Raajeev's Corner - 2020

Adventures in Car Shopping

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

Last year, we were looking for a car for my son, Vicktor. He had already gone to a Honda dealership and wanted my approval on their SUV. I was getting frustrated because I felt he was pushing me to make an impromptu decision. I'll never do that; not even when spending $10! I wanted to inculcate some of the best practices into him. You see, it is all about informed decision making. Whether it is buying a car or picking the right partner through an arranged marriage.

Market research is very important. You can't compare apples with oranges. I mean you can but you might pay a lot more and end up with a lemon. I told him to go to the library and go through Consumer Reports. For me, Consumer Reports is like doing meditation. It helps cut through the crap, helps prioritize your choices and adds clarity. The barrage of ads in the media are not only confusing, they pander to your emotions which can create an impediment to getting the best possible deals!

After he short-listed five cars, we decided to test drive some of them. I told him to pick a dealer in an area where real estate is much cheaper. If they are paying a high cost in their rent, then he will have to recover it from you in some form. He said, “But this ad for this dealership in Beverly Hills says that they have a special going on right now. Everything is 10 percent off. And then you get oil changes for five years for free." I said, “Look Beta. My father taught me nothing is free in this country, not even the use of a bathroom. So don't be naïve. Let's do it the right way. The Bania way."

We identified a Honda dealership in Sunland, a city about 10 miles north of us. The real estate in that area is much lower than Burbank or Glendale. My son was getting nervous. I said, “Look, this is not a job interview. Remember, you are the buyer. Just have the conviction that they can't take anything out of your wallet without your permission."

We took my Tesla so they would know that we were not just a bunch of cheap tire kickers. We made sure that we parked in the front. I am sure they notice these things so it is good to be aware that they are judging us from our appearances. I told him before entering, “Look, it is a game. Bring that conviction and have fun." Then I told him, “Oh, by the way, if you don't mind, let me take the lead and follow my cues. And whatever you do, please, please, do not contradict me." He nodded. “Fine, Dad."

One of the employees was waiting eagerly inside to greet us. After exchanging pleasantries and sharing basic information, we agreed to test drive the CRV. Gabriel, the sales person, seemed pleasant and more importantly, genuine. I, however, was cautious not to reveal too much information to him. I didn't want to take advantage of me by thinking we were friends.

I had also advised my son that no matter what happened, not to set his heart on only one car because it would make my job of negotiation much harder. “If you can view it dispassionately and keep reminding yourself that there are other cars in the market which are as good or even other dealers in the market that are selling the same car, we will get a better deal."

We entered Highway 5 and Vicktor accelerated. The car's pickup was good. As a cautious parent, I told him to slow down. We talked about the safety features, the Consumer Reports rating and the warranty. I didn't want to make a decision that night so I thought I could use humor to dilute any sales pressure. As a comedian, I often mask my true feelings behind humor. I said, “Hey Vicktor, do you think if you fold down the back seats, the space will be big enough for you to make out?" Gabriel was a bit surprised with my candor but he laughed. When we got back to the office, I told him that we liked the car but wanted to explore other options before finalizing.

With the new clarity and conviction, Vicktor decided to go to some other dealers on his own. It was helpful because I had a busy schedule and if he could identify the car he was passionate about, it would make my job easier. After a couple of weeks, we decided to test drive a Toyota RAV4 at a dealership in North Hollywood. The SUV drove smoothly as well. To be honest, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the Toyota and the Honda. It would have to boil down to the Consumer Reports rating, my son's preference and the price. Not necessarily in that order!

When we got back to the dealership, the salesperson was ready to discuss numbers. He was a bit more aggressive than Gabriel from the Honda dealership. I went along with the flow and asked him what the approximate price was. He told us that the car was in so much demand that there was a $5,000 premium on the car. I was livid. As a Bania I knew that in negotiation, the other parties highball a price to take undue advantage. I wanted to hide my contempt and my anger behind the veil of humor again. I started laughing. I said to him, “John, I am a comedian and my whole act is about being cheap and good in bargaining. I am actually insulted. You think I am new to the country, someone Fresh off the boat?" John apologized and gave some lame excuse. There was no point in wasting time with him so after some conversation, we walked out making a lamer excuse that Vicktor had to get a haircut.

After a few iterations, Vicktor test-drove some other cars on his own. He liked the sporty, Mazda 3 but I thought Mazda's SUV might be more practical for him. After a brief discussion, I realized I was thinking too much like a Bania, and since both cars were equally highly rated, it was better to go with what he wants. We ended up with a Mazda dealership where he had already test-driven his cars. I took an easier route this time by negotiating with the salesperson over the phone using the Costco auto-buying program. We had decided on the options and the final price was sent via email.

At the dealership, we test drove Mazda 3 one more time because I had not been in one. The sales person was very pleasant. It turned out he was also a comedian. Since the price was already decided, there was not much to negotiate. Still I thought there is no harm in trying, “Hey, if we all come to your show, is there an additional discount?"

On the way in his new car, Vicktor said, “You know dad, you could have gotten a much better deal. You could have just bought me a skateboard to get around Santa Barbara." I said, “No, Vicktor, then I would be spending all my gas money and time driving out to see you. Now you can do that yourself."


Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. See his videos on YouTube.