My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: I. The Salespeople

My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: I. The Salespeople

Thumbnail Photo: California car salesman Cal Worthington and his dog Spot.

Hidee hi, there, friends and neighbors! This is your old pal, El Monte Slim, tellin’ ya’ll ta come on down here to Widetrack County in Wilmington. God damn, we got some outasight bargains here for ya in cars— and be sure to bring the kiddies, too, cause we got free pony rides and lollipops for all the little folks. Talk about suckers, look at this sucker over here! Yessirree Bob, that’s  a ’58 Dodge pickup, white, of course. Gotchyer radio, gotchyer heater, gotcher overdrive, and it’s gotchyer Easy Rider rifle rack, yes sir, with room for not one, but thureee of your favorite rifles! Yes, sir! And be sure to ask for it by license plate number KKKU2, and for the first hundred of you mothers to c’mon down, we got a free America Love it or Leave It bumper sticker. So c’mon down and ask for El Monte Slim. And now back to our movie, The Jackson Five Story starring The Osmond Brothers.

—Cheech & Chong, 1991

In my time on this planet I have owned 34 cars and one pickup. Not one of them was purchased new.

That’s right. I’m nearing my 65th birthday, yet have never owned a new car. Moreover, only two of the 35 were purchased on a car lot; a third was leased. I found that experience so horrifying I drove the car back to the dealer and returned the keys.

For all practical purposes I’m a car salesperson virgin. I was, anyway, until this week.

I suppose technically I still am, so let me say this: for the past week I have been having a new car buyer’s experience by proxy.

I’ve been tagging along with my girlfriend Heather as she has searched for a replacement for her totaled Civic sedan. We’ve visited five showrooms and I’ve ridden in the back seat as she has test-driven three candidate cars. I’ve experienced her conversations with a half-dozen new car salesmen and one used car saleswoman, and even participated by asking questions like, “How much torque does it generate?” and “What colors are available?”

Heather hasn’t yet made a decision, but I have enough new-car-buyer’s-experience-by-proxy involvement to say this: what everyone says about car salespeople is true.

Would You Buy a Used Car From This Man

Before I go further, let me say we’ve experienced a representative sample of salespeople—an older gentleman from India or vicinity; another older man from China or thereabouts; a recent immigrant from Southeast London (all three with English which was difficult to understand, especially the Londoner, who had a thick Cockney accent); a nervous young Toyota salesman from New Jersey; a talkative Middle-Aged gentleman who kept putting his arm through the steering wheel during the test drive; and a young woman who sells former fleet cars for Enterprise. So male, female, young, old, experienced and new to the profession, and native English speakers and those for whom English was a second language. We would up buying from a young man from Kingston, Jamaica who was the best of the lot.

Every one of them liked to us and attempted to manipulate, obfuscate, and misdirect. Some were better at it than others, but no one fooled us.

Our first experience was the worst. A Honda salesman simply ignored everything Heather said and proceeded to tell her what she wanted as he used two fingers to enter her name and contact information into his computer. He was an excruciatingly slow typist with poor short-term memory. He made her life miserable for days afterward, calling repeatedly, insisting she schedule a follow-up appointment and playing passive-aggressive games while he did so. When we did return he scolded Heather for coming when he was busy with another customer. He hovered while we spoke with a manager, dismissively called Heather “Honey,” (which, understandably, infuriated her) and finally annoyed the sales manager so much he assigned us another salesperson— another two-finger typist—who proceeded to re-enter with infuriating slowness information Heather had already provided. “Why do I feel as if I’m in Groundhog Day?” I asked Heather. We did, however, leave with the dealer’s best price for the car in which Heather was interested. Score!

The young Toyota salesman was the worst at lying.

When Heather commented that the Accord Hybrid (50 city, 45 highway) got better gas mileage than the Camry Hybrid (40/38), he said “Actually, the Camry gets better mileage.”

Yeah, cause those figures on the sticker in the window have no relationship with reality.

View Through Prius Rear Window

When Heather mentioned the Prius was out of the running because of the restrictive view through the rear window, he said, “It takes a couple of days to get used to it.”

“I would never get used to it,” she said, “especially since I won’t be buying it.”

Honda Accord Blind Spot Camera

When I said we really liked the Accord’s blind spot camera (it’s mounted on the right-side mirror), he said, “At Toyota we like to keep our drivers’ eyes on the road.”

Yes, he did. He said that.

I liked the Cockney lad, but he was on his third day in the job and didn’t know much about the cars he was selling. When I asked him why there was no spare in the 2014 Ford Fusion at which we were looking, he gave me a blank look, then disappeared to talk to the sales manager. When he came back he said, “Uh, it comes with a tire mobility kit instead.”

“What’s a tire mobility kit?” I asked.

“A can of Fix-A-Flat,” he said. To his credit, he looked sheepish.

I liked the salesman at the VW dealer, too, because he knew his cars and because he was I-want-to-sell-you-a-car direct with us, but I caught him in one bullshit statement. When we mentioned we would be looking at the Camry Hybrid, he told us repeatedly the 2014 Accord and Camry were much lighter cars than the Passat he was trying to sell us. I checked; the Camry, at 3190 pounds, weighs 110 pounds less than the Passat’s 3300 pounds (which hardly qualifies as “much lighter”); at 3554 pounds, the Accord Hybrid is some 250 pounds heavier than the Passat.

Heather’s second least favorite salesperson was the Hyundai salesman. When she told him she drove a charcoal gray car for the last ten years and wanted a red one, he said, “But red’s a color!” White, gray, and black, he explained, were not colors. Red, like taxicab yellow, lime green, and puce, are colors. She didn’t want a color.

That meant, Heather told me later, he didn’t have a red car on the lot. I’m sure she was right.

Heather wasn’t amused by his behavior during the test drive. Before we even started he insisted she put the car into reverse. As a result she nearly backed into  the car parked less than a foot behind the beautiful black Sonata Hybrid in which we were sitting. As she made her way through heavy traffic he repeatedly tried to get her to look at various features on the dashboard, even at one point reaching through the spokes on the steering wheel to point something out in the instrument cluster. He kept trying to get her to turn on the cruise control—hardly a good idea in 30 mph in New Jersey traffic.

I didn’t notice he never gave us the numbers for the base model hybrid Heather kept asking about. Score! For the salesman!

The Enterprise saleslady was nice, but her cars were expensive.

For some strange reason brochures for the various cars were absent from most places. We were given only two. Check out this informative graph from the Passat brochure:

Informative Graph from the VW Passat Brochure

It helped Heather SO MUCH to make an informed decision!

As of now the Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Hyundai Sonata are out of the running. The remaining candidates are the VW Passat, Honda Accord Hybrid, and Accord non-hybrid. We ran the numbers this morning and it was clear the most expensive car (the hybrid) would in the long run save her thousands of dollars. I think I know what Heather’s choice will be.

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