Car Buying Blues

Categories: Business, Pet Peeve
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Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: 2006.08.29

You’d think car salesmen would have learned by now. Okay, to be fair, some of them have. I’ll get to them later — they’re the solution, not the problem.

This afternoon, my wife and I went searching for a used car, with my father in tow (acting as a mechanic and adviser). The first car lot we pulled into was a medium-sized Chevrolet lot, with mostly new cars. The older cars were in the back. While my father looked for a place to park, I spotted him.

By “him,” I mean a pseudo-person wearing business slacks, a drab-colored polo shirt and Tom Cruise sunglasses. By the way, this is the modern version of the 1970s, slicked-back hair, brown polyester suit, huge sideburns used car salesmen. I’m beginning to believe that the current salesmen are the same ones from the ’70s, just that they’ve adapted to our times.

These are people who don’t know much about the used cars on their lot, because they’re trained to sell the new ones. The new cars have higher profit margins and therefore higher commissions. So when they come across a used car shopper, they’re in a quandary.

I’ll admit that it’s an uncomfortable situation for them too, because of this lack of knowledge, but that’s no reason to do what they do.

We hadn’t even parked yet before this pseudo-person was tracking us through the lot, following our vehicle on foot. Seeing nothing, we decided to drive away without exiting our vehicle, but the hardy salesman was standing in our path with a friendly wave and pseudo-smile.

“Run over him!” I wanted to shout, but I didn’t, because I know there are laws against this behavior which should be absolutely moral and acceptable.

We stopped.

“What are you looking for today?” the “man” said.

“We didn’t see it here,” my father replied.

“What kind are you looking for?” the man went on, unperturbed, though it was obvious we were about to drive away.

I’m proud to say that my father invented a fictitious answer. He named a type of car that we knew to be rare and that we knew wasn’t on the lot. “A 1995 Impala,” he said.

“We have a ’98 Caprice,” the salesmen said, still confident and smiling.

Now I’m not a car nut by any means, but I’m aware that a ’95 car and a ’98 car were made three years apart. I’m also aware that a Caprice and an Impala aren’t the same vehicle. What a bastard! Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to say, “Well, you’re right. We don’t have that in right now. Those are kind of rare”?

But they’re trained to keep you on the lot until you agree to test-drive something. I’m not sure why.

We finally got away, and went to another lot, one that at least had prices listed on the cars. I just won’t shop at a dealership that doesn’t have the car prices listed.

After finding a vehicle in our price range, we looked at it, with a new salesperson in tow. This one was dressed much like the first, except for khaki shorts instead of the slacks.

“It’s got a knock in the engine,” my father noted aloud.

“Probably needs new spark plugs,” the salesman said immediately.

What? What in the freaking world! No, dude, it’s NOT the spark plugs. It’s either a valve, or oil that’s too light-weight for the car (my dad and I could tell by the sound).

My father told him so, and he immediately agreed.

This went on all afternoon, even at a third dealership (which didn’t have prices on the cars). In fact, at the third dealership, the salesman told us the price on a Buick. When we told him our limit — about half of his quoted price — he quickly changed his mind and said the car could sell for just more than our amount (the price had miraculously dropped $1,700 in the time it took him to walk to his boss and walk back to us).

Don’t they realize that the way they do business actually hurts sales and engenders distrust among the public?

There’s one dealership in a nearby town that has “no hassle” pricing. They’ve advertised this, and it works. I can’t understand why no one else is doing it. Put a price on the car, and call it “the absolute lowest price.” No haggling. No negotiating.

But overall, I have a large complaint list about salesmen and car lots in general:

1) No prices on used vehicles.

There can be only a couple of reasons they wouldn’t put out the price. One, they want to screw you, and are embarrassed about how high the price is, or two, they want to screw you, and don’t know what the price is until after they talk to you.

2) Vulture salesmen.

Not too long ago, I went to a car lot with family members, and no less than five salesmen approached us — at the SAME TIME.

3) Lack of knowledge about the vehicles.

Once a salesmen told us, “Now this van here will get 30 miles to the gallon on the highway.” The window sticker showed that the van actually got 17 mpg on the highway, numbers issued by the company itself. He also told us it had a V-8, but a quick look under the hood showed it was a small six. Was he lying, or did he just not know?

4) Dishonesty.

See the comment under #3. It’s hard to tell if the guys are lying, or they’re just stupid and afraid to admit it.

5) Lack of care on used vehicles.

Most of the used cars we looked at were dirty, hadn’t been fully cleaned on the inside or the outside. Obvious things were broken, like the electric window controls, interior door handles, and other things that a prospective buyer would notice immediately. In one car, there was a wad of paper towels stuffed down in the engine compartment, where they were soaking up a leaking fluid and had forgotten to remove the towels.

6) Under-inflated tires

Almost every car lot I’ve ever seen under-inflates the tires on their cars, both new and used. Supposedly, this gives the car a softer ride, so customers will feel more comfortable when test-driving a car. But it takes many miles off the life of the tire, and it increases the danger of a blowout or flat. Plus, it’s just plain dishonest.

7) No service records

Every time we asked for service records on the car, there were none. This is crazy. Maybe not everyone keeps receipts and records each time they have their vehicle serviced, but a lot of people do. And nearly everyone keeps a few of them. Wouldn’t a dealership want to have those? Do they never ask? Because every time I ask for them, they’re nowhere to be found.

8) Ignorance of blue book values

The Kelley Blue Book ( and NADA ( websites are both easily accessible and fully functional. They’re also relatively well-known, since people have been using the physical books for years and are now switching to the online versions. So why do salesmen never know the “blue book” values? Why do they act like you’re an idiot if you use them? It seems like a good idea for a dealership to look up said values when THEY buy the car, so they’ll know what it says when a customer asks.

1 Comment
  1. Abby and Richard says:

    I swear, I would buy a car three times as often as I do if I didn’t feel like I was being outright cheated at every turn. Their dumb sales formula certainly COST them sales from me. -Richard

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