Why Consumers Love (and Loathe) Car Dealers

Bentley dealer

Are any dealers immune from complaints?

I can’t think of a business with a more negative reputation than a car dealership.

Well, there’s the mafia, I suppose, but I’m keeping things legitimate here.

Often a poor experience with a dealer can be chalked up to a lack of preparation on the consumer’s part. Walk into a dealer unprepared, and you’ll likely drive out with a beautiful new car you paid a few thousand too much for.

Show up well educated, and you and the dealer will engage in a productive dance of negotiation that ends well for all parties.

Results of a new study released by CarGurus show that 56 percent of car shoppers on the site rated their dealer experiences with 4 or 5 stars on a 5-star scale. That’s saying a lot for an industry with its share of questionable past business practices.

Like all car shoppers, I’ve had good and bad experiences with dealers, two of which are detailed after the jump.

The Bad

I have purchased two used cars from a local dealership, both of which gave me considerable trouble. The first, a 2000 Nissan Altima, was a former rental. That little nugget of information wasn’t disclosed by the dealer and remained undiscovered until I paid off the car and received the title.

The second vehicle, a 2002 Honda CR-V, wouldn’t start on the lot (which should’ve been my clue to keep shopping) and ended up giving me two years of problems before I finally sold it.

I decided to give the dealer one more shot. I made an appointment with a salesperson and showed up at the scheduled time. The salesperson, however, was enjoying his day off. A manager helped me instead and asked for my keys so they could provide a trade-in offer, then told me the car I came to see was just sold. When I decided to pass on buying that day, the manager played the old “We’re looking for your keys” game while another salesperson upped the pressure to buy.

Needless to say I wasn’t happy and have vowed to stay away for good, which is sad, because I wanted to give this particular dealer my business.

The Good

A number of years ago I visited a dealership often to browse, check prices and take test drives. I was never pressured and always treated respectfully. On one visit, a salesperson pointed out a vehicle he knew I was interested in, said it had been on the lot for a while, and offered it to me at an amazing price.

I jumped on it right away. The entire experience was pleasant, and I’d buy from them again.

The bottom line is respect and honesty. When a dealer engages in bait & switch and high-pressure sales, the customer isn’t likely to leave happy. When a dealer is patient, honest and respectful, the customer will feel good about dropping big bucks on a new car.

We’d love to hear any dealer stories, good or bad, that you have! You might also be interested in reviewing your dealer on the CarGurus page.


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Nissan Altima
Used Honda CR-V


  1. My problems with car dealers have mainly been in the service department. Since I pay cash for cars, I generally drive the sales people crazy. I never “have to have” a car, which means none of their tricks will work. I’m always willing to walk. Plus I know their whole orchestrated scam to trick you into buying things you don’t need or want, so none of that works either. I start with their sales contract and start striking off things like document preperation fees (take it off or I walk) and prep fees. (most dealers do nothing more than a quick wash.) If I find any negatives like worn tires, repaired cigarette burns (or a car that has been smoked in) I demand further deductions. I got such a good deal on my last vehicle from a dealer that the used value only recently arrived at what I paid for the vehicle, and that’s after 2.5 years and 36,000 miles. Some easy tips:
    1. Never be afraid to walk.
    2. Look the sales contract over and question every single charge.
    3. Always arrange your own financing. Very rarely, the dealer might offer you a better deal, but rarely.
    4. When they sit you down in the separate office to pressure you into buying extras like warranties, paint and fabric protection, tell them yes for each thing and but tell them you’ll only pay xxx dollars. My last dealer wanted me to buy adn $800 extended warranty and I offered to buy it for $50. The conversation ended very quickly.
    5. Back to point 1, be willing to walk out. Having a customer walk is considered to be the ultimate failure for a salesperson.

  2. I prefer to buy my cars from a private party and am willing to travel to pick up the right car. My rule for long distance deals is: the seller must be “right” as well as the car.

    Used cars from a dealer is usually a no-no, however, I have been able to find reasonable deals on BMWs from non-BMW dealers.

    Don’t know any brokers.

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