Friday, April 19, 2013

Checking the Rear View Mirror

My dad is a very good man.  What virtues I have I mostly got from him.  Some of them directly.  He had the work ethic one would expect coming off of an old time farm.  I am almost that hard working and can say with pride that my sons appear to have inherited a bit of this as well.

A few of my defining qualities probably developed as an opposite, a counter point to my father.

I saw him practice medicine with compassion and skill for decades but make relatively little money in the process.  He was just too nice a guy to bill people.  He was just too trusting to suspect anyone of ulterior motives.  He was a great saver and a lousy investor. He was in many ways still the archetype of an old time country doctor.  I don't know if he ever took chickens in payment but it would not surprise me.  Come to think of it we did eat chicken pretty regularly when I was growing up.

In any event, be it virtue or vice I am in business matters considerably more resolute.

Maybe that is why when I was a worldly 19 year old my father asked me to come car shopping with him.

Growing up as he did with horses, then Model Ts, he had a serious love of cars.  The bigger and more chrome laden the better.  He was a used car salesman's dream customer.

We walked around the car lot the three of us.  My father wide eyed, guileless and smiling, myself a lanky, loping college student, and the car salesman whose appearance I have forgotten.

Dad found something he liked, a yellow Dodge a few years old.  I think it was priced at $4,000.

"Dad, offer him three and a half."

My father was taken aback....."Really?" he asked.

We drove off the lot, having spent considerably less than four grand.  And it turned out to be a pretty good car.  After long years of service one of my brothers banged it up to the point of no return.

My father is now 91 years old.  His health is frail and his memory mostly gone.  This is not all bad, he has had the good fortune to selectively forget all the difficult parts of his life first, remembering the best.

Today my 19 year old son asked me to go car shopping with him.  It will be his first vehicle.

I am not going to do his negotiating for him but I do feel an obligation to offer up advice for preliminary car shopping.

-Don't discuss price range.
-Don't discuss trade ins or financing.
-Car salesmen will always ask-usually it is their third question-what you do for a living.  He can sure tell them that he works in a brewery.  But when I am asked I just vaguely mention that I am a writer.  It is no less true than saying I am a physician and gives me a little more negotiation room.
-Figure out what it will cost to drive....just how many hours of work will it take to fill that tank?
-And when final haggling is in order remember that car salesmen need to make a living too.  Find that price that makes both parties feel ok.  (Remembering that a dealership should have an interest in your future business!)

Of course in the end he will buy what he wants.  Your first car, or in this case truck,  is a matter of the heart.  Only so much cold calculation can factor into it.

Hopefully he will end up with a keeper, one that will serve him well for many years.

But if he was paying attention perhaps his next car purchase will be more of a strictly business transaction!