Car buyers are getting crushed by the rapid increase in the cost of new and used cars, but my dad’s old-school negotiating techniques might offer some relief.
Thanks to the rippling effects of the pandemic and the lockdowns, it’s harder to find a new car to buy in the first place.
As USA Today explains, our current car troubles started with a global shortage of the computer chips that power the magical products that connect, transport and entertain us.
As chip plants were shut down last year and demand for consumer-electronics products soared, the chip shortage got increasingly worse.
Now it’s so bad that USA Today says the auto industry has been forced to shut down its factories “because there aren’t enough chips to finish building vehicles that are starting to look like computers on wheels.”
Some dealers are using the shortage to charge far above sticker price for new cars — justifying the practice because, they say, they now have fewer new cars to generate the profits needed to cover their operating expenses.
In response to this sticker shock, more car shoppers have begun searching for used vehicles — causing their prices to jump too.
CNN reports that through May used car prices had shot up 30 percent in the previous 12 months — almost breaking the previous record one-year increase set in 1975.
More young people are using online car-buying services, such as Cars.com, Shift, Vroom and Carvana, to buy used cars.
I wonder if a non-economic trend is at work here that has some part in abetting the spike in car prices: that fewer Americans are willing to negotiate face-to-face with salespeople to get the best possible deals.
According to Newsweek, the pandemic pushed car dealers to step up online sales and eliminate “what millennials (and others) dreaded: showroom visits that averaged five hours, haggling, paperwork, and high-pressure pitches for add-on products like wheel and tire insurance.”
No haggling? No paperwork? No batting down the sneaky tactics some high-pressure dealers try to use on you?
That financial and psychological combat, as I learned from my dad, is the best part of buying a car!
I remember going with him to dealerships when he bought a new or used car.
He’d don his car-buying uniform — worn pants, paint-stained shoes and an old coat with rips in the elbows — and we’d visit four or five dealers.
As closing time neared, we’d find a dealer — tired of having the guy in the beat-up clothes in the show room — who’d give my dad a deal that was usually a few thousand bucks less than what they took the prior customer for.
Today, technology has definitely improved transparency in the car-buying process.
Savvy consumers can use lots of online tools and resources, such as Edmunds, to evaluate asking prices on specific models and determine if a dealer’s prices are high or low.
To be sure, I always use these new weapons when I purchase vehicles. But I prefer to blend them with the old-school techniques mastered by my father.
I bring my laptop computer and smartphone with me when I visit car dealerships.
I wear shabby clothes. I bring lunch. And I enjoy every moment of the haggling process to get the price of the car down as low as I can get it.
I’m afraid the art of car haggling — which is dying way too fast for me — is yet another victim of a pandemic that has changed too many other prized traditions forever.
Copyright 2021 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at [email protected]