A Car Buying Story: the Dealers

By: Michael Thornessen

Boy, these people are something special!

You know, while researching the cars, I read a lot about dealing with car dealers. People generally have a negative attitude towards them and the whole car buying experience, and you can find tons of information on how to avoid their scams, how to lower the price, how to negotiate with them, what to tell them, etc, etc. An excellent website to inform yourself on all aspects of car buying is Car Buying Tips: (). Now with all the great info and details I learned from various sources, I still thought that generally the prevailing attitude is not realistic. I mean, you almost get a feeling that if you pay anything more than a factory price, you made a bad deal. You can certainly succeed in lowering the price apparently to a large extent, but it is the fact that the dealers have to make money too. Ok, sometimes just selling the car, e.g. to meet their projected numbers, is beneficial to them, and they might give away even the whole of their profit for that sake. But come on, I can consider such situation just a crazy luck, not my goal! Anyway, I think that the current craze about "beating" those prices down to the floor is just as unrealistic and aggressive as the dealer's craze to take as much money from you as possible.

However, after this buying experience, I lost pretty much any respect and sympathy for the dealers. And I will always advise anyone never to become one. Of course some of them were great examples of normal and pleasant behaviour, but unfortunately I must say that most of them have taken the activity of deceit and aggressiveness to such extent that for an honest and well meaning man the idea of going to a dealership must be repugnant. I very quickly got such a strong feeling of insecurity about everything I was told by them. I think everything was a lie, smaller or bigger. A lot of what I've heard I don't believe, and none of it I trust.

Here are some of the examples, more or less funny, from my recent experience:

Systematic approach

I enter a dealership, with the intention of exploring a car that really caught my attention simply by offering all of the basic features I wanted. So I wanted to see it, test drive it, and ask a couple of questions. So I ask the dealer: "I've read that the crash test scores for this model are not that good, most are graded 3 out of 5. Now, I know that there are different tests, and you can't judge simply by the grade. Do you know more details about those tests and the scores? What is tested exactly, and how did they score the cars?"

The answer was: "Yes, yes I know, the scores are not the best possible. I know. But you know -- what do they mean really? (And I'm thinking -- yes, that is exactly what I asked) You see, a grade of 3 is really not that bad. It's almost like 4. What is the difference? Almost nothing let me tell you. And also, all of that means something only in most severe crashes!!"

Well, no kidding!! What a thorough explanation. Now I understand and my worries are gone. And what a relief. So, if a car is simply parked on a lot, I shouldn't worry that it will suddenly open the hood and hit me right in the face!

Bonding

A question occurred to me about a car, and I decided to drop by a dealership to ask. My visit was about 10 minutes long -- of course we exchanged numbers, I got the brochure and usual stuff. Tomorrow morning, my cell phone rings, I answer and I get this:

- "Hey Michael, Jord here from the dealership."

- "Hey Jord, how are you, what's up?" (I thought he might have just gotten some good used car)

- "Nothing, nothing...just wanted to see how are you."

Huh... If this doesn't sound as a start of a beautiful friendship I don't know what does!

Then he goes on:

- "So have you made a decision on which car you want?"

- "No, not really, not yet. I told you I'll need some time, and I'm not rushing really."

- "Ok, tell me, what's blocking it? Can I help?"

Man, of course you can! Go do something else instead of asking me questions...

Landing on all four whatever happens

I wasn't sure about a size of a trunk of one of the models, so on my visit to the dealerships I brought couple of boxes and a cart that I use often to see how they fit into the trunk. Now this was one of the smaller cars, so I wasn't sure about the trunk size. And I tell the dealer what I'd like to do and he says no problem. So I take out the stuff and he laughs:

- "C'mooon, how can you doubt it -- that will fit without a problem. Don't worry!!"

- "Wait, wait, let me try, I know what I'm talking about."

And then I try, and he tries, but it doesn't go so easy -- the cart is a bit long and the boxes a bit high. Separately they go in no problem, but together, not that easy. Finally, he laughs again and remarks:

- "And you really thought ALL OF THAT will fit into this trunk??!!"

Wha...??

Get all the money you can

I receive a long talk describing how I should buy the replacement insurance. And the more expensive one ("better" in the jargon), which covers you for a longer time and gives you the value of the new car, rather the amount that you paid. Ok, that is a fine product. Now I also get a long description on how I should absolutely buy a VIN engraving package where they engrave the VIN on all windshields so that the thieves are less likely to steal it (they can't sell the windshields for parts). It's about $300. Well, I gave both of these things a good thought, but tomorrow I realized a simple thing: Why do I need two protections? If I get the replacement insurance, and if they are going to give me a new car if mine is stolen, why would I then protect it even more?? Damn, I should also probably buy two cars in case one is stolen after all.

And on top of that, I found on the internet that the engraving kit, very simple to use and apply, can be bought for mere $20.

Get all the money you can -- again

This one is well-known, and usually titled as a "dealer scam", but I decided I put it here anyways just as another example.

So I finally decide to buy the car and I arrive to the dealership at around 6:00pm. I expect the process to last about an hour. However, little thing here and there and I end up at the dealership for four hours. I think ok, nobody's fault, there are simply a lot of things to do and a lot of people to involve -- the dealer, finance guy, insurance girl, then the finance guy again, then the manager because there was an error, etc. So, I get the contract with all the figures there, and everything looks fine: all the figures match almost perfectly to mine that I calculated before. Except one thing -- $900 of loan life insurance. So I ask:

- "Why is it there? Is that mandatory?"

- "Well, we made such an application to Company's Finance."

- "Ok, but is it mandatory?"

- "We could reapply and see what happens -- if you have life insurance elsewhere."

Now, you see, I am not too easy to confuse, but it was late and I didn't want to repeat the whole process again, so I'm thinking: "Ok, I'm going to think about it tomorrow." And I let it by. Now good thing was that I had the contract with me (I had to take it home for my wife to sign), so I wasn't too worried.

Anyhow, in the morning I realize that not only it is not mandatory to have the insurance and that I definitely do not need life insurance elsewhere, but another application without it will certainly go through. And, at that point I sincerely doubted that they need to make another application at all. So I get really angry and I go there and I get the exact same answer again. So I say:

- "Let's apply again; I am sure the application will go trough. I simply don't want it and I never wanted it and I never asked for it. And if it doesn't we'll see then what we do."

And she does the paperwork, and seeing me irritated remarks: "Don't worry I'm sure it will go trough."

Of course it will -- and it does.

Get on customer's side -- even if you overdo it

One of the dealers was affirming every little thing I said. It got funny and a bit annoying:

He thought that the features I wanted are absolutely the only important features in the car.

He was also in computer business just a few years ago.

The funniest was when we discussed payment options. He told me that leasing is a better option if I want to change the car every couple of years. So I say:

- "You know, I am more the other type of buyer, at least so far. I drive one car for years before I buy a new one, so I probably won't go with the lease."

- "I understand, I completely understand. You know, the worst part of the auto business for me is that you simply have to change the car every 1-2 years. I hate that. If I wasn't selling cars, I would do the same as you."

Well, this really made me feel like home. C'mon guys, we just met and will probably never see each other again; don't do these things.

Advertise what you have

This one was not really on the negative side, it was just funny. I went to Subaru and dealers there were actually very cool. They were very cooperative, and without the aggressive edge. And they never called me to push or ask whether I've made a decision. They also have a great program where you can take the car for 24hr test drive. I had really a good experience with them.

Anyhow, I told this dealer that I know that their cars use specific technology in their engine that is different from all other cars, and that repairs can be expensive. And he says:

- "Yeah, it's so called Boxer engine where pistons are opposed horizontally instead of vertically. But we are not the only ones to use it... Porsche uses it -- you know Porsche Boxster. ... And some smaller planes."

Well, that much for the affordable repairs...

Then he also added that it's an old technology that has been well perfected so far and that I shouldn't worry really, which was a bit more reassuring.

Always fish for customer's weak spots -- even in the dark

Honda was giving rebate and they advertised it everywhere: that was very important sales pitch. Now I come to a dealership, and one of the first things the guy tells me is:

"You know, I'll tell you one thing: we will give you a good rebate, and it's Honda's rebate but most of the dealers won't even mention it."

He made it as if he is letting me know a secret, and not only that it isn't, but it's all over radio, their website, everywhere. But I might have been uninformed and careless and would think that I'm getting a special deal.

Lie like there's no tomorrow and hope you don't get caught

I was quite close to buying a car so I called some dealerships inquiring whether they have a certain model and the color on the lot. I told them I don't want the car to be brought from some other dealership. I want to see the car and get the one I saw. This is because I don't want to get into whole new set of issues and questions. For example, one dealer told me that they charge extra delivery fee if they bring the car from other dealership, which is by the way ridiculous and perhaps deserves story on its own. It can also happen that the car that arrives is different in some detail than what you wanted, and you already signed the papers. Etc.

So I made sure they know what I want, and then came to one of the dealerships. We chat a bit and then I say:

- "So let me see the car."

- "Oh, I was afraid you were gonna ask me that. I really don't know exactly where the car is."

I laugh: "But I told you I want to see the car before I buy it."

- "Oh, don't worry -- it's here, I'm just not sure where."

- "Ok, I'll go outside and look for it."

- "But our lots are really big."

- "I don't mind, I have the time."

- "But they are not really all here -- we have two lots a few blocks away."

I just don't like arguing that much -- in cases like these I give up and simply walk away.

A good guy

The positive highlight was a young dealer for which I could quickly tell that he is not (yet) turned his abilities into a deceitful routine -- he even gets confused a bit when I ask him a stupid question. To me that is the normal reaction. And when I asked him what he drives, he said: "an old Volvo, you know it's a really good car." I am really sorry that cars he was selling were not suitable for me -- I would have been very happy to buy one from him. And I didn't even feel like negotiation with him at all.

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