The other day I stopped by my parent’s house to drop off something I had borrowed. As my Dad and I moved the item from my car to his garage, he pointed at my Mother’s car and said, “Hey, we bought your Mom a new car.”
After a few minutes of discussion I learned that they had purchased a 2015 Subaru Forrester, off of the list of cars that the dealer was expecting, and it would be delivered soon. Feeling a wave of déjà vu, I thought for a moment and turning to my Dad asked, “Did you pick up the fork?” He assured me that he had not.
In the summer of 1986 I was between my junior and senior years of high school. My brother was in college and my sister two years behind me. With four drivers in the family and a fifth only a year away, the two-car household that we were was feeling the pressure.
At the time, my Dad drove a brown 1980 Ford Pinto, and my mom a light blue 1983 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon. The brand new Ford Taurus had caught my father’s eye and one day we headed over to the closest Ford dealer to see what this new curvaceous vehicle was all about.
According to Wikipedia
The original Taurus was a milestone for Ford and the entire American automotive industry, bearing an influential design that brought many new features and innovations to the marketplace.
To say the least, the Taurus was a popular car and as we sat across the desk from the salesman, we learned all the reasons why. Furthermore, we found out that no cars were available and that the waiting list was weeks long. The salesman produced a computer printout (little holes on the side and all) that listed all the cars they had on order.
My father poured over the list looking for a station wagon that had the few options he was willing to purchase. Keep in mind that our Pinto had to be ordered from the factory because the ones on the lot at the time had too many options.
Let me repeat that, all the Pintos had too many options.
When he finally found what he was looking for, he haggled a bit before making a deal. We were told our new “azure gray” family truckster would be delivered in 3-4 weeks.
Lucky for all of us, there was a good bit of equipment standard on all Tauruses making this the first ever Nazarian vehicle with air conditioning. That feature, along with the fact that Dad had sprung for the cassette deck too, had the entire family brimming with anticipation.
Having placed the order in first few days of June, we expected we would have our car by Independence day, but the Fourth of July came and went, leaving us to get by with the sweaty and under supplied motor pool previously described. As July wore into August the phone was conspicuously quiet, and rather than contentedly wait for them to call us, we began actively inquiring about our impending new car.
At first we had a hard time getting the salesman on the phone, but eventually we got through to him. He insisted that he had never said 3-4 weeks, but that the car was due in “any day now.” Every time we would drive by the dealership, we would scan the lot looking for a shiny gray wagon, but alas we would always leave disappointed.
Some time in mid-August, my Mom and I drove a couple hours in the Malibu to visit a college I was considering. As was the custom of the time, I was wearing a suit.
Before the return trip, we called home and Dad informed us that the dealer had called with the good news – the car had finally arrived. We agreed that we would meet my Dad and my brother at the dealer. As Mom and I drove past the windows on the road-facing side of the dealer building, we could see that Dad and Doug were already sitting with “Dan” the salesman. None of them looked happy.
Mom decided that this final step in the car buying process did not require her participation, so she dropped me off and headed home. My brother had come straight from his summer job in a bank office, so like me, he was sporting a suit and tie. By contrast, Dad was not too dressed up but since he had the checkbook, his attire was not as important.
When they had arrived, Dad and Doug had been informed that the car we had “ordered” off the list was in fact not gray but light blue, oh and it had arrived with several unexpected options, so it was going to be $2,000 more than the agreed price.
My Father took the situation in, ran some numbers through his head, and in an attempt to resolve things quickly, wrote down a number on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk to Dan. The offer pretty much met them half-way.
The salesman looked and the number and simply shook his head. “I can take this to my sales manager, but I’m going to tell you right now he is going to say no. I mean at this number, we’re losing money on the car.”
Off to the sales manager he went, scrap of paper in hand.
At this point I should mention that the sleeves of Dan’s ill-fitting dress shirt were just like the rest of him… short. It was also clear that he wasn’t missing any meals. My brother and I were both competitive runners, and with me at 6’ 2” and Doug at 6’ 1”, our tall and well-dressed frames were a stark contrast to Dan, who was beginning to sweat visibly. He was clearly outgunned.
Dan returned from the smoky glass cubicle of the sales manager, which, like a pharmacist counter, was on a platform raised above the rest of the showroom. I can only assume this is some kind of psychological game meant to give off a sense of greater power, if not deity.
This was bullshit for which my brother and I were not falling.
Grim faced, Dan explained that they could not budge on the newly bloated price of the car, but because of the situation, they would throw in “scotch guard” for the interior and mud flaps. Furthermore Dan went on, “I’m not really supposed to do this, but I’ll take a $100 cut off my commission too.” He then stood up and walked away, giving the three of us some time to discuss things.
My Dad was tired of the whole situation. All summer long we had spend every evening sorting out the logistical details of the coming day with only two cars. He was tired of calling the dealer only to be told that the car would be there “any day.” They had worn him down and he was ready to surrender. After a minute of discussion, Dad turned to Doug and me and in a defeated voice said, “Let’s just do the deal and get out of here with our new car.”
Doug and I swapped glances. He then squatted down right next to our seated Father and said, “They are trying to serve you a platter of shit and you are picking up a fork. Don’t pick up the fork!”
While my brother’s sage proclamation was still hanging in the dank air of the cramped cubicle, Dan returned asking, “Well, do we have a deal?” Dad stood up and replied, “We most certainly do not, c’mon boys we’re leaving.” We weren’t even half way to the door before both Dan and the sales manager were begging for us to sit back down.
It took a few more rounds of back and forth, but when all was said and done, we ended up agreeing to a number that was within $50 of the offer my Dad had scratched onto the piece of paper. We had tried to be fair from the get-go; they had not.
Car dealers may be the very worst of it, but we all enter into negotiations every day. That day in 1986 I learned that the best way to do any deal is to follow three simple rules:
- Be honest
- Be fair
- Never pick up the fork
If that doesn’t get the job done, stand up and walk away because any deal like that, is one you’re going to regret.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved – Don’t Pick Up The Fork