Daze of My Life: No Sale

Daze of My Life
No Sale
by Kenneth B. Lourie

The automobile dealership claims it needs--or wants--your trade-in so, its radio commercial boasts that this particular dealership guarantees that it will give you, a future new or used car buyer, $10,000 for your trade-in or, it will make your first two monthly car payments. Sounds great, doesn't it, or does it?
OK. Let's try to break down this offer into plain English because, hyper hyperbole like this certainly can grab your attention (that's the point, obviously), with hopes of grabbing your wallet, but what does it mean, really, and as a potential car-buyer to be, what should I expect?
Does this offer mean that, if I have my 1996 Volkswagen Passat (which I no longer have but, for the sake of this column, let's say I still do, all right?) towed to this dealership, after its timing belt has snapped and its engine seized as a result, and with its odometer reading 165,000 miles, that this dealership guarantees me $10,000 in trade, FIVE times the Kelly Blue Book value of $2,000 (for this vehicle in good condition, no less) off any new or used car I want to buy?
Or will this same dealership have zero interest in my Passat (other than as an inducement to encourage me to drop by for a visit) and instead, per their radio offer, make the first two monthly payments on any new or used car I buy which, as you might guess, would be significantly lower than this imaginary $10,000? You do the math; $10,000 deducted from the purchase price of my vehicle or pay my first two monthly car payments, totaling somewhere between $500 and $1,000, depending. And it's the dealership's choice. Are they going to pay me more, or less, and who's kidding whom?
Am I supposed to believe that there's true value (with apologies to Paul Harvey) here? Or is it just me that's being had? Heck, between the miscellaneous and mysterious charges for floor mats, undercoating, paint sealant and delivery and handling, there's plenty of costs the dealership can devalue to help offset the loss of two monthly payments made on the buyer's behalf. I doubt the dealership will even feel the loss but, will I? That's what worries me.
To me, this offer looks like a wolf in sheep's clothing; it's just baaaad. But what do I know? As has been proven in this space many times before, not very much. And here again is yet another subject where I have marginal knowledge and limited experience. Perhaps I'm simply unable to see true value-type offer that's being made here.
Maybe I'm being too naive. Maybe the dealership really wants customer's high mileage used cars, and the more dings and dents, the better. Maybe the dealership wants to assume all the unmentioned mechanical and physical problems that only we as the car's owner know exist? And maybe the dealership wants all these unadmitted-to problems in order to train a new team of mechanics who will then be able to deal with any and all repair problems? And finally, maybe the dealership wants all these trade-ins because they make more money selling used cars and servicing new cars than they do selling new cars? And offering what sounds like the moon when it's really green cheese may simply be business as usual. Who's to say? Certainly not me.
All I know is, that I call'em as I see'em and I write'em as I hear'em. I may be wrong in my assessment but, if a dealership wants me to consider buying a new or used car from them, they should be advertising to me, not at me.

lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.