Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mike Tyson's sucker punch

When we left NC we sold Katie’s very old car (200K miles) which had no air conditioning, a windshield wide crack and some screeching rear brakes. Needless to say we were ok selling it instead of breaking down somewhere in the Corn Belt trying to drive across the U.S. Our goal was to try and buy a car within the first week of arriving in Seattle. At first we were considering a SUV mainly because I think it’s so cool to sit in the back with the hatch open. Big selling point for me. However, major disadvantages: 1. insatiable thirst for costly petroleum 2. evil stink eye of environmentally savvy Seattleites. So Katie helped me let go of my fantasies of driving to the mountains for a picnic in the back of our Xterra. And her consolation prize…she said we could get a Nissan Maxima! Now some of you know that I used to own my parent’s old 93 Maxima named Maximus, which I felt strongly about despite the car’s inability to go in reverse (Katie got really good at pushing us out of parking spots).

Off we go to the used Nissan dealership to look at a car we’d seen online. A 2000 pearl white Maxima- pretty sharp looking. Immediately they offer a test drive so we take it for a spin and after 5 minutes Katie is sold. She loves it but she’s learned a few things about negotiating so she manages to keep a lid on her enthusiasm. The car is starting at $8K and as we walk inside I transformed into “Negotiator Dave”. The salesman is a real slick Willy with a shaved head, goatee, and a lip full of chewing tobacco (although I never saw him spit so it may have just been that he had a large pouch-mouth for storage purposes). I sit down and do my best to try and slouch lower than him to overemphasize my “I don’t really care about this car” attitude. I even fold my hands on my lap which obviously says “I’ve bought hundreds of cars before…I know exactly how this is gonna go down.” Meanwhile a game of internal pinball is occurring with my stomach rocketing back and forth off my pancreas and gallbladder. He leads off with “What do I have to do to get your business?” Classic. I start rattling things off that I don’t like about the car… “Well we were really hoping for a sunroof, and I don’t know about white, it’s just so hard to keep clean. And I wasn’t planning on a car with that many miles already on it.” And with each criticism of the car he drops the price another 500 bucks! I’m realizing “This is working.” But I’m worried my anxiety is starting to show since I’ve completely sweated through my shirt in his air conditioned office. I create a diversion saying I really need to get some lunch and we high tail it out of there.

At lunch I replenish my fluids. Then I look up and see Katie’s pleading face and her not so subliminal message of “Why are you doing this? Just buy the car.” I quickly realize that my strategic approach with Katie needs to be the total opposite of my tactics with Willy the salesman. With her I enthusiastically exclaim “Sick spoiler and fly chrome rims!” and with Willy I screw up my face in consternation and say “I don’t know…I heard that these flashy cars have high insurance premiums.”

I take the car for another test ride and manage to hear some slight ticking noise when I accelerate at around 85 mph. Perfect! Another criticism I can use to drive the price down. He drops the price and of course tries to close the deal but I tell him we aren’t doing anything until my mechanic does a full inspection. The next morning we come to pick up the car and take it to a mechanic. But Willy is late so I leave him a message subtly expressing my disappointment that he made us stand out in the cold. I’ll use that later to knock another 50 bucks off the price! Our mechanic inspects it and gives it a clean bill of health. So now the drive back to the dealership I’m envisioning the greatest heavyweight battle of all time. Dave “The Negotiator” Johnson versus Willy “The Slick” Salesman. I’m picturing body blows to the ribs and swollen eyes. And baby am I nervous. So I go to my corner of the ring and get a few words of wisdom from my coach (my Dad…a class act old school negotiator). And he gives me some good stuff. So I go into the ring and the bell sounds “Round 1.” I start off “Look, I’m no business man. I know how this usually works. I say one number then you say another number and we do a little dance back and forth. I don’t want to do that. I’m gonna say a number and then I want to hear a Yes or No from you. I don’t want to hear another number or a this or a that. I want to hear a Yes or a No.” But oh crap…my voice had cracked at the very end of my spiel! A sign of weakness he would surely notice. My mouth was so dry it felt like I’d swallowed a spoonful of attic insulation. And then I did it…I said a number. It was a solid right hook to the face. And he leaned back in his office chair…I’d stunned him momentarily. So he starts hemming and hawing and “Well I don’t know...” I realized this is it. I need to go in for the uppercut. And then I mustered the courage to look him straight in the eye, steady my faltering voice and say “Yes or No, Willy?” And he replied “I’ll do it but I can’t include the floor mats for that price.” I had him! He was on the ropes and this was his feeble attempt to bite my ear Mike Tyson style. I scoffed and made to get up from my chair and before my left gluteal muscle had left the cushion, he had said “Ok, I’ll do it.” I’d knocked him out! I couldn’t believe it. He barely even put up a fight. I hadn’t even sweated through my first shirt (I wore two this day).

I sat back down. Partly because I was so dizzy from my anxiety and I didn’t want to collapse and knock myself out on his desk. I’d done it. My first successful car negotiation. I’m an adult now!

Final steps. Sign this. Copy that. Print this. Yada Yada. And then he comes back in and says “The dealership doesn’t make the floor mats anymore for the 2000 Maxima so I’ll just go ahead and knock 20 or 40 bucks off the price we agreed on.” What! The fight isn’t over? I thought the score cards were in. The “Ladies and Gentleman…Your new heavy-weight champion of the world…” I muster up the energy to say “Make it 40.” I can’t let slick Willy get the last sucker punch on me. He smiles and agrees.

40 minutes later I’m in a totally different building being shown the final paper work. Willy is nowhere to be seen. But as I look at the final sale price I realize Willy did get a little nibble out of my ear. He only took $20 off the price, not the agreed upon $40.

I lose sleep because of that $20.


  1. You're the son of your father! He too would lose sleep over that!


    I can see you need some work on your negotiating skills.

    Just Kidding. - What you left out of your blog is the final price you paid for that "$8,000" car. I know what you paid and I am proud. I could not have done any better. To satisfy the curiosity of all who read your blog, you should come clean and tell them what you paid for the car. How bout it?