Race Fate In Your Midlife Crisis Car

There is a time when most people -- usually when they turn 40, 50 or maybe 55 -- realize that a lifetime is really not forever.

What's that shadow on the horizon? That would be eternity.

They say you can't outrun your destiny … but if you had faster wheels, you could give it a race.

Time to buy that midlife crisis car.

That's the car that's comfortable being the center of attention, the one with the sound system that could power a concert hall. It's the car that merrily trades practicality and gas mileage for race car looks and more speed than you'll ever need.

Do you want fast?

The Dodge Viper SRT10 roadster is your champion, with the muscle to launch you from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, according to tests done by Consumer Reports magazine. It will drain your bank account even quicker, with a sticker price of about $82,000, says the car info Web site Edmunds.com.

A blink of an eye behind the Viper, at 4.3 seconds, there's the Chevrolet Corvette Z06. The suggested retail price starts near $70,000.

Fancy something famous and German? You can pay more than $82,000 for a bratwurst sandwich and a Porsche 911 Carrera S. It will get you to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. The Porsche, not the bratwurst.

If dropping that much coin on a car seems irresponsible, professional negotiator Michael Schatzki says don't worry: It's not always necessary.

A little online research, a trunkful of patience and some hard bargaining can often cut a sticker price to something less shocking.

"If you've done your homework you can often get yourself a good deal," said Schatzki, the principal of the consulting firm Negotiation Dynamics, and the author of "Negotiation: The Art of Getting What You Want."

By the time you're old enough for a midlife splurge, you've probably negotiated sales for at least five cars in your driving lifetime. But buying high-end horsepower comes with a particular psychological pit trap.

"Don't fall prey to the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it nonsense," says Schatzki. "It won't cheapen your driving experience if you pay a decent price for your new car."

Schatzki, based in Far Hills, N.J., also warns that the negotiating skills that took you to the top of the business world need to be adjusted a bit inside the auto showroom.

"Negotiating for a car is unique," he says. Here's why:

Many business negotiations are for the long haul -- you might negotiate a five-year contract with a vendor to supply your company a critical component. "That colors your thought process because you're playing for the long term," says Schatzki. You don't need a long-term relationship with the car dealer.

In most business negotiations, the opponents are trying to discover each other's bottom line. "With a car dealer, you know the bottom line. The trick is hanging in there to reach it." Schatzki recommends using Internet sources, such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds, to calculate what the dealer actually paid for the car.

Armed with the dealership's true cost figures, beware the usual showroom tactics designed to pressure you into accepting whatever offer the dealer has on the table.

Schatzki describes the classic sales pressure tactics on his Web site and offers strategies to defeat them:

Does your sales rep have to "talk to the manager" before he can improve his price?

Throw it right back at him. When he declines your counteroffer, tell him you can't accept his refusal unless he confirms it with his manager.

Does the sales staff keep you waiting?

This tactic is designed to make you anxious or nervous, according to Schatzki. Defeat it by having something to do. Bring a paperback to read, or some work to do. Ask to use a spare desk. Power up your laptop and make yourself at home. Get permission to use the dealer's copy machine or telephone. Make a bunch of calls. Fax something.

Does the dealer demand a "good faith" deposit before negotiating?

If a car dealer won't negotiate until you "prove you're serious" by handing over a check, Schatzki recommends hoofing it out of there. Find new wheels someplace else.

And if that high-end rocket is still out of reach, maybe aim a little lower. The all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza WRX STI can go from zero to 60 mph in a nifty 5.2 seconds, according to Consumer Reports. It lists for around $33,000.

Would you rather not race against Fate? Then tempt it with a midlife toy that comes with a slightly dangerous reputation.

A two-wheeled adrenaline shot from the Harley-Davidson Motor Company can be yours for less than the price of many economy cars that get 50 YPM (yawns per mile).

"What goes through the mind of the midlife crisis wannabe biker?" says 53-year-old Duane Collie, a motorcycle enthusiast from Fairfax, Va. "I'll tell ya what -- it's a last shot to recapture the virility of youth before arthritis sets in and counting out blood pressure pills becomes the norm."

Collie jokes that he had his midlife crisis at age 15 -- he has ridden motorcycles ever since. But he has seen "thousands" of slightly gray, first-time riders fall for the romance of the biker lifestyle.

"The midlife crisis biker seeks respect," says Collie. "He wants people to be just a little bit afraid of him. He wants to stand out in a crowd. He wants to make some noise. No company understands that better than Harley-Davidson, and they're marketing geniuses. They can, and will, sell you every aspect of the biker lifestyle."

New bikers may get their thrills from a black leather vest and a membership card in the local Harley Owners Group, even while their bikes hide under tarps in the garage, on their way toward an appearance on eBay, he says.

"But for the select few that become riders instead of bikers, nothing is more fun than taking a motorcycle through a mountain pass with Mother Nature all around," says Collie. "You see and smell things you'll never experience from a car, even a convertible. The interaction between man and motorcycle is unique, and you can remember back to when you were 10 years old and flying your bike down the biggest hill in town, hair on fire and heart in your throat. That's what it's truly like to be on the motorcycle at 50 years young, except you don't have to pedal."

So there's the wisdom of the asphalt: Don't outrun your destiny on the open road -- find it.