Confessions of a Loose-Lipped Used Car Salesman

Car shopper

I tend to meet a lot of people in the car business.

I don’t usually have the pleasure of meeting the movers and shakers of the industry, though. Company presidents, top engineers and star designers typically reside in different social circles than I. But I do meet and become friends with the people who work on the front lines of the industry: writers and salesmen.

While neither profession has the panache to pen for Pininfarina, the people who sell cars are often the ones who can best summarize the state of the industry. Their paychecks depend on it.

I’ve found that salespeople come in two categories:

  1. Car enthusiasts who sell cars because they love them
  2. Salespeople who took the job because they are great at selling and want to earn big bucks

I prefer to work with the enthusiasts, but unfortunately, I’ve found (through experience) that many fall into category number two. A friend of mine, who I will call Larry, is a proud member of that club.

A recent night out with Larry, a few other friends and a Corona or two turned into an eye-opening firsthand peek into the world of car sales.

Larry works at a large dealership that sells new domestic vehicles in addition to a hefty used-car inventory. Larry loves selling. He’s the kind of guy who can talk a waitress into giving him free appetizers in 5 seconds flat.

To put it frankly, Larry doesn’t care much for the cars he sells; he sees them as dollar signs and little else. The cars are just his product, items to sell for commission. The more money he can get for the car, the more money he gets in his pocket.

That’s really no surprise, but to hear those words straight from his mouth was a little off-putting.

Over the course of the evening, Larry never admitted to lying directly to a customer, which was good news. But he gave plenty of examples of occasions when he let buyers believe things that weren’t true. (Note: Just because the badge says Jeep doesn’t mean the vehicle is 4WD.)

Larry also freely admitted, bragged even, about getting people into more car than they could afford by rolling over underwater loans, extending terms, offering higher interest rates, pushing higher-level trims and adding unneeded extras.  His favorite “ups,” as he calls them, are the people who wind up on the lot without the intent to buy. Those are the people he can sell on impulse, because they aren’t prepared with specific information about (or values of) the models they look at.

His least favorite customers are the ones who come to the lot with a specific purpose: to buy a specific model at a specific price.

I showed him DealFinder (smartphones are amazing), and he just shook his head and said, “I wish people didn’t know the fair price of a car.”

Sorry, Larry, I love ya, man, but consumers educated by DealFinder are the new norm, and your breed of car salesman has become endangered.

Car shoppers now have a huge number of resources to research cars, features and pricing before a purchase, precisely so they can arrive at dealerships as Larry’s least favorite kind of customer: to buy a specific model at a specific price. Many salespeople and dealerships already know this and conduct business very differently than Larry does, and I suspect they have no trouble dealing with Larry’s least favorite customers.

I’m confident category 1 car salespeople, those that love cars and want their customers to as well, have a much brighter future ahead of them than those in category 2.

There is no excuse for visiting a dealer unprepared. Have you tried DealFinder yet?


[From the editor: Based on the dealer reviews that have been submitted to CarGurus’ DealFinder, car shoppers who’ve taken the time to research the availability and pricing of used cars for sale in their area before purchasing have generally ended up enjoying their shopping experience and happy with their purchase. More than 60% of the shoppers who’ve submitted dealer reviews so far have left 4- or 5-star ratings, many of which include personal thanks to salesfolks they met along the way.]

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  1. I agree Joe. My sister is one of them. She bought a tsx and when I asked what she paid she couldn’t even tell me! But she sure knew her payment. What a joke. I would have helped her negotiate but she didnt even plan on buying that day. Salesmen can smell their prey and are relentless. Dealfinder Is a lifesaver.

  2. I would be amazed if more that 20% of car buyers did any decent research (above consumer reports) before they visit the dealer. BTW – that of course doesn’t apply to the folks visiting this site so you can’t use the readers here as the barometer. Most of my friends looking to buy a car think they did well because the worked out a do-able monthly payment never having a clue about invoice or rebates much less the value of their trade-in. My suggestions to visit edmunds and dealfinder are greeted with “sure, OK” but soon forgotten.

  3. Haha… looks like ol’ tgriffith ruffled some feathers. Don’t see many editor’s notes on these articles! Good to see a writer push some boundaries and talk some truth. Salespeople are a necessary evil in the auto world, but then again a car is one of the few things people negotiate the price on. Without salespeople that wouldn’t be possible. I think the vast majority of folks selling cars are good people supporting a family… just a shame that some, like Larry, see cars as just dollar signs.

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