“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
– Thomas Jefferson
I guess you’re never too old to be reminded that honesty is the best policy. Consider this story:
My 84-year-old father called to say it was time for him to give up driving a car for good. His memory had started to fade, and he’d begun forgetting things, such as the route to get home from the nearby store.
He asked my help finding a buyer for his car, which Dad seemed relieved to let go. (He also was happy to be rid of a car payment, insurance, gas and maintenance.)
We checked the Internet to get an idea of how much to ask for his car, then took it several places to get the best deal.
At one dealership, the used car manager offered us almost exactly our asking price. We immediately agreed. The manager then handed us a form with a few basic questions and left the room to do some paperwork. We scanned the form and had no issues, until we saw this question: “Have the air bags in this car ever deployed?”
Dad thought for a moment – you could see he was struggling to recall some not-so-distant memory – and then told me, “I’m trying to remember, but I think the air bags in this car did go off once in an accident.”
I was surprised. Dad had said that very morning that he didn’t remember ever being in an accident in this car. Now he seemed to recall an accident that set off the air bags. After some deliberation, his memory cleared and he was certain: a few years ago, he indeed had been hit head-on in this car and the airs bags had deployed.
This was significant because this dealer had a policy not to purchase any car if the air bags had ever deployed, even if they’d been professional repacked. And if this dealer would not buy the car, the next best offer we could find from another buyer was $1,000 less than this dealer was offering.
The sales manager was not in the room when Dad recalled the accident, but he was certain to return shortly. We had a choice to make when the manager walked in: admit the air bags had gone off, lose this sale and eventually end up with $1,000 less for the car, or not mention the accident and make the sale and our full profit.
It’d been a long day and we were ready to sell the car and go home. But Dad and I agreed that we needed to admit the truth about the air bags. If we’d been buying the car instead of selling it, we’d want to know the truth about the car’s history. And it didn’t feel right signing a form we knew to be false.
We told the dealer about the accident and the air bags. He immediately said, “I’m sorry, but that means I can’t buy your car.” After a moment, he added, “Thanks for being honest. I actually could have gotten in some trouble if I’d bought this and the dealership found out later about the air bags.” He also told us that if someone had bought the car and been injured in an accident because of faulty air bags, my Dad’s signature on that paper could place him in a difficult legal position.
In the end, we sold the car to another buyer for the $1,000 less. Driving home, I thought for a moment whether or not we made the right decision, but I didn’t have to think long. I know Dad got less money for his car, but we had something more valuable: peace of mind, and knowledge we had done the right thing.
For us, honesty is still the best policy.