Car dealerships make about half their gross profits from service and repairs. New car sales and used cars sales each account for about one quarter. I drive a 1998 car with 171,000 miles. I take it to the dealership once a year to check the brakes, rotate the tires and change the oil. For this service they can overcharge me only a modest amount as they know I could go to Jiffy-Lube. Therefore, the service advisers must be creative to meet their professional standards for minimum customer billing.
“One of your fuel inhibitor rods is shot and the bushings on the Cotter Pin are worn. We recommend replacement at 3 centimeters and yours are down to 1.24 centimeters,” they inform me on a call. “Also, there is mild eutrophication in your R2-D2 strut bracings. They may be suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. You don’t need to do anything immediately. Bring your car back in about two months. Then we can also isolate the problem in your differential and universal joints.”
With slight variations, they repeat this diagnosis every year. Thus, I know they are mendacious thieves. From our previous encounters, they know that I know that they are mendacious thieves, and since I return annually, they assume I am a fool.
I return annually because only the dealer can read my car’s internal computer. Moreover, I know they think me a fool, so I try to use this to my advantage. When the thrust, I — often playing the fool — parry. Initially, I search any hint of vulnerably in their opening gambit. “What happens if I don’t immediately replace the fuel inhibitor rod?” I ask.
“Your car is likely to explode,” they answer. “Due to your negligence, your insurance will not cover you. If bystanders are injured, you will probably be indicted for criminal endangerment.”
“What happens if I don’t immediately replace the bushing on the Cotter Pin?” I continue.
“You will die.”
Sensing weakness, I reply, “So being dead, I could not be indicted for criminal endangerment. Let me think about whether I want to replace the bushings.”
“There is also a problem with the timing belt’s synchronization of the cam shaft with the alternator,” they counter. “This could damage the valves, pistons, or even ruin the engine.” I am unnerved by this unexpected ploy; To play for time while framing my response, I change the subject.
“You said my struts may be suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Are you referring the ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease?”
“Yes, strut ALS is very common in cars as old as yours,” they answer. “Fortunately, we can treat strut ALS with a mixture of monoclonal antibodies and Omega 3 fatty oils.”
They have taken the bait. I now can question them endlessly about the source of monoclonal antibodies: Fetal tissues from miscarriages? Oil from the livers of sharks, skates, and rays? Extracts from old growth Euterpe precatoria in Amazon rain forests? After my 15 minutes cross examination, they realize they are over invested in me; they will never recover the cost of their time that I have wasted. They no longer want to talk about repairing strut bracings with monoclonal antibodies. They forget about the timing belt. They want to cut their losses and get rid of me.
I force them to up the ante. “What’s is the cost of replacing the fuel inhibitor rod?” I ask.
“Twenty two hundred dollars.”
“How does that beak down between parts and labor?”
“Eleven hundred and fifty for the rod and eight hundred and fifty dollars for the labor.”
“Eleven hundred and fifty for a single rod? Is it made of rubies?” I ask.
“It is not a single rod, The eleven fifty includes the fittings, the lathe-cut swivel gaskets, bearings, the Nelson collar, reverse clamps, No. 2 bypass caps and O-rings seals.”
They think I am a fool. But I am unemployed, and, during Covid, I have nothing better to do since my alternative to continuing this negotiation is reading Henry James.
“Why can’t we reuse the existing fittings?” I ask. I then inquire, sequentially, about reusing the existing lathe-cut swivel gaskets, bearings, Nelson collar, reverse clamps, No. 2 bypass caps and O-rings seals.
They have now invested an additional 15 minutes. It is time for my lowball offer. “Would you consider $1,750 for the inhibitor rod and throw in the bushings for free?”
They know my first offer is never my highest offer, but financially and psychologically, they cannot afford 20 more minutes of bargaining. “Two thousand for both. Final offer,” they say.
“Deal,” I reply, as I worry that my lowball was too high.