Sunday, July 27, 2008


As fuel prices have risen, used-car prices have come down. Prices have declined since 2006, Scotiabank reports. Those declines have accelerated across North America in 2008, and promise to continue well into 2009.

Nevertheless, I recently found myself in need of a used car.

Immediately my thoughts ran to the most recent Gallup poll that asked people to rate the honesty and ethics of various professionals. Once again car salesman placed next-to-last on the list, slightly ahead of lobbyists. Of the people surveyed by Gallup, 53 percent said that they had a low or very low opinion of car salesmen.

Maybe, I whispered to myself, the car salesmen I was about to deal with would go against the stereotype.

No such luck. Shopping online, I found a used car that matched what I was looking for. I requested more information and was contacted by the dealer, who asked me to come in for a test drive.

I went to the dealership, tried out the car and liked it well enough. But the price was more than the maximum that I wanted to spend. I asked the salesperson if she could do any better, and she said that she'd have to speak to her sales manager -- a first step in a dance that's not uncommon in the industry.

She spoke with him and he came back to talk to me. He pointed out the car's bluebook value and its ownership history, both of which I'd already looked up, and said that the dealership couldn't budge on price because it needed to make some money. The Internet prices, he told me, were the lowest he could go. Nevertheless he came down by $700.

Then he asked me how much I wanted to spend. The answer: another $800 lower than his original price.

The sales manager told me that he would have to call the dealership's owner to get permission for such a discount. I found it curious that the owner of this large dealership would take calls on the weekend of the Fourth of July, so I watched as the sales manager scurried to his office and chatted with another salesmen in an adjoining office, never once picking up his desk or cell telephone.

He returned about 10 minutes later to tell me that he had talked to the owner, but that the owner wouldn't budge on price. He lied.

I thanked him and left the dealership.

Now, I know that a certain amount of posturing is to be expected in used-car transactions, or indeed in most negotiated deals. That's fine. The salesperson and the sales manager played a little game with me, and the sales manager let me cool my heels while he ran some numbers. That's all to be expected, part of the art of the deal. Everyone indulges in some give and take and holds back a few things. I didn't come in and give my bottom-line price to the first salesperson I met, after all. I was ready to play the game.

But I draw the line at blatant, transparent lying. Yank me around, OK, but lie to me -- and do it obviously enough for me to spot it, which is not one of my skills -- and you've lost my business.

The right thing for the sales manager to do was to dance me around as much as he wanted, but to draw the line at lying to my face.

That not being the case, the right thing for me to do was to shop elsewhere, which I did.

The right thing for you to do, when faced with a liar who wants your business, is to walk away. Who needs to build an already-suspect business relationship on a foundation of outright lies?

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

I avoided this dance last time I bought a car by going to a used car chain that guarantees one price and no haggling. I've never bought a new car, considering it a waste of money, but a good, recently used one with a warranty. It was refreshing to go to the lot, having already picked out the one I liked on the internet at a price I could live with. That was it. I didn't come out of it with that icky feeling you get from dealing with lying salespeople. The old "I'll have to talk to my manager" is so stale, I can hardly believe these people still use it. I would have walked out too!

Anonymous said...

Jeff - I had same thing happen.......My wife wanted a new car. But we maintained separate finances so it was her money. But since finance/cars/negotiating isn't her strong point she asked if I would go with her. She found she wanted, a new 2006 MB SL350, a little red 2 seat hard top sports car. We went to that dealer because one of the salesmen was a nice young man we had bought a car from about 18 months before.
He said "It's $550/month, 48 months, 10,000 miles a year."
I said, "Sorry that too much."
Him, "Let me talk to the sales manager." Wherein salesman disappears for 5 minutes and comes back with the sales mgr, who takes over. Introductions.
Mgr, "this is the last red DL350 we have and I'm sorry that's the best we can do."
I stand up, stick my hand out, "Thank you for your time."
Mgr, "Where are you going?"
Me, "I'm leaving?"
Mgr, "Why?"
Me, "You just told me $550/month, 48 months, 10,000 miles a year is the best you can do."
Mgr, "Let's talk about it."
Me, "Oh. So when to said a minute ago that was the best you could do, you were lying to me."
Mgr, embarrassed as hell, "Maybe there's some wiggle room. How much can you go?"
Me, "$450/month, 36 months, and 12,000 miles/year."
Mgr, "Sorry, that's not possible."
Me, I get up to leave again. He again invites me to sit and discuss.
Ended up at $475, 36 months, 12,000 miles.

Two lessons:
1. You have to be willing to lose in order to win. If the sales person knows you'll buy, you have lost all negotiating leverage.
2. Rather than walking away, consider using the dishonesty to make them act right. Once you bust them, they won't mess with you. We got great service.

Gary Zeune, CPA, Founder
The Pros & The Cons
World's only speakers bureau for white-collar criminals

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeffrey,

In response to your article in the OC Register, I am a long-time car salesman and I could not agree with you more! As a "high line" salesman in the industry for over 25 years, I too am repulsed by liars, both within the dealership community and the customer base.

Our industry, as are many, should be one built on a mutual customer - salesperson trust. If a sales manager lies, whether or not caught or not, that trust relationship is compromised. So it is with a customer who lies, and it is not uncommon for that too happen.

What do we as salesmen do? In the desperation to make a deal, we allow this, when in fact, we should do the same as you and end the transaction. The business world would be a far better place if car salesmen and managers would, when catching a customer lying, thank the customer and escort them to the door.

Joe Lazar

Anonymous said...

In addition to your article regarding car salesman, here is my tale. A while back I called a dealership to inquire about purchasing a new car. I asked the name of the salesman I was speaking to. He told me his name was Jim and when I got to the dealership to ask for him. I saw a salesperson talking to a woman and I asked if he was Jim. He said yes, I said politely, when you are through talking with this woman I would like to talk to you. He asked about what? I said about the prices of a car. He stated they are on the window sticker and walked away. I asked the general manager to speak to another salesman. The second guy asked me if I was going to buy today. I said I don't know, if the price is right. I asked how much he would give me for a trade in on my car. He said what do you want? 7 thousand, ten thousand? Any thing you want we will just add it on to the new car price. At that time I was so frustrated I said I am not here to play games and just walked out and did buy a car some where at least I was treated as an intelligent human being. Regarding your treatment and dance I have owned about 10 or 12 cars and have been treated that way many times being born and raised in the city of Chicago.

Steve Pellegrino

Anonymous said...

After being in this industry over 30 years I’m still amazed to hear stories such as yours! Your experience is one of the main reasons I started my occupation as an auto broker – to end this nonsense for my clients. Anyway, I get a kick out of hearing that my main competitors are using the same archaic techniques – and losing sales to guys like me! I’m sorry you had to go through that. If you choose to purchase a new car in California, I’m your man! Good luck!

"W.C." Fox
Fox Auto Consultants
"A Family Tradition Since 1934"