Never Meet Your Heroes

There's a saying that I've heard before: "Never meet your heroes." Well, now I know why.

One of the big benefits of working at a larger dealership is the ability to see and drive a lot of different makes and models of cars. I've driven everything that General Motors makes, as well as assorted Fords, Chryslers, a Lexus  IS300, Toyota Sequoia and Land Cruiser, Hondas...the list goes on.

I have a favorite car that we've taken in on trade. The guy who writes and coordinates our commercials traded in a 1999 BMW 740iL, in almost mint condition. I LOVED that car. Everything about it was perfect, except for the thermostat that went bad and cost the dealership $500(!) when we had to have it replaced at the nearby BMW dealership. We didn't have that one for very long before the owner sold it for close to wholesale price to his brother-in-law.

I've had a long-standing man-crush on BMW and their sport sedans. I drove a 2004 BMW 525i a couple years ago and absolutely loved it. The steering was perfect, the inline-six motor was peppy and eager to rev, and the drive was genuinely enjoyable.

Fast forward to today, when our health insurance representative decided to trade in his 2006 BMW 530xi (xi denoting all-wheel-drive) for a 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS. The Beemer is an absolutely stunning forest green, with saddle-brown leather interior. To get in this car is to know what money feels like when contained in an Italian leather wallet.


I snuck the keys away from the salesman who did the deal and hopped in. A cursory glance around the driver-centric cockpit revealed the level of precision and assorted Bavarian whiz-bangery that BMW stuffed into their car. It even had the BMW Comfort Access feature that allows you to insert the key-fob into a receptacle on the steering column (which turns on the accessory mode for the car) and a push-button start to start the motor. I started it up and maneuvered the German sedan into traffic.

Immediately, I felt the heavy steering of the car fighting my every input. A lot of modern premium sedans have a kind of "active steering" that will vary the amount of effort needed to change course depending on road conditions and vehicle speed, but the Beemer seemed to always need maximum steering effort. "That's fine, I said, BMWs are known for their heavy steering." I thought to myself. I accelerated up to speed, while trying to fiddle with the radio.


I don't know if you've ever driven a BMW with the first generation of iDrive, but the system is MADDENING. Simple things like changing the bass and treble of the radio become exercises in futility and frustration. You take the ability to make changes to your car's audio system for granted, but using iDrive makes everything more complicated.


After traveling for a bit, I decided to take the 530xi onto the highway, its natural habitat. Instantly, the BMW got up to cruising speed, the heavy steering doing its job and making sure that no unintentional inputs set the car off course. I enjoyed the utter silence of the interior, the throaty hum of the motor, and the comfort afforded by the thin but carefully sculpted seats. I got off the highway after a few miles, and took the 530xi through town on the way back to the dealership.

I pulled back into the lot. I felt confused, worried. How could it be that a drive in a vehicle that I held so dear could have me in a state of disarray? Did I enjoy the ride? Yes, of course. But something was missing. The BMW je nais se quoi was missing. I had met my hero, and I was disappointed.

Here's my point, if this post has one. People like to think that German and Japanese cars are so much better than what General Motors and Ford are putting out right now. I have to say, there's no way I would purchase a BMW 5-series knowing that I could get literally everything that's in the BMW on a Buick LaCrosse for $20,000 less. A LaCrosse, loaded to the gills, is about $40,000. This BMW 530xi stickered for about $55,000. When you compare the vehicles on price, there really is no comparison, and I think the Buick easily drives just as nice as the Beemer. I honestly don't see the point of spending so much more for a BMW. I honestly don't. Not when everything about the Beemer is more expensive, including maintenance and insurance.

Give me a Buick (or Cadillac) any day.


More Change

Well, we said goodbye to another guy this week.

Honestly, I should be used to change. There are only 2 other salesmen that are still working at the dealership that are there when I started. The job is a grind, and a lot of guys can't get used to the income instability. This guy was one of those. It's his bad, truthfully. He decided to become attached to a woman that most of us agree is just going to make his life miserable ultimately. It's not our place to say anything, however.

Another note about leaving a dealership: there's no two-week notice. None. When it's time for you to leave, you let the manager know and you clean out your desk. But above all, you say goodbye to the guys. That's the one constant. Be a man and let people know you're leaving, because if anything, we're going to have to tell the customers that you were working with what happened to you.

This guy didn't say goodbye to anyone but myself. That's completely unacceptable. We spend upwards of 50 hours a week with each other. I spend more time with my coworkers than I do with my girlfriend. You learn a guy's ins and outs, what he's thinking, how he handles his business, everything. When you leave, you leave with a handshake and a fare-thee-well. That's the way men do it. I suppose that says it all, doesn't it?

Managing Money on a Commission, Part 4

It's been a while since I've written an update to this, so here we go.

Things have been going well for my financial makeover. I'm saving more than I ever have been before, and I haven't been touching that money because, well, it's very difficult to get it out of where I put it. I have that high-yield savings account through ING Direct, and it takes three days to get the money back out. So, my savings are almost inaccessible to me, which is good. If I had regular access to it, I'm sure I would have burned through it already.

A little while ago, I got what's called "a wild hair up my ass" (read: sudden and strong urge) to purchase a new laptop. I bought my current laptop just this past summer, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was the cheapest laptop with the specs that I wanted that I could find. I bought an HP G62-234DX, which was a Best Buy exclusive, for $530, including a very nice laptop case. The very next week, the price on this laptop jumped to $700. Dodged a bullet there.

But I still wanted a new laptop for some reason. When you want to do something, the ways that you try to convince yourself to do it can get ridiculous; I tried to justify getting a new laptop by telling myself that I wanted to play games on it. Looking back now, I'm glad my wonderful girlfriend stopped me from doing that. One disapproving look from her was all it took to get me back on the path.

This past week, I took a couple more steps to getting my finances in order. We had an insurance meeting at work, and after examining my paychecks, I discovered that I will have paid out over $2800 in insurance premiums this year. I'm generally healthy; the only problems I've had with my health was a bout with kidneystones in March of this year. After doing the math and consulting our health insurance guy (don't know what else to call him), I moved down from the expensive coverage and went to a Health Savings Account (HSA). The initial premium cost is much smaller than the expensive coverage, and I elected to make contributions from every paycheck pre-tax to the HSA that can be used to any medical expense that I need. There's a deductible involved, but if I do "get hit by the bus" as our insurance guy put it, I will still be covered. I have family who can help me out with the deductible if need be. The savings should be substantial, about $30-$40 per paycheck that goes to me instead of the insurance company. Over the course of a year, that should be about $800-$1000 in savings.

The other step I took is to automate the deposits in my savings account. Before, I was just squirreling money into that account when I remembered to do it. Now, my dealership will take a percentage of my check (about equal to my 401(k) contribution) and put it in that account. If that account grows like the 401(k) has, then I should have quite a bit in that account after a while. The best thing? I don't have to think about it. Every time I get paid, BOOM, done. The money doesn't even hit my checking account for me to spend, which is nice, considering I budget off of what's in that account.

But there's still work to do. I have one more credit card to pay off, and a couple miscellaneous bills to take care of. I'm making progress, though, and for that, I'm proud of myself.


Scarcity vs. Abundance

I came across an interesting idea as I was cruising The Simple Dollar today. (I can safely say that this website has changed my life, and how I approach money. I have talked myself out of several misguided money moves just based on this website.) Trent was talking about the difference between the scarcity mentality and the abundance mentality.

The idea of scarcity vs. abundance was first discussed by Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The basic idea boils down to how someone feels about the success that someone else enjoys. If you have a scarcity mentality, you look at someone else's success with disdain. You think that because that person has something you want, be it success, a new car, whatever, that you can't also get that item because that person has taken some of the resources available with which to obtain it. In other words, there is a pie that everyone gets a piece of. If someone starts taking a larger piece of the pie, that means there's less pie for everyone else.

If you have an abundance mentality, you feel the opposite. If someone gets something that they worked for, you feel that if you work to the same level you can also obtain the same thing the other person earned. To revisit the pie idea, there isn't just one pie. There are several pies, and more than enough pieces to go around if you work hard enough. Let's put it in car salesman terms: If Bobby goes out and works hard and saves and buys himself a Cadillac, Timmy can see that Bobby worked hard and achieved his goals. If Timmy has an abundance mentality, he feels that if he works hard, like Bobby did, he too can afford a Cadillac.

The reason I even brought up these ideas is the overarching feeling between salesmen that bringing in more salesmen on the sales floor means that there is less of a pie for everyone else. Most salesmen I've been around have a scarcity mentality, thinking that there is a finite number of customers that are going to be coming onto the lot, and the more salesmen you have on the floor the fewer opportunities for everyone else. Almost no one thinks within the abundance framework.

In my own experience, my dealership has gone through quite a bit of change over the past year. A lot of the older guys that I learned the game from have retired, leaving me as the third longest tenured salesman. Those older guys that retired weren't working from the same pies; if we had 13 guys, we had 14 pies. Each guy had his own pie of customers that weren't going to buy from anyone else (repeat/referral/family) and then there was the community pie of random customers that came on the lot.

With those older guys gone and replaced with younger, less established guys, the individual pies have shrunk, leaving more guys to share the community pie. I eat from the community pie as well, but I also have a large list of previous customers that come in and work with me. I work in the abundance mentality, because I know that the customers in my pie don't belong to the community pie. A lot of new salespeople struggle with that thinking, because they simply don't have the customer base. They almost have to work under the scarcity mentality, fighting with each other for sales opportunities.

So, how does all of this apply to you, the customer? Remember your salesman's name. If he gave you a card, bring the card. Because he's more likely than not working with a scarcity mentality, not remembering his name and working with someone else means that he is going to have to split the deal if you buy a car, which in turn leads to strife and resentment within the group.


Managing Money on a Commission, Part 3

The money management thing has been going good. I've managed to sock away a halfway decent amount of money into that high-yield savings account with ING Direct, I've pared down some of my frivolous spending, and I've starting keeping tabs on my money using Mint.com.

If you've never used Mint.com before, you should start. Now.

What Mint.com does is keep track of the balances in all of your accounts for you. It uses very high-level encryption, so your data is safe. I use it to check my checking account, both savings accounts, and my 401(k) account. All the balances are right there, easy to see. Mint also tallies all of your individual transactions on the accounts as well, so you can see where you waste a lot of money (my Achilles heel was fast food). You can create budgets as well, and Mint will alert you if you overspend in any particular category.

I also recently found myself in possession of a nice navigation/GPS/DVD touchscreen radio for my car. I was about to put it in when I learned that I would need to buy a $100 integration module for the radio to work correctly. No dice, man. Previously, I would have just blown the $100 and had myself a nice new radio. That mode of thinking doesn't (and can't) work for me anymore. So I sold it.

Instead of installing the radio, I decided to get a car dock and car charger for my HTC EVO 4G. The phone is a marvel. Instead of having a phone, an iPod, and a Navigation unit, I have my EVO 4G. The EVO takes the place of all of those devices (which I would have otherwise purchased), saving me at least $300. With that money saved, I can pay off another of my credit cards. I can also take the money that I earned from selling the radio and pad my budget that much more. The dock and charger for my EVO was $30 and I sold the radio for $75, so it paid for both the phone accessories and left a little bit to go into savings.

Small steps, I know, but you need to walk before you can run.


Staying Plugged In

One of the big problems with this job is staying "plugged in". By "plugged in", I mean alert. Active. Keeping my head up.

Sometimes, it's hard.

Very hard.

I mean, I stare at a parking lot all day, 6 days a week. My income depends on people coming into the area in which I can convince them to spend money on a product that they may or may not need. Whether the need is perceived or actual, it's my job to fill that need.

But sometimes, it can be hard to maintain that focus. I can stay "on" for a few hours at a stretch. Then, after a while, an idea for a blog post will hit me. Or, I will feel the need to listen to music. Or something else. I don't know.....oooh, a customer!


Managing Money on a Commission, Part 2

Last week, I introduced the "Managing Money on a Commission" series. It chronicles my personal fight to learn how to manage money when money isn't consistent. I've been looking at several personal finance websites, like The Simple Dollar, and applying their strategies to my situation.

I've always been a person that gets into something really fast, then dabbles in it for a little bit, then leaves it alone.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that this whole "money management" thing isn't one of them. This is something that I'm really going to have to work at daily, making smarter financial choices. For example, for lunch, I normally eat what we call "a bag of garbage": A sack full of multiple fast food items, none of which are good for you neither financially nor health-wise. $4-6 a day adds up at the end of the week, especially when you count the  breakfasts and dinners that I also have to purchase.

So I've decided to curtail that, by preparing large dinners at home using my not-insignificant cooking skill. (I used to watch Mom a lot in the kitchen and she taught me some stuff.) The leftovers from the previous night can be used for lunch. Sounds simple, right? What really boggles my mind is that I never really thought about doing this before.

I also opened a high-interest savings account with ING Direct. The interest rate of my savings account at my bank is only 0.25%, while ING Direct hovers at about 1.10%. I know those numbers seem small (and they are), but 1.10% is over 4 times more than my conventional savings account. Another reason why I opened the ING account is that it's online. When you do your banking with an online institution, you don't have access to your funds as easily as you would if they were just sitting over at the local credit union. That means that I can essentially steal from myself and create an emergency fund with money that I can't easily fritter away on non-essentials. My goal is to have $1,000 in that account by the time tax season rolls around.

My main plan is to create an emergency fund to fall back on, as well as pay off the rest of my credit cards (two down, one to go!). After I get those accounts zeroed out, I can start saving in earnest.


How NOT to negotiate on a Used Car

I ran across this article on Jalopnik today. Basically it's a gameplan on how to beat up your salesman and get the best deal. In actuality, it's a path to failure and making the salesman hate you.

It gives "tips" like "Don't be excited" and "Don't tell the salesperson exactly what you want".


You are trying to get help from me on how to buy a car. Why would you not give me all the information that I need to help you? Doesn't that sound counter-intuitive? And you're buying a car for myself, why wouldn't you be excited? We feed off of your excitement; it causes us to take you seriously.

And really, that's what it boils down to. You have to appear to be interested, otherwise we won't take you seriously. You want to be taken seriously, don't you? Then act interested. Listen to what the salesperson has to say. Hopefully you test drove your salesperson so you know that you're working with someone that you're compatible with. Once you've gotten that perfect salesperson, it's more than ok to let your guard down and tell him or her what you need.

If you want actual good advice on buying a used car, here's my used car buying guide.



Managing Money on a Commission, Part 1

One of the questions that I get asked pretty frequently is this:

"How do you manage money when you get paid commission?"

The answer? Very, very carefully (I assume, more on that later).

I have made quite a bit of money by selling cars. To give you an idea, I make about as much as someone who is 4 years into a normal entry-level job would make. You see short gains every year, as more and more customers refer their friends and family members, and as those customers start to replace the cars that they've purchased from you. From personal experience, a lot of my business comes from repeat customers and referrals. I have one young family that sticks out in my mind, as they've purchased three vehicles for themselves, and referred in their parents and one of their neighbors. One family, 5 cars. You can't ask for much more than that.

Money still doesn't come in at a constant rate, even for the best and most seasoned salesperson.

So how do you manage money that comes and goes in spurts?

In short, I don't.

You're probably thinking, "How can you write a post on managing money when you work on commission if you don't do it yourself?"

Because it's a two-part post and it's my blog.

I recently came across The Simple Dollar, a money management blog. The author, Trent Hamm, went through a self-described "financial armageddon" as he tried to sustain a lifestyle that he could not maintain without burying himself in credit card debt.

As I read his story, I began to recognize some of his destructive behaviors in my own financial life. I wrecked myself with credit cards, TWICE. I have a crapload of debt I'm trying to manage, including a metric ton of money from my time at Michigan State University. I've begun paying off my debt, but seeing someone else pull himself out of a situation similar to mine is inspiring to me.

Growing up, I had everything I needed. Both of my parents worked for the most part (my mother stayed at home when my siblings and I were small), so I always had food on the table. I had a Nintendo, then a Sega Genesis. But one thing I never quite got the grasp of was delaying gratification. My girlfriend will attest to this. I always have a new cell phone (though I recently purchased an HTC EVO 4G, so I think I'll be satisfied for a good long while). I recently bought myself a new laptop. I bought an iPad when those first came out, simply because I wanted one. Clearly, I have work to do.

So, I'm going to adopt some of his strategies for saving and frugality and apply them to my own life. After I feel like I've accomplished some things, I will do a follow-up post. Maybe watching my climb from the depths will inspire someone else to do the same.



Model Year End Clearance "Deal"

"I'm looking for a 2010 Chevy Malibu." the woman says. She is the standard customer, the one you always picture when you are picturing a retail customer.

"Well, ma'am, we sold out of 2010 Malibu's in June." I say, trying valiantly to prevent my eyes from rolling. "Would you like to look at a 2011?"

"Will the 2011 have the same rebates?"

"No, the 2010 will have more rebates. But there aren't any 2010 Malibus left." I reply. I've heard this question 100,000 times over the past 4 years.

"Can you check for me? I would rather have the big rebate." she says, impatiently.


August and September are usually very, very frustrating months for the new car salesperson.

Not because of the weather, or because there aren't any customers on the lot. It's because of new model year changeover. Late summer is when we tend to get our new models. Because we might still have a ton of inventory left over from the previous model year, General Motors tends to throw extra cash on the hoods of whatever they might have tons of. 

"Tons of cash, hmmm?" you might be thinking. "Might be a great time to get a great deal..."

Not so fast, there, Sparky. 

Usually these great deals turn out to not be so great, after you check out the figures beyond the original purchase price. Let's dig a little deeper, beyond the upfront costs. 

- You're getting a vehicle that is already a model year behind. If you're going to be keeping your car until "the wheels fall off" (I'm so tired of that statement), then this might not matter to you, but if you're anything like most customers, you're going to want to get out of that car sometime in next 3 to 4 years. When you go to trade that vehicle in, it will not be worth as much as a vehicle that is in what is now the current model year. A 2010 Chevy Impala isn't worth as much on the market as a 2011 Chevy Impala.

- Most automakers, General Motors included, include something new on the new model year cars, even if the vehicle was all new the previous year. For example, the 2010 Chevy Camaro has a 304 horsepower V6. The  2011 model has 312 horsepower, as well as the addition of heads-up display. Safe to assume, you'll want the additional features that the new model will have.

Sometimes, though, going with a leftover model can be a good idea. If a model hasn't changed very much from the previous year, saving a ton of money by going end-of-model year is probably a good thing. For example, our half-ton trucks haven't changed much from 2010 to 2011, and you can save about $1,000-$2,000 by going that route.

Just be warned, though, your selection of previous year vehicles is going to be greatly limited. You're getting the bottom of the barrel. You're getting what everyone else didn't want. We can check other dealers' lots to a certain extent, but the likelihood of a trade happening is pretty much non-existent. Go for the deal if you want, but remember, you are at the mercy of the current supply. We can't build any more 2010s!



Time Off

I work a lot. When I say a lot, I mean, A LOT. Where we are, most salespeople have to work 6 days a week. In places like Detroit, salespeople have a union that has negotiated weekends off for salespeople. Lucky them. Though I can't see how not working on a day like Saturday could be a good thing. Most of our sales and leads for the upcoming week come in on a Saturday. It's the day that most people have off. At any rate, I only take one Saturday off a week.

This weekend is not one of those weekends. I need to make one more sale to really make my paycheck pop. I'm scheduled to work, but if I needed to take the day off, I could. After work, a few of the guys from the dealership are getting together to grab a few beers and watch the game at our GSM's bar; he co-owns a blues joint not far from downtown. Because I don't want my beautiful girlfriend to worry, I'll be calling a cab to get home or hitching a ride. No DUI for this guy.

Since salespeople are just that, people, we all have different ways we blow off the steam from being pressure-cooked on a parking lot for 60 hours a week. Some drink, some hunt, a lot of us play golf (a sport I've never gotten into). Poker nights are also normal events.

Myself, I'm a foodie. I love going to restaurants and comparing them, trying new things. I've become a big fan of authentic Italian and Mexican restaurants. I also make the hour drive to visit my aforementioned beautiful girlfriend twice a week.

My point? The same point that I've made countless times in this space; Car salespeople are people. We just have better methods of persuasion than you.



How to get the most for your trade-in

One of the things that people hate most about the car-buying process is getting what they believe is a proper amount for their trade. Most of the time, a customer is a bit out of step with reality, because they have an emotional attachment to their old car; it ferried them and their family to various destinations, it was a unique color, maybe it even saved their life. Because of the emotional attachment, customers tend to think their car is worth a lot more than it is.

We dealers, however, have to look at the car from an empirical standpoint. Your average dealership probably looks at 10 trade-in vehicles a day, and countless more on various auction sites. (Auctions are a great way to bolster inventory.) If you have a blue 2008 Chevy Impala with 42,091 miles on it, we can probably put a valuation on it without even seeing it. We don't have an emotional attachment; further, we can't afford to price ourselves out of the market on your vehicle by giving you much more than the vehicle is actually worth on the open market. So, to arrive at a value for your trade-in vehicle, we will do the following:

1. We will write up an appraisal form, with all of the pertinent information about your vehicle, including the VIN and the equipment.

2. We will get a CARFAX on it. (yes, dealers use this, too)

3. We will check the Manheim auction reports to see how much a vehicle like yours would bring if we were going to purchase it from somewhere else.

4. We will also check the NADA book to see how much a bank would loan for your particular vehicle.

That's how it works. That being said, it isn't that hard to get us to go a little further for you and try to earn your business by getting you a bit more for your trade that it's actually worth. This is called an over-allowance. Here's how to get one.

- Don't be a prick. Dealers are people too. We are far more likely to try to help people that we like. If you are nice, we will try to help you as much as we can. Honestly. I can't stress this enough. Acting like a jerk will make your salesperson hate you and attempt to add your name to his wall of fame of sky-high commissions.

- Clean up your vehicle. I know we should look past the dirt and Cheerios that your kids ground into the deep fibers of the backseat, but we can't. If the outside of your vehicle is unkempt, how likely is it that you took care of the mechanical soundness of the vehicle? Take it to a car wash and vacuum the seats. I promise you, that alone is worth another $300 at least.

- Tell the dealer how much you want. If we know going into the appraisal that we need to hit a certain number to put a deal together, the likelihood of us getting to that number increases dramatically. If you're unrealistic, most dealers will tell you.

- Tell us what is wrong with the vehicle up-front. Just be honest. If it has a check engine light on, and you know what the cause is, tell us. A check engine light could be as much as a $1,000 swing in the value of the vehicle.

- If you have a "niche" vehicle (think Hummer H1, Corvette, Pontiac G8) please be patient as we put a number on it. And don't even think of trying to have us put a number on it when the vehicle isn't present.

That's it. It's simple. Just be nice, and be realistic. Doesn't sound too hard, right?


Why You Should Buy an American Car

It's about time I talked about this. I work at a domestic (read: American) car dealership. We sell General Motors products. A lot of them. We have people that occasionally ask us, "Why should we buy American? Aren't foreign cars better?" A few of us cringe when we hear that question, because we already know that there is an extra wall of psychological mishmash that has to be dealt with, as well as a customer that already thinks our cars are no good.

I guess I should make one thing clear: I have no problems with people that buy import cars, as long as they do the following:

1. Research ALL the competition, not just imports. If you're looking at a Toyota Camry, you should also be looking at the Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion. If you're looking at a Toyota Tundra (I wanted to use a different make, but Toyota is the only import make that actually has a real truck. Shut up, Nissan.) you should definitely be looking at a Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, or Dodge Ram as well. Consider all the alternatives, especially given the level of quality coming out of American factories.

2. Have a need that a domestic car simply cannot fill. I had a customer one time that was looking at the Chevy Traverse and comparing it to the Honda Pilot. The Pilot would fit in her garage, the Traverse would not. I have no issues with her decision to purchase a Pilot based on that fact.

A lot of people think that import cars are somehow "better". I challenge this assertion with one of my own: Import cars now are not "better", they are simply different. The average consumer in this country has been buying American cars for most of their adult lifetime. If they lived through the all-but-implicitly-declared American garbage in the 80's and early 90's, and then a smug Honda salesman puts them in a brand new Accord, of course they are going to marvel at how well put together the Accord is.

But here's the thing: It's 2010. Everything is well put together now. The import manufacturers simply looked at what American makers were doing wrong in 1993, improved upon it, and released cars that were a notch or two better assembled. A brilliant move on their part, because General Motors (for example) didn't figure out how to build a good midsize car to combat the Camry and Accord until 2007 with the 2008 Chevy Malibu. That's enough time for a lot of midsize car customers to jump ship. And they did. Now American midsize cars are equal to if not better than the imports, and our fight is to get people to look at us again.

Back to my point about imports being different. I had a smartphone addiction for about a year and a half. I had every new phone that came out. Every phone did everything that the phone before it did, it just did it differently. I got addicted to the different-ness. Autos are the same, albeit with a far greater financial investment. People can get addicted to different.

What is far more important, at least for this country, is that the domestic automobile companies essentially created the middle class. By working with the United Auto Workers and getting higher wages, a new economic class was created and bolstered, allowing ancillary services and goods to flourish. Drawing the parallel, if not for Ford, GM, and Chrysler, would we have flat-panel TVs and smartphones? Maybe, but how many of us would be able to afford them?


Selling Cars to Family

One topic that I haven't touched on at all in this space is how car salesmen sell cars to members of their own family. Almost everyone in my family has purchased a car from me, as well as a few members of my girlfriend's family.

It's always a sticky situation. You have to take care of everyone involved; the family member, the management, and yourself. It seems like no matter what you do in a family situation, someone always has to sacrifice. Normally, it's the salesman. We get crunched from both sides; the family tries to get a car for free, and the management tries to maintain a healthy profit margin.

Perfect example: My girlfriend's aunt and uncle came in to buy a vehicle. Let's call them Bob and Sue. My girlfriend's father wanted me to take care of them. I did, giving them a deal on a pre-owned Chevy TrailBlazer. The TrailBlazer had leather, seats with heaters and memory function, sunroof, CD changer, and premium sound. I gave them a $2,500 "family" discount, and I certified the vehicle at no extra cost to them (giving the vehicle an automatic warranty). They were happy.

My girlfriend's father, however, wasn't convinced that we gave them enough of a discount. I countered, saying that by covering the certification, we in effect gave them a $3,000 discount. There's no way we would have taken that much off for a normal customer. (A note: Perhaps we might end up taking that much off for a normal customer, but whereas a normal customer would have to fight tooth and nail to get us to that price, I made sure the deal was sweetened for Bob and Sue enough to not have any further discussion.)

Pressure. From all sides. A good deal is a deal that makes all sides happy. It's not something that happens often when family is involved.

It's a little different when you're working on a new car. I sold my father the first Buick Regal in town. There weren't any rebates available on the Regal, so we could only offer a slight discount on the vehicle. We made it up on the trade-in, giving him $500 more that we had appraised the car for. He was tickled, though, because the Regal is a gorgeous car that has earned him a ton of respect and kudos.

In the end, when it comes to a family deal, we salespeople try to take care of our own. It's just a little harder than everyone thinks it is.


The book is on hold

Well, due to some things going on in my life, namely working too freaking much, I've had to put the book on hold. Though, it probably wasn't time to do a book anyway. So, I'm just going to concentrate on the blog for now.


So, I've decided to write a book

It's exactly as it says on the tin. I've decided to write a book chronicling my experience as a car salesman. I hope it comes together as well on the page as it is in my head. Right now, my head is spinning with all the ideas that I want to put on the page.

One thing is for sure: names will be changed to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent). I don't need any heat coming down on my head simply because I want to share my story.


An Open Letter to Todd Lassa of Motor Trend

Todd Lassa,

 I have read 80% of what you've written in Motor Trend, and I agree with a lot of it; most of it is pro-American automotive industry, and I like reading another positive voice. However, I take severe issue with your recent post about car dealerships and the financing options that we offer consumers. I've been selling cars for almost 4 years now, and I've never gotten an "attitude" about a customer obtaining their own financing for a vehicle. If a customer is getting their own financing, that means that they have already decided to purchase the car and more often that not are preparing to do so.

What's more, one of the biggest things that prevents me from making a sale is a customer leaving the dealership, even if they are leaving to procure their financing. All it takes is for a customer to drive by another dealership, and decide to stop in; all of a sudden, a deal that I thought I had wrapped up is not happening because I let the customer leave the dealership. Taking care of the financing in-house frees up time and frustration for the customer; they don't have to leave and talk to another set of goofballs at their bank.

What is even more alarming to me is the fact that it appears that you don't think dealers should make any money on cars; we should be content with what comes in from service, parts, and accessories. That idea is incredibly insulting. It seems as if you don't believe that car dealership are a legitimate business. Do you have beef when Best Buy makes money off a TV they sell? How about a boutique clothing store? Why is it acceptable for a non-car dealer to make a profit?

It is up to the customer to decide if they want us to handle a loan for them, just as it's their prerogative to purchase the car itself from us. If they want to spend hours arguing with us over a price, that's also their decision. Maybe more consumers should look at irresponsible journalism as part of their problem, instead of part of their solution.

Sincerely Yours,

Joseph Davenport

This letter was written in response to a blog post in Motor Trend by Todd Lassa. Will I send it to him personally? Probably. 


Tips for Buying a USED vehicle

I know that most people don't have the means to buy a brand new car. I didn't. Or, rather, I realized from my years in the business that a used car is a much better value. When you drive a new car off the lot, the value drops by at least 15%, and that figure is probably conservative.

Take your basic Chevrolet Malibu. A 2010 Chevrolet Malibu LS will have an MSRP of $22,815. If you read my post about new car negotiating, you know that I don't charge anyone sticker on a new car because it isn't in my best interests to do so. So, that $22,815 price goes down to $21,900 or thereabouts. Currently, there are about $3,000 in rebates available on the Malibu. You can deduct that right from the $21,900. Now we're at $18,900. That means that if we took in your Malibu on trade a week after you bought it, we wouldn't be realistically able to ask more than $17,000 for it because a new one is within $2,000. If we can only ask $17,000 for it, we can only give you $15,000 for it to make selling it worth our time.

If you made it through that number-laden paragraph, you probably figured out a couple things. First, you probably know that my earlier estimate of 15% is very conservative. Second, you know that a used car is a much better deal; in that example, a used Malibu is a couple grand less than a new one.

So how do you go about negotiating on a used car? Read on.

Red Cedar Lager

I'm a beer guy.
Some people love cranberry-and-vodkas, some people do shots. I drink beer. I know the difference between lager and ale, between pilsner and stout. I've tried almost any beer you can name.
So, during one of our slow periods, we started comparing favorite beers. (In case you're curious, here are mine in order: Leinenkugel Berry Weiss, Miller Lite, Bell's Oberon, Killian's Irish Red, Guinness Stout, Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. Don't come at me with that Mexican piss-water called Corona.) I'm a minority at the dealership, in that most people prefer Bud Light to Miller Lite, but I digress.
We started to kick around the idea of starting our own brewery. One of the long-term guys actually brews his own beer, so it's not that far of a stretch. The topic of names came up. I went to Michigan State University, so "Red Cedar Lager" was my suggestion. It got a good laugh.
So good that one of the more entrepreneurial staffers decided to purchase the domain name.
Now we have our brewer cooking up a test batch. Maybe we started something here...

Close Shave with a Hummer

I've been absolutely slammed for the past week, so forgive me for not posting something in a while.
I've gotten some things done, though. I sold a handful of cars on Monday, a young couple's first family vehicle on Thursday, and my first Hummer on Friday. Mixed in with all of those wins were a handful of failures, zero-credit scores and time wasters. So I'm taking time to breathe and squeeze out a post before something else happens.
On that note, something else DID happen. I got busy just as I sat down to write this post. Something else always happens. Well, when you work 50+ hours a week and have no time to yourself, that's kind of what happens. :)
My Hummer deal almost didn't go down. I have a middle-aged couple that have bought their last 3 cars from me. On Tuesday I got a call from the wife, who said that she saw a Hummer H3 that we had sitting in our back lot awaiting inspection for a lease return. She wanted to find out if we could get her one. No problem. Easy specs; Black, Sunroof, assist steps, automatic transmission.
We buy vehicles all the time, so it really wasn't a big deal for us to get one. We found one that she liked, won the auction and purchased it for her. It arrived the next day. I went back to the detail area to check it out; we have to make sure there isn't any damage. It was a beautiful unit. The paint was almost flawless, the interior was spotless, and it had no extra miles on it. I opened the door and looked inside.
5-speed manual. Oh God.
I walked briskly back up to the showroom and checked the auction sheets for the H3, hoping against all odds that some kind of mistake was made and I didn't just have the Dealer Principal purchase a manual Hummer H3. Thoughts of a 90-day inventory turn and sales spiff to get rid of the car danced through my head, managers begging us to unload the truck on some Internet buyer for a $500 loser deal. I wasn't at these meetings, of course, because I had been fired for having the powers that be waste money on a Hummer nobody wanted. Gulp.
The auction sheets were no help. They clearly indicated that the H3 was a manual. Time to panic. I tucked my tail between my legs and sidled up to the Dealer Principal.
"That Hummer is a manual." I told him.
"You're kidding." he replied, shaking his head and smiling his "we all just screwed up" smile.  "I thought that H3s were all automatics"
"So did I"
"Have you told the General Sales Manager?" he asked, lowering his voice. The Dealer Principal and General Sales Manager are best friends, and the General Sales Manager wouldn't hesitate to freak on the Dealer Principal (the highest ranking officer in the dealership) if he had wasted thousands of dollars on a car no one wanted.
"No not yet."
"Go tell him. I'll come with you."
We walked into the General Sales Manager's office. The Dealer Principal spoke first.
"Joseph has something to tell you." he said, backing away.
"You know that Hummer we bought?" I said, unable to hold back a nervous chuckle.
"Yes..."came his cautious reply.
"It's a manual."
"You're s***ing me."
"Did you tell your customer?"
"Call her. She might take it anyway."
I hadn't thought about that. I had sold this couple 3 cars, and the wife grew up on a farm and learned to drive on a tractor. Driving a manual might not be a problem for her.
Maybe I could save my job.
"Hey!" he yelled at me as I was walking to my desk. "You owe me one!" I knew what that meant. It meant that he was going to let me slide on this major screw-up, and absolutely skewer me the next time I so much as talked to a customer with my hands in my pockets.
I called my customer and told her that her H3 had arrived. She was at the dealership in 15 minutes flat. She saw the manual transmission.
"Hmm. I thought it was going to be an automatic." she said, looking at me with seeking, questioning eyes.
"Well, I kind of goofed." I said, rather sheepishly. "I didn't know that H3s came with manual transmissions. Can you drive it?"
"Of course I can. I used to drive manuals all the time."
Every so often in the car business, there is a singular moment when you know the Car Gods have smiled upon you, and you feel a laser-like ray of sunshine hit you directly in the right shoulder. With my right shoulder glowing, I asked her if she wanted to take a test drive.
One test drive, a little number juggling, and one husband approval later, she was driving away in her shiny black Hummer H3 with a 5-speed manual transmission. I let out the biggest sigh of relief that I had ever released in 3 1/2 years of working at the dealership.
I walked past the General Sales Manager. "I owe you nothing!" I exclaimed, with a massive smile on my face.
Next time, I'll look more closely at the auction sheets, though.

"What's your best price"

There are a few statements that customers can say that get me riled up, and a commenter reminded me of one of them.
Allow me to set the scene.
I've been at work for, say, six hours. My job consists of running around a parking lot talking to people. You drive up in your car, and you're looking at my shiny new sedan. After the pleasantries, we have this inevitable conversation:
"So, you like the vehicle, right?" I ask.
"Yes, we like it fine. It's what we've been looking for." you reply.
"Well, how about I grab a plate and we take it for a drive?"
You look at your spouse and say what all of the car-buying guides have told you to say: "Well, give me your best price and then we'll drive it."
This is when I run you through with my new machete. Just kidding, folks.
Why would you ask me for my best price? What does "best price" even mean? What you are essentially asking me to do is give up any hopes of making money on this deal. If you remember from one of my earlier posts, dealerships run on profit. If you skin us alive on your car deal, we won't have enough money in the pot left over to placate all of your various complaints. When we can't take care of your complaints, however frivolous, you get upset. See the vicious cycle?
The best price is the price that we arrive to, together, in negotiation. If you can't negotiate a car deal, read my tips. Best price is also code for "I'm going to shop your price at every dealer from here to Syracuse, NY."
You asking for my "best" price is asking me, up front, to take a pay cut. It's funny how in this situation, "best" for you means "worst" for me.

Machetes and the Cure for Boredom

I said before that the worst thing in the world for a car salesman is boredom. When we're bored, it means we aren't making any money. If we aren't making any money, it makes us edgy. So, instead of skewering everyone, we try to find ways to cure the boredom.
A little while ago, my ex-trainee took at trip down to the Coleman outlet in Birch Run near Flint, MI. Being an avid camper and an impulsive buyer, he came back with a shiny new machete.
"How much did you pay for that?" I asked him.
"Six bucks." he replied.
Six bucks. Hmm. I had always wanted a machete.
The next week, during one of the many boring periods, I decided to check out machetes on Amazon.com. (If you've never used Amazon to do any of your shopping, you're doing yourself a great disservice.) I prowled around on the website scrutinizing the various blades. I found the machete that my former trainee had bought, but it had gotten poor reviews by purchasers. I decided that I would only buy the best. After another five minutes or so of searching Amazon.com, I found it.
It was a kukhri knife, a 13-inch sharp blade slightly curved away from the handle. It was made out of a heavy, durable cold-forged steel. Instead of a shiny surface, the metal gleamed dark and cool. I fell in love. The price? $7.99, with $7.48 shipping. $15 bucks, if you're keeping track. I clicked the purchase button.
Now, I'm waiting for my cold new machete to come in the mail. I can't wait. I think I'm going to start a collection.


No, You Can't Leave

Rainy days are useless to us. There's no one walking the lot, nobody driving through. Useless. So, I guess I'll blog.

And I'm frustrated right now, which is something that's been happening more and more. You ever wonder why car salesman don't want you to leave? Because the probability of you buying a car once you leave is less than 25%. Once you leave, you either pass by another dealership, hear another dealership's ad on the radio, talk to your wife and she gets cold feet, talk to your husband and he gets cold feet, talk to your palm reader and she has a goat that can get you a great deal at XYZ Imports, any number of things.

Once you leave, the probability of me getting paid drops drastically. There's nothing that can even compare. There's no frame of reference I can give you that would make it easy to understand. You leaving means I can't take my girlfriend out to dinner. You leaving means I can't pay rent. That's why I do everything in my power to make you stay.

Perfect example:

I had a guy come in a couple days ago; really nice guy. He wanted to look at a GMC Acadia that he and his wife found on the Internet. They had been saving up for a number of years to buy a vehicle, and were waiting for a zero-percent financing deal to pull the trigger. We demoed the Acadia in question, sat down, and agreed on a deal. He couldn't bring his wife back that night, so we made an appointment for him to come in the next evening.

Fast forward to that evening. No show. I called him. No answer.

I called again a couple hours later. No answer.

I'm steamed at this point; we had taken the Acadia off of our lot and put a hold tag in it because he swore up and down that he was going to bring his wife back in.

I called him again the following morning. He finally answered. His wife got "cold feet." They had been saving for years for this exact deal. Now, I can't pay rent (figuratively, not literally) because this lady got "cold feet."

I can't imagine being married to such an indecisive shrew.


You probably don't understand it, and you probably resent me for it. I'm still not letting you leave.


Survival and Addiction

In this business, you're never on safe ground. The flood is always right below you, waiting to drag you in its deadly undertow. The rushing water eats away at your footing, forcing you to climb higher and higher to escape. You never do. You climb as fast as you can to stay exactly where you are.

I've had my share of addictions. In college, I was a borderline alcoholic. I drank two 40oz beers a night. It runs in the family. I defeated that demon years ago. I still enjoy a brew now and then, but I remember what kind of shape I was in back then and have made a conscious decision to never go back. I'm currently addicted to smartphones and technology. I've had countless smartphones and laptops over the past couple years. I'm still battling that one.

What do these two things have in common? How can two things that are as dissimilar as survival and addiction possibly be related?

In this business, you get addicted to selling things. It consumes 60 hours of your life each week. If you're hard-core, it can eat up more of your life than that. Selling cars becomes the only thing that you think about, because your survival is dependent on your ability to be consumed by selling cars. If you aren't constantly trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the next guy, you slip once, you miss out.

Selling cars became my addiction after I sold my first Chevy. It was more addictive than crack cocaine (I'm just guessing; I've never smoked crack or done any drug stronger than marijuana). The rush of receiving a customer's trust, getting them to sign on the dotted line, it's better than any drug. And it's constructive. It makes money and enables you to lead a lifestyle. 

When you sell cars, you get addicted to your own survival. No one in this business is going to help you but you, so you become completely immersed in trying to move as much iron as possible. And the moment you stop climbing, the moment you give up and lose your foothold, you're finished.

You also get addicted to the money. When I started selling cars, I was fresh out of college. In a few short weeks, I made more money than I ever had before. I made $30,000 my first year selling cars, equaling what most other grads were making. Every friggin' dime of that money was earned. I made that money running around a parking lot for 60 hours a week or more. I didn't get to sit in a cubicle, typing up inane P&L reports for some schmuck who didn't know my name. I didn't get a salary. I was paid for performance, so I performed. I had a month last year in which I made $10,000. Like I said, addictive.


Lies, Falsehoods, and Making Stuff Up

If I had one thing to say to a customer if I was assured there wouldn't be any blowback, it would be this:

You lie to us far more than we lie to you.

Customers lie to me all the time. I get all sorts of things, from "Well, I'm waiting on a settlement to come in, and it'll be here in a few weeks. Can I test drive the (insert name of super-expensive vehicle here)?" to "Well, we like you, and we like the car, we just need to go home and talk about it." And then there's my personal favorite, "Just looking!"


Maybe I'm not being fair. A couple of the statements that I mentioned above are simply conditioned responses to a certain question (not the first one....that one's just false). If I ask you if I can help you, what do you say? You probably say "Just looking" even if you came in to buy something. It's a conditioned response. You are programmed to say it, even if it doesn't make sense to say it. I've had conversations that go like this:

Me: "Hello, folks! Welcome to ABC Motors! How are you today?"

Man: "Just looking!"

Me: "Well, that seems like an interesting way to be."

Man: "We're just looking!"

But, simply because something is a conditioned response doesn't mean that it's not a lie. You're not just looking. You're looking for something, otherwise you wouldn't waste a perfectly good afternoon at a freaking parking lot surrounded by guys who are going to ask you if they can help you. Whew.

You don't come onto the lot unless you're at least thinking about buying a car. That's why we salespeople are trained to be so persistent. We have to cut through so many layers of crap to get to what your real intentions are that we have sharpened our verbal scalpels to peak performance.

If you're not ready to buy, what do you say to us? You have spent a lot of our time going over figures, having us show you vehicles, and lots of other time-consuming stuff. You don't want us to feel like you've completely wasted our time, so you fob us off with some mealy-mouthed excuse about how you and the wife or husband or gynecologist need to "talk about it and get back." It doesn't mean anything. What you are really trying to say is "I don't feel like you've sold me on the vehicle and convinced me I am getting a good deal." Remember, my job is to make you feel good about the numbers that I'm presenting to you. That's as much my fault as it is yours, but that's what you mean, just the same.

At the same time, there's really nothing for us to lie to you about. The price? Hey, the price is what it is. It's fluid, usually, but that doesn't mean that we're lying about it. The year? It's on the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). The miles? Digital odometers CANNOT be rolled back. Previous owners? We really don't know, and we might say what we think is the case, but there's always CARFAX to verify. The mechanical soundness of the vehicle? Feel free to do your own inspection, and take it to your personal mechanic if necessary.

Most of the time, what you think we're "lying" about is just stuff that we're making up at the time because we don't know the real answer, and most of the time we will tell you as much. Personally, I've told customers something that I didn't know was true or not, and I usually say "I think" or "I believe" when I tell them. I'm not trying to lie. Lying gets you fired and is not the way to make honest money.


Prime and Subprime, maybe

Many people know the difference between prime and subprime in terms of lending. Prime lending is characterized by sparkling facade of low interest rates and banks fighting for business, the customer skipping down the emerald road on their way to a super-great deal and a lifetime of free oil changes. Subprime is the murky, seedy underbelly filled with murderers and thieves, Doberman Pinschers behind a chain-link fence. A lot of people have to walk that lonely road, with mainstream dealers unable to procure decent loans for them. We used to be able to help people before the credit crisis. Not so much anymore.

I hate the term subprime. I'm not a fan of categorizing people by a three-digit number. People can control what their credit report says, but I don't think that a label should be attached to that group of people that have hit bumps in the road. I guess it's easier to describe a person's situation by giving it a label, but still, I don't think it's necessarily right. I know a lot of good people that have had some kind of tragedy or circumstance wreak havoc on their finances, and because of this there are dealers who look down upon them. I don't agree.

To say someone's "subprime" is a way of demeaning them; saying they are worth less than someone who is "prime". While a lower credit score means it is harder to lock down financing, we can't look down our noses at those people. We need to help them.


Tips for negotiating on a NEW vehicle

Previously, I gave you a list of Do's and Don'ts for interacting with your salesperson. Those tips were geared towards building a positive working relationship with your consultant. What you're really looking for, I gather, are tips on how to negotiate the best deal. Negotiation is an art, and a skill. You have to practice in order to be good at it, but once you are, you will be able to create a financial masterpiece with nothing more than a few choice words and an open mind. 

Let's dive in.

1. Understand that car sales is a business. 
It's helpful to remember that dealerships are in the business of making money. They aren't in the business of giving you a car for free. In a more practical manner of thinking, if you spent hours grinding the poor schmuck you bought the car from into a fine powder, is he (a) going to want to help you again, or (b) going to have any money left over to take care of anything you might need? Don't think so.

2. Don't look at Kelly Blue Book for your trade.
Hopefully you read my 10 Do's and Don'ts list, and you told your consultant that you had a trade in the first place. Kelly Blue Book is totally inaccurate. It's at least 60 days behind the market. Most banks use NADA values, anyway.

3. If you have an employee discount, tell your consultant.
Most customers who are looking to buy an American car qualify for some sort of official employee discount. If you are one of these folks, it takes a lot of the work out of the negotiation and makes things go a lot smoother. If you don't have an employee discount, most dealerships will give you one anyway. Most of the time there are special incentives to dealers if they sell a vehicle for an official discount, so a lot of dealerships are willing to give you one.

4. New cars with special finance rates usually don't qualify for additional rebates.
Normally, you're required to waive any cash rebate if you take advantage of a special finance rate (ie, 0% financing). It's pretty rare for a manufacturer to offer cash rebates as well as a finance rate. 

5. Usually, the only tangible difference between dealers is inventory. 
All dealers have access to the same rebates and finance rates, and can make you the same deal. The only real difference is inventory and the consultant that you're dealing with. If you find a good consultant, be loyal to him or her and they will do their best to take care of you. 

6. Most of the time, your dealer is not hiding anything.
Yes, there are advertising dollars that the manufacturer can kick in to aid a dealership in their marketing efforts. You are not entitled to that as a discount. Your dealer uses that money to fix any issues that you might have with your vehicle if they don't use it for advertising. Some unscrupulous dealers will withhold your factory rebates, which is why it's important to have a dealer you can trust. (See Test-Driving Your Salesperson)

7. If you don't get an official discount, do your homework.
Get price quotes from a couple (no more than three) dealers. If you go more than three, you will have trouble keeping track of who said what. Go to Edmunds.com and check out the invoice prices. You should not expect a dealer to breach that invoice figure before any rebates are factored in, and if one does, be assured that you're getting a great deal. 

One quick word about import makes (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche, especially). Most of their models are built in America. Don't believe any horsecrap about currency exchange rates as being a reason why they can't do better on a price. Their MSRPs already have the exchange rate figured in. You should always be able to score a deal, regardless of where a vehicle was built. Another note, most import brands don't put cash rebates out on their vehicles, so don't expect huge discounts on best-selling models. Take the invoice price, and try to get as close to that as possible. 

One way import manufacturers try to win customers without huge discounts is by offering sweetheart leasing deals. For some customers, leasing works. For most, it doesn't. I'll cover that more in depth in another article.

8. Start low, but be ready to compromise.
Making a low but reasonable offer close to the invoice price is a sign that you're serious. Being ready to compromise means you have self-respect and respect for your consultant and dealer. Giving a low but reasonable offer can cut through a lot of the back-and-forth that your consultant will have to do, because the counter-offer her or she comes back with will be very close to the absolute best price the dealer is willing to do. 

9. Don't be afraid to walk. 
Walking out is your number one weapon (I hope this doesn't come back to bite me). If you think, after doing your research, that you are making a fair offer and the dealer doesn't want to budge, walk. The chance of a customer coming back into a dealership after walking out are less than 25%. We dealers know this. If you look like you're about to walk out, most dealers will try to sweeten the pot to get you to stay. They might not lower the price, but they may throw in some accessories or a few free oil changes. Remember, dealers have to make a profit, but they don't make any profit if you don't buy.

10. Do not make an offer if you are not willing to purchase.
For the purposes of this article, I've been assuming that you want to purchase the vehicle and are ready to do so. If you aren't, let the sales consultant know as much before talking numbers. He or she will probably be bewildered (especially if you took a demo drive), but a moment of confusion is much, much better than getting down to an acceptable deal for both parties and you walking out anyway because you weren't ready to buy.

Take these tips into consideration when shopping for your next new vehicle. And please remember, dealers and sales consultants are people, just like you. We have families to feed. 

Happy hunting!


10 Do's and Don'ts of Car-Buying

1. Don't be a dick.
This is Rule Number 1, obviously. If I don't like you, I'm not inclined to bend over backwards trying to please you. In fact, I'm more likely to try and rip your head clean off. I'm a pretty easygoing guy, and you have to be a real prick to get on my bad side. So, let's avoid all that and just be polite.

2. Don't grab anything away from me.
I had a customer that snatched a paper out of my hands. Don't do that. I hate that. Of course, this kind of goes hand-in-hand with not being a dick.

3. Do let me know that you have a trade-in before we start working numbers.
Every car-buying advice website out there tells you that in order to get the best deal, don't tell the salesman that you have a vehicle to trade until you've agreed on a price for a car. That's bulls***. First of all, I get screamed at if I don't know you have a trade-in before I go in to get a deal for you. Second of all, I know I've asked you if you had a trade, and if you said no, you just lied to me. In more practical terms, if we are oceans apart on the price of the vehicle, I might be more inclined to work the manager to give you more for your trade if I like you.

4. Do disclose up-front if you have financial issues.
I know it's embarrassing. But please tell me if you have financial problems (poor credit, short time on the job) before you ask me to show you every car on the lot. It saves me so much time, and you don't get your hopes up for a vehicle you can't afford.

5. Do be a "price-shopper".
It's a LOT easier to be a "price-shopper" as opposed to a "payment-shopper". I don't like to talk payments, because your credit is your fault. If it's good, it's good because you made it that way. If it's bad, it's because you made it that way. I can help you secure a loan with favorable terms, but it's easier if we have agreed on a price, first. But remember Rule Number 4. Tell me if you have financial issues before we start.

6. Do have a general idea about what you want.
My job is to make you want to buy a car, and to lead you through the process in an easy and comprehensive way. My job is not to make a decision for you in regards to what car you actually buy. You know if you want a car, truck, or SUV. It makes my life a lot simpler if you clue me in.

7. Don't come to the dealership if you don't have time.
One of my biggest pet-peeves is people that come into the dealership and don't have enough time to get anything done. You can access the Internet almost anywhere now. If you come in and tell me you only have 5 minutes and you want my best price on a vehicle, I'm going to ask you if you want to set an appointment to come back.

8. Do allow me to accompany you on the test-drive.
Generally speaking, I don't talk a lot on the test drive; it's not like I'm going to be in the car with you when you're driving it day to day. But, it is easier to answer any questions you have about the vehicle if I'm in the car there with you.

9. Don't bring your kids.
Buying a car is a long process. The shortest amount of time I've ever done a car deal in is right around 2 1/2 hours. It only takes one obnoxious toddler on a leash to take your mind off what you came in to accomplish. It's more beneficial to everyone involved if you leave the kids at Grandma's house.

10. Don't be impatient.
Like I said, 2 1/2 hours, minimum. You're about to make a decision that is going to cost you a significant portion of your income for the next 5 years. 5 more minutes of me squaring your deal with my manager isn't going to kill you.

It takes all kinds...

One of the big things about the car business is that we salespeople get to interact with tons of very interesting people. Actually, let's concentrate on the word "interesting" for a second. You could replace "interesting" with words like crazy, whacked-out, insane, out-there, empty, or downright creepy, and you'd be 100% right.

Here's a list of the "interesting" people that I've dealt with over the course of my career:
- A wheelchair-bound woman with a degenerating disease whose family looked like they came straight out of Appalachia
- A man with verbal tics so annoying and hilarious I couldn't keep a straight face
- A man that refused to show any emotion for fear that I might use it against him
- A couple that had a 24-year age difference (the woman was older)
- A lottery winner (ok, he was just interesting)
- A man who cursed God because he couldn't qualify to buy a car
- Countless people who were "supposed to be getting a  cash settlement any day now"

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. We salespeople get such a unique cross-section of humanity. I've sold cars to college football coaches, grade-school teachers, college professors, college students, civil servants, lawyers, cops, political lobbyists, and one extremely grateful woman that even hugged me after I delivered her used car.

That poor woman had been having trouble with her son. Of course, by that I mean her son was having trouble in school and with the law. I attempted to help her once before; her son was being such a tool that I couldn't get anything done with her. A couple of months later she came back, without her son. After the perfunctory questions, we settled on a car and a deal. Since there's normally an hour between an agreement on terms and a person leaving the dealership with their new car, we began to talk. The woman was ragged; hammered by life. The years of worry had left their scars on her face, and the pleading words she had been giving her son manifested in a weary voice.

She talked.

I listened.

I talked.

She listened.

She talked about her son and the issues she was having with him. I talked about my mother, who had passed away. From those two seemingly unrelated subjects, two people came to an understanding. I had given her hope for a new beginning with her son, and through that, she gave me a chance to see what it was like for my mother when things weren't always going the way they should. I had never given my mother much problem (that job was reserved for my sister), but from the flicker of light that came from that woman, I could tell that she was never going to give up fighting for her son. I saw that same light from my mother.

After finishing the paperwork, I led her out to her car. She gave me a hug. She drove away, and I haven't seen her since. Sometimes I wonder what happened to her and her son. Hopefully, they patched things up. Maybe they didn't, and he's in a juvenile hall somewhere. I've seen enough to know that there isn't always a happy ending.


Mooks in Training

So, they gave me another guy to train. Sigh. I've done this before, and it didn't go too well. One of my charges got popped for crushing the side of a pickup truck into the front of another pickup truck, and the other trainee went AWOL after 2 weeks. I don't have a really stellar track record as a trainer.

I'd like to point out that our dealership is different from most other dealerships that people have worked at. The work environment is overwhelmingly positive, at least for the most part. There generally isn't any grousing, no salesmen fighting over ups, no bickering between managers. Everyone is usually on the same page. When we get new salesmen that have come from other dealerships, to a man they remark about how well all of the guys get along and support each other. We've all been in the business for a while, so we all know exactly how the business works. The core group of guys have been there for years, so we all know each other's buttons to push for motivation, empathy, and a little harmless needling.

There is a little bit of an initiation process that all of the new hires go through. New hires are the butt of the most jokes, have to take a ridiculous golf cart driving exam, and are tethered to a more experienced salesman. It is this last part that is the most crucial.

When a new hire is in training, he will take a majority of the ups and bring them directly to the trainer, who will then go through each step of the process with the new hire observing. Slowly, the new hire will be allowed to have more and more leeway and input, until they are finally released and set upon the world. Most don't make it.

It's noteworthy that this is usually the only time that a car salesperson is working on a salary instead of a purely commission-based pay plan. The reason for this is the new salesperson has to split all of the deals that he or she has been working on with the trainer, who is taking precious time away from his own deals to work with the new hire. Remember how I said that my time is more important than everything except the money? Good thing trainers are given half of the new hire's commission, or you'd never get anyone to train anybody.

And with that, they've given me another mook to train in the ways of the car salesman. He, unlike the first two, actually has recent dealership experience. This is both a gift and a curse, because a salesperson who has already done the job at another dealership is already used to how that dealership does business. We aren't like most dealerships. Our process is so tied into the computer and the Internet that if our computers ever went down, we'd be completely useless and would probably be better off leaving.

But he (yes, it's another guy; 3 1/2 years of doing this, and I've never had a female salesperson colleague) must be taught our way of doing things. That's what we're working on now. It is an interesting situation, because I gave him so much rope when we first started that he nearly hung himself with it, which put my butt  in hot water with the General Sales Manager. Not good. I reined him in a bit, and now he's been productive. He's a good guy; he'll probably be around for a while.

I said all that to get to this: I'm not teaching my mooks to be sales vampires that suck the lifeblood of children in order to coerce their parents into buying a car. Far from it. What I teach the most, the most, is how to deal with the day to day rejection that you encounter when you work in this industry. I encourage my trainees to involve me in their deals, to not only prevent costly mistakes, but to help them deal with difficult customers and difficult situations. I'm there to help them vent, to help them deal with being told "no" 80% of the time. I help my guys get used to rejection, and to help them build up that alligator skin that is utterly necessary to survive in this game.

They say that the best way to make sure you know how to do something is to teach someone else how to do it. That's becoming increasingly true. I'm remembering the little things that I stopped doing because I was cutting to the chase a bit faster that I should have been. So who's really training whom, I wonder?


Test-Driving Your Salesperson

This is how you test-drive your salesman. As I've said before, the person that you deal with is the most important part of the purchase equation. It's not price. It's not selection. It's the person.

I've had customers that purchased a car from me when they had a better deal somewhere else. Why would they do that? Why would they pay more for a vehicle with me than they had already worked out somewhere else? Easy. They liked me better than the goof they worked with at the other dealership.

So, here's how you test-drive your salesperson.

If he introduces himself with one word (i.e. "Tex"), run. No reputable salesperson at a reputable dealership has a name like "Tex" or "Horsechoker" or "Big O". Shortened names like "Jeff" or "Rob", initials like "T.J." are ok. 

Measure the handshake. I always shake hands. Always. If a salesperson doesn't shake your hand, he either doesn't respect you or has some kind of contagious disease. If there are more than one of you (your wife, perhaps) and he doesn't shake their hands, that's a red flag.

Does he repeat your name? A salesperson repeating your name isn't trying to be rude, he or she is most likely just saying it to ensure they heard it properly. Don't hold this against them.

Does the salesperson match your tempo? An overly excited salesperson is either inexperienced or on drugs. Seriously. The salesperson should match your tempo within 30 seconds. If he or she doesn't, chances are the mutual understanding won't be there and you'll just be wasting time. If you naturally talk soft, the salesperson should follow suit. If you're outgoing and gregarious, the salesperson should be able to pick up on that and share laughs with you.

Is he or she smiling? We're trained to smile. A salesperson who is not smiling might be succumbing to the grind of the job, and is likely to be less attentive than you deserve. Selling cars is one grinder of a profession. It's natural for a salesperson to be out of it at some point. But, any salesperson worth his or her desk knows how important it is to make sure the customer feels welcome at the dealership. 

Does he or she know the inventory? This is one of those no-brainer type of things, but a salesperson should know what's on the lot. A simple walk is all it takes, and there's no excuse for not knowing. Sometimes it can be tough (we have $10 million in inventory at our lot), but the salesperson should at least know where certain vehicles are grouped.

Does the salesperson go on the demo drive and show you the features? This one is kind of sticky, truthfully, because a lot of great salespeople are extremely busy and may not be able to take a lot of time with you one-on-one. If the store isn't that busy, however, he had better make sure you know everything he knows about that vehicle. They should also accompany you on the test drive, because you might have questions that you would like to ask and it would be extremely useful to have the salesperson right there with you.

Does the salesperson go immediately into some unknown office and come out with someone you've never met? Leave. I can't stress this enough. LEAVE. Unless they introduce the person as their manager, don't waste any more time. The person that they bring out is the person who is going to hammer you about the numbers, and any good salesperson is capable of giving you the numbers themselves. If the salesperson that greeted you is new, he or she should say so and introduce you to the person that is training them. If they aren't being trained by someone, RUN.

The salesperson should be courteous about your time. A good salesperson will answer any questions that you have about a vehicle. If you tell the salesperson that you don't have a lot of time, he or she should offer to set an appointment for you to come back at a later point in time. Good salespeople don't take shortcuts or try to cram an entire car deal into an hour. 

When presenting numbers, does the salesperson run back and forth to the manager's office? This is just the way some dealerships are set up, but if you make an offer, the salesperson should have some kind of idea if the offer is acceptable. If the salesperson doesn't joust with you a little bit over the numbers, he isn't the decision maker. The salesperson should also make sure that you know exactly what the all the numbers pertaining to the deal are. If you ask a question, he should have the answer.

Does the salesperson follow-up after the sale? Most won't. Most dealerships have an automated follow-up system worked out so that their salespeople can continue getting fresh business. A top-notch salesperson will do personalized follow-up anyway.

These are all important things to consider when choosing your salesperson. If you find a good one, and are loyal, you can be assured of quality service both now and in the future.



I was searching for an appropriate title for this post, and I think "Pain" works best.

Sorry about not posting in a while, I've been laid up with a kidney stone. Ouch. The good thing about working in car sales is that the management is usually pretty understanding about things, and they don't really care you need to take a couple days off to take care of yourself. We work enough as it is. 60 hours a week earns you a certain amount of understanding.

Yes, it was painful. Yes, it was the worst I've ever felt physically. Yes, I'm pretty much okay now. But for a while, in between trips to urgent care, the emergency room, and the bathroom, I felt like I was going to die. I didn't, of course, but I've definitely had better times. All I can say is thank God for bringing me through this, and for giving me the best girlfriend I could ever hope for. She was right there, making sure I had enough bananas, applesauce, water, and hugs to get me through. If not for her Love, well, I don't want to think about it.

What I've been dealing with most recently is the cold turkey manner in which I stopped taking the pain medication. The docs at the urgent care facility gave me Vicodin, which is one step down from freaking heroin. Thus, my brain has been pretty fried for the past week. Doing normal things takes a little bit more concentration that it normally would....ok, a lot more concentration. But I can feel myself coming out of the mental fog, slowly but surely. I had to simply shut off the supply; my father and stepmother work in the drug-treatment field and I didn't want to have to tell them I got hooked on pain meds. I'm battling. I'm a fighter.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to understand that car salespeople are just that - people. We have ailments just like you; we're not androids built solely to separate you from your money. We may seem like robots, but that is simply the scar tissue of one too many jokers that wasted our valuable time. Beneath that cold, calculating shell lies the flesh and blood of an actual person. Please think about that the next time you avoid making eye contact with one of us.



One of the biggest challenges that comes with being a car salesman is downtime. This job is easily 75% sitting around trying to keep yourself awake and 25% running your ass off. Having too much semi-free time (I say semi-free because every salesperson worth his or her desk always has one eye on the lot) is one big reason why I got into writing blogs.

One of the most destructive forces in the world is a bored car salesperson.

You don't think so? Think about it. If you're bored at work, it usually means you're not doing anything. The same thing applies to us. The difference is, if you're bored, you're still getting paid. A bored salesperson is a broke salesperson.

So, because we're not doing much a lot of the time, each of us has something that they do to pass the time. I, for one, write blog posts. It allows me to keep my mind engaged while blowing off time. Some guys smoke (a lot, actually). Others like to pretend they're still in the military and do push-ups. Others mindlessly surf the Internet.

A lot of guys don't have an efficient coping mechanism that allows them to keep their minds engaged while not going insane. Some of the weaker-minded guys enjoy making fun and cracking jokes at each other's expense. It's all in good fun.