13 Rules for Survival

In 1995 I bought a used BMW. (Today they call it “pre-owed”).

I got the car because I couldn’t afford a new one and everyone told me BMW’s are a must-have. And for me it was, ‘cause I still drive that car. I found my darling through a car broker who sold me the loaded, lowered, pimped-out, nine-month-old 325is with only 11,054 on the odometer. It even had a phone mounted between the two front seats. And it looked absolutely new, as if it had never been driven.

Why did the car look shiny new? Because, as I later discovered, the body had been rebuilt after an accident. This revelation taught me my first car-buying lesson, which happens to be the first directive in the USED CAR SALESMAN’S HAND BOOK.

RULE ONE – Don’t mention any accidents unless directly asked. And IF asked, say, “Don’t worry about it. The car checks out.”

Well I DID check out that car, which is how I learned that my 325 was actually owned by the broker’s college daughter who ran a red light while staring into her visor mirror applying makeup and talking on the phone. I figured that out because the only two things that were worn out on that car were the ripped plastic hinges on the driver’s mirrored visor and the mobile unit’s hand set coil chord, which was stretched out from pulling it close to yapping ruby lips.

So when seeking a pre-owned car this time around, I planned on buying only a certified car from a dealer. It would be a Honda Element, and it would be used because they stopped making them in 2011.


My wife has been driving her own green Element since 2003, when they first went on sale. She loved that car and it was perfect for her antique business until she hit a concrete road divider at forty miles per hour five days ago. Incredibly, she walked away from that mangled mess with only a scratched wrist. But she was rattled and reluctant to drive again. I knew I had to get he back in the saddle, and fast.

So I called Ray-the-Car-Guy (i.e. auto broker) who helped me find my Honda S2000 six years ago. After explaining that time was “Of-the-Essence” Ray assured me he would make my world whole again… for a thousand dollars. For that kind of commission, returning my calls and keeping an appointment would have been nice. Since he didn’t, I sent Ray away.

The next day I called Autoland and talked to Peter who also assured me I could now sleep at night. He would find me MY car in twenty-four hours. I asked him how he was going to get paid since he asked no up-front commission. Peter explained that he was a FREE service given to me by my credit union, which brings me to…

RULE TWO – Never tell your client that he always pays your commission, which is buried in that “great deal” you will find for him.

So the next day, as I was waiting for Peter to benevolently call his state-wide, “I know everybody” connections, I decided to call my own: The Honda dealer who services our cars. (Interestingly, NOT on Peter’s list.) This brings me to…

RULE THREE – Make the customer believe there is only one car in the world that matches her search, it just happens to be on YOUR lot, and that everyone else wants that car.

As I mentioned, my wife and I were looking for a 2011 Honda Element to replace the one she crashed because Honda discontinued the line two years ago. So yes, there IS a scarcity. But on day three, our quick Google search turned up five 2011 Elements in the LA area. They were all priced over our budget of $20,000. Still, there were five cars

Anyway, as I was saying, I first called our own Alhambra dealer and Charlie Brown answered the phone. Charlie taught me sooooo much about selling used cars, like…

RULE FOUR – You always were, and always will be, your customers BEST FRIEND, starting with your first words, “Hello, Charlie here!”

RULE FIVE – Remembering anything about that first conversation, except the client’s name and the car he wants, is OPTIONAL. If he makes it into your office, you can start to listen when his checkbook drops on your desk.

RULE SIX – Pick a salesman’s name everyone will remember, like Charlie Brown. And mention your children as you discuss the car, letting the customer know that you need THIS sale to keep your kids in school.

RULE SEVEN – Keep repeating Honda’s seven-year, 100,000 mile warranty. Do not tell the buyer that since the car you’re trying to unload has 30,000 and it’s weeks away from 2013, that warranty is actually for five years and 70,000 miles, and it’s just the drive train that’s guaranteed that long.

RULE EIGHT – Impress the customer with the fact that YOU are the “Fleet Manager” and hope he’s not smart enough to figure out that this bogus title is something you gave yourself.

Our meeting with Charlie ended with my wife and I telling the man that our next stop was Rick-in-Pasadena, who had verified over the phone that he had the identical car with half the milage for $1500 less. Charlie pointed to his kids on the wall. We left anyway.


Dealership #2 was a whole different vibe. However, instead of Internet Manager Rick meeting us in the lot, we encountered Diego (Somebody) raising his arm for a “How ya doin’?” handshake. (His last name I cannot remember or spell.)

RULE NINE – If you insist on keeping your real unpronounceable name, give yourself something else the customer will remember, like a foot-long black ponytail and smile that won’t come off.

Diego was thirty-something and actually happy. I think he intuitively knew we had done our homework, had compared the other prices in town and that his offering was the lowest. The negotiations went quickly and we learned about…

RULE TEN – Make the customer believe the negotiations end on THEIR terms, even if it means prompting them to bargain for a lower price after they accepted your final offer.

Diego gave my wife another discount of $270. We just looked at each other. We knew the game, and Diego KNEW we knew the game. So we said yes again to his second final offer.

RULE ELEVEN – If all else fails, be honest.

Charlie Brown talked about being a straight shooter, Diego WAS one. So we bought the car, and even a few of those things “Consumer Reports Magazine” tells us NEVER to buy – like the dealer extended warranty and the upgraded alarm system.

RULE TWELVE – Never tell your customer that the insurance margin is 140% and that you could sell it for half and still make a hefty profit.

We knew this secret, so we bought the warranty for half and 30% off alarm system.


So now I’m happy. I’m happy that we got deal we wanted but more importantly, I’m incredibly relieved that my wife is still alive and well. Buying the car distracted me from thinking about how close she came to dying or maimed for life. But she wasn’t. So life goes on as if the crash had never happened, except for the shiny new car.

Still, I keep thinking about the miracles: how my wife was protected, how we found the exact car we wanted, at the best price, at a dealership closest to our home, on our own. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t make that happen. My best friend was safe and still with us. Everything else was just a detail.

This unhampered flow reminded me of the most important rule of all:

RULE THIRTEEN – a Zen Buddhist saying that goes something like this: When you pine for something, you lose it. When it you give it up, you get it all.

Why does it take a car accident to coax me back into trusting Fate… and Faith?

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.



  1. Jerry's Cousin says:

    I’m so glad your wife is okay. Count your blessings!
    I hate dealing with car dealers, new or pre-driven. I don’t know how they can live with themselves. Each time I get a new car, I swear I’m going to be buried in it. So each time I HAVE to get a new car,it’s a nightmare! The last car we traded in was because the lights on the car would go on for no reason at all. And we couldn’t turn them off. Took it to 3 different garages and they could’t figure it out either. So one sunny day, when the lights came on and we couldn’t turn them off, we waited until they went off on their own, then we traded it in. We think we won, but I didn’t want another car.
    So, who was really the winner?
    All the best to “T”.

    1. Irving H. Podolsky says:

      That’s a funny story! Love the lights!

      Now…since you wrote that you’re glad my wife is okay, it occurred to me that I’m about to confuse people with my next post, which is about IRV the CHARACTER instead of IRV the WRITER (that’s me in real life).

      The next post puts my guy back into therapy and THAT Irv is a widower. At the time I was writing the Irv in Therapy series it seemed like a good idea to have Irv sad about his wife’s death. I don’t like it now but it’s too late.

      And my REAL WIFE doesn’t like it either!


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