The Long Run Blog

Critical Thinking on Money, Finance, and Economics

Poor logic makes for good sales tactics

I happen to be a pretty loyal Toyota customer now. We have two “Toys” and get them both serviced at the dealer. I’m not a do-it-yourselfer and I have had my share of bad service from non-dealer shops. Once upon a time, I tried to save a few bucks by using Midas for brakes. What I saved in dollars paled in comparison to the aggravation of getting it re-done over and over until they got it right. Another time, my non-Toyota vehicle had something wrong, but I didn’t know what. The local mechanic couldn’t tell me either because they didn’t have the scanner/computer/technostic thingy the dealer uses to read the vehicle’s computer error codes. So I learned to just build a relationship with my dealer and get all the maintenance done by them. You know what? They give me a discount, don’t make up repairs and the work gets done right with genuine parts. Saves me aggravation in the long run. While that is my experience, your mileage may vary, as they say.

Going in today for my 30,000 mi service, my dealer got me a loaner from the Enterprise Car Rental branch located right at the dealer (it is one of the bigger dealers). Toyota picks up the tab and they pull out a brand new Hyundai Accent with power-nothing, but at least it had four doors, was clean and didn’t smell like smoke. As I drove it home, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the future of the American driving experience? If the Accent gets an average of 30 mpg and can barely accelerate onto the highway, what sort of driving experience will a 39mpg car offer in 2016 as per the Administration’s new standards? I don’t know the answer, but as someone who enjoys driving, it concerns me. I also felt very vulnerable, like any Chevy Suburban driver on the cell phone with three screaming kids on their way to soccer practice could flatten me like a child’s toy. But I digress.

Anyway, before I drove off in the Accent, the Enterprise clerk walked around the vehicle with me, noting and dents, dings, scratches, fuel level and whatnot. Then came the sales pitch. It went something like this:

Him: “Who is your auto insurer?”

Me: “XYZ”

Him: “Oh, they definitely cover rentals. Do you know your deductible?”

Me: “$1,000.”

At this point I knew what was coming and regretted even answering the previous questions, but we all intuitively answer questions when asked and I did too.

Him: “That’s not unusual. You know, it pays to take our coverage so if anything happens- anything at all- you don’t have to pay the deductible. For $18 a day, you save $1,000. Even if they ding you in the supermarket parking lot.”

This is where I took his clipboard and starting initialling the “decline” authorizations next to all the coverages with a “thanks, but no thanks” which ended the sales pitch right there.

It was a nice try and it probably works on 90% of the renters. Presented as it was “for only $18, we save you $1,000″ sounds like a no-brainer. Who wants to get stuck with a deductible? But logically, using the rental for a day is no different than driving your own car for a day. If you accept the risk of a $1,000 deductible every day you own your own car, why wouldn’t you accept it for any car? The odds of an accident are the same.

This ploy works for two main reasons. First, the way the math is presented: “$18 to save $1,000″. That’s compelling math except that the important information was omitted “$18 to save $1,000 IF you experience damage” which of course is no different than your existing every day risk which you already assume.

The second reason it works is because of your situation. You are renting a car because yours isn’t available. It is being fixed and you are exposed, in need of another’s vehicle and feeling somewhat vulnerable if your car needed a significant repair. You are already spending money on your car, why risk spending even more? You are in risk mitigation mode. But what if you are renting the car for pleasure, say vacation? You wouldn’t feel as vulnerable except for the “even if they ding you in the parking lot” bit. Who hasn’t had that happen? What they omit, is that no one really has to pay for little things that routinely happen. Sure a big crease in the sheet metal is going to cost, but out of the hundreds of cards I’ve rented, not once did a ding, scratch or small dent cost me. It’s normal wear and tear and while everyone knows it, everyone has an anecdotal story pop into their head about some damage. At the least, who doesn’t immediately think “yeah, that would be my luck”? Meanwhile, the odds haven’t changed and your risk isn’t any greater, only your mood makes it feel like a deal.

That $18 per day takes only 55 days without an accident to recoup. Put another way, would your insurance company charge an extra $6,570 per year to take your deductible down to $0? You wouldn’t pay it if they did, so why do it for a day at a time? Instead of deal, this is in fact highway robbery.

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May 21, 2009 - Posted by | Personal Finance | ,

1 Comment »

  1. ||Put another way, would your insurance company charge an extra $6,570 per year to take your deductible down to $0?||

    A great way to frame it. A bit off topic but I have my “does that offer entertainment value?” metric. Basically I’ll pay $12 for a movie…. $15 if it’s on a great screen. Or $6-7.5 an hour for entertainment.

    A theme park might run you $60 for parking/day pass. Sounds pricey but I’m going to be there all day. If I’m there for 8 hours, that’s $7.50 an hour. Good value.

    Comment by kamamer | May 22, 2009 | Reply

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