I’ve been thinking about cars more than I usually do, and I wanted to share this item I came across: My Car, My Crutch.
When I opt to use my car for transportation, it is easy for me to control my experiences and keep them uninterrupted by the vast, unimagined plethora of possibilities that otherwise wait for me in relatively safe Canadian cities. Instead of using my mind to assimilate and conduct unexpected, interesting stimuli into equally unexpected and provocative thoughts, I wait for lights and sit in traffic. Head in hand, elbow resting on the door’s window ledge, I fill the time by pondering my achievements, my assumed obligation to fulfill those achievements, or the nagging belief that I haven’t or won’t or can’t fulfill them. Perhaps my subconscious propels me into this space partly because of the monetary pressure my vehicle exerts on me. Or perhaps, since I never have to think about becoming waylaid by the irregularities of public transit, this car gives me the sense that I have temporal invincibility in my task-oriented approach to life.
A little over 10 years ago, I carpooled to work one day with a freelance programmer who was working on the commercial website I was building. When I picked him up in my then-new 1998 Accord, he commented, “Ooh, nice car.” I thanked him and observed, without really thinking about it, that it was “probably the nicest car I’ll ever own.”
He was shocked that I would say that, at least in reference to a sensible 4-door family sedan. His response reminded me of something I frequently forget: that there is this whole Cult of the Car that I’ve never been part of, with roadsters and Ferraris and all that stuff.
My prediction (that our ’98 Accord would be the nicest car I ever owned) had a chance of coming true up until a couple of days ago. But after 250K miles of ridiculously long commuting it was time to buy a new one.
I go into the car-buying process afraid. In the past I’ve tried hard to avoid being scammed, but the best I can usually do is to avoid being scammed in the particular ways I’ve previously been scammed, while being scammed in completely new ways that I don’t recognize until later.
This time was different, thanks in large part to Zag/Truecar, a reverse-auction site that has dealers bid for your business, and to salesman Mike Daegetano at Honda of Hollywood, who actually ended up selling us the car. I feel badly about how I treated Mike. I owe him an apology.
It’s a fairly long haul down to Hollywood from where I live, so I wanted all the numbers buttoned up before I went there. Mike gave me his out-the-door price over the phone, including the breakdown for tax, license, etc.
I told him, “Look; I don’t want to get down there and find out that there’s something extra being tacked on. This is the price, right?”
“Absolutely; I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m being straight with you.”
Yeah, whatever, I thought. “Fine,” I said, and hung up. But when I went over the numbers he’d given me, I saw that the California sales tax was $19.25 too high. That is, it looked like we were paying the 8.75% sales tax on $220 more than we should have been. I went over the numbers a couple of times, but couldn’t figure out why that money was there.
Until I thought, oh, of course. Car dealers. After all this, they’re going to pull this on me, and for a measly $20. But even with that, Honda of Hollywood’s price was still more than $1K less than any of the other dealers I’d been talking to, so I decided to just eat the $19.95, while keeping my guard up to make sure it wasn’t the first step in some ploy to get me to pay an extra $220. Which I assumed it probably was.
Mike called me the next morning. “Mr. Callender? I wanted to let you know there was a mistake in that price I gave you.”
Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes. “So you’re saying it’s going to cost us more?” I could feel my blood pressure rising.
“No, no. I made a mistake in the sales tax, because I took off the price of the window etching, like we agreed, but then I forgot to take that cost out when I figured the tax. So your actual out-the-door price will be $19.95 less than what I told you yesterday.”
There was a long pause.
“Mr. Callender? Is that okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” I finally said. “It’s just… unprecedented.”
“Hey, I said I was being honest.” He sounded hurt.
“Yeah, I know. But you guys always say that. And until now it was never true.”
But it was. I was in and out of the dealer in 15 minutes, and am now driving what I’m pretty sure is the nicest car I will ever own. And if you are shopping for a Honda in L.A., you really should talk to Mike at Honda of Hollywood.
Diogenes, I’m sure, is spinning in his grave.