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What Buying a Car Reveals About You

Your car buying experience speaks volumes about your personality.

Cars are great. They are vehicles for travel to places you know and don’t know. They allow you to explore, have adventures, visit friends and family, take off spontaneously, give people rides, view the turning of the leaves trees in Fall, rushing rivers in Summer, vast expanses of pristine snow in Winter.

There’s an innate sense of excitement when it’s time to select and buy a new car. But how many people do you know who have had a pleasant, relaxing car buying experience? Most folks I know describe it as being exhausting, anxiety-producing, overwhelming, demeaning, depressing, and hateful.

You look at a car, you see the sticker price, you go for a test drive, you sit down with a salesperson, you make an offer, the salesperson disappears to talk to some unseen Wizard of Oz manager, he comes back, says the Wiz won’t accept your offer, you get up to leave, the salesperson makes a slightly better offer, perhaps, you sit down again, you counter, he disappears, Oz can’t possibly do it, and on and on and on.

And then, if you agree on a price, and you think you are out of the buying woods, you talk to a dealer finance person who gives you an avalanche of good news or bad news and suggests you buy an extended warranty of some sort or another, and by then you can’t see straight and you feel like keeping your old car and running out the door.

Today, I finally bought a car, so you know I am speaking from personal experience. And here is what I think buying a car reveals about you.

  1. The way you interact with the salesperson has everything to do with the way you were raised, and how you did or didn’t get your needs met as a child. In order to get some semblance of well-being, did you do what you were told, and acquiesce? Or were you feisty and demanding? Did you get emotional? Or stay detached and rational? Did you ask for what you needed, or assume you would automatically get it or not even ask because you figured you would never get it? If there were a mirror next to the salesperson you are sitting across from, you would see "little you."
  2. How do you feel about authority? Do you feel that people in charge are really concerned about your welfare? Are you glad someone else is making decisions? Does having someone in charge make you feel secure? If so, you will happily pay sticker price. But if you are suspicious of authority and rebellious, you will feel resentful that there is some unseen Wizard, and you will decide to be your own authority and make up your mind about what you want to pay, not what someone else wants you to pay.
  3. How confident are you? If you make an offer, and it is not accepted, do you feel embarrassed? Rejected? In the wrong? If you think it over at home and decide to go back and take the car at the price the salesperson asks, do you feel diminished? Weak? Ashamed? Do you feel that you have lost? If you make an offer and it is not accepted, do you go home, think it over, and talk to the salesperson again and try to convince him to take your offer? In other words, do you become your own salesperson?
  4. When a finance person tells you their offer is only good today, do you get intimidated and sign on the dotted line? Or do you say that is unacceptable and hope he will extend the offer to give you time to think about it? Do you ask for printed material so you can study it and think about it? Do you tell him you are overwhelmed and can’t deal with it? Do you pretend to listen to please him? Once again, trust me on this one: the way you interact with the finance person says a lot about how you interact with people in general, and reveals how you handle relationships—confronting, backing off, pleasing, telling your truth, etc.
  5. If you are female, do you allow yourself to be intimidated? In general, car dealerships and salespeople are men. In general, men know more about cars than women do. So it is a perfect setup for intimidation. Do you slink down in the chair? Do you apologize for asking too many questions? Do you make demeaning comments about your technical knowledge and driving ability and anything else having to do with cars? If so, you are seeing how much confidence you have as a woman in a world dominated by men. It is very instructive.
  6. If you are male, do you feel competitive at the dealership? Does this in any way have to do with how you feel or felt about your father growing up? Do you puff yourself up and try to show how much you know about cars, prices, dealer invoices? Or perhaps you grow silent. Maybe you feel your manhood is on the line. Do you nod and pretend to understand, so you’re on the same level as the salesperson? Are you reluctant to ask questions?
  7. Do you work out your strategy in advance? You do your research and find out what the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price is (aka, the sticker price). You know you are not going to pay that. But instead of getting into a bargaining situation, where you may feel ill at ease, you decide that you will go into the dealership and ask the salesperson to tell you his best price. If you don’t like it, you will pack up your marbles and leave. And he’ll come running after you. Sounds like you are really confident but, in fact, the opposite may be the case. You are reluctant to be in the moment, responding to whatever happens. You cling to a pre-arranged scenario. You don’t want to be caught off-guard or made to feel uncomfortable. So you try to cover your bases before the ballgame has started.
  8. Do you want the salesperson to like you? Ah, this is a tough one. You want people to like you, and you know that one way to do this is to be solicitous of the other, tuned into his or her needs, compassionate to a fault. And you may play this out in the car dealership. You ask about and really care about his family. You want to make sure to accept his offer or make an offer that may be more than you want to pay, so he will like and remember you. Yoo hoo. You are a shopping for a car, not a new BFF.
  9. Do you worry about what others think of you? You will not be a happy shopper when you leave the dealership without a car, or, actually, even if you drive away on new wheels. You may wonder if you were too hard on the salesperson, or too demanding, or not demanding enough, or too much of a pushover. You may worry that you insulted the finance person by not buying extended protection, and that you weren’t cool enough and aloof enough at the poker table of car buying. In the real world, the sales team is on to the next buyer and even if your behavior was egregious, I doubt they will waste much time on it.
  10. The strategy I used: I test drove the car with my husband, and the salesperson was sitting in the back. I joked with him that he should cover his ears so my husband and I could talk frankly. He joked back and said he would take out his hearing aids so he couldn’t hear a thing. We spoke very frankly about the car.

    Back at the dealership, I said to him, “You seem like a nice guy. I will be easy on your nerves if you are easy on mine.” He replied, “I try to treat customers the way I want to be treated. I smiled. He left us with bottles of water while he went to speak to Oz. When he came back, he said Oz was going to give me $500 off sticker price. “That’s very sweet,” I said, “but it’s more than I want to pay. I know what the dealer invoice price is.” “How much above the invoice are you comfortable paying?” he asked. I told him. He disappeared and said Oz couldn’t accept that.

    I changed the subject. I asked him to research something about the car the next morning. And the next morning he had an answer. “It’s down to the price now,” I wrote him in an email. “Can you tell me how much it would be for a coating on the car against rocks and chips?” He gave me a price and said Oz would throw that in for $500 under the sticker price. “Well,” I wrote back, “if I forego that, will he meet my price of how much I am comfortable paying above sticker price?”

    “I don’t think so,” he wrote back. “Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask,” was my reply. He asked and Oz said yes. He had a deal and I had the car at the price I wanted to pay. End of story. He treated me the way he wanted to be treated.
  11. Can you feel good at the end of a car purchase? I did. I really did. If it weren’t for the doom-and-gloom-and-do-I-want-to-purchase-an-extended-warranty-so-I-am not-in-dire-straights-when-I-drive-off-the-lot-and-a-terrorist-commandeers-my-car experience with the finance person that followed my purchase, I would have felt good indeed. Instead, I felt overwhelmed and afflicted by TMI and get-me-outta-there.

There are many sites where you can get tips about how to research, negotiate, and buy a car, but this is about you, and what you can learn about yourself from the experience.

Best of luck!

I am an award-winning international travel journalist, author, speaker, and blogger; please visit my website.