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December 05, 2006

When Non-Negotiables Aren’t

Retro_man_woman_car by Tammy Lenski
A few weeks ago, my husband Rod bought a new car. I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t much enjoy the prospect of negotiating the purchase price and so he tends to drive a car for a very long time before he feels ready to go through the process again. I, on the other hand, relish a chance at negotiation, and so I’ve had to work hard to keep my nose out of his planning, pondering and bargaining. We tend to buy our own cars, solo, partly due to very different negotiating styles and partly due to a chance for some independent decision making in the midst of a lot of marital collaborating.

And I did stay out of it. Almost.

In the end, Rod was torn between two cars of the same make and model, but different trim lines. He was ready to make the purchase and finalize the negotiation, and asked if I’d visit the dealer with him to give my input as to which of the two vehicles I liked best. So, we drove over, walked around and talked a bit, and my husband decided which car to buy. I wandered out of earshot while he finalized the deal with the salesman, or as his card indicated, the Purchase and Sales Consultant. I wanted to linger close by but resisted temptation yet again.

Shake I noticed the handshake and walked back over. Rod was just being directed to the money guy’s office, where he’d finish the purchase paperwork and hand over the check. He invited me along. The friendly finance guy walked through the purchase form in detail, and as he got to the bottom of the page, he reached a line that, instead of being blank for him to fill in, was already pre-printed in bold red ink. I can’t recall the line’s description clearly, but it was for something vague like “Title and Registration Facilitation” and the amount was around $125.

Now, my husband, smart man that he is, had just finished negotiating a deal where he required information up front about all the various fees so that he could negotiate a deal based on complete information and without the risk of a fee popping up later, unanticipated. And this is one figure he hadn’t been told about. Pleasantly, he mentioned that fact. Rod is unfailingly pleasant in moments like this—I envy his ability to do that so consistently.

The money guy replied that he was sorry this figure hadn’t been shared, but it’s a standard fee and he was sure my husband would understand.

I kicked my husband under the table, because alarm bells were going off. I couldn’t stop myself. My ability to stay out of it had just come to an end. It was the bold red ink that did it. If that fee really wasn’t negotiable, I wondered, why bother to work so hard to convince me of that fact by putting it in bold red?

What’s the fee for, exactly, Rod asked nicely. The money guy gave a rather vague response, something about it being standard (there was that word again) for them and other dealers to charge a fee for facilitating the registration and title. Huh?

Negotiation Oh, I said, there’s some service you’re providing in return for that fee?
Well, the money guy said, we will sometimes supply a runner to DMV in certain circumstances.

And whatever those circumstances, they don’t apply here, right? I asked, sweetly. I’m sure it wasn’t as sweetly as Rod would have asked, but I was starting to feel both triumphant and annoyed at the same time. Bold red ink, my foot. I said, This is really an optional fee then?

Yes, sighed the money guy, I suppose you could put it that way. It’s an optional fee.

I turned to my husband. I don’t imagine you want that option, do you? Rod turned to the money guy. No, I can’t see any reason I’d pay for that particular optional service I don’t need.

And he didn’t. We made a good tag-team that day and Rod didn’t mind the kick under the table, as it turns out. He could have done it without me, but knew I couldn’t stop myself. He’s enjoying his new car and I’m very glad the old vehicle, which was practically duct-taped together, has gone to auto heaven.

In every negotiation you’ve got to ask, maybe even ask again, to make sure that the “non-negotiable” items really aren’t.


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