to hear the sweet exhaust tone of my Flowmaster Delta 40’s as I banged through every gear in my six-speed manual. For a 4,000lb car with the aerodynamics of a shoe, the Chally got surprisingly good gas mileage on the open highway, around 25MPG. Of course, that’s assuming you use the cruise control and don’t play conductor to an exhaust symphony for 6 hours. I didn’t get 25MPG on the trip, but I did enjoy the soothing exhaust tones. Acoustics aside, we made a few pit stops along the way and really got to enjoy our last trip in the Chally.


2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked on a road trip, front of car.

2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked on a road trip, rear of car.

2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked on a road trip, front of car, low.

2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked on a road trip, side view.

2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked on a road trip, stopping at a rest stop in Arizona. A view of the dessert.

2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked on a road trip at a rest stop in Arizona, side view.

As we got within an hour of the dealer, I made sure to call them, provide them with an updated ETA, and remind them to ensure the car was plugged in and charging. After fighting some soul-crushing construction traffic just outside Phoenix, we rolled into the dealership for the first time an hour later. As we pulled in the driveway, I felt crazy nervous about exchanging my beloved Chally for a Tesla of questionable history. But we were there, and I was ready to trade up. We got out of the car and stretched our feet for half a second, then rushed quickly inside to avoid the punishing UV bombardment of the afternoon Arizona sun.


Love at First Sight - Mostly

Once safely inside the dealer, we got settled and asked for the sales manager I’d been dealing with. After about 10 minutes, we were greeted by a sales rep, then the sales manager. It was quite the initial impression. The sales manager explained that the dealership owner wanted to be there as well to meet us because they’d never had a car like this at the dealership before. He explained that the dealer’s son had repeatedly requested to drive the Tesla but was denied the opportunity due to the car’s overwhelming power. Interesting factoids, but I was primarily interested in seeing the car I’d just driven 400 miles for.


After all the pleasantries I asked the manager if we could see the car. He obliged, and we headed through the dealer and out through the service bay. As we started to clear some of the cars lined up for service, I could see the nosecone just sticking out from a carport near the service bays. We walked closer to the car, and I got more nervous with every step, I was now convinced this car would be a complete dud, and I wasted an entire day on this foolish venture. That is until I got close enough to see the whole passenger side of the car, and it was bright red, super shiny, and completely ding-free. Then, I urgently walked to the driver's side and saw the same exact thing, nearly perfect paint and not a dent or ding to speak of. It looked like a 20 foot long, 5,000lb ruby had been backed into a service bay at a car dealer in the middle of Arizona. We chatted with the manager as I walked around the car, and I was not disappointed at all. Aside from a few small door edge chips, the protruding corner of the tailgate chrome, and miscellaneous minor defects, the car was in excellent shape on the outside.


Test Drive it Like You Stole It

I asked the manager if we could take a test drive, and he said, sure, let’s take it for a spin. He handed me the fabled car shape Tesla key fob, and we all hopped in the car. Right away, numerous things stood out. There were some odd imperfections in the door panels. There was also a not-so-inconspicuous chip in the windshield, right in the driver’s line of sight. I also noticed the car hadn’t been charged. It only had about 40 miles of range (400-mile drive home…). I started the car and got familiar with all the settings before embarking on my first test drive. Immediately after the car powered up, it blew funky smelling hot air out of the vents, and this horrendous banshee startling whine screamed out from under the hood. After a minute, the whine settled, the funk dissipated, and the air started to blow cold. I also noticed a few obscure hieroglyphics appearing on the ginormous center screen as it transitioned between settings. I turned on the turn signal and slowly pulled out of the parking space. After navigating the parking lot on my way to public streets, I noticed the turn signal was still on…but it wasn’t making any sound at all. I paused briefly and checked all the settings, but there wasn’t a setting for turn signal volume. Because every car has a turn signal volume setting. As I clumsily navigated the huge touch screen, I noticed the Bluetooth wasn’t working either. I noticed all these delightful idiosyncrasies in the first 5 minutes I was in the car, so I couldn’t help but ask myself…what kind of inspection did I pay $143 for?


This dealership was nestled between a gaggle of other car dealerships, so it made for a nice quiet area to test drive this nearly 800hp dream car. I pulled out from the web of parking lots and onto a real street. I took it easy initially, turning the steering wheel (yes, my ancient Tesla has a complete wheel) while listening for clicks, whirs, rattles, and clunks that may indicate the impending failure of a critical system. After some Nascar-style jockeying around on some small side streets, I felt comfortable with the car's structural integrity, aside from all the inspector's oversights. I straightened the car out on a nice wide-open street, then warned the sales manager and my wife that I was going to gently test the car’s acceleration. Of course, by gently, I meant mash the pedal through the floor Flinstones style. And by acceleration, I meant jet-style propulsion system. We all put our heads back, and I stomped on the accelerator (I guess it’s not a gas pedal anymore). The car burst forward, defying all the laws of physics, as though it were intentionally trying to make Newton turn over in his grave. I was hooked.


Inside the Belly of the Beast

We finished a relatively brief but informative test drive and headed back to the sales manager’s lair. As soon as the soul-sucking car peddler was out of earshot, I told my wife I wasn’t too worried about the tech issues, the system probably just needed an update and reboot. Once we got settled in at the dealership, the used car dealer mind games began. Dealers frequently use stall tactics to wear you down, and this dealer was no different. We spent the next hour waiting for the sales rep to return from a fake meeting. Then waited another 20-30 minutes while she checked out some paperwork with another manager. Finally, we waited another 20 minutes for the finance manager to be available. A key point, they knew we were on a tight schedule and told us they would help us get back on the road to CA ASAP. Each time I got a chance, I politely asked one of the many minions at the dealer about the mythological “Inspection Report” they had promised several times. Each time I asked, I got a new and exciting excuse as to why it wasn’t accessible or a bewildered look insinuating, I was the first person on planet earth to ever ask a car dealer about an inspection report they promised.


After what seemed like a day-long wait in hell’s waiting room, we finally finished some obligatory paperwork with the sales rep and moved on to the next obstacle in the course, finagling with the finance manager. He was a husky gentleman, bald, very friendly, soft-spoken, and kind of reminded me of Chris Farley while doing an impression of Lisa Simpson. Most of the finance process consists of mindlessly signing stacks of forms and agreements while hoping there isn’t the obligatory soul relinquishment clause buried in the fine print. When we got to the bottom of the stack, we finally discussed the purchase price and terms. As I mentioned in a previous episode, I planned on financing the loan with the dealer first as leverage to get a lower price. They could offer terrible loan terms, and I didn’t care because I was just going to refinance the loan with my credit union anyway. If they charged me 12% interest, but it meant getting $3,000 off the purchase price, it was totally worth it.


Anyway, I was sitting with Mr. Farley, and we started discussing the price I had agreed upon with the sales manager. I said it was a great price, but I never received the inspection report from the dealer. I finally called them out on the issue with the inspection report I was promised (the one from the dealer) and told them about all the excuses I got in prior communications. The finance manager was confused and called in a new manager because the sales manager had left. The new guy was abrupt and a little unpleasant. You could tell he was going to be in charge of the situation. So, I wasted my time and brain cells explaining the whole inspection report drama to the new guy. He looked like a healthy blend of confused and defensive. Clearly, the wheels turned as he tried to think of a creative way to weasel out of this. He explained their “process” to me and said they don’t do “inspections” (this is a MAJOR car dealer, by the way), but he would do me a favor and go check on it. He continued the torturous practice of wasting copious amounts of my time by disappearing somewhere into the bowels of the dealership. 20 minutes later, he reappeared and said they couldn’t get the report because it was locked in the service area, and the doors were locked for the weekend. A strikingly similar excuse to excuse #23 the sales manager had used over the phone. I retorted and said, that’s ok. I just wanted to see if you guys had it. After that, it was time to move on to bigger fish.


Now it was time to throw the chipped windshield issue at the finance guy and the new manager and see what stuck. Immediately, both started to backpedal. Oh, it’s just a little chip, it’s a really easy fix. They both proclaimed in one variant or another. I retorted and said, great if it’s just a little chip, do you have someone on site who can fix it today before we leave? Oh, no, sorry, we contract out for that, they both responded. I told them I understood, but it could be really expensive to replace this windshield if it's more than a chip. I asked again in a couple variations if we could get someone out here to at least give an estimate before I signed off on the deal. Then things started to get interesting.

They got a little offended and started to turn condescending. Well, Mr. Arbuckle, we see all kinds of cars with chips in the windshield. It’s not a big deal. It’s a real easy fix, chips happen to car windows. It’s a common thing. We get that all the time in Arizona, maybe you don’t get them in California. The finance manager went so far as to tell me how to search for window repair places on the internet. He’s like, see, it’s really easy I just typed in windshield repair, and I got all kinds of responses. It’ll cost maybe $50-100 for you to get that fixed, sir, they told me.


Things Heat Up

Now, I honestly thought it was just a chip, and I was just trying to get the chip fixed because it’s right in the line of sight. If they couldn’t fix it, I was just going to ask for a $500-1,000 discount, on the slight chance there was something more going on. But…the more condescending and defensive they got, the more my spidey sense started to tingle and the more I got irritated with both of them. Finally, I had enough, and I leaned towards my wife. I told her, remember that thing we discussed at home and on the way here? She said yes. She knew I was talking about being willing to bail if I thought the deal was bad. She responded, I’m ok so far, this is alright. We were trying to be semi-cryptic but kind of let the management duo get the sense that we were willing to kill the deal. And, I was, especially at that point, I was totally ready to walk. But, I leaned back in my chair and said, we’ll need to get some price adjustment for the big chip since you can’t repair it. Or, you can give me credit with a windshield repair place for the chip. They both got offended and resorted to hypotheticals. Mr. new bigshot manager got all exacerbated and was like, how would that even work? I can’t just give you a gift card. Should I send an Arizona company to California for you to fix the windshield when they open on Monday? The repair won’t cost much, I responded. Ok, let’s take $1,000 off the price for the repairs, just in case, there is more to the chip. They both continued to be offended and told me it would be cheap, it’s no big deal, and it would take someone 20 minutes to fix it. The rando manager continued to tell us they couldn’t adjust the price anymore. They weren’t making any money on the deal now. This whole discussion was quite lengthy and lasted at least 30 minutes. You could tell they were both frustrated that I was wasting their time…the irony was too delicious for words.


I capitulated and said, that’s fine, I will trust your professional experience, and we’ll get the chip filled when we get home. In my head, I rolled my eyes and groaned. I was fine with the price as it was, and they had actually done their job of wearing me down. However, there was still this little nagging feeling that they were covering something up. I moved on and told them, I need you to fix a piece of trim on the back of the trunk that is sticking out, please. I’m concerned the piece may be unstable. The jerkier manager said, it’s okay, it won’t come off or anything. I said, I understand that, but I’m here at the dealer now. Can’t you just have someone screw it back on really quick? He got super frustrated and said, well, our service department is closed today, but (long pause) I’ll do you a favor and see if we can fix it. I remained surprisingly calm through the whole thing and just rolled with each screwball they threw. I hadn’t gotten everything I wanted, but I made most of the negotiating progress over the phone a week ago, so I knew I was getting a good deal. We signed off on the rest of the paperwork over the next 20 minutes while my wife and I engaged in some now tense small talk with Mr. Farley. After all the signing was completed, we took some fun pictures in the showroom with the car. We took a few minutes to bid a very heartfelt goodbye to the Chally and headed back toward California with a barely charged bright red rocket ship.

2011 Dodge Challenger RT Classic with 5.7L Hemi V8 parked at a dealership before trading in the car.
Last look at the Chally before heading back to California.
Red 2016 Tesla Model S P90D with Ludicrous Mode parked outside a dealership in Arizona.
First look at the Tesla before a long drive home.

Catfish Verdict

Had I been catfished? Not really. Well, kind of. I was promised a 10/10 by both the dealer and the pseudo inspector. I paid $143 for a seemingly fictitious report. Instead, the car was an 8/10. The paint was excellent, but there were clearly some issues with the interior, a horrendous whine from the AC, a funky smell from the AC, trim sticking out, a chip in the window, and some pretty obvious issues with the software in the car. I was promised a trailer queen and ended up with a daily driver.

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