On my way to Wal-Mart to get a new car battery (9 years is good for a battery, but most good things come to an end) I turned right instead of left and started looking at minivans. The dealer only had one that I judged to be in my price range, and, sure enough, when I told the guy what I was willing to pay, he tried to keep smiling, and asked his boss, whose smile also faltered for a second, and together, they both pointed out the same minivan that I had been looking at.
Of course, they gave me a price that was exactly a thousand higher than what I'd said, but only after he "brought it down a bit" from a higher figure, because he'd "agreed on that price for someone else." I smirked to myself, but let him keep talking. A third guy wandered closeby as the boss kept going. "There's totally nothing wrong with it, man. We went all through it" — and here he paused, as though a guilty conscience had overtaken him — "well, except for the cupholder. That's the reason the guy sold it. So that's —" "Oh, we took care of that," said the third guy. "Oh, you did?" — and he turned back to me with a broad gesture to say, "Well, there you go!" as guy #3 walked away.
With that well-rehearsed little ploy, I decided it was time to have some fun of my own.
"So, what can you do on a trade-in?" I asked. The boss blustered about for a bit, and then got back on track. Things weren't going the way he planned, but he was determined to make this sale, if only to show his new employee how it was done.
"Well, what have you got?"
"A 1977 Pontiac Phoenix." I swear, the guy just about cried.
"Oh, you couldn't have made it something easy, could you? What's up with the weird cars this week? We had one guy bring in a Javelin, and there was this '59 wagon..." He was being genuine, and I laughed. America is a weird, wonderful place for car culture. I made a mental note to tell the next dealer that I had a 1952 Lada. Or maybe a Talbot. Or both.
He set about trying to determine the value the hard way.
"Well, does it run? Does it drive?" (There's a distinction between the two.)
"Yep." Well, it will as soon as I go get a battery for it across the street, I thought to myself.
"Dude, it's had two owners. My grandfather, and myself. I know for a fact that it was driven once a week to the grocery store. Hasn't even broken a hundred thousand miles yet."
At this point, I was selling him a car, and the irony wasn't lost on him.
"Where is it?"
"It's at my house, in Winona Lake." What, I thought, are you going to go get it right now? ...yeah, he probably would, if he could make the sale.
"Does it have any rust?"
"Yeah, a bit. Around the wheel wells. But don't worry, anything that fell off, I kept. I still have the rear bumper." I grinned. He buried his face in his hands.
Poor guy didn't make a sale today. But I had fun, got some good practice for the real thing, and I discovered that unseen, funny old cars make interesting bargaining chips!
Now, if Deborah and I applied the techniques we used on the street vendors in Ecuador...