The Final Word: Ethics Page 2

I was surprised by the car I settled on, a BMW 740il. After devoting 16 years (1967-1983) to fixing Mercedes, who'da thunk it? (My first arrival at Stereophile's new offices in the new car generated massive interest. Apostasy!)

The Internet proved surprisingly useful, though not in the way I'd expected. I had guessed that typing "BMW AND 740il" in the Find box would generate a bunch of magazine reviews and maybe a few car-finding services. In fact, the standard magazine reviews were absent from the Internet, but there were a bunch of newspaper articles (which unfortunately are usually pretty softball in their critical stance). The best articles came from guys named Daniel Heraud and Dan Jedlicka, both on the Microsoft car site (www.carpoint.msn.com). I'd never heard of them, but I could tell they were critical, and that they'd actually driven the cars.

The other stuff on the Web was the ultimate mixed bag, with huge amounts of irrelevance and crankiness. Most useful was a BMW of America site listing all their dealers. Now that I'd figured out what I wanted, I could shop every nearby BMW source for the best price, a time-honored tradition in car buying.

That's where the ethical rubber met the road. After all, I'd put 50 miles on two different 740s at the only dealer in Albuquerque. Even more important, this was the dealer I'd be going to for the 36,000 miles of free service you get with a new BMW—and the one who'd be handling any warranty repairs, which I know from experience are more often matters of negotiation than of legal right.

September was a great time of year to be buying a BMW. The 1999 models would be showing up in 45 days, and there were plenty of 740ils in the Southwest. The best offer I got was $2000 below invoice, since BMW was offering their dealers rebates off of invoice to keep the stock of 1998s from inhibiting sales of the new 1999s.

So there was the dilemma: Drive back from Dallas with a savings of 6% off of purchase price in pocket, and live with the grumpy (or perhaps angry) feelings of the Albuquerque dealer and my own feelings of guilt. Or work something out in Albuquerque.

I don't offer myself as some paragon of virtue, but I did work out a useful compromise. I used the price I'd gotten in Dallas to lower Albuquerque's price by $500. In addition, I was able to get exactly the right color and options through the Albuquerque dealer, who had used his computer system to locate just the car I wanted (in Tulsa).

I got to use the Internet, which was more useful than any readily available magazines (even the limited reprints they had at car dealers), and I got to deliver some business to a local dealer. But I had to back off my crazed "best price no matter what" orientation. I spent more than I absolutely had to, but I would say that rationality and fairness triumphed. The dealer who got the higher price delivered services that were worth quite a lot more.

When buying high-end audio equipment, I recommend you proceed rationally, and consider all relevant benefits.

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