Editor’s Note: This column is dedicated to jc’s brother, P.J. Campion, whose guidance, and stellar recon work put him in a position to survive some crazy shit.
Author’s Note: If you have read this column for even a week, much less the last twenty-four years, you know what a cynical skeptic I am. I’ve purchased many cars and faced some bizarre behavior for decades, and hell, Southeast Toyota Finance would not take my late father’s lease after he exited the planet in 2019 without putting the car up for auction and our family having to pay the balance. I know how ruthless and dishonest this industry can be. So, make sure you keep this in mind when reading the following mayhem.
Before the deluge of angst, I’m going to lead this one with a positive. After one solid week of searching for either a new car lease or a used car purchase in a time of computer chip shortages, shrinking inventory and underhanded car dealer bullshit I found the car I ultimately wanted: a Mitsubishi Outlander SE. Thanks in no small part to the honest and upstanding folks at Nielson Mitsubishi in Rockaway, N.J. Especially its manager Andrew Kamaris and salesman Ryan Bet. Those guys were an welcomed oasis in an arid landscape of abject prevarication. The Nielsen Group is the only dealership in a thirty-mile radius of my home that is not currently raising prices by anywhere from five to eight grand on automobiles and running bait and switch schemes to rival a congressional bill caucus. It is the wild west out there.
Boy, did I find this out the hard way.
My experience started about two weeks ago with a recon visit to Route 17 Mitsubishi in Ramsey, N.J. Spoke to a fast-talking lifer named Pete. He assured me what I was looking for was in stock at the advertised price – a base model Outlander. I was more interested in this level of what they call in the industry “trim” than the slightly more expensive SE that I ended up with, but more on that later. Because, you see, Pete did not care about any ad (Two grand down, three-year lease, at 10K miles a year for $334) that drove me to the dealership in the first place, nor that he assured me on the phone before I came in that he had “everything in stock.” He showed me the SE. We drove it. Throughout the test drive I was flabbergasted that the base model had heated and electric seats, climate control, etc. “Oh, yeah, and plus, we don’t have computer chips in these, so we never had a shortage.”
Pete, like his promise of “everything in stock”, was making all of this up. He then came back with well north of $450 a month with four-grand down and a four-year lease. (I did not want a four-year lease. He told me I could bolt on the lease after three. He did not mention that I would still have to pay for a car I was no longer driving.) None of which was in the ad. When I showed him the ad, he proceeded to lie badly that it was for a front-wheel drive vehicle. (Note: I have worked with truly agile liars in my time. Pete sucked at it.) It was not front-wheel drive in the ad. My bro, P.J confirmed this on the phone and sent me the link. I showed Pete the link. This put Pete on his heels, forcing him to blurt out that the car in the ad was the ES (base model), not what I drove. I reminded him that he assured me that what I drove was the base model. He started coming apart at this point in our Dali-esque illogic-speak. This rote character out of central casting of a slick, old-time car huckster was not holding it together. I told him and whatever suit came out pretending to be the manager that if they got the car I wanted, I would be back two days hence to buy it. Pete and the de facto “manager” said they would have it by then. They even sent me a text asking if I was still coming a day later. I never heard from them again.
P.J suggested the aforementioned Nielsen Group around this time and when I called the guy (whose name I do not recall, but this could have been my hero, Ryan) he did not blow smoke up my skirt. “We just do not have any ES models in the color you want, man. It’s tough to get or keep anything now.” To make matters more complicated I really wanted the car in dark gray. I understood and appreciated his honesty. It turns out I should have stayed with Nielsen. But…
I moved onto another dealer fairly close (like 45 minutes away close) in Goshen, N.Y. Mainly because my pal, Brock lives up there and he is a car guy, and he trusted his area to come through for me. But predictably, Healy Mitsubishi could not help but crank up the lie machine. When I called, they said they had the cars on their web site in their lot. I had not been completely felled by a phalanx of deceit yet, so I took the long trip to Goshen. (Cue the sinister music here) A lovely young woman greeted us and proceeded to say that not only did they not have any of those cars listed on their site, but the first woman I spoke to, who answered the Healy Mitsubishi phone and oozed confidence to this end, had no authority to promise any of this. She is merely the “web person.” I would confront this “web person” mystery before too long with another manufacturer.
Fed up with Mitsubishi, my bro did some recon on a car my late dad was interested in back in the day, a Nissan Murano. Route 23 Nissan in Butler answered my queries about its availably and price this way: “My manager wants to know what you want to pay for the car?” I told him five-hundred bucks with a used moped trade-in. He did not get the joke. I wished to know what the professionals at Nissan wanted to charge for the car, since I had never even seen the fucking thing in person, just some photos on the Internet. They did not call me back for nearly the entire week, and when they did, they said that I had to put five-grand down and that it would be marked up six grand and the monthly payments were north of five bills. I wished them well and said I preferred my offer with the moped. He still did not get it.
As mentioned, once I drove Pete’s SE, the bastard had me hooked, so my bro sent me to Route 46 Mitsubishi, where comedy and tragedy reside comfortably to form a miserable cocktail of time-wasting crapolla. To their credit, these lunatics hid nothing. The manager, a corpulent smile-fiend with an open shirt revealing a giant crucifix laying on a tuft of chest hair sat me down and explained the current economic climate. “I’m going to be honest with you, ignore the MSRP, the way the industry is right now you can automatically add five grand to every sticker price,” he said, affecting an air of parental guidance. He may have even touched my knee sympathetically, but I probably conjured that due to lightheadedness. Yet, I still drove one of their ES series, and it was something like $498 a month with $5,500 down. (and by the way, I found out the ES’s hood undulates spastically if you get it over sixty MPH, something they failed to mention until I told them about my highway experience). “Oh, that’s a recall.” So, I’m woefully overpaying for a damaged car I must eventually take back in? Fantastic.
Before I left, I found a plaque with the president and vice president (I assume of the dealership), who wanted me to call if I was not 100% satisfied. You can imagine that I did this, because I did. At first I got something called the Sun Homes Sales Group in Florida. When I called again, the prompt sent me right to the VP. I left my message of hate and rage. He never returned my call for comment.
One last shot. A used Outlander. My bro found City Motor Group in Haskell that advertised a used 2016 SE. Looked clean, he said. $16,769.00. Forty-five thousand miles on it. Drove down there. Perfectly cordial bunch. Test drove it. Liked it. Then they sent me to the “finance guy” and things went sideways fast. After something called a “Multi-State Inspection” fee of $1,800.00 and other “hidden” fees added on – a list I had to wrest from the guy as if it were Trump’s tax returns – the final number was 21-grand, another five-thousand dollar mark-up. When I brought up the idea that making sure a car they were selling could pass inspection might be on them, like, say, if you buy a steak in a restaurant you assume that meant it was being cooked without a special fee, he said that because things are so crazy out there they can get away with it. “We used to pay for this, but now people are willing to pay for it.” He was right. When I checked on the car writing this, it was sold. (Cue the P.T. Barnum quote about suckers…)
Note: On the City Motor Group web site is a Code of Ethics under something called the National Independent Automotive Dealers Association that has as much integrity as the “multi-state inspection” charge, because if you go to their web site you get a 404 Web Page Not Found message. It reads (I added the italics for comedic emphasis): “Members of the NIADA and its state associations are independent auto dealers that abide by a strict Code of Ethics for membership that will give you additional peace of mind. Among other things, NIADA dealers commit to operating with integrity, honor and fair dealing toward the general public, comply with all city, county, state and federal laws, employ truth and accuracy in advertising and selling, and constantly strive to improve business methods to the end that the public is better served.”
When you’re done throwing up, it’s important to note the operative words found in that pile of steaming shit: “all city, county, state and federal laws.” There are no laws. It’s like OPEC without the third-century garb. That should frighten us the most, but I digress.
At this point I can tell you I tried to buy a car listed as a 2021 Chevy Trailblazer at Schumacher Chevrolet in Clifton that was not only on their web site, but I called first and spoke to another “mysterious web person,” who told me as I was six-minutes out they had the car on the lot. Ten or so minutes later the guy on the floor said it sold two days ago after he said it was a “service model” and some other stammering nonsense. But I won’t burden you any further.
Suffice to say, P.J.’s desperate last-minute plan of building the Outlander of my choice on their corporate web site the Sunday evening before the good people at Nielsen saved my ass was a winner. After only a couple of minutes with these guys I knew the difference between a preponderance of dealers out there that are using this crisis to gouge consumers and those who are riding it out with us and trying to do the right thing. And quite frankly, considering the vagaries of capitalism, who knows what the “right thing” is? They are selling these cars. People need them and dealerships need to stay solvent selling only a portion of their inventory. No one expects this computer chip shortage to subside until maybe the end of next year and who knows what a world looks like without COVID anymore?
But beware. There are sharks in the water now. And they have ramped up their image of charlatans a notch or two. Finding salesman like Andrew and Ryan in these waters is rare. But they are out there. Hang in there like P.J. and me. But don’t give into the “That’s the way it is now, eat it” mentality. They want you to give in, to get lazy. To accept their reality. It does not have to be. Love my car. Love even more that it took all of the above and more to get it at the proper price from honest sellers.