I Hate Car Dealers

I love car shopping. But I hate car dealers.

I’ve talked before about how I love cars and like shopping for a new one. But it’s the cars I like. The salespeople, dealerships and marketing I hate.

Yesterday we went to look at a Mazda5 again, more or less on a whim. Last time we didn’t drive one or get more than a general price, so we wanted to drive one and get specific numbers. We spend almost two hours at Luther Mazda and managed to drive the car and get even less specific numbers than we got before. What a waste.

Part of the problem is the traditional, commission-based approach of car dealerships. The last time we went to Polar Mazda, which is a no-haggle dealer. The difference is amazing. My brother works for Mazda, which means we get an employee discount cheaper than what the dealer pays, which means they have nothing to sell us on. Which means we get the same price wherever we go. But the way they treat you at a no-haggle dealer is completely different.

What I hate about car dealers:

Legitimate Business
The sales guy we dealt with yesterday kept asking if we were ready to do legitimate business. Isn’t that kind of insulting? The first time he asked I told him straight up, we’re getting the employee discount (i.e., no negotiation) and we just want to get some basic numbers so we can figure out what we want to do. But apparently what I said didn’t matter. He asked the question three or four more times, trying to tell me I could put a $500 deposit down and reserve a car today. Can you put on a little more pressure?

What Can I Do to Get Your Business?
The second question our eager young dealer kept asking was, ‘what can I do to get your business today?’ It was an attempt to be friendly and act like he was willing to do anything for us, but in reality it was an attempt to pressure us into making an early decision. Not a good way to get my business. The honest answer to that question? Give me a ridiculous deal that I can’t turn down, and that’s not something they were prepared to do.

Inventory Only
Aside from our specific experience, the most annoying thing about car shopping is the way dealers are hell-bent on selling inventory only. They give you a glossy brochure full of options you can pick and choose from, but that’s not how it really works. In reality they want to sell you a car that’s already been built, where the options were picked by someone else. Hopefully they can find a combination of options you like, but if they can’t, you’ll just have to settle. And they weight things in their favor. Only one Mazda5 at Luther Mazda came equipped with the standard manual transmission we wanted. Every other car had the optional upgrade to an automatic. Every car also had the “popular options package,” which was a set of $1,000 options we really didn’t need. What does all this mean? When we go to buy a car we can’t get exactly what we want because they’re so focused on only being able to sell inventory cars. They don’t consider special-ordering a car exactly the way we want it from the factory. Maybe that’s not an option for some imports (the Volkswagen dealer told us they don’t do special-orders), but come on. Why give me a list of options if I can’t really pick which ones I want?

Pricing on Inventory Only
Another problem with the inventory only system of selling cars is that they can only get prices on real cars. When we asked for a specific price on the car we were looking at, they had to find a specific car somewhere in the inventory so they could look at the invoice and get the price. They couldn’t just plug the options into the computer and give us a price. So after waiting for at least 45 minutes to get a price the sales manager came back and told us MSRP on the Mazda5s he had ranges from $19,000 to $24,000, and went on to give us his best guess at an employee discount based on that range. Nevermind that the base MSRP on a Mazda5 is $17,900. I know that much. So why can’t you give me numbers based on that? Why must you sell me a car with options I didn’t ask for?

Back and Forth
And what has to be the worst part about car dealers is the way they always have to go back and forth with some mysterious higher up to check who knows what. Our dealer kept walking away to go check something on the computer or ask the sales manager something or who knows what. Nevermind that there’s a computer right there at his desk. So what, is their system so antiquated that they only have one terminal to check prices on? Or is this just a sales strategy to make me wait? What’s the point?

All we actually learned from our trip was that the car drove nicely. I enjoyed the test drive and still want a Mazda5. I didn’t get a realistic look at prices, I didn’t get a monthly payment price. I didn’t even get current interest rates. I suppose on the upside I did decide what dealer I won’t be buying my next car at.

4 thoughts on “I Hate Car Dealers”

  1. I know the headache you’re going through – I’m currently car shopping as well and it’s the most painful process in the world (the fact that I know nuts about cars notwithstanding).

    Thankfully, the salespeople I’ve met over here in Australia have been rather non-pushy about the sales. One even outright admitted he knew all I wanted to do is test drive the car and was not prepared to buy the car on the spot. And yet, he was still extremely nice and patient and even appeared to enjoy the whole test-driving experience (apart from one time when I ran through a red light, to which he got rather amused).

  2. Dude! Well put Kevin. My favorite phrase from car dealers out here is, “We make crazy deal for you.” Josh and I had to chuckle at that because it just didn’t even make sense. If he would have said, “I’ll give you this car for one dollar!” Okay, crazy deal. Cool! But, no, it was the same haggle and wait business you described. We left after Josh told him that his deal wasn’t crazy enough for us. Heh heh.

  3. Hey Kevin,

    I also hate the car buying process, but have a few tips that we’ve learned on our last couple car purchases, and also through some inside information – We had a car salesman in the family who was routintely the top salesman at his dealership year after year (he’s retired now).

    The Back and Forth is a sales tactic to make it look like they’re negotiating the price with someone higher up who has the final say on price. This isn’t usually the case. A great response to this is to say, “Oh. I thought you were someone who had the authority to come to an agreement with me on price. If that’s not the case, I’d like to talk to either your supervisor or another salesperson on the floor who can help me. Or I suppose I can go to another dealership.” That should keep them in their seat.

    If you know what kind of car you want, try going through the dealership’s online sales department. The only new cars we’ve ever bought have actually been done almost entirely over the internet – we go to the dealer to test drive and pick up the car, but that’s about it. We’ve saved money and a lot of needless sales crap going this route. One of my sister-in-laws briefly dated a car salemen, and he said they can’t really screw around with the internet customers because they have to assume those people know all the pricing information, which is typically easy to find online, and know that if they screw around with you, they’ll lose the sale. If you go the online route, they usually start near the invoice price on the car, which is much closer to what you want to pay than the markup of a car on the lot.

    If we’re going to buy new, we also try to buy the current year’s model after the next year’s model comes out. I think this is our ’99 Elantra’s last winter, so this fall after the 2007s come out, we might be looking at picking up a 2006 model year vehicle. Dealerships are more desperate to move this inventory.

    And you probably already know this, but going on the last day of the month can increase your chances of finding a desperate salesperson who hasn’t met their sales numbers for the month.

  4. Check out http://www.edmunds.com. Really great website for research and what-not. They also have an article called “Confessions of a Salesman”. They actually had a writer/editor go undercover and get a job as a salesperson at a dealership. It gives you a real good look at what goes on behind the scenes. Great to read before you step onto a car lot.

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