Posts By: BarkM

By on July 19, 2019

Shopping cart full of cash money bills, Image: urfingus/Bigstock

When I was in high school, many moons ago, I had to recreate an historical debate in front of the class as part of a project for my American History class. I was assigned to take a “pro” position on the Three-Fifths Compromise (I don’t imagine that these sorts of things happen much in high school today). My opponent in the debate was a young lady who was, shall we say, a little different. She didn’t have many friends, she was socially awkward, and I’m not entirely sure that I’d ever actually heard her speak before.

We picked numbers out of a hat to see which one of us would go first, and she won. Right from the beginning, it was evident that things weren’t going to go well. She starting mumbling, inaudibly repeating the same thing over and over. Our teacher, a kind, and gentle man, asked her to speak just a little bit louder.

“Three fourths of a person, that’s all they were. Three fourths of a person!” And then she broke into hysterics and ran out of the room. The teacher sprinted out the door after her, returning after a few moments.

“Now, everybody,” he began, “Mary (not her real name) is our friend. When she comes back in the room, I ask each of you to treat her as our friend.” Let’s be honest. She wasn’t our friend. But in that moment, thanks to a kind word from our teacher, we did our best to treat her as one.

Here at Ask Bark, we get a lot of emails. As the curator of said emails, I do my best to answer all of them personally, even if I can’t dedicate precious ones and zeroes to them in this space. Some of them just aren’t interesting enough for me to dedicate an entire column to answering — it’s often as simple as “Don’t go to that dealer if they’re pulling that garbage on you,” or, “No, it’s never a good idea to spend all of your money on a used German car that’s out of warranty.” Stuff like that.

But every so often, I get an email that both excites and terrifies me, because I know that there is sufficient content within for a good column, but will also likely expose the writer of the correspondence to the combined vitriol of TTAC’s Best & Brightest. Today is such a day. So, everybody, Tom is our friend. After you’ve read his email, I ask each of you to treat him as our friend.

Here we go.

(Read More…)

By on June 28, 2019

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Camo

When it comes to buying new cars, I don’t have much patience. When I bought my Focus RS in 2016, I spent less than an hour doing the whole deal, including actually deciding what car I wanted to buy. Got a blank check approval from my bank, spitballed some ideas with my older brother and my good friend Bozi, and then put down a deposit on a car at a dealership about a thousand miles away. But there was one time when I tried to have patience, and was sorely disappointed.

Eleven years ago, I put down a $5,000 deposit and placed an order for a BMW 135i with my local BMW dealer. It was the launch year for the ill-fated 1 Series in the states, and I wanted to have one of the very first Ones to hit our shores. I ordered a very stripped down version — black, stick shift, cloth seats, no roof. After about 12 weeks, the dealer called to let me know that my car had arrived. Well, a car had arrived… but certainly not mine.

This example was an automatic. But that wasn’t the only thing they got wrong. They added somewhere in the neighborhood of $5k to the sticker, including nearly every option, even a red leather interior. Imagine my disappointment and frustration with the dealer, who had recycled sales people a couple of times since my order and couldn’t seem to track down anything about it, not even the original order sheet.

I asked for my money back, which they reluctantly gave me, and I ended up buying a Pontiac G8 GT instead — not a bad trade. But not everybody who goes through the ordering process is so fortunate. Click the jump for a question from our friend Andy about his experience in ordering his own custom German whip.

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By on June 21, 2019

If there’s one thing I loved about spending time in the offices of General Managers and dealership principals, it was hearing about the harebrained schemes they had to bring customers into the dealership. GMs see an average of 80 or more vendors every single month — there’s always a new piece of software, a new way to buy inventory, even a new way to wash the windows. Invariably, due to some combination of pressure to meet unrealistic sales goals and the attractiveness of the sales rep, managers would fall for something that would make me shake my rather large head in disbelief.

The tough part was always maintaining a straight face when they told me about their plans. One of my fondest memories was listening to a GM explain that he had canceled all of his third party advertisers and ordered two Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tubemen. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see that the store was out of business 90 days later.

But one of my all-time, tried and true favorites is the “gypsy sale.” Click the jump to see our friend Greg’s question about these direct mail pieces and whether or not they actually work. (Read More…)

By on June 14, 2019

Allow me to take you on a trip in the Wayback Machine for a moment. The year was 2001, and a 23-year-old Bark (that’s me) had just gotten a job as a Kiosk Sales Representative for Verizon Wireless. My first month, my sales quota was 55 new phone activations — I ended up selling over […]

By on June 7, 2019

“I’ll tell you something.”

Normally this sort of phrase is followed by, well, something. But the grizzled old dealership veteran seated across the desk from me seemed to be sizing me up a bit, seeing if I was worth the time it would take for him to dispense some of his six decades’ worth of wisdom. After a deep sigh, he must have decided that I was, because he continued.

“This is the worst business. The absolute worst. I invest $30,000 to make $500 — if I’m lucky. Even Vegas would give me those odds. If I had any sense at all, I’d liquidate every car on the damned lot and put all of my money in the stock market. If I had done that at the beginning up the year, I’d be up a couple of hundred grand right now.”

I sensed that I was supposed to say nothing. So I did just that, silently encouraging him to continue.

He noticed my obedience and nodded gently. “Of course, I’d never do anything of the sort. I was born into it, you know. I’m a little bit older than most people think. My father opened the first of the Japanese stores here in (undisclosed state). Then he opened another one. I opened the first Korean store. And now look at me — master of all I survey, owner of ten points.

“As much as I want to get out the business — as much as I wish Daddy had never even thought about buying a car lot — I can’t. But you, young man, you should get out now. I mean now.”

It only took me about seven more years to follow his advice. I am officially out of the car business — kinda. I still have clients who have automotive clients. But I don’t directly sell to car dealerships anymore, which is why I have no problem pulling back the curtain in answering this next question from our friend and reader, Bart.

(Read More…)

By on May 31, 2019

Ford Fiesta ST and Ford Focus RS in Bark's driveway, Image: © 2016 Bark M./The Truth About Cars

Yes, dear readers, I’ve missed you. More importantly, I’ve missed your questions and the opportunity to provide my occasionally helpful feedback. So we’re rebooting the “Ask Bark” column, which will run approximately as often as I have time to write it (hopefully 3-4 times per month). But I’m going to be doing things a little differently than we were doing them before.

While I’m still happy to answer your “What Car Should I Buy” questions (which is, coincidentally, the name of a series on a competing site that is probably in no way, shape, or form a ripoff of the original “Ask Bark”), I also want to answer more of your “how do dealerships work” questions. A recent job change has moved me outside of the world of directly selling advertising to dealerships, so I no longer feel that I have any conflict in revealing all of my dirty little secrets to you, the people. So if you’ve ever wondered exactly how a foursquare works, or why you never seem to be able to get KBB Excellent for your trade-in, or anything like that, shoot your questions to [email protected]

And if you’re a recent TTAC convert, you’ll get the idea after reading today’s question, which comes to us from long-time reader and commenter, Sobro. Click the jump and let’s get to it.

(Read More…)

By on February 28, 2019

2017 Toyota Camry XLE side, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

Dearest TTAC readers,

I’ve come to know you incredibly well over the last seven years. I realize that what I’m about to tell you is somewhat akin to waving a dripping piece of red meat in front of a starving, caged tiger. But, like Bane, I am here for you, the people, and I’m willing to suffer abuse at your hands because the truth will ultimately set you free.

I also know that because much of my source material for this blog post was given to me anonymously and confidentially by one of the most influential dealers in the country, you’ll scream something like “I WANT TO SEE YOUR DATA,” but such is life, guys. I can’t show his numbers to you. I’ve substituted some data from the National Auto Dealer Association’s Mid-Year report for 2018 (the final 2018 report isn’t available just yet). You’ll see the correlation.

Now, let’s get into the meat waving bit, shall we. Breathe deeply, and jump in with me as I tell you this:

In 2019, car dealers are happier than ever to sell you a used car instead of a new one. This could make buying used a bad proposition. Here’s why.

(Read More…)

By on January 25, 2019

Image: GM

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.”

— Dr. Suess, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

2019 Chevrolet Blazers are available for purchase at dealership near you. No, really, they are. Like, right this second. You could buy one. Some people already have. This is interesting because it’s pretty much impossible to find a review of one anywhere on the internet. A search for “Chevrolet Blazer Reviews” brings you to some news of the initial auto show reveal, and that’s about it.

To you, the TTAC reader and automotive enthusiast, this news probably doesn’t rock you to your core. But there’s a group of people that are wringing their hands nervously about this product launch.

The journosaurs.

(Read More…)

By on December 31, 2018

Image: JRE/YouTube2018 was pretty lit, am I right? Let’s recap some highlights:

In fact, this has probably been the craziest post-bailout year yet. Since TTAC was one of the first blogs to predict the General Motors bankruptcy, I thought I might honor that tradition by taking this New Year’s Eve opportunity to predict how events that unfolded over the past 12 months will affect the way we buy and drive cars for the foreseeable future. Click the jump and see if you think I’m right.

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By on December 28, 2018

As all loyal Bark fans know (Hi Mom), I travel extensively for the ol’ day job. Thanks to Uber and Lyft, I don’t always have to rent a car when I’m on the road, but most of the time it’s actually cheaper to rent a car for $35 a day than it is to use […]

By on December 3, 2018

Image: 2017 Dodge Journey SE, via FCA

Automotive Twitter really is the worst Twitter, for many reasons. First of all, it’s not very “automotive.” With the exception of our dear friend, Bozi Tatarevic, who is a must-follow for his encyclopedic knowledge and Holmesian sleuthing skills, nearly every other autowriter on Twitter views the platform as an opportunity to share the wonkiest political views possible. When they aren’t doing that, they’re all sipping from the same “I am an expert on financial matters but I also dress like a flood victim” Kool-Aid, chanting the same mantra over and over.

Last week was particularly objectionable, what with the GM decision to mostly abandon passenger cars in favor of light and heavy trucks. “People are buying the wrong cars!” they shout to their literally dozens of followers. “Crossover bad! Car good!” they shriek, neglecting to share with you that nearly all of them are childless and nary a one of them has ever tried to fit a collapsing stroller, a diaper bag, and a breast pump into the trunk of a Miata. One particularly stupid individual compared the nation’s overwhelming preference for crossovers to its preference for superhero movies over art films. Sigh.

It takes roughly three functioning brain cells to understand that crossovers are a better fit for the majority of flyover country than small cars are. Of course, once you understand that the majority of the major digital automotive press in this country is based in New York, then it’s not hard to understand that they can’t see outside of their bubbles. You certainly don’t need something like a Chevy Traverse if you are a childless man with a domestic partner who lives in a third-floor Brooklyn walkup with no available parking. But when you live in suburban Indiana with your three kids, all of whom have multiple after school activities, well, crossovers make a little more sense. And since childless couples in NY don’t buy cars and soccer moms in Indiana do, well, it only makes sense that the General is gonna listen to Jennifer from Carmel.

I, however, tend to think that there is an even more sinister goal behind the switch from cars to crossovers. I think it’s to prepare people for the (possibly never) upcoming switch to self-driving cars. Allow me to elaborate.

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By on November 26, 2018

Before we go any further, I just want to point out one thing — I hate the BMW X3. I loathe even the idea of it. I grew up on the E30 3 Series and the E23 7 Series, both of which were in my father’s driveway well before most people in Suburbia knew what […]

By on October 18, 2018

For those of you who haven’t been to the press days of one of the major American auto shows (Detroit, New York, Chicago, LA), I’ll briefly describe what they are like: many, many parties, a lot of free alcohol, and very little to do with cars. I mean, yeah, there are some cars present, but nobody really looks at them or talks about them. All the press materials are sent in advance so that websites (like this one) can publish their stories en masse as soon as whatever artificial embargo is in place expires. The cars don’t really even need to be there. I enjoy going to the New York International Auto Show for one reason — it’s in New York. If you put it in Peoria, Bark ain’t going.

Local auto shows, however, serve a completely different purpose. The idea of the local auto show in your town is that it allows you to see all of the cars you might be considering for purchase in one place. Or, if you’re a car geek, you can just go look at all of the stuff that you normally would have to have a lot more money to be allowed to look at in person. When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I eagerly anticipated the auto show every year. I remember my dad begrudgingly taking me to the show, just so I could walk around Veterans Memorial Auditorium and see things like the Chevrolet Citation Coupe Concept and maybe even sit in a Trans Am for a few seconds before the Pontiac booth guy kicked me out.

So it was with that same sense of excitement that I went to the Miami International Auto Show last week. It was the first time in over a decade that I had the chance to go to a car show as a member of the general public — no name badge around my neck, no glad-handing PR reps, no hordes of automotive “journalists” obstructing my view of the cars with their ridiculous camera rigs. It was going to be an opportunity to see cars, man.

An hour later, I left the massive Miami Beach Convention Center feeling more sad than anything else. The local car show, as I knew it, appears to be dead.

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By on October 4, 2018

Somewhere along the way, somehow, the Sports Car Club of America lost the focus on fun. I know this, because a few years ago, after a particularly tedious conversation with some officials on the SCCA Solo Events Board about whether or not I had put the proper roll hoops on my car, I said, “Enough.” After about six years of national-level autocross, everything about dealing with the SCCA or participating in their events had become tedious, and nothing was fun.

The only way I ever had any fun at all was if I won, and since I had chosen to participate in the toughest and most highly subscribed class in autocross, the chances of that happening were becoming slimmer and slimmer all the time, and the costs were escalating to the point where road racing became a cheaper option. Think how crazy that is. So, I quit.

But three years ago, the SCCA began its Track Night program. Two years ago, Targa became a thing. And just like that, thanks primarily to the efforts of Heyward Wagner and his experiential team, the SCCA became fun again. It wasn’t all about spring rates and spoiler heights and tire width and thousandths of seconds — it was about having fun with cars.

So imagine how bummed I was when I started to hear rumors that Targa was dead, the victim of high costs and low ROI. Sure enough, the rumors were followed by an email that confirmed its untimely murder, but there was hope — Targa was being replaced by a new program called “Time Trials Nationals.” The idea was to have an event that Track Night participants could evolve into — maybe wheel-to-wheel racing is too intimidating or costly, but they’d still like to be able to compete against the clock on a track, not in a parking lot.

After running a couple of regional events as warm-ups, the SCCA held their first Time Trials Nationals event this past weekend at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. There was no way I was going to miss it. So I didn’t. I packed up my Focus RS with all the tools and driving gear I could fit in the hatch, pulled my son out of school on a Friday, and headed west to find out what this new program was all about. And what I found out was that running a bone stock car against the clock is a hell of a lot of fun.

(Read More…)

By on August 31, 2018

Sometimes one just has to appreciate the complete absurdity of a vehicle. The never-ending available horsepower in the current pony car wars, for example. The over-the-top quilted interior of the limited-run Bentley Continental GT3-R. And then we have the 2018 Nissan Armada, which is completely and totally ridiculous in its own right. It’s substantially bigger […]

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