I’ve officially crossed the threshold.
I’ve passed on to the other side of life known as middle-age.

You might ask, “How does one know when this level-up status has been achieved?”
Buckle up (you’ll get the pun later), you’re about to find out.

It happened two weeks ago.

There I was, thinking that I was still this young, vibrant, embodiment of millennial manhood. I own a house (sort of). I drive a super-economical compact car (40 mpg baby!). I can change a light bulb and/or diaper in less than an hour (Caitlin usually changes our light bulbs…and most diapers… but still… I COULD change one in less than an hour… if I had to…).

Then, Caitlin said, “You know…” followed by the six words no pretend manly-man ever wants to hear:

I could really use a van.

“No… you couldn’t possibly mean that.”
“Why would you say such things?”
“What’s wrong with the small SUV that has all the kids on top of each other, enabling them to grind Ritz crackers into every orifice?”

“I thought you were used to the car seat squishing your hand every time you tried to buckle the kids because they’re all smushed together.”

“Our parking awareness has really improved knowing that the kids will yell ‘This is Sparta!’ and kick the doors open as hard as possible into the next car.”

300 This Is Sparta GIF - 300 ThisIsSparta Kick - Discover & Share GIFs

She tilts her head to the side with the “give him a second, he’ll comprehend what he just said in 3… 2… 1…” look.

Me: “why are you counting down?… Oh… I see it now…”

So, we’re buying a van.

Now the pun earlier makes sense, right? Get it?
Bonus points if you didn’t have to scroll back up to remember the pun.

Car shopping is the worst.

Buying a car is a miserable experience. Van inventories are low at the moment because, well, we live in Utah, and the car of choice for the larger-family-Mormon community is the minivan. Corona has also halted production so dealership inventories are slashed in half.

The private sellers for the brands we wanted either had too many miles or were too expensive, so we decided to try a few car lots.

I don’t know why, but I always pump myself up when I step onto one of these lots. I treat it like I’m about to enter a life-or-death KGB interrogation.

“You got this, Erik. Answer all their questions with another question… yeah… and don’t admit to liking anything… What else? Oh! Make sure to tell them you’d never pay that price and you’re walking away.”

Stepping onto the lot

I did all this research and found a dealership that had the three different brands we wanted to test drive. We got a sitter for the kids and drove to the dealership. En route to the dealership, I get this strange thought that this must be what it feels like when driving to a vasectomy appointment.

As Caitlin and I are perusing the lot, I come to the realization that I’m at the wrong dealership. Rather than use Google Maps, I just assumed I knew where I was going and now it’s too late… sales guy has spotted us… and is sneaking up on us by weaving through the rows of cars like Pac-Man chasing ghosts after eating a power pellet.

“How can I help you?” Zach asks.

“We’re looking for a used minivan.” I say with all the authority and manliness I can muster.

“We don’t have any used vans on this lot,” he said, “but we have several new vans that are way outside your budget. We could put you in loads of debt to get.”

Zach didn’t say that last part, but it’s what I heard in my brain.

Zach was actually super nice, helpful, and wasn’t pushy at all. He looked up other vans at the dealerships other lots for us and didn’t waste our time with sales tactics.

Good job Zach.

Caitlin gave me another one of her looks as we were leaving the lot.
It was the “I thought you did all this research and this was the place that had three vans I could take to the raceway tonight and test drive… How did you ever pass the 7th grade with those research skills? Maybe I made the wrong mate selection” look.

Surprisingly, this look has made its appearance more than once in our marriage.

We move on to the correct lot, but none of the three vans we wanted to check out looked as nice as their ads.

We’re an hour into this emasculating activity, and we haven’t actually been inside a van yet.

Unbeknownst to Caitlin, the day before, I had stopped by a dealership about 30 minutes away so I felt I had an ‘in’ here. I knew she’d love the van at this specific place, plus I felt like I connected with car salesman Clayton, so I was totally going to redeem myself and show her my superior hunter skills.

We get to the lot and the van is all ready for us to test drive. Caitlin does great. The van works and feels wonderful. It starts. It stops. You push a button to turn the car on, so that makes you feel like you’re igniting a Space Shuttle launch. Blinkers blink. Backup cameras are apparently things people have been driving around with for like 10 years. Sliding doors are amaaaaazing!

She made up her mind. This was the van.

I have to admit, it is super cute… ahem… I mean pretty cool. For a minivan, it looks and drives more like an SUV (Kia Sedona if any other men out there are looking for a manly minivan).

Here’s what a smashed one looks like.

This smashed-car image helps Caitlin realize how lucky she is that she selected a skilled car hunter like myself. We could’ve bought thaaaat.

Here’s what the one we looked at looked like. *Not actual size
Here’s another angle.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…
“Daaaayuuummm Erik! Why are you driving on a sidewalk near a pool of water?!”

The answer is, because why not? You can do anything you want in a minivan.

Also, this was taken from the internet. And I think it’s a luxury package that the van we had our eyes on didn’t have. But it gives you an idea of what we experienced… just better than what we actually experienced… It’s the Instagram age people!

Back to the story…

We return to the lot after I’ve kicked the tires and popped the hood to look at an engine that I have no clue how it works, or what to look for (but Caitlin doesn’t know that…). After admitting that I have no idea what I’m doing, she actually told me that it looked like I knew exactly what I was doing (man card still securely in possession). My seemingly-life-long friend Clayton comes out and asks how it went.

“Great! She loves it (don’t sound so enthusiastic, Erik!), I mean… there are others we’re looking at (we’re not), but if we can get to the right number, I think we’re ready to make this happen.”

“Sweet! What’s your number?!”

“If we can be out the door for $84,000, we’ll do it right now.”

…I got you, didn’t I?

You were all, “Whaaaaaat?! $84,000 for a minivan? Either this dude is way more loaded than we thought, or he’s got some great credit and serious future debt problems.”

I’m not going to tell you what our number was, but I let Clayton know where we needed to be and he told us he’d go get the finance manager to start talking money.

How car dealerships screw you (sorry for the language mom)

Car dealerships work around the quadrants below:

If you think you’ve negotiated them into a great purchase price, chances are, they got you in 1-3 other quadrants.

We didn’t have a trade-in because we had sold Caitlin’s car earlier that day. This meant we had one less quadrant to negotiate. This also meant that we needed a car ASAP, which put us in a poor leverage position.

What gives car salespeople and dealerships a bad name is that they won’t just come out and say what’s going on. It’s all a deceptive, shady, shell game of try and find where we’re charging you more than we need to. I acknowledge that I am speaking in generalities. Disclaimer: Not all car dealerships and salespeople are straight up liars.

Another disclaimer: The dealership from which we purchased our van was full of straight up liars. And earned the title of the most shady, deceptive, worst buying experience I’ve ever had. Hands down.

I’ll let you know where at the end of this.

As soon as we started talking numbers, everything went absolutely crazy.

Fees

You benefit from the results of our hour-long back and forth to get at what fees they were charging us. Clayton passed us on to Kyle to talk finances and then Clayton went to help other people. It took Kyle three trips back and forth to his manager to give us an itemized list of fees. These fees totaled $4,500 more than the list price.

Necessary Fees:

Tax, title, license – These aren’t fees you can negotiate and are paid to the state, not the dealership. The sales tax rate where we purchased our van was 7.25%. Title and license was another $160 or so.

Dealer documentation fee – From what I understand, this isn’t something you can really negotiate. The dealership charges this to everyone. You can’t get rid of it, but you can try and get them to reduce the purchase price by the doc fee amount. The dealers we spoke with ranged from $260 – $300.

Unnecessary Fees:

Vehicle preparation fee – This is a completely bogus fee they will throw at you stating that it covers the costs of preparing the car to sell. Usually this fee is between $100 – $300. Vehicle preparation is part of doing business and the fee is straight profit for the dealership.

Kyle told us their fee was $800.

I said, “No chance.”

Kyle came back to inform us that usually, they charge $1,600 for this so he was already giving me a deal at $800… but his manager gave approval to get rid of it.

VTR fee – Vehicle Theft Registration is another dealer rip-off scam in which the VIN is etched onto the vehicle’s windows and then the vehicle is “registered” into some kind of database in case it is stolen. Apparently, the registration process is optional, and you should have been informed beforehand. This fee is common across most dealerships, but you do not have to take it.

Kyle told us it was $400 and required by law.

I told him, “Nope. Not paying that either.”

Blinking Light Fee – If I didn’t want to get this deal done so badly, I would have laughed out loud. Caitlin and I asked Kyle what on earth this could be after he mumbled it in between his disclosure of the tax, title, license and VTR fees.

Kyle: Clayton already explained that to you.

Me: No, he didn’t.

Kyle: … *stares at me and shrugs*

Me: … *stare back confusedly at Kyle*

Kyle: … *repeats his stare-shrug*

Me: … uh… will you please explain that one to us?

Kyle: *rolls eyes* We installed a blinking light on this car so when you brake, the brake light blinks. This way, people don’t tailgate you and run into you when you stop.

Me: Are you serious right now?

Kyle: Yes, it’s an upgrade and is a fee you have to pay.

Me: We’re not paying those. I’ll pay this much for the car, I’ll pay tax, title, license, I’ll pay the doc fee. Not paying any of the others.

Kyle: Let me go talk to my manager.

Kyle came back and said we have to pay the VTR fee and Blinking light fee. Caitlin and I both stood up and walked out.

The next day

Our sales guy Clayton wasn’t around for our fun finance talk with Kyle. Once we left, I sent Clayton a message letting him know we had to walk away.

The following day, Clayton and I connected. He wanted to know what my out-the-door number had to be to make it happen. I told him. His manager approved a number close enough, so I told him we’d do it. I also asked if there was anything else. I didn’t want to make the 30-minute drive to the dealership if they were going to pull some bait and switch on me. He assured me they wouldn’t.

Financing

This brings us to our last quadrant.

After arriving at the dealership, I got to wait for 45 minutes as another person was finishing up in the finance office. No one entered nor left the finance office in those 45 minutes so this ‘other person’ must be able to disapparate or is wearing an invisibility cloak…

I did, however, look up if Utah was a one-party consent state, allowing me to record the upcoming conversation, with me being the one party to consent. Utah, as of this publishing, is a one-party consent state.

Even though Kyle had assured me the previous day that they work with my credit union and that I could make any down payment I wanted to get my monthly payment where we needed it to be, the new finance guy, Cord, told me something else. Cord told me that I could not buy the car at that price unless I put $0 down and financed the whole deal through their bank at double the interest rate at which I had already been pre-approved.

Cord also tried to sell me an extended warranty. I said no. He then continued trying to sell the extended warranty to me for 15 minutes, eventually resorting to the tried-and-true sales tactic of calling me stupid and ignorant. I guess that works on some people?

Cord told me I agreed to these ridiculous finance terms by pointing at a handwritten paper from the day before that had “6-(indistinguishable scribble)-dealer.”

After walking away from the deal again, another manager was brought in. Concessions were made.

I didn’t end up getting the warranty. The other manager allowed me to make a down payment. I got an interest rate between where my pre-approval letter sat and their absurdly high rate. Cord told me I was essentially robbing the dealership and that I should just not make the down payment the manager told me I could.

I made the down payment. We got the van.

Yay.

Learn from my mistakes

Not all car buying is this miserable (I hope). Actually, my stepmom has worked at a car dealership for years and was helpful through all of this. I would’ve gone through her dealership (Rand’s Auto), but they didn’t have any vans at the time.

Here are some tips:

  1. Negotiate each quadrant individually

If you have a trade in, negotiate that price independent of the other quadrants. Repeat for each of the other quadrants. Your purchase price should not be dependent on any of the other quadrants. Same goes for fees and financing.

2. Have these negotiations when you don’t need a car that day. Being able to walk away is a wonderful thing. Not being able to end the day without a car is not a wonderful thing.

3. Watch out for the guilt trips.

Cord told me multiple times that they weren’t making any money on this deal. He told me I had agreed to the absurd terms by having a paper that said 6 ~~~ dealer.

If the dealership tells you that they aren’t making any money on the deal, that’s not your problem. Chances are, they still are making money, and if they aren’t, that’s their fault for buying a car above what they could sell it for. It happens in business. They won’t sell you the car if it doesn’t make sense for them. Just like you shouldn’t buy the car if it doesn’t make sense for you.

4. Watch out for fake-fee deals.

They’ll tell you they usually charge $X but are only charging you $Y for a made-up fee.
Not your problem.

5. Plan on 1-2 hours of finance negotiation and signing.

It was 2 hours from when I got to the dealership agreeing to a specific price to when I left with the car and frustrated as ever.

6. Try to plan your purchase around the end of the month

We went at the beginning of the month. Probably would’ve had more success if we had waited a few more weeks.

Happy wife, happy life

I didn’t get all I wanted. In fact, I’m pretty sure I got swindled and hosed big time. But, Caitlin and the kids love the van.

My manliness is as low as it usually is, and I have officially entered middle-age-hood.

It feels… like I should probably be walking around in sandals with crew socks now.

I guess it could be worse.

PS – Caitlin has asked me my thoughts on a vasectomy… I feel like the minivan has accomplished the same desired outcome.

PPS – The dealership was Tim Dahle Nissan in Bountiful.

Clayton, the sales guy, was super nice and super helpful. I’m sure he sees this every day and has deals fall through once he passes them to the finance squad.

The salesperson seems to play the good cop role while the finance guys are the bad cop/straight up d-bags, followed by another good cop manager.

I have never recorded a conversation like this before, but I had the strange feeling that they were going to try something shady. The entirety of the purchase-day conversation is recorded in case one of them happens to read this and wants to try and defend themselves.

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