The Dubious Ethics of Car Salesmen

I bought Pearl Jr. in February 2008, brand-new. It is the last time I am ever buying a brand-new car, both because of the price depreciation, and the fact that I significantly damaged each side of the vehicle within the first year.  Up until last September, Pearl Jr. proved to be a reliable vehicle without ever giving me any trouble.  But starting last September, every few months, there is something that goes wrong that requires me to bring her in and pay money to get her fixed.  To be fair, she has been fairly abused – I’ve put over 67,000 miles on the vehicle to date.

The past few weeks, my engine light has been on again.  I had received a letter from the manufacturer, stating that there is a default with the model – the spark plug wire boots “do not provide a sufficiently robust dielectric seal to withstand the high voltage required to fire the spark plugs” (whatever that means).  I’d already gotten the spark plugs fixed in December, and it had cost me a pretty penny.  Thinking that they were acting up again, I took the letter with me to a dealership.  The manufacturer promised a free repair from the dealership in the letter.

The sales representative informed me that there would be a diagnostic fee of $105. “If the problem is indeed caused by the spark plugs, then the diagnostic fee will be waived,” he said. I thought that being a charged a diagnostic fee was bullshit, but since I was fairly confident that the problem was being caused by my spark plugs, I signed a document stating I’d pay the diagnostic fee if the problem was not caused by a spark plug.

An hour and a half later, the sales rep met me in the waiting room with a bunch of error codes written down. The problem was not caused by the spark plugs after all.  My evap valve had to be replaced.  He told me it would cost $340 to repair.  I swallowed and did not say anything.  “Do you need to call someone?” he asked almost patronizingly.  “Yes, I’ll be back,” I said, rising from my chair.  I went outside and called my father.

There was a brief time that, to prove my independence from my family and to show that I was a Grown-Up Woman Capable of Making Her Own Decisions, I would not call my father on matters of car repair.  Looking back, this was not quite an intelligent choice, since my father used to fix cars on the side when he was in the Navy and even went to mechanic school for a short time before going to college.  After hearing, “Dumbass, they charged you twice than what that part was worth,” or, “It would have cost you $20 if you had let me do it,” a couple of times, I decided that my father would be the first source for any future car-related issues.

Sure enough, my dad told me that an evap valve only costs $75 and that the dealership was charging me three times what the actual repair was worth. I went back inside and told the sales representative that I did not want my car repaired.  “Let me go prepare your paperwork,” he said.  About ten minutes later, he emerged from his office. “I talked to the GM rep, and he’s offering to pay half.  We’ll charge you $180 at the most, including the diagnostic fee.”  I went back outside and consulted with my dad.  “I would take it,” he suggested.

Once all was said and done, I paid $97.50 for a car repair that had originally been quoted to me as $340.  Suspiciously, I wasn’t even charged the full diagnostic fee.  “He takes care of us girls,” the cashier told me confidentially as she processed my payment. I wanted to say, how?  He would have charged me $250 more if I had just said “yes.”  Is that your definition of “taking care of us?”

Here’s what I really think happened – I walked in to the dealership after my morning run, with no makeup on, so I probably looked all of 18.  They decided that they could take advantage of my relative innocence by trying to extract all the money from me that they could.  Once they realized that I had someone counseling me who actually knew what he was talking about, they decided to be straight and honest with me.  If I hadn’t had my dad to call for advice, I would have been completely scammed.

It’s incredibly insulting.  I’m seriously considering taking a class or educating myself on mechanics, just so next time, I can show these smarmy sales reps that I know what I’m talking about and can’t be taken for a fool.


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