“Your trade-in offer is a full $2,000 less than the listed Blue Book value for a trade in,” I said. “Can you explain that?”

The salesman shrugged his shoulders and said he would go talk to the manager. He came back five minutes later.

“Tell you what we can do,” he said. “We can go ahead and leave the steering wheel in your new car. Normally, we wouldn’t do that, but I like you guys and I want to earn your business. And we’ll wipe the congealed blood off the windshield for no extra charge. That should make up the difference.”

My wife and I actually considered the merits of his offer before realizing it still left us with a payment that burst our budget like a tomato in a microwave.

Eventually, we got up to leave, saying, “I guess it’s just not going to work out.”

Maybe it was because it was the end of the month. Maybe it was because Christmas is coming up and the economy is turning the retail auto business into a ride through the intestines of a sick narwhal.

Whatever it was, I’ll never be able to explain what happened next. You should have seen the crazed, desperate look in the salesman’s eye. Then some mystical force held us in place. Profound fatigue invaded, and the urge to sleep penetrated our eyeballs, fogging the world.

Next thing we knew, we were signing the final purchase papers.

“This one is the application for title, and this one says you received notice of our privacy party.”

“OK.”

“And this form just acknowledges that we told you about the gap insurance, the body integrity insurance, the tire insurance, the extended warranty, the way extended warranty, the overenthusiastic fishtailing fender bash insurance, and the beverage spillage coverage.”

“Of course.”

“And this form certifies that you are a senseless boob who should not be allowed to have a checking account, let alone a car loan.”

“Yes, yes. Just let me sign it, already.”

Because they had to jack up their offer for our car to its actual trade-in value, the advertised special offer that brought us there in the first place no longer applied (in the ad industry, this is known as a bait-and-switch). In the end, we got a reasonable price on our trade and paid a reasonable price for our new car, but not an especially good deal.

What sickens me, though, is that I felt so unaware of the situation, letting the dealer control the process, rather than participating as an equal in the negotiation. That’s my own fault, but it sure doesn’t make me feel any more sympathetic to the automobile industry as it begs for money from the government.

The big bank bailout was different. I went along with it, mainly because I don’t understand the financial industry. All I know is the idea of banks failing seems just wrong. They exist to make money. They don’t make cars or computer chips or fancy toilet seats with playing cards embedded in them, or anything else subject to the law of supply and demand. They just make money. So if they can’t even manage that, we are all in deep doo-doo.

But cars are another matter. I know a lot about cars, and how cars are sold, so it doesn’t hurt my feelings at all to see any car company get its comeuppance.

Chuck McKay is a Maine freelance writer and teacher who can be reached [email protected]

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