Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution has a radical idea for prospective new car buyers : don’t drive it.
His pitch is this : driving is an emotionally engaging activity that will only serve to distract you from the task at hand, namely, receiving the best deal possible on your new automobile. While granting that being a feelings-driven buffoon is no way to conduct oneself in a financial transaction, driving a car before you plunk down the cash is pretty damn important, and I say that as someone who’s bought and sold a fair few cars in his day. Almost definitely more than Tyler and quite likely more than you too.
So why should you drive your new car before buying it ? Well, wouldn’t you want to know that the steering in your new car is so heavy that it feels like you’re winding up the Titanic’s rusty anchor from the seafloor of the Atlantic ? Wouldn’t you also want to know how big your blind spots are so that you aren’t playing bumper cars on the freeway, and that the wind noise isn’t deafening at highway speeds ? Wouldn’t it make sense to feel the suspension over a pothole or two before parting company with your dearly earned savings ? The answers to all of these would, at least to any reasonable person interested more in the object being bargained over than the deal itself, be a resounding yes.
This being said, I’ll further grant that new cars – and Tyler is clear to mention that he’s referring exclusively to new cars here, particularly as be begs the question “Why should you ? They want you to do it, which is already reason to be suspicious,” making it abundantly clear that he’s been raped over the coals by at least one new car salesman in his day – are in no way used cars of unknown and largely unknowable providence,i and that if any two cars are going to be virtually identical, it’s going to be a pair of new cars.
On the other hand, cars have a lot of option boxes that can be ticked. There’s the sports suspension, the larger engine, the spoiler, the upgraded sound system, the bigger wheels on lower profile tires, etc etc. As such, even finding two identical new cars in the same city, even for a mainstream model, is a challenge. Every manager at every dealer orders what they think will sell to the customers in their part of town, and given that no two parts of town and no two managers are the same, the odds of them picking the same options is exceedingly small.
All of which is to say that Tyler Cowen’s proposition is really quite howlingly stupid. Truly, it’s like telling a prospective home buyer to only conduct a walk-around of the exterior of the property, lest they walk inside and their imagination swept up into an irretrievable frenzy wherein they *gasp* actually see themselves living in the space, with the couch over here, and the toy room over there, and the dresser over there, and with that wall knocked down to open that up and… you see where this is going.
If you’re in the market for a new car, and there’s no talking you down off of the precipitous ledge that is this rapidly depreciating high capital cost asset, and you quite rightly want to check your emotional banana baggage at the door, either drive the car one day and come back the next day to settle,ii bring someone more level-headed than you to handle the negotiations,iii or just walk in with a game plan, even if it’s as simple as “lowball ’em at x regardless of test drive experience.” While Cowen’s advice to “Let others test drive it for you” might work if you’re an asshole who has a slavegirl to taste his food for him, I really don’t see it working for mere mortals, or most anyone else really, particularly given how poorly most people communicate, the several and sundry specific preferences that we each have, and that je ne sais quoi aspect of experiencing a vehicle in motion first-hand.
Besides, seems like an awfully risky play to save, as Tyler proposes, “a few hundred dollars on the bargaining by refusing to take that step of commitment.” Maybe if your emotions were so strong and so wildly uncontrollable that thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands of dollars were on the line, and you were the sort of ear-biting loon to walk into a dealership and offer double the asking price, but mere hundreds ? Just drive the damn thing and see if you like it ! You can’t afford not to in the same way and for the same reasons that you can’t afford to have your best friend bang a cute girl you met online to see if she’s “worth investing in” and if she’s “marriage material.” His cock is not your cock and some things, at least for mere mortals, you just have to do yourself.
In any event, despite missing the mark, it’s worth answering Tyler’s closing question to his readers : “to how many other spheres of life might this reasoning apply ?”
The only answer to which is : ask the asshole.
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- This being said, owners of air-cooled Porsches, as I’m presently discovering, are far and away better than the average used car owner at documenting the histories, comings, and goings of their vehicles. Not that you can know everything, but the level of passion that the overwhelming majority of these owners have really comes through in their written records. Funny how that works, eh ? Who knew that writing was so important ? ↩
- Settling being different than delivery, with cars as with gold, you know :
mircea_popescu: I would guess there’s to the tune of 1mn interbank PM physical transfers a year worldwide. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer either, but I will swear to your benefit the real figure’s closer to 1mn than 1k no prob.
ascii_field: How many such vaults on planet 3 ? How many unique users ? How often transact ?
mircea_popescu: > 1k vaults and > 100 users. Sometimes they sell and sometimes they buy on mkt tho. with delivery.
ascii_field: Hence user ID (‘address’) is less than 7 bits ! Qty (grams) – perhaps 32.
mircea_popescu: Nah, qty is eight or so types of standard bars. Nobody weighs.
ascii_field: Then 3 bit.
mircea_popescu: No, 8 * word.
ascii_field: Ah if tx is arbitrary knapsacking of n bar types, then yes.
mircea_popescu: The paperwork has to be, anyway.
ascii_field: And of course I was thinking only of transactions where physical motion of bars takes place. (Settlement.)
mircea_popescu: Right. It’s not called settlement, it’s called delivery. Settlement is sitting down and agreeing the paperwork.
*: ascii_field thought it was called ‘settlement’ when two hawaladars or equiv. zero out their tally by finally moving the gold (plutonium, etc).
mircea_popescu: IRL, settlement’s a paperwork affair and actual delivery is much disconsidered. As a token of the fact that everyone involved would muchly want reality to match their representation to the degree of absolute identity. So they disconsider the later. Delivery and washing dishes are in about the same esteem. “Stupid things stupid people tend to be preoccupied with”. “They’re not smart, like us, to let their cognitive wings spread free in the intergalactic voids of abstraction.” Racist shit like that.
The difference being that “stupid” car buyers can’t drive settlements to work and to pick up the kids, so they actually take delivery. Like some kind of darkened neanderthals !↩
- Yes, this person may well be your husband – OMIGERD SEXIST !! – but it may also just as well be your wife. In fact, it’s entirely more likely to be the latter given that women can imagine a million better places to spend the same money and they have excellent bullshit detectors for sniffing out greasy salesmen, whereas men are inclined to imagine that their new cars are “investments” rather than the depreciating black holes that they are. ↩