Ask Bark: When Ask Bark Happens In the Real World

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

You would think that I would know better by now, right? That after literally years of doing this whole “What Car Should I Buy” thing (which sounds a lot like the name of a series on a competing blog that started after “Ask Bark” become the most widely read feature at TTAC), that I would realize people always take immense amounts of my time and virtually never follow my advice. But when I had a close friend ask me for help with buying a car for his wife, I mean, of course I said that I’d help. As I recently saw a fellow automotive writer say, I guess I’m a “gluten for punishment.”

Sounds painful.

Not because I actually expected them to take my advice, of course, but because this was going to be a chance to actually negotiate a deal in person. And if there’s one thing Ol’ Bark loves, it’s going toe-to-toe with a car dealer — it’s literally my favorite thing to do. Since I’m not planning to buy a car any time soon, this would be the next best thing.

So here’s the situation: my friend got married a couple of years ago to a young lady from his home country of Colombia, who is relatively new to the States and doesn’t have much credit history. Unfortunately, prior to this, my friend had also gone through a nasty divorce which caused him to declare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, so they were in a bit of a pickle when it came to financing. They had bought an older Nissan Versa for cash last year, but the transmission was on its last legs, and the cost of fixing the car would have been 2-3 times the actual value. Buying that car had eaten up nearly all of their cash on hand, so they needed to find a cheap, cheerful, and reliable car that would allow her to build up some credit history and also provide solid transportation — all for less than $250 a month.

Of course, there are a few brands out there that are only too happy to help (read: take advantage) of people in this sort of situation — namely, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, and Fiat Chrysler, all of which have pretty aggressive “first time car buyer” programs for customers with limited credit. I told my friend to run a Credit Karma report for his wife so we could see what we were dealing with, and it didn’t come back as bad as I expected — 632 and 640. Not quite Ford/Honda/GM territory for somebody who had never had a car loan before, but certainly good enough for the Koreans.

Therefore, I suggested that we start our search with Kia. The Soul and the Forte are both relatively new models, and I’ve enjoyed my rental time in both. This couple needed a car with good storage space, room for kids in the back, and decent to good fuel mileage, and both the Forte and the Soul fit the bill. Plus, Kia currently has aggressive lease deals on most of its models, starting at $139 a month with $2,600 due at signing. I figured I could work that into a $250 sign-and-drive with little difficulty, considering the willingness of most Kia stores to sell at invoice minus holdback plus rebates. I sent my friend some examples of deals, and he agreed that they fit into his budget.

So I agreed to meet my friends at a Kia dealership close to their home in west Miami after work so that they could test the decidedly cheap-and-cheerful Koreans. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, they had already sat down with a salesperson. It turned out the the Mrs. didn’t care much for the Soul, so they had moved on to the Forte and the Sportage. “I’m so excited!” my friend’s wife squeaked. Sigh. I had my work cut out for me on this evening.

Luckily, the salesman wasn’t super sharp. He had his screen turned to face us, so I could see all of his inventory and the number of days it had been on the lot. There was a blue Sportage that had been there 191 days, and a silver Forte that had been sitting nearly as long. “We’ll look at those two,” I said, cutting my friend off before they could pick out another color and ruin my ruse.

As the salesman walked away to get the keys, I leaned over and whispered to them.

“Number one, you’re not excited about this car, or any car. You’re apathetic. You could just as easily buy a Nissan or a Hyundai or anything else, as far as your salesman knows. Once he senses that you’ve got an emotional attachment to the car, you’ve lost a ton of leverage.

“Number two, I know you might not love blue or silver, but this dealership is paying through the nose each month to finance these cars on their lot. They’ll be more willing to deal on these, trust me.”

Sure enough, the salesman came back a few minutes later, not with a blue Sportage, but a silver one. “That one is at our other lot,” he explained. “But the silver one is just as nice.”

Mumbling some strange policy about too many people on a test drive, the salesman insisted that I stay at the dealership while they test drove the Sportage, and then the Forte. I warned my friend’s wife that any car was going to feel better than the ragged-out Versa she’d been driving, and not to get too excited. She nodded in agreement.

Upon their return, I asked my friends what they thought of the cars.

“Well, I like that the 1.6 liter engine in the Forte has better gas mileage,” my friend started.

“Hold up,” I interrupted. “It’s a 2.0 in the Forte FE, not a 1.6.”

“Are you sure? The salesman said 1.6.”

“Positive. Go on.”

“Well, the 2.0 liter felt a little more powerful in the Sportage…”

“It’s a 2.4.”

“Really? He said 2.0.”

I pointed to the window sticker. “Your dude doesn’t really know much about these cars, I don’t think.”

I asked her what she thought of the two cars.

“I really liked them both, but the Sportage was better.”

“Okay, great. Why?

“Well, I couldn’t really find a good seating position in it, but I liked being higher up.” Unfortunately, seating position is one of those things that just doesn’t change in a car — if you’re not comfortable on the lot, you won’t get comfortable later. My 2005 Scion tC suffered from this problem. Matt Farah sold his Focus RS largely because he wasn’t comfortable sitting in it. These things matter.

So we went back over to the Sportage and tried to find a seating position for her that allowed her to see comfortably over the dash (she’s about 5’0″ and 100 lbs) and also reach the steering wheel and pedals with ease. We couldn’t do it, much to her chagrin. So it was back to the Forte.

“Let’s work the numbers, shall we?” I said to the salesperson. Since I was sitting in a Kia dealership in South Florida, I fully expected the first draft to be full of fuckery, and to be demonstrated on a foursquare form.

I was not disappointed.

When he returned with a foursquare in hand, I immediately interrupted. “Sir, don’t bother with that form. This isn’t 1996. We aren’t focused on the payment. Let’s talk real numbers, please.”

He reacted like an NPC in an Atari cartridge game — he froze when his code was interrupted. “Uh, okay. Sure.”

Our salesman turned over the piece of paper and began writing. “We will give you $1,000 on your trade, and then we will require another $1,000 down. That will make your lease payment $269 a month, plus tax.”

Oh, come on, man.

“Okay,” I began. “We aren’t even close. What’s the sale price that you’re basing the lease on?”

“$20,020.”

“That’s MSRP, sir. Nobody pays MSRP for a Kia. Also, you’ve failed to include the $3,150 of available rebates. Finally, I’m going to need to know what the money factor on this lease is.”

Total deer in headlights moment. “Ummm. Okay. Umm.”

Luckily, at that moment, a bright young man appeared from behind the cubicle wall.

“Sir, I overheard some of your questions. I’m the sales manager here, and I wanted to provide you with some more information.” He handed me a sheet of paper. “These are the lease terms. Here is the residual value, and here is the money factor.”

Finally! Somebody with actual information. “Thank you, sir.”

The sheet showed the variable money factor based on credit score. “Can you show me the beacon you pulled?”

As if by magic, he pulled out another sheet of paper, showing a beacon score of 700, which was far better than what I had seen on my friend’s Credit Karma report. This meant that she qualified for a money factor of .0017, or roughly 4.29% APR. Not the best, but as a first time buyer, I was willing to accept it.

“I’m willing to write a lease based on invoice price for you, sir.” Great, now we were getting somewhere. But this was a Kia store, so I knew that there was money hiding somewhere.

“What’s your dealer fee?” I asked.

“$999,” he shot back confidently.

Fuuuuuuck me. Welcome to South Florida.

“No, we aren’t paying that,” I replied, knowing full well what was coming next, which was…

“Sir, we have to charge that to every customer.”

“No,” I answered. “You have to list a $999 dealer fee on the invoice, because that’s what your owner requires, and also you’re afraid that you’ll get sued for discrimination if you charge it to other people but not to us. I get it. What I’m saying is, you can take that $999 out of the deal somewhere else. Like your holdback, for example.”

His smile momentarily flickered. “Holdback on this car is $483. I can take that out of the deal, too, if you like.”

“Amazing. Now just go find $500 somewhere, and we’ll be in business.”

He came back with what I thought was a pretty good deal. Invoice minus $500, minus holdback and all available rebates, plus acquisition fee and TTL. The dealer fee was still listed, but he turned his screen around to show me where he had discounted the price by enough to cover it. $259 a month including tax, no money down, sign-and-drive for 36 months and 12k miles.

I smiled, thanked him for his time, and told him we’d sleep on it. There was another Kia store about 30 miles north who was advertising no dealer fees — I figured that we might be able to get them to match that deal and take out the extra $999. If not, we’d come back for the Forte.

My friends were thrilled. By most calculations, I had saved them at least $3,000. They took me out to dinner at a local Thai restaurant, which was excellent, and promised that they’d let me know how it went with the other dealer.

A few days went by, and I didn’t hear anything. So I texted them to see what was up.

“We got a Nissan! Thanks for everything!”

I quit.

[Images: Kia Motors]

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Don1967 Don1967 on Nov 18, 2019

    I think highly of Mark's writing, but this one's a miss. Even by car-buying-porn standards it's dripping in unnecessary sarcasm and pettiness. Like mocking the intelligence of the car salesman who revealed inventory details, and then just a few paragraphs later sneering about finally getting "actual information". I would expect this from the smallest, angriest editor at Consumer Reports. Not TTAC.

  • Jonsey Jonsey on Nov 19, 2019

    It's really hard to believe "ask bark" was more popular than "no fixed abode"

  • Daniel J I love my mazda 6. It's getting harder and harder to drive it around where I live as municipalities fail to repair roads. SUVs are just easier to drive with all of the potholes.
  • 1995 SC On the plus side, I found a sedan I want to buy
  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
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