Mind Tricks, Reality Distortion, and Other Car Sales Tactics

September 19, 2010

My son's totally-optioned-out 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI was declared a total loss by State Farm.  

A "Total Loss Specialist" called me and said, if we'd sign this and that, we'd get a check for $27,240.  That sounded about right.  So we signed this and that, my wife took off work, and a nice, very fast-talking lady came over to our house and gave us a check for $26,740.  

I had to ask, "Why the $500 difference?"  

"I have no idea," she said.  

Mmm hmm.

That $500 difference is consistent with the fudge factor every automotive transaction seems to require, whether it's at the beginning or end of a car ownership experience.  When I bought my son's Jetta eighteen months ago, for instance, I was lied to (the car would be flat-bedded to Houston from San Antonio; someone drove it over), cheated (the dealer handling and paperwork fees were one thing, but the unwanted, unnecessary,VIN-etching bill was not up-front--in fact, it was scandalous), and made to feel soiled by the whole cash-closing process.

Now I've embarked on trying to find a new Jetta TDI to replace the one we've lost to some salvage artist. There just aren't many, if any, new Jetta TDI sedans with navigation out there. I've inquired about seven listings around the country, but these were all bait-and-switch ads: you call about the listing and they try to sell you something else.

I may have just found one in Denver, but I don't know. The salesman's already emailed and called me, but hasn't bothered to determine whether the car's in stock. I'm asking about a specific car he's advertising; he wants to know which colors I would consider. Oh, his dealership is up-front and "transparent" about their $399.50 "dealer handling fee."  

I fear, though, what I'd do if they came at me with VIN-etching.

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