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Truck-buying Advice - Dilbert Blog

Truck-buying Advice

In a recent blog post I complained about the impossibility of buying a truck that fits my needs. I asked readers to tell me how they were able to succeed at buying a truck whereas I have found it to be impossible. 

The impossible part is simply getting the truck I want, and not being baited-and-switched. And I want to see that truck and drive it before buying.

Can’t be done.

The impossible part is largely due to marketing, math, and economics. Here’s the basic problem.

1. Trucks have thousands of options, and many (such as towing capacity) are important to function. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to have a mix of trucks on the dealer’s lot – or even within hundreds of miles – with the exact feature set you want. That would require thousands of trucks on every lot.

2. The sales people and the websites do not know enough about the thousands of features to advise me. Here’s a summary of a real conversation I had:

Me: When would I want to buy a diesel engine versus a gas engine?

Dealer: It depends how much you drive and how much you tow.

Me: Is there a rule-of-thumb about miles-per-year driven?

Dealer: Um…Maybe someone else knows that.

Aaaand we’re done. Or how about this conversation. Also real.

Me: Will this truck be good for towing XXX pounds?

Dealer: Yes, this is rated for that load.

Me: Would I be safer and happier with a truck that is rated for a higher load, just to have some margin?

Dealer: This one is rated for your load.

Me: I didn’t ask that. I asked if another would be even better. I didn’t ask if this one is barely adequate.

Dealer: Um…Maybe someone else knows that.

In my experience, every conversation reaches a dead-end. And I’m only asking the most basic, important questions about the trucks. 

So I looked at my email messages today to find out how so many of you have successfully purchased trucks. And finally, after reading enough of your emails, I have my answer.

Answer: Every truck buyer gets screwed, but cognitive dissonance makes each buyer believe they beat the system. In other words, no one has ever penetrated the truck-buying experience to get the right truck at the best deal. Yet everyone seems to think they got the right truck at the best deal. I’ll tell you why. It’s kind of interesting.

Fleet Sales

One of the most frequent suggestions people offered is to see the fleet sales manager instead of the regular sales person. The thinking is that you get the fleet price – with little or no haggle – and beat the system. People who used this method report great satisfaction.

But…I know they got screwed. The fleet price is set intentionally higher than the average price you would pay if you negotiated. You pay more than you needed to pay, but because of the fleet pricing illusion (scam) you believe you were a clever consumer who found a backdoor to a good price. You didn’t. The dealer leaves the backdoor unlocked to get suckers like you.

How do I know this? Because it’s obvious. Do you think dealers don’t know how many people walk through the backdoor to the fleet manager?

Online Car-shopping Services

People suggested online car-shopping services to give me an advantage over the dealers. These services have access to the various dealer inventories and they can find the best vehicle at the best price. People report being delighted with these services.

But…I know they got screwed. Any car-shopping service that has access to dealer inventory is at least partly controlled by the dealerships. That’s economics 101. If the online car-shopping services were a bad situation for car dealers, they wouldn’t give anyone access to their inventory. That means the car dealers are happy with the car-shopping services online. Like the fleet services scam, the dealers let you think you found a clever backdoor to the best price. You didn’t. 

Make Dealerships Compete

People suggested finding the truck type I want and making several local dealers compete on price. Apparently people believe they have done this. But it isn’t a thing, because dealers digitally mark any vehicle with interest and they can check with each other to avoid competing on the same one. They might compete by baiting-and-switching you to a different vehicle with options you don’t want, but dealers don’t compete for the same vehicle. And none of them are likely to have the same vehicle with the same features anyway, anywhere in the state. (Trucks have more options than cars. You might find similar cars in the same state.)

Settle for the Bait-and-Switch

Because it is impossible to match a consumer with a truck that has exactly the right features, dealers rely on baiting-and-switching. That’s made easier because the industry is organized as a confusopoly (an economic term I created). It means consumers can’t tell a good deal from a bad one because no two trucks have the same features, so you can’t compare your deal to anyone else’s deal. In that environment, dealers use two tricks to lure you in for the bait-and-switch.

1. Dealer says they have your exact truck – with your exact features – and you should come drive it. When you arrive, they report they can’t find it on the lot, the database was wrong, or someone just bought it. But would you be interested in this truck that has none of what you want?

2. The dealer tries to wear you down by baiting-and-switching to infinity. Since the dealer has no option but to bait-and-switch, it never ends. I heard from buyers that over time they got talked-out of certain features. But really they just got worn down and had no other way to buy a truck. There is no non-bait-and-switch path. That would only be a thing if trucks had limited feature sets and most dealers had most kinds of trucks. But with thousands of option combinations, dealers have to rely on a business model that has these elements:

1. Confusopoly (no way to compare prices)

2. Bait-and-switch to get you into a vehicle that doesn’t meet all of your specifications.

3. Fake backdoor deals to make people think they beat the system, including online car-shopping, fleet sales, Internet sales, and more.

So the answer to my question about why other people can buy trucks and I can’t is that I have a degree in economics and I’m trained in persuasion, so scams are more evident to me. There is literally no path to buying a truck that isn’t some form of dealer abuse on customers. I can’t willingly submit to abuse, and my cognitive dissonance isn’t strong enough to overcome it.

So I have no truck.

But I can get you into a great book. I’ll just need to check with my manager first to see if it’s okay to give you such a great deal on it. No one has ever gotten such a great deal. You are a great negotiator. Don’t tell your neighbors I did this for you or they’ll be jealous. Oh, and there is only one book left and lots of people have been asking about it. So act now, before it’s gone.