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Daniel Ruth: I bought a used car — and survived

My late father offered two sage pieces of advice. One was never, under any circumstance, travel anywhere without a bottle of booze tucked away in the luggage.

The efficacy of this wise counsel has been validated countless times over the years.

The second words of wisdom were . . . well, more about that in a minute.

"I'm going to go in there and fight for you," the car salesman promised. This was encouraging. Who knew buying a car was supposed to be something out of Die Hard?

It had been 13 years since I last bought a car. But it was time. The 1996 Ford Explorer had been a terrific set of wheels — for about 12 years. But now, Old Whitey was starting to demonstrate the signs of slow death. The odometer had conked out a long time ago. But it had to have at least 200,000-plus miles on its creaking body.

I suspect the prospect of shopping around for a new car is, for most of us, about as welcome an experience as shoving shards of broken glass up your nose.

Eventually the rising mechanic bills pushed me into the land of (cue The Phantom of the Opera theme) used car lots.

Two things annoy me about the process. The first is the sales agent who descends upon my person like a Hare Krishna devotee the minute I set foot on the lot. Look, I just want to buy a car. I have no interest in getting into a sweat lodge with the sales guy.

Second, why are there dealerships that don't put the prices on the vehicle? Why should this be such a big mystery? I had one salesman explain that since prices can change by the day, it doesn't make sense to post the number on the car.

Please, I'm not buying soy futures here. I'm just trying to purchase a used vehicle.

Finally, I found what I wanted, which brings me to: "I'm going to go in there and fight for you." I wasn't sure if I was standing in a used car lot or the finals of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

I had given the salesman my bottom line on how much I wanted to pay. And off he went to fight with the wizard behind the curtain, otherwise known as the mystical sales manager.

Minutes passed. This must be some fight. I half-expected the sales guy to come away from all this fighting looking like something out of the final gladiator scene in Spartacus between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

Finally he emerged amazingly unbloodied. Alas, he had lost the fight, since the number he presented was considerably more than what I wanted to pay.

Which brings us to my father's other admonition: No matter how much you want the car, always be willing to get up and walk away if the deal isn't right.

So, I thanked the sales guy for his time, expressed remorse we couldn't work things out and started to get up.

Wait, he said. He was willing to go fight for me some more. And so it was — the Rumble in the Showroom II would commence anew.

Again, he retreated to the sales manager's office. I had visions of Liam Neeson in Taken running amok in Paris. Blood! Gore! Fighting! All for me! How touching.

In the end all the carnage worked out. I got pretty close to my number. And I got the car, without the wizard behind the curtain winding up like Moe Greene in The Godfather.

Hopefully I'm good to go for another 13 years. I don't think I could deal with all the showroom violence any sooner.

Daniel Ruth: I bought a used car — and survived 01/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 3:30am]
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