I'm not a chump. I chase people off my doorstep who try to sign me up for energy savings, I turn down water heater upgrades on a monthly basis and have never bought duct cleaning services from someone calling from a basement 15,000 kilometres away from my furnace.
But there I sat in the dealership hours after buying a new little car, being bamboozled and outplayed by a finance manager at the top of his game. I walked in to sign a few papers and to figure out when I'd get my keys; I walked out having spent $3,500 more than I anticipated and feeling like I'd just had an out-of-body experience.
The manager talked fast and, because I had little time to process what he was saying, everything he said made sense. He drew diagrams, he had props stashed around his office that he would work into his pitch (look, I accidentally spilled my water on tissue that has been treated to repel water!), he tapped his engineer's ring when explaining particularly complicated upgrades.
I was completely in his hands.
"What happened to you is an actual phenomenon," said George Iny of the Toronto-based Automobile Protection Association. "You go into a trance. You buy the car, you're done negotiating and then you hit this next level. Your guard is down, and you're up against their best. You shouldn't feel bad, you should feel average."
Money for nothing
I felt uneasy as I drove my older car home from the meeting. He added upgrade after upgrade each time I nodded my head uncertainly, costing them out in individual terms. Just $10 dollars a month here, another $15 over there and a few other tiny monthly charges and the car would be guaranteed against pretty much everything for eight years or 160,000 kilometres (the car comes with a 100,000-km, five-year warranty).
My payment going in was $260 a month. As I walked out the door, it was more than $320. That included electro rustproofing, a Teflon coating and an extended warranty that covered the inside and out.
I sent an e-mail as soon as I got home asking him to drop the rustproofing, the thing I felt most uneasy about. Then an hour later, I followed up with a note about the extended warranty. I called a few times. Nothing. When I did make contact eight hours later right before closing time, he said it was too late to make any changes because "a deal is a deal."
It didn't go down that way – I wrote a letter to the general manager and the charges were dropped.
Some dealers offer electro rustproofing. A unit is hooked up to your battery, and sends a pulse through your car that messes up the oxidization process. It's hundreds of dollars, but the pitch is that you never need to treat your vehicle again. It pays for itself, right?
And besides, it's the same system that's used to protect bridges. In fact, my finance manager had a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in his office that he liked to point at while selling the upgrade (lucky coincidence).
Except take a look at the vehicles you pass on the highway – cars don't rust like they used to rust.
Gregory Jerkiewicz, a chemistry professor at Queen's University who has a PhD in mechanical engineering, says the steel used to make cars is dipped in zinc to keep moisture away. Then everything is coated in several layers of paint and finally a clear coat strong enough to repel stones in the winter. For rust to start, water must make its way through all of these layers at the same point. He was offered the package when he recently bought a car, but took a pass on the technology.
"There is very little proof [this works] on cars," he said. "When I asked who would be liable and how one could file a claim should the system fail, there was no clear answer. Now, should a technician badly connect the protection system, there exists a chance that the car can undergo accelerated corrosion."
What could be better than never having to wax your car? I nodded in agreement, waxing totally sucks. Except I've never actually waxed my car, unless you count upgrading to the Super Duper Wash at the gas station. Doesn't matter – the idea of having a shiny finish on the car made of Teflon sounded good. Even better when he did the math on what it costs to upgrade to the fancy wash once a month for the life of the car (even though I maybe go through four times a year, at the most).
A little research showed the slippery nature of the coating's appeal. The car isn't being coated like a frying pan; for that to happen, it would have to be exposed to a level of heat that would melt most of the car's components as it's applied. This was basically Teflon Light, a heavy-duty coating that would eventually work its way off the car, meaning my money was going toward a temporary shine.
"Teflon is rather soft, so it offers little impact protection," Jerkiewicz said. "Teflon is hydrophobic – it wets very poorly, it is not easy to apply."
The finance manager made a good point as he refused to let me out of the extended warranty – if something went wrong I'd be happy that I made the choice. But his peace of mind arrives sooner – car dealerships put their best performers in the finance office because the profit margins are so large.
The interior warranty was particularly appealing – particularly when he said the protected seats would repel vomit when my kids get sick. Sounded good, but as I drove home I remembered that's only happened once in five years. And even then, my daughter threw up into her lap and not on the seats.
Which is what I felt like doing as I drove away from the dealership.
"There are some instances when this is worth the money," says Iny. "Very expensive cars, for example. Or if you are buying a brand that has been known to have reliability issues. But for the most part, you're probably OK passing."