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Danny Wallace: mind games at the second-hand car dealership


The man keeps glancing at me with a real sense of suspicion, like I must be playing a trick on him somehow. But I am not. I’m just trying to sell my second-hand car back to the second-hand car dealer I bought it from.

I just thought it would be easier; he loved this car when he sold it to me a year ago. He kept saying how reliable it was. I was very honest with him at the time. I opened with, “Is it any good?” and moved to, “I don’t know anything about cars, but I have kids. Will this car break down with my kids in it?”

This was all deeply clever on my part. I was appealing to his better nature, saying, “Please don’t sell me a rubbish car. Sell me a good car instead.” Except using completely different words and masking it with a complicated layer of emotional blackmail for him to wade through.

But now he seems to think this good car is not a good car at all. Now he seems to think it’s probably fraught with problems.

“What’s wrong with the car?” he says, studying me closely for any little tell. “Is there a problem?”

“No!” I say, making my honest face, which unlike your honest face, actually looks honest.

His eyes linger on mine. Truth is, I now start to worry I’m trying to sell him a bad car. What if it turns out I’m actually a rip-off merchant? On the way over here, I kept worrying something bad might happen, like all the doors would fall off, or it would explode. I was being paranoid. I can count the number of times I’ve been in an exploding car on one hand.

But then I start to get paranoid for another reason.

What if he actually knows it’s a bad car because he sold it to me, and now he thinks, like some kind of evil genius, I’m trying to sell it back to him? As revenge?

“It’s been a great car,” I say, convincingly, like revenge is the furthest thing from my mind. “It’s just time to move on.”

I speak in short sentences. This is to ensure I don’t make a mistake and blurt out, “The air-conditioning doesn’t work!” I must not tell him the air-conditioning doesn’t work!

I clear my throat.

“The air-conditioning isn’t great,” I say. “It’s been like that the whole time. But that’s about the only problem.”

About? Why did I say “about”? Now I definitely sound like I’m selling him a bad car.

But he can’t come out and call it a bad car, because then he’d be admitting he sold me a bad car.

“The window is a little sticky,” he now says, pointing to the rear window.

“Yes,” I say, inexplicably touching it, like we’ve shared many tender moments. “It’s been like that since day one.”

The man harrumphs slightly, and I suddenly realise I’ve been subtly developing a technique for dealing with any faults he finds. I keep reminding him he sold it to me. Literally any time he points out a fault, I’m essentially saying, “Well you didn’t think it was a problem when I bought it.” It is becoming very frustrating for him.

“I think the tyres are the wrong size,” he says, nodding at them dismissively. “They’ll need replacing. Expensive.”

“Oh!” I say. “Those are the ones I got with it.”

I’m not trying to be tricksy. I had no idea I needed bigger and/or smaller tyres. Every time he comes up with a reason to pay less, I match it with a genuine reason he therefore overcharged me. It’s like karma. This guy’s a karma-chanic. And I’m inadvertently cancelling out all his trusted go-to car criticisms. The worst thing for him is, I don’t even know anything about cars. I literally told him that using the words: “I don’t know anything about cars.”

He kicks one of the tyres. I think he’s just showing me he can kick things. I do need to be careful here. One of his online reviews accuses him of being unstable because he walked off in a huff after someone opened a can of Pepsi inside a Mini Cooper they were looking at.

But you know what? I am doing really well. This honesty policy is not something this man is used to and I’ve got him on the ropes.

“The stereo only gets FM,” I say, pushing it further. I see him do the calculations in his head for how much he can knock off. “So that’s all I’ve listened to since I bought it.”

He grimaces. I’ve got him again. I could say anything at this point. I could say none of the locks work, or that twice a day the car dissolves into liquid, or that it attracts bats, and so long as I say, “…which has been the case since the day I drove it off this lot”, I win!

“OK,” he says. “I’ll help you out.”

And this is his masterstroke. By saying he’s helping me out, he’s making it seem like a favour. That if this car turns out to be bad, it will be because I am evil and he is kind and generous. This way, everybody wins!

And as I’m leaving he says, “So you don’t have a car now?”

He points at a nice black one in the corner.

“Is it any good?” I say.

“It’s very reliable,” he says.


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