MAFP Goes Car Shopping

Car Sales 3
Yep. Like that.

Szzzzzzzz… that was the sound of an egg on a sidewalk on this sizzling summer weekend. The temperature was a sweltering 95 degrees, which is unusual for our meteorologically moderate corner of the Puget Sound.

It was on this weekend, without obvious male assistance, that I decided to start car shopping. I’d had quite enough of the Subaru with the continually exploding head gasket that had been chained to me without my consent at the end of a past life. Subaru, even with the involvement of the Attorney General’s office, never did provide a permanent fix for the time bomb they created from inferior metal. It was time to move on.

I was appalled at how I was treated and what I found. It reconfirmed my opinion that many salespeople act or possibly are sociopathic; they will do or say anything to get your money. My education and experiences in life have made me acutely aware of deception and so this was a quest spent not only in a literal broiler but a psychological one as well.

There were many moments throughout this weekend at which I was tempted to just fling my hair and chirp out a Phoebe Buffay-like, “nn-kay” (accentuated by an airhead grin) to make the predators circling me think I was falling for their mind games. Rather than be that obvious, I decided to respond rather than react and for the most part quietly observe the sleight of wallet tricks they tried to pull. Buying a car can be like a game of chess, and these guys seem to think that all their smarmy salesman training makes them superior chess players.

At an unattractive but highly successful dealership I was pleased to meet a salesman who wasn’t trying to smother my personal space the second I walked out of the car. The place bore a resemblance to a creepy carnival set in a Stephen King movie, but having done my homework online, I knew they might have what I was after.

Car Sales 4
Walking up the path to the main office.

After exchanging pleasantries, the salesman proceeded to show me a few possibilities. Yes, if I wanted to drive something that looked like a tree-ripened lime, I’d take that one. But I didn’t. So we chatted about this and that as the soles of our feet started to blacken through our sandals because of the heat waves blasting through the asphalt.

Then he made a big mistake after getting me a bottle of water. He left me standing there, in the middle of the vast parking lot, for much longer than he should have. I thought he forgot about me so started making my way through the molten metal minefield back to the main carnival tent. There I was seated at a table and introduced to Car Salesman PSYOPS, the mental beatdown designed to make you sign your life away.

Enter the Dark Lord of the Sith. I didn’t like him as soon as I saw him (hackles up…). Aside from wandering off, the salesman I’d been working with was very real and personable. This character, a burly, stern-looking guy in his thirties who seemed to exhale charcoal-hued fumes, introduced himself and parked next to him. “Hmm,” I thought. “I already sense I should walk out. But do your worst.”

Darth Sales Manager commenced with his battle plan. “So, how much are you willing to pay?” he queried in his faux-friendly, forced manner. Knowing exactly what I was willing to do, I laid down my numbers. As in, whoomp, there it is. First cards on the table. He excused himself to go speak to an alleged higher up who resided in a cage across the lobby. “Bzzz bzzz bzzz, pssst pssst pssst,” they said, probably having done this dance ten thousand times and likely discussing the latest Mariners game.

Even I was surprised by how hard he hit me when he came back. “That absolutely won’t work for us. That’s not even in the ballpark.” He proceeded with an explanation that tried to make me sound delusional for even trying. He tried the “let me lock you into a high interest lease” card. I could tell that my original salesman was uncomfortable. It’s pretty bad when your boss is so unprofessional that it makes people want to leave at the start of a negotiation.

Hmm. Nope. I wasn’t going to be badgered by this guy. I stuck to my guns. My table started attracting attention. The Dark Lord of the Sith was soon joined by the Emperor, or at least some high-ranking henchman with slicked back hair and tense muscles bulging out of a too-tight short-sleeved white sweater. Was I unwittingly cast in a mafia movie or was ganging up on a woman really the way they did business? Was I supposed to be scared?

Car Sales 6
These guys might be a little more appealing than the team I was surrounded by at an unnamed Seattle Ford dealership.

Now I was surrounded by sharks, and they proceeded to try and brainwash me into buying them another abandoned warehouse, or unregistered yacht, or cache of used oil drums for them. Whatever they were into. They tried. I walked. I was hot and tired and quite through with this cadre of bullies who treated me like I had an IQ lower than my shoe size and could be intimidated into buying a wheeled citrus fruit. Next.

I traveled on to some other places, casting a wide geographical net. One dealership was actually very helpful but my radar is always on around these guys. It turns out that they were trying to sell me a rental. As my silent partner in this effort had reminded me, you don’t really know what happened to that rental. And you don’t want to find out. It could have been a stunt double in a YouTube video produced by drunken frat guys.

A swankier dealership tried to convince me that buying a vehicle that oozed cigarette smoke from every crack and crevice could be treated by their special machine. Why, then, hadn’t they done that before putting it out on their lot? Not happening. The Internet sales manager, who was cut from different cloth than the other salespeople, more software engineer than scam artist, was very helpful and arranged for several test drives. But I decided to move on.

I arrived at a dealership that gives off a weird vibe even from the street. If you’ve ever been watching a bad ’70s movie and found yourself yelling at the screen, “No, Susan, don’t open that door!”, it had a similar vibe. But– as much as I advise others to obey that gut feeling, I was going to have a look around (szzzzz… there went another egg, which completely evaporated within seconds).

Here came the sales guys. A pleasant-sounding man with an African accent attached himself to me. It was immediately apparent that he came from the same “we’re better at chess” mentality as most of these guys although he wasn’t as obnoxious as the creepy carnival clowns. But his technique and communication were so predictable, and so painfully cookie cutter. Well, he could try. But he was probably just going to tick me off.

Car Sales 7

I told him what I was looking for and at first I thought he did a thorough job of trying to find what I wanted. I began to notice that many of the cars he was suggesting had high mileage and questionable histories. Things seemed overpriced and shady. I realized that besides being helpful, he was trying to wear me down. Pressuring someone to keep walking around a lot the temperature of an oven could be medically risky for some people, but he wasn’t letting up. In some countries this is legally considered torture.

I decided to test drive a few vehicles. On the first test drive is when the cheesy, generic lines kicked in. “You look good in this car,” he said as we merged onto the freeway. (Internally my sarcasm kicked in and my brain said, “nn-kay” and giggled flirtatiously. Externally I was trying not to form a fist.) The cars were okay but my blessed silent partner had warned me about certain issues with this model.

After completing the “let’s see if we can create a medical emergency in the parking lot” and test drives punctuated by phrases that seemed to come from Bad Pickup Lines From Burien’s Best Dive Bars we went inside. What?!!! Now it wasn’t a carnival, it was a circus.A macabre, chaotic, overwhelming circus.

Loud, high energy music was blasting from a dated sound system. Every time someone sold their soul, or agreed to something they didn’t walk in there to do, or a car was purchased, salesmen would walk up and ring a brass bell to make the people rejoice. I couldn’t imagine working in that environment if you had a headache. You’d probably want to go home and listen to soothing folk music every night.

Car Sales 2

It was supposed to be hip and young and energetic, but it was like being in a nightmare set in Trader Joe’s (where they ring a bell for more cashiers) that involved a caffeine OD, Restless Leg Syndrome, and a zombie apocalypse all rolled together with a crunchy coating of crushed guilt and a dollop of sleaze. Again, I immediately wanted to leave despite the beverage that a very nice young man barbequing customers had given me. Oh wait, he was barbequing for customers.

This dealership played dirty. This is also where the heat started messing with me. They had taken a copy of my driver’s license for the test drives. Thankfully I realized before I left that they hadn’t given it back (but wait, more in a bit). Once again I was introduced to the real sales guy, one of the sales managers. He repeatedly would not give me concrete numbers but kept saying they could “do it.” Do what? Hop around on one leg and bark?

This guy was an accomplished fake Jedi mind trick/Dale Carnegie type but he was just frustrating me. I did have an interest in one vehicle so did the dance and let him keep trying. It was his choice whether or not I bought a car; he needed to make a deal that worked for me, not the other way around. I also informed him that I would need to speak to my silent partner before finalizing a purchase.

So what does he do… but try the isolation tactic. He thought he was the spider and I was the fly. “So what would it take for you to walk out of here without talking to (the man)?” he asked me. Ooh, big mistake, buddy. So disgustingly transparent. Uh uh. (Insert line from Elvis song here: “I feel my temperature rising…”)

Next he tried the “hey I know from your name you’ve had people in the car business” bit. Now we were back to the mafia scenario: “badda bing, badda boom, I treat you like family.” This was also a tactic used when I actually did buy a vehicle a couple of days later and they tried to sell me on an extended warranty plan: “We’ll give you an employee price since you’re part of the family.”

This guy was not respecting my boundaries– like most salespeople I’d run into. He was flipping through his playbook trying to find the magic spell that would get me to spend thousands more than I wanted to on something I didn’t even want. He was pushing and pushing, trying to force me to cave in, if from nothing else but exhaustion. I don’t know what’s more distasteful– these grand master wannabes or more blatant practitioners of the dark arts.

Finally I was done with the feigned helpfulness, zombie-RLS-bell ringing mayhem, and mathematical bravado. I might have done business with them since they did have a possibility on their lot, but they didn’t deserve my business. I know the salesman gave me a lot of time but it was time spent trying to break me down more than find a solution on my terms. So I resolved not to go back there and went home.

The next day I found out that they’d kept my registration.

I was furious. I knew exactly what they were doing. Given all of their other attempts, and knowing I was thinking about one of their cars, I believe they kept that on purpose so that I would come back the next day. If I had been pulled over without that, they could have caused me a huge fine and a date in court. I drove right back there, marched in, took my registration back, and don’t ever plan to go back there again. Their “negligence” sealed the deal– no deal.

Car Sales 5
Buying a car can be like dealing with these guys. Except that these guys are a little more discreet when persuading someone.

A couple of days later I saw a vehicle online and went to see it after work. The salesman was helpful, professional, and relaxed. The dealership was newer, clean, and didn’t sound like I was shopping in the juniors section of the Bon Marche circa 1992.

I wound up getting something a little better than I’d planned without all of the guilt and head games. I spent slightly more than I wanted to, but he made it worth my while. This is the business where the extended warranty was pushed on me by someone else, but my silent partner reminded me that’s how they make their money.

Why couldn’t I have found this guy the first time around?

Knowing that someday I would write a post letting car salespeople know just how bad their behavior can be, I jotted down bullet points after that war-like weekend that included the following cautions for others:

-Don’t let a dealership keep your license, registration, or any other documents. Be sure that there’s even a legal reason they need to see or copy them in the first place– there might not be. They might just be collecting data to harass you with or sell to others.

-Don’t allow them to torture you by pushing your boundaries, whether physical or mental. Many will try to wear you down so you’ll do something you didn’t originally intend to do.

-Make it clear that if they pressure you, you’ll walk.

-If they try to isolate you and not allow you to talk to others during the buying process, leave.

-If they treat you like you’re stupid, you’re not understanding the car business, or you’re delusional because you won’t agree to a deal, leave.

-If they treat you like you need to come to an agreement about what works for them instead of what works for you, leave.

-If they try to guilt you in any way, leave.

Car Sales 1

-Beware the hierarchy of pressure. If they call in the big boss or keep bringing in more and more people to break you, leave.

-Beware of stupid, cheesy, generic lines. If it’s an utterance that would repulse you in your daily life, don’t tolerate it here either (“that color looks good on you,” “men will be checking you out in this car,” and so on).

-Don’t fall for the “special deal” stuff– “I’ll only do this for you,” “you’re like family,” “you seem like a nice lady, so…” “I don’t do this every day.” You’re about as special to them as a wad of gum is to a concrete sidewalk.

Ultimately, I want a salesperson to find a solution for me, not to berate me or pressure me. The lack of ethics, empathy, compassion, and professionalism in the car dealership world is exactly why even honest salespeople get stereotyped as swindlers. I don’t know what salesmanship factory these guys go through, but the industry needs to reevaluate its training and techniques. Clearly they don’t realize how idiotic and transparent their alleged psychology is. It’s also abusive and disrespectful.

Always bring someone knowledgeable about cars with you when you’re shopping, or at least have a silent partner that you can consult in privacy as you move through the buying process. Women in particular are targeted by such salesmen, so there is something to be said for safety in numbers. This is about your time, your money, your decisions, and your safety, so don’t be pressured into anything and do what is in your best interest, not theirs.


Honesty: The best of all the lost arts. -Mark Twain


*MAFP: My M.A. is in forensic psychology, which involves learning to see past evasive maneuvers and drill down to the truth.


©2014 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/


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