Hammer Time: Preservation
There’s something amazing about recessions. Prices can come tumbling down to Earth and the costs of living can all of a sudden be dirt cheap. Yes, I’m aware that my country’s leaders seem fully content on feasting on our future wealth with no concern for the consequences. Fair enough. But I also know a good deal when I see one.
A $100 car with 123k? Bought it today. Runs fine. Just needs a paint job and motor mounts. The 3 $200 cars I bought (1991 Volvo 740, 1996 Cavailer, 1997 Maxima) sold for about $4600 altogether recently. Am I blessed with amazing foresight when it comes to beaters? Yes and no. To be frank I’m stuck in a time warp and I deal with so many older cars in my line of work that it’s usually easy to figure out who had the right and wrong owners. It’s really not ‘the car’ that is important when it comes to buying used. It’s the driver. Speaking of which…
I’m likely the only car guy you’ll meet who will initially reject his own future customers. A lady went to my place today and looked at a 2000 Ford Mustang. 5-speed, V6, plenty of power for the open road. Her son came with her and proceeded to salivate all over the car… right up to the point when he realized it wasn’t a GT. “Do you have a Mustang with a V8?” Well at this point I could tell two things.
First this kid was following his dreams which is usually a good thing. However there were only five cars in the entire lot left and unless my cars magically became Transformers, he would be out of luck. ‘Do you have anything that’s really fast?” I was immediately tempted to point him to a scooter I had in the shed and let Darwin have his way. But I’ve been there. I remember longing for the Camaros and Mustangs back in the late-80’s. Then I drove one and realized the error of my ways.
The second thing I discovered was that his mom was ‘an enabler’. She looked at me without blinking and the first thing out of her mouth was, “My son drives my Corvette on a daily basis.” My mind was instantly filled with a thousand points of sarcasm. But instead of letting loose a monologue worthy of Roseanne I said, “Hmmm… interesting… How many accidents has he had?” Again without blinking, “Two, are you sure you don’t have a Mustang V8?”
Hell, it said V6 on the frigging ad for crying out loud! But I’m lucky enough to hire an older fellow who has been well versed in the ways of verbal assuasions. He’s my neighbor and between raising four daughters and working with truckers, he’s heard it all. Without a whisper of doubt he intervenes, “Honestly, I really don’t think I would ever give a 260 horsepower car to a 16 year old kid. 210 horsepower is more than enough. You’re asking for trouble.”
It was a dope slap. But then again maybe the phrase ‘teachable moment’ is a better description. My neighbor and I go through a lot of these situations and surprisingly most of them are pleasant. The most common issue are folks who want to be financed but don’t have the means. Bounced checks. Overdue utility bills. Employment issues. Typically we always ask for several references (landlord, employer, personal), a pay stub, utility bill, and a bank statement. Most of the scam artists won’t bother with this information regardless of the deal. However a surprising number of our customers are either emerging out of bankruptcy or are trying to get out of a deal written by the devil (think about 18k of payments for a 5 year old Buick). For them it’s a very reasonable request with good results.
One other big thing. We only finance within a seven mile radius. No exceptions. When you get outside of that range you’re either dependent on GPS systems or fervent prayer. One of the fortunate things I’ve had in my work as an auctioneer is advice from folks who are far more experienced in this world than yours truly. There are hundreds of subtleties in this business. Most of which have to do with managing personality types instead of selling. But if I can sum it in twelve words it would be, “Always call immediately, always be helpful, avoid cleavers and liars, repo quick.” I’ve let people slide for months without penalty or interest if they’re truly going through a rough patch in life. In fact I don’t charge late fees or interest at all. But if they lie or don’t return my calls I get my vehicle back.
For me, it works. I only had one ‘skip’ for all of last year (someone who makes off with a vehicle) and I got that back thanks in large part to an arrest warrant. My success rate is 85% to 90% with getting a finance deal paid off and I also self-finance… which is very rare. I also use my relationships in the auction business to find older cars with good owners and low miles, and most of my customers become owners instead of renters as a result of it.
Oh, about that mom. I have to hand her one thing. After she smiled and thought about my friend’s response she asked him, “How about the Mercedes?”
John Fritz on Mar 14, 2010
Mr. Lang, have you given any thought to writing a book? Every one of your contributions to TTAC have, in my humble opinion, fallen somewhere between well above average to absolutely exceptional in terms of content, writing style and holding one's interest. You are an accomplished story teller. More please.
DweezilSFV on Mar 15, 2010
^ Sign me up for that book. All the above just reinforces my instinct to either give my car to my little brother or donate it. [I'd send a car to the crusher myself before handing one off to my older brother who seems to have an undeclared genius for destroying automobiles. I wouldn't wish him on a Yugo, bless him] Mr. Lang you must have some other-worldly sense of self preservation.
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