Bruce Cameron

Car-Buying Trauma

I've recently been advised by my trusty mechanic, Marvin Walletdrainer, that my car is ready to cross the rainbow bridge. I asked him if he thought I could drive it for a few more weeks, and he said, "I wouldn't." I said, "How about just until I find a replacement?" and he said, "I wouldn't." I asked him what he would do, and he said, "Run away."

So now I find myself shopping for a car for the first time in many years. (Most of the wrecks I've been driving lately I purchased from relatives who hate me.) But I know what it's like: A prospective car buyer is like a lamb wandering into a wolfpack with a steak tied around its neck.

I park down the street from the dealer and slip onto the lot from behind, avoiding the radar-like vision of the car salespeople who wait to launch themselves like Scud missiles at anyone looking at new cars. I'm not entirely successful, however -- one of them spots me and sneaks up from behind like a member of Delta Force. I turn, and he's there.
Here we go, I think.

"I'm not buying a car today! I'm just, um, inspecting your inventory to make sure there are no animals trapped inside," I blurt pre-emptively.
He's a young man dressed business casually. He nods. "OK," he said. "It's just hot out here. I wondered if I could bring you a soft drink or water or something."

Ah-ha! Probably laced with car-buying drugs. "No, thank you. I don't drink liquids."

"OK. If you have any questions, my name is Dean."

Once he has my name, he'll run a credit bureau check, and I'll be doomed. I need a clever pseudonym. "My name is Barack Obama," I say. We shake hands.

I spend a few minutes checking out some of the cars, admiring everything but the stickers in the windows. There's one I'm particularly interested in if they'll cut the price by its entirety. Sighing, I decide to go in and brave a conversation, knowing that once I'm in the sales manager's office they'll slam the door and waterboard me until I've signed a contract.

Dean introduces me to his manager, whose name is Martin. That's right, I'm talking to a sales team called Dean-Martin.

"I saw you looking at our MPG-XL-DL 200XT-SEL," Martin says. (In today's market, all of the car models are named after Croatian zip codes.)
Here comes the hard sell, probably. "What can I do to get you to buy the car today? Rip out your fingernails?" The only way to counter such strong-arm tactics is to come back negative. "It's nice," I sneer. "For a car."

Dean and Martin look at each other, probably deciding who will play good cop and who will play bad cop. "Anything we can do for you?" Dean asks. "Answer questions, give you a foot rub, some lunch, an MRI?"

So, the hammer will come from Martin. I turn to face the onslaught. "It was just really nice of you to visit us today," Martin says.

Ha! Like I'm going to fall for that. "So I'm going to leave now, go look at some other cars," I say, eyeing the door. Dean's going to move to block me in 3, 2, 1 ...

"I hope you find what you're looking for," Martin says.
"Yeah, right," I snort.
"It's a tough decision," Dean agrees.
"OK, I'm leaving then," I say.
"Have a nice day!" says Martin.
I look at them. They look back.
"I actually am pretty interested in that MPG," I admit.
"Don't rush your decision. Lots of other quality cars out there," Martin cautions.
"Like to hear what you'd sell it to me for," I venture.
"Well, why don't you check out other places first," Dean suggests.
"Sorry, I just don't want you to regret your choice," Martin says.
"I'm begging you."

Finally they let me make an offer. I go absurdly low and they take it immediately, so I wind up driving home in a new car.
I couldn't help it, their sales tactics were ruthless. 

W. Bruce Cameron is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of three books including "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (Workman Publishing). To write Bruce Cameron, visit his website at

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