Car Dealerships Suck

Megan Benoit
by Megan Benoit
car dealerships suck

Does anyone other than a masochist enjoy buying a car? Any survey of loathsome experiences would rank car buying just below root canal surgery, slightly above cleaning hair out of the shower drain. I have yet to hear an adult say “I need a new car,” without dread and trepidation in their voice. So they turn to me, their local automotive alpha, for advice on makes, models, prices and features. Until recently, all my knowledge couldn’t protect them from the dreaded car dealer. Here’s what they faced…

They walked into the dealership, inhaling that heady blend of fear, desperation, and volatile organic compounds. Depending on how they were dressed, they were either A) ignored until they tried to break into a locked vehicle or B) forced to sit in front of a sadist sales manager who had to know how, when, where and with whom they drove. And then it was time for a little one-on-one with a sales prevention officer.

There were a lot of ways this went wrong. There are car salesmen who will only speak to a female customer’s boyfriend or husband, or vice versa. Salesmen whose definition of product knowledge includes improvisation, science fiction and outright lies. And self-righteous sales associates who think it’s acceptable to treat their customers with condescension, contempt and disdain.

Occasionally, my car shopping friends encountered a good car salesperson: someone who didn’t smell like he was one missed payment from foreclosure. The salesman knew exactly what he was selling, handed them the keys, shut up and let them drive. That said, the chances of encountering one of these rare birds was about the same as finding an Ecuadorian Pale-Headed Brush Finch snacking on french fries under the Big Chicken in Marietta, Georgia.

I always told my acolytes and referrals: if you don’t know anything, neither a listener nor an inquisitor be. Later, when these advice insensitive car buyers realized they’d been talked into a piece of junk– my strong-willed sister’s adoption of a Suzuki Verona springs to mind– they only had themselves to blame. (As if.)

Anyway, once the test drive was over, the salesman sequestered them in the little room I call AHA (Abandon All Hope). After proffering false interest in their well-being (must get fives on that CSI survey), the salesman wrote numbers on disposable sheets. The potential customers were interrogated until they revealed exactly how much money they were willing to “invest” per month on a new car, and whether or not they were willing to transfer Junior into Community College to cover any shortfall.

Ludicrous words were spoken. “This car won’t be here tomorrow,” and “This is a one-time deal only.” As deep-vein thrombosis set in, the salesman invoked the specter of cold-hearted sales managers and their own bare-footed children. The next thing they knew, my charges were either driving away in their old car, relieved at having escaped the lion’s den, or signing a sheaf of papers they were too tired to read. Either way, their underwear was in their pocket.

If they didn’t buy the car, they winced inwardly, knowing they had to lather, rinse and repeat until they encountered a salesman desperate enough not to stiff them.

Is it any wonder so many people I sent to dealerships threw in the towel and bought something, anything, just to stop the madness? Most consumers simply don’t have the time or stamina to physically explore their options. The salespeople know this. And once customers are on their turf, the dealer’s designate controls the tempo of battle. And prevails.

After a particularly gruesome negotiation session at one of Atlanta’s more notorious VW dealers, I saw the light. I surfed the Internet and requested price quotes online. A quick responder offered me invoice on my chosen mount. We negotiated back and forth over e-mail. A couple of days later, I walked away with the car I wanted for a fair price. I didn’t have to reveal my husband’s favorite sport or miss another episode of South Park. Bliss.

I realized that the $500 under invoice, no haggle, test drive, sign and go deal was the future.

So now, when friends and family ask me about a new car, I hit the net. I do 95% of the work for them: surfing for the right spec., price and dealer, and then showing them how to cut the deal before they darken the dealer’s door for the make-or-break test drive.

Clearly, the car sales paradigm is shifting. By the time I’m done with them, “my” people know exactly what they want and how to get it. Equally important, they know precisely what they don’t want: to waste their time battling with pushy, obnoxious salesmen. If car buyers can cut the traditional salesman out of the loop, why wouldn’t they? Thanks to me and I’m guessing you, now, they do.

Join the conversation
2 of 151 comments
  • Zbeast Zbeast on Feb 21, 2012

    I'm currently trying to help a friend of mine buy a used car. he wants a PT Cruiser. Every dealer have gone to so far are trying to sell cars that are dead. They are all priced way to high for there age.. $5400 to $6000. They are all broken in some horrible way. the last 4 I looked at had major oil leaks. $3500 to repair! One car I looked at that the dealer was trying to sell for $5998.00 Had excess mileage 125k, oil leak, the bottom of the engine was wet, bad tires, bad rear brakes, needed new shocks and the dashboard was brittle. you could crush it by touching it. I was not going to buy the car... but I though after I demonstrated that he car was worth about $1200. he still would not bulge on the price.. Auto dealers job is to get you to buy a car.. They really don't care if it works or not.

  • Snafu Snafu on Jul 22, 2015

    Let us not hast into this being an old article, as this and the comments made here are as applicable today as they ever were. The respect, however, must at all costs be mutual between the sales person and the customer. The past 3 months of shopping for a Ford product has been nothing short of horrendous. I've never owned a Ford in my lifetime of buying vehicles and I still have a lot more to buy. The dealerships have not been very pleasant to work with. The tactics are some of the same ones that have been used that I've read about in auto sales folk lore. What is worse is having the dealership represent the brand like as Ford seems to have their hands tied. After having brought a multitude of shady dealer practices in great detail to the attention of Ford marketing or their customer satisfaction group, all they do is apologize up and down while in the same breath tell you the dealers are independently owned and operated. I mean really, they are just selling the products that Ford engineers, tests, manufactures, all orchestrated in a manner which requires a great deal of discipline and consideration of others. Then, that well engineered product is put into the hands of people that are only there to facilitate the exchange of a product for payment. But you have to do this stupid inane dance, one that I have not had to do in a very very long time. This whole experience has soured my pursuit for the purchase of a new Ford product and has given me reason to advise others to steer clear of the blue oval. Five to one is a very telling and skewed look at the disproportionate spread of bad dealers to good ones base on my own recent experience. I would rather have a rectal exam with a sandpaper glove than find myself walking the sorrowed path shopping for a new Ford product. I put forth every effort to curtail my disdain that would surface within the ten minutes of discussing price. Writing this makes me want to puke. The article is spot on.

  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.