How NOT to Sell a Car

We’re shopping for a new vehicle, and with just a very basic bit of research from, I learned that a salesman lied to our faces today. Needless to say, we won’t be shopping there for this or any future vehicle…

Sarah and I have a bit of a dilemma. We need a bigger car. See, if we want to go somewhere with just our son, no problem. Sarah’s Jetta is a bit tight, but can hold us just fine, and my Prius is quite roomy for two adults and an infant. The problem is that when you add our 100lb labrador into the mix, the Prius starts to resemble a clown car-we open it up after travel, and out tumbles bags, stroller, dog, dog bed, all sorts of baby accessories…it’s tight. Since Sarah’s lease on the Jetta is up this fall, it makes sense for us to replace her car with an SUV, station wagon, or something similar.

Car shopping with just two adults is easy. Head to the dealership, take a test drive, shop around, find the car, drive off. Since we have a baby with us, we’re doing this in several parts. First, we’ve scoped out and Edmunds to get an idea of what cars fall into our price range (we’re looking for used/”certified pre-owned”). We’re visiting dealerships as we pass by running errands, even if we have the baby in tow, and doing quick visuals of the cars on our shortlist. This way, when we can get someone to watch our son one afternoon, we can maximize our test drive time and not waste a trip to dealerships selling cars that won’t work for our needs. We had success visiting Ford and Honda over the weekend, and wanted to stop by the local Mazda dealership, Crystal Auto Mall, to check out their CX-9 and CX-5 SUVs.

I’d done some basic homework ahead of the visit, and knew that a CX-9 coming off lease from 2010-2011 would fall easily into our price range. We checked out the brand new CX-9 on the sales floor just to get an idea of the cargo space, and we explained our situation and needs to the salesman to see what his thoughts were on cars, and whether there were other models worth considering. He immediately agreed the CX-9 was a good choice for us, and Sarah asked about the availability and price range of certified pre-owned CX-9s. Without skipping a beat, the salesman looked us in the eye and explained the CX-9 was “too new” to be available used, and that given our needs, it would be “nearly impossible” to find a used SUV that would work for us. In other words, we had no choice but to spend $30,000+ on a car, because everyone buying SUVs apparently drives them into the ground and never resells them.

If we hadn’t been there with our son, who was finally happily napping, I would have shown the salesman what I showed Sarah as soon as he finished his sentence-that showed not only CX-9s in our price range used, but that the dealership had them on the lot. So the salesman either knew nothing about his product, or he lied to us because he figured two women, young baby, no time to research a car…anything he tells us will be gospel! Instead of embarrassing him on the spot, we just walked out. As it turns out, a quick complaining post on Facebook led to a friend sharing several stories about Crystal Auto Mall and their less than savory practices. Clearly this wasn’t a one-time issue but an ongoing one with pushy salesmen and a lack of respect for the customer.

The salesman’s attitude was so over the top that my bullsh-t meter would have gone off even if we hadn’t done some prior research, but it did cement that a car buyer’s best friend is the internet. It’s keeping us from wasting time on makes and models we know from the start aren’t big enough, and more importantly, it means we know ahead of time that excuses like “That car we’ve been making for years isn’t available used. Please pay 30% more for it new.” are just over the top hard sales.

What’s your tactic for avoiding pushy car salesmen? Have you found the internet has evened the playing field between car buyer and seller? And do you have any ideas on a good car for a growing family and a large dog that isn’t a minivan? Share your best and worst stories in the comments!

Categories: Rants and Raves


5 replies

  1. Hmm. Well it could have been with those other posts you found. However, many times I’ve pointed out the BS to the sales guy and sometimes you can tell they really didn’t know.

    Each dealer is different, but experiences I have had at some indicate that some sales guys specialize in certain vehicles. Sometimes it’s as simple as New or Used. Other times the sales guy is really into one model of car and he wants to sell that. It could be for higher prices? Maybe he just likes them? Who knows. They have their reasons.

    I’d have pointed out his crap THEN I would have walked out. At least then he may have realized he missed a potential sale. Even if it would have been a smaller commission.

  2. When I bought my GTI, I started by deciding which car I wanted, first by Internet research, then by test driving the cars. I always told the salesmen I had more cars to test drive so I wouldn’t be buying that day. Once I selected the type of car I wanted I went back to the Internet to find the exact car (complete with the ID number) I wanted – I decided on one with the options, paint, etc. that I wanted and minimal options that I didn’t care about. Then I got estimated prices for my trade in and for the specific car I wanted. I went to the dealer and told him what car I wanted and what I wanted to pay. Done deal (although the paperwork rep was required to review all the upsale items like coating, mats, etc.).

    I got a slightly better deal than the Internet estimated but I have no doubt a good negotiator could have done better. For me, the lack of hassle was worth it.

    Note that if you are dealing with a new car, most dealers can have one transferred from another dealer (and a chain can transfer used cars among dealerships as well).

  3. I’d be the last person to defend a car salesperson, but I know of at least one dealership where the new car sales and used car sales have different staff. Maybe he really didn’t know?

  4. The thing that I have noticed while buying cars is that it seems that when you go to the higher end dealerships (Mercedes, Porsche and usually BMW and Audi) the BS factor goes down for some reason. Perhaps I am biased, because the dealer I used to buy cars from in Tulsa had my business for 9 years, during which I purchased WAY too many cars. Still, they treated me more than fairly and looking around the internet I never found deals that were better than the deals I received that that dealership.

    Contrast that with the purchase of a Jeep from the dealership across the street. It was the typical song and dance, “you’re picking the most desirable color”, delivery and prep charge, undercarriage rustproofing, yadda yadda yadda. Crazy.

  5. I called a car dealership, and gave them the parameters for what I was looking for, what I would accept for trade and that I knew the car was on the lot. I demanded that if I was to drive an hour to the dealership, that I better not be wasting my time. I was assured that it would be a pleasant, no hassle experience…. NOT!

    Salesman jacked me around and wasted my time, and when I told him so, he stood up, knocked over his chair, and said we were “DONE!”.

    As I was driving back home, the dealership called me. Evidently the sales manager heard the exchange between me and the sales rep, and wanted to dicker some more. I told them not only no, but that I was going to complain to their owner, on their Facebook page, on my blog, and anywhere else I could.

    The next day, the owner of the dealership called, and not only gave me the deal that I had asked for plus some extra for my inconvenience, but also made the original salesman who told me he was done, deliver the car to my home. This was after I got home from work, so he faced a traffic nightmare and had to stop to fill up the tank.I signed the paperwork on my table, and he drove my trade in back… in traffic!

    I’m sure that the salesman, if he still works there, will not ever treat a customer they way I was treated!