Where Your Author Encounters a Sleazy 1980s Car Dealership in 2020

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

We’re not talking about my Golf Sportwagen purchase today; they were slow to negotiate, but not sleazy. The topic at hand is what happened this past weekend when I helped my grandmother purchase a used car.

It turns out that at some dealers, even though the calendar says 2020, sales practices are more in line with 1980.

My grandmother wanted to replace her well-worn 2007 Buick Terraza, and desired either a van or a crossover for her next ride. The project was handed to me, as the family “car person” (who’d also most recently purchased a lightly used car). No problem.

We narrowed down that she didn’t need the seven-passenger capacity of a minivan, nor something as large as a three-row CUV. Two-row crossover — easy! I showed her several used examples in the well-stocked marketplace, keeping the miles low and the price under $30,000. All-wheel drive wasn’t a necessity, but a decent backup camera was, with bonus points to parking sensors, heated seats, and a driver’s seat that could be adjusted toward the sky. She liked the Equinox, so the next Saturday with decent February weather, we were off to a family-owned Chevrolet dealer near the decrepit Tri-County Mall.

The dealer had two Equinoxes that looked about right — 2018 models, listed CPO. Only one of those was on the lot, as we were informed by the salesman the other was still undergoing the CPO process. It wouldn’t be available until Monday or Tuesday the following week. Grandma checked out the remaining low-mileage white example, went for a test drive, and was ready to buy. The salesman wasn’t applying pressure, and let us take the test drive on our own. Inside the office we went, ready to do some dealing.

It was a simple setup: We aimed to fix a price first before we talked about the trade-in (though they didn’t ask about it), we were ready to buy right then, and we had cash. The showroom was stuck in the late Eighties with its cheap, old furniture, somewhat dim lighting, and two cars on display in close quarters. The conditions were a good indicator of how the place did business. We started out an offer that was $1,900 less than the sticker, which would’ve been a good buy. The salesman pulled out a piece of paper: “Write your offer down and sign it so we know you’re serious, and I’ll go ask my sales manager what we can do.” It felt weird that the customer was required to physically write the offer. And even more so that I had to sign it, which meant literally nothing on a blank piece of printer paper.

Ten minutes later, the salesman returned with a counter: They could come down $500. But there was another facet to the offer — the dealership was willing to “uncertify” the car, making it a regular used car. The 12-month additional CPO warranty would disappear, along with another $500 from the asking price. I’d never heard of an “uncertification” in that way, after the car had already been through the rigorous 170-point certification process. Declining that, I suggested the price should come down $400 more, and the CPO should stay. Off the salesman went to the back office where customers don’t venture.

Another 10 minutes, and we had a return offer. They came down the additional $400 and left the certification on, with a smiley face drawn on the piece of paper from the mysterious manager. The salesman brought back a printed quote this time. The figure was still about $500 past a fair price for the Equinox, but assuming there were no other issues I was leaning toward “fine.” But on the quote there appeared a line that was a bit suspect: EPAP $499.

It wasn’t disclosed on the listing, or anywhere on their website. After inquiring what it was, I was presented with a shiny brochure on the benefits of the Environmental Paint and Protection package, which is some exterior coating and fabric protectant. “And it’s on all our cars, it’s great,” he reassured. A few more sentences about the benefits of this off-brand Scotch Guard package followed, and I waited patiently. Upon confirming this protectant “system” was applied to all their cars before they made it to the lot, I started to feel a bit gross about the whole thing.

“This really feels like 1980s used car games,” I said. The salesman sort of shrugged.

“The owner requires it!”

“Yes, but I won’t be paying for it,” came my reply. Assuring me he’d see what he could do, he ran back to the sales manager to see if he could help me out any on the price. Returning, the protectant that was definitely worth $499 was now priced at $299. I repeated that I’d not be paying for any protectant, and the salesman said he’d bring over the manager to see if I could “win him over.”

Maybe I should’ve worn my tight jeans.

The manager, Slick McSpikes, came over after 20 minutes and extolled the virtues of EPAP. He explained it was more a protection for the dealership, in case damage were to happen on the lot before the car was sold. Resisting the urge to shoot back with, “Then you pay for it,” I reiterated that I wouldn’t hand over the $299. “I have to charge you at least $299 for this, the owner requires it.” I said, well, go ahead and take $299 right off the car’s price then. His face changed a bit after that, with a flat “I’ve discounted this car enough.”

“Well, then we’ll be buying a car somewhere else.”

As we were getting our coats and walking out the door, Slick called after me “You sure you wanna throw away all this time you just spent putting this deal together?” Yeah, I was very sure. We headed up the road to Joe Morgan Honda in Monroe, Ohio, who didn’t see fit to apply such arcane protection profit centers to their cars. Much more respectful of our time, they were quicker to deal and more friendly. The metallic beige Equinox was parked up front and ready for viewing when we got there. Their price was already reasonable, and they knocked off $230 of the $300 I asked for. In and out in just under two hours, and grandma’s very pleased with her front-drive 2018 Equinox 1LT.

One previous owner, 13,000 miles, $18,095 before tax.

As surprising as it was to find a multi-brand and well-known dealership chain playing profit games with protectant in 2020, they do it because they get by with it. I’m sure most customers just eat the $499 and roll it into their payments, because what’s a couple more bucks? It smacks of hardcore dishonesty to me when such a “feature” is not listed anywhere on a dealer’s site, and effectively means the (already high) prices are actually misrepresented by $499 on every single car. These types of dealers are out there today. Don’t give them your business.

[Images: welcomia/shutterstock, General Motors, seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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3 of 72 comments
  • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Feb 05, 2020

    This kind of thing is why I negotiate the out the door price, tax, title, everything. If they want to show that the sold what ever add on that's fine with me, I'm only concerned with the total price, not which dept gets to show how much.

    • Dave M. Dave M. on Feb 06, 2020

      Exactly. That's why I was overly impressed with my gently-used Rogue deal a couple of weeks ago. Not only did it land exactly where I was quoted, but the dealership was having an anniversary incentive that weekend and they notified me of another $700+ off that hadn't been part of the agreed deal. Regarding the certified label, a few months ago my brother was looking for a car for his kid; this little neighborhood gas station had 5-6 cars for sale. One had a "certified" sign on the windshield...he asked who certified it and the guy replied "we did". LOL.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Feb 05, 2020

    I'd like to see a video of a salesperson running back and forth, showing papers to the customer, and fiddling with a computer/turning it to show the screen, bringing in the 'manager'. All to the tune of Yackety Sax, known to most as the Benny Hill theme.

  • ToolGuy First picture: I realize that opinions vary on the height of modern trucks, but that entry door on the building is 80 inches tall and hits just below the headlights. Does anyone really believe this is reasonable?Second picture: I do not believe that is a good parking spot to be able to access the bed storage. More specifically, how do you plan to unload topsoil with the truck parked like that? Maybe you kids are taller than me.
  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.