The Donkeys Kick Back – buying a used car?
I sat in stunned silence as the salesman ranted. “Donkeys!” He sputtered. “Can you believe those donkeys!” He savagely hit the disconnect button on his mobile. “Watch!” He said “They’re on their way! Watch how I deal with them!”
“What’d they do to you?” I asked innocently. “Kidnap your wife?”
“If only!” He joked. “No, the fucking donkeys put down a deposit on that car there! Now he tells me he’s found a cheaper one!”
“Ok,” I said, “So?”
“He says he’s got some fucking problem in Iran! Needs money for some sick mother or something. Bullshit! I’ll show him sick child! Anyway. Back to yours.”
So we returned to our frankly harrowing negotiation. Buying a car has always been something of a stressful pleasure for me. Three years ago I bought a rather smart car from this chap. I am avoiding all brand names or anything that could identify the man or the company. Assume this is a work of fiction.
At the time, I thought yes, he’s amusing. But never forget he’s a used car salesman! Which obviously puts him in the same league as an Estate Agent. In other words, listen, doubt, watch out for all the old techniques, beware, check, check check and check. Believe nothing. Check.
Still, he made me laugh. A charming chappie, he showed me a cabinet brimming with awards by his desk. Best Salesman. Best Salesman. Year after year. Glass, silver, every variation and size of award. What a bloke. And utterly brimming with a version of sincerity which one could ardently wish was genuine. “I don’t have customers,” he would frequently recite, “my customers are my friends. I want to look after you for life!”
Which was why when I wanted a new car, I went to him. Not a new new car, of course, just a newer car than my three-year old. After all, the tyres needed changing, the MOT had become due, and I had come into a little money. Besides, I had decided that a manual car would give more control than an automatic and I was happy to pay a little for the change.
I had returned to him despite his brilliant “upselling” of a vast range of extras, all of which seemed essential at the time of my last purchase. I had ended up paying far more than I had budgeted for. And the way he did that was to apparently throw in this and that and the other. And then sting me for another add-on while I was feeling good. Well, it was a learning experience, I decided. What Granny used to call “Lerngeld.” Over-expenditure you learn from.
Another despite. About the most irritating thing about dealing with this man was the interruptions. The telephone calls both in and out, and the long harangues he would give to customers or potential customers on every variety of issue. Arrival of other clients. Right in the middle of a sentence he would jump up and rush to the opposite side of the showroom to intercept a customer or colleague for some reason. However much I fumed, I knew the game would go to me if I pretended patience.
Anyway, despite the despites, there I sat hoping to buy the rather smart vehicle he had suggested as the perfect replacement for my previous car. And there I was listening to this near-hysterical tirade from the obviously superstressed salesman as he berated his almost-customers and barraged me with promises. “And furthermore,” he said, “you get a much more powerful engine! This one I’m offering has every additional extra you could wish for!” Frankly, when I had taken the car for a test drive I wasn’t impressed by the performance, and said so. “Nonsense!” he yelled with a very forced grin. “It’s just the way you use the gears!”
Well, maybe. Having not had a manual car for some time perhaps I was underestimating the revs needed for the gear change. Perhaps I should drive more like a Frenchman.
I wasn’t convinced. An extra £3g for not much improvement on my previous vehicle. “I’m not convinced,” I said. “I need to go away and think about this.”
Just then a young couple came into the showroom.
They were obviously in considerable stress. Well-dressed, fairly middle class, in their late twenties or early thirties. They had the sort of togetherness you sometimes see in a couple which has gone through difficult times. They would have been holding hands if they had been less self-conscious.
Seeing the salesman busy with me they stood awkwardly at the desk of one of his colleagues, waiting politely. “That’s the ones I told you about! ” the salesman said just loudly enough for them to hear. “If those donkeys think they’re getting their deposit back they can forget it!” And turned back to me. “Alright then my friend” he said blandly, “If I give you a free one year warranty, just like a new car, would you say yes?”
“I’ll think about it, ” I said.
He was obviously very stressed. As it was the second last day of the month I realised he had his monthly target to meet – and obviously another trophy depended on it.
“You do that!” he said, standing impatiently to hide his irritation and headed for the Iranians as if they were long-awaited hated enemies. “You!” He said, “you think you can cheat me!!! If you think you get your deposit back you can forget it!”
They were entirely taken aback by the attack and I knew why – this salesman obviously had only two personae – Mr slidy-glass nice and Mr cracked glass nasty. And they hadn’t even suspected the latter.
“You don’t have the right …” the man said.
“You can’t keep the deposit. We need that money – his mother is ill in Iran. We have to save money on the car!” his wife chipped in.
“I can do what I fucking want!” the salesman was almost slavering. “You made a commitment. It’s the law of this country, law of contract! I made the offer, you accepted. It’s not like that in your fucking country? Is that right?”
“We don’t want trouble,” the man said. “Just give us the money and we go away.”
“The car is waiting for you. All cleaned and serviced, just what you want. Now give me your money and drive away!”
The whole salesroom had frozen into a tableau of fear and disbelief. I realised that his colleagues had seen this sort of behaviour from him before, and while not surprised, they were acutely embarrassed. He was, after all, the top salesman – and as such, beyond reproach. So no-one in the audience said a word.
“I’m going,” I said, and I have no doubt there was a tinge of disgust in my voice. “I’ll call you.”
“No wait,” he almost pleaded. “I am going to give you a great deal. Just let me sort out the donkeys!”
“I’ll call you,” I said. And fled.
“I made a mistake,” he said, “about the engine of your car. It’s not the more powerful one, I just checked. But listen – ”
I knew it. “I have decided – ” I said, my mobile sweating in my hand. I knew that my rejection would infuriate him.
“Before you say anything – ” he said, “I promise you I got an offer you will not refuse! I will make it up to you! All right, a £250 cash back is the start…”
Intrigued, I decided to play. “And what else?” I asked cynically.
“All right, listen. One year’s free insurance…”
“Hmmm. Go on – ”
“That is the car you want! I’ll give you a full service, MOT, full tank of gas…full one year warranty…now come on, you can’t say no…this car has seven thousand on the clock! Like new!”
“Hmm” I said. That alone was very tempting.
“Come in, just come in and you can drive away today. What do you say?”
“Come in two o’clock. I’ll see you then!”
The connection went and I knew I would buy. After all, the old car needs this and that, a good thousand and a lot of hassle to get back into good condition. It had done around 20,000 miles. Getting this one would be like buying a brand new car.
So I bought it after sitting there for another two hours while this infuriating man answered his phone and ran about the showroom after people. Or gave his instructions to the beautiful Polish lady at the next desk, who operated as his assistant. In the gaps between these incredibly rude interruptions, the deal was done.
Did I get my cheque? Not that day for sure! I phoned several times. I texted him. Eventually I went in to the showroom. He kept me hanging around for ages as usual. At one point he asked me to “hang on, these Accounts donkeys have forgotten it. I’ll chase it up.” and disappeared up the steps to the main office.
I turned to the salesman at the next desk. “What the hell do I do now?” I asked.
He grinned. “It’s always this way with him. Promises promises. See that?” he pointed to the cabinet bulging with Best Salesman awards. “These are the only awards I need,” and he pulled out a vast number of Thank You cards from his drawer. “From my customers,” he said proudly.
“I wish I did the deal with you,” I said, and we laughed. “Too late! So what do I do now?”
He winked. “Go after him!”
“Sure! He went thataway!”
What fun, I thought and headed for the stairs. I found him on the mezzanine floor chewing on a sandwich, lounging at a staff coffee machine. He started as he saw me.
“Where’s my cheque? I asked, smiling broadly as if at a huge joke.
“I”m waiting for it!” He said. “They take forever! Honestly, no word of a lie, you are my main concern. The customer is always first, I guarantee. The customer is a friend…””
“Yeh yeh” I said, “Well I’m not waiting any longer.” I finally let my chagrin show. I went right up to him and using my best Corleone voice I said “You listen to me carefully now, ‘friend’. This is no way to treat me do you understand? I will not be ignored. It’s time to put the customer first. You will sort this out for me. ”
“Of course, I promise you, I guarantee! I’ll look after you! I will always look after you. You will have that cheque by tomorrow.”
Promises promises. But to my surprise, he called me the next day. “I have your cheque. Do you want to come in and get it? Or do I post it?”
“I’ll come in,’ I said and went to the showroom that afternoon. To my surprise he handed me the cheque. “One problem,” he said, “The donkeys have forgotten to do the MOT.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll organise it!”
A sudden thought came to me. “By the way, you did send the slip to the DVLA for change of ownership so I can get the logbook?”
“Of course I did!” He said.
It was one damned promise after the other. I began to feel my indulgent benevolence for the man slipping away and being replaced by a profound impatience and resentment at being eternally taken for granted, treated without concern or respect. Treated, in short, like a donkey.
Outside the showroom I spotted a desolate figure sitting on a wall. I recognised him as the Iranian from the previous day. “Hello,” I said. “I just got the cheque the guy promised me. Do you have your money for the deposit back?”
He seemed grateful to have someone to speak to. “No,” he said. “I told him I spoke to the lawyer, I told him legally he has to give my deposit back. It’s a fourteen day cooling off, something like that. So he asked me to wait. Every time I get tired and leave, I phone him, he tells me come, I wait. What is wrong with this man?”
“He’s driving me crazy too my friend. All promises.”
“He wants to be your best friend while he thinks you will buy. Then when you don’t he just shouts at you!”
“Scary guy. He still hasn’t given me everything he promised.”
“Look,” said the Iranian, “if he lets you down or tries to cheat you, you contact me.” He gave me a business card. “I have the lawyer and so on. We can give him a hard time.”
“Great”, I said, taking the card.
Another two weeks went by. The car was MOT’d, though I had to drive it to the garage myself. The dealer paid, so I give him that. But I waited and waited for the VRD, the critical Vehicle Registration Document, without which I couldn’t get my Resident’s Parking Permit. Which was stressful! Each traffic ticket costs around £80, and I couldn’t live my life in terror of getting home from work while the parking restrictions still operate. Admittedly, good old Hounslow gave me a temporary number to put on the windscreen, but the local traffic wardens are utter fascists and known to ignore all evidence apart from what they considered official.
Again, I went through the routine of calling the salesman and getting the bum’s rush. He continually assured me the relevant document had been posted to the DVLA, yet when I telephoned the DVLA they had not received it. So in desperation, after four weeks I called him once more. I had scarcely opened the conversation when he cut the connection. This happened a second time, leaving me in no doubt that it was deliberate. I was furious. And as one does in cases like this, I boiled with the need to take revenge.
Ok, I admit, the DVLA had said that they would provide a duplicate of the VRD for a small fee, so my parking stress would eventually be over. But that wasn’t the point. I mean, how DARE he slam the phone down on me!
And this was the point at which I searched for the card the Iranian had given me and gave him a call. “Javed Farouz? Hello. Can we meet?”
Our revenge plan was carefully hatched and constructed like a military campaign. Both Mr Farouz and I had the perfect contacts to make it a success,. His wife the nurse was popular at the vast NHS hospital where she worked. This meant she had a considerable cohort of friends, all happy to spend an afternoon enacting her revenge for the weeks of annoyance and insults to which she and her husband had been subjected.
And I had the fabulous advantage of my friend Brian, whose students at the Drama Academy relished the opportunity to carry a character, in costume, and do some improv.
So each day for two weeks our salesman would have to deal with two or three prospective customers sent by me or the Farouzs’. Doctors, nurses, cleaners, professors, showgirls, entrepreneurs, the whole variety of colourful characters springing from the minds of creative drama students. The ‘customer’ would wander into the showroom, apparently in love with one of the cars on the forecourt. He or she would then spend as much time as possible with the salesman, on a test drive, in negotiation, between interruptions as they possibly could. In the meanwhile, others of our team would phone the guy with stupid questions or comments or pretending to want a car.
The objective was to waste his time to the limit and ensure that he missed every damn target he had ever been set.
Two weeks went by.
Our characters were enjoying themselves hugely. Some made repeated visits.
I sent him an anonymous card from Moonpig. “Thanks from all your donkeys” with a picture of some of the more outrageous time-wasting characters invented by the Drama students. Inside was the message “Your customers are not donkeys. They are the food on your table.”
And until the plastic donkey disappears from his desk, every now and then a bored drama student or nurse will wander into the car showroom and definitely not buy a used car from this man.