Birth of a Used Car Salesmen

This happened in the summer of 2014, which already feels like a decade ago to me. That’s what happens when you switch jobs like bad relationships. I got the job through a business friend, who later screwed me on a deal in exchange for a valuable life lesson. I was introduced to a young man who was the manager of a family owned used car dealership. During a business lunch, my then friend brought up the idea that I was interested in selling cars to the young man and one thing lead to another. Before I knew it I was slicking back my hair with pomade getting ready for my first day as a used car salesman.

The dealership I was going to be working at was the second dealership under the family name empire that had recently opened 4 months prior. It was an old building with a hemisphere shaped showroom and a two lane gap behind it that separated the showroom from the repair shop behind it. Located right off one of the busiest highways in San Antonio, TX, it is a prime location for moving metal.

The Cars 

The main reason why I wanted to sell used cars was because I had always been curious about it. My father used to flip cars when I was a baby, and I have been around used cars all my life. First day on the job I was given the list of inventory and was recommended to go out on the lot to know what we had to sell.

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From the film Used Cars (1980)

A big parking lot of 4 rows of cars and trucks, each with 8-10 vehicles side by side. I could feel the bottom of my shoes wanting to stick to the scorching hot pavement under the Texas sun as I walked around looking for cars I thought were easy to sell. All the cars and trucks looked great, from a far. Up close, one began to notice all the details that made these vehicles ripe lemons. Two vehicles were ex-Border Patrol units, one was a white Dodge Charger and the other was white F-150. I knew they were decommissioned BP cars because you could still see where the decals used to be before being ripped off the car. Plus, both vehicles didn’t have rear-seats and the dash was gutted from removing all the law enforcement hardware. That would have been enough, except that both these machines looked exhausted with years of 20 hour shifts and off-road abuse.

Busted While Buying

I worked four days a week on the lot while working part time at a different, non-automotive related, job. On my second week I came in early and started my day by walking the lot to see if any new inventory had arrived. I was looking at a worn looking Corolla when I heard the sound of tires being tortured as a black Crown Vic rolled up to the front of the building hard on its brakes. Being a big Blues Brothers fan I quickly admired the Crown Vic for a second before going back to wonder what this car’s deal was. Two large men stepped out in cop-ish looking uniforms. Black polo shirts with gun belts and combat boots, but no badges. They ran into the showroom, with their guns drawn, something was definitely going down.

I waited to see if I heard gun shots before I ran over to the showroom to see what was happening. I walk in to see a customer being handcuffed to the desk in front of one of the salesmen who was pleading with the officers to let the customer sign one last paper before taking him away. I never found out what the customer was arrested for, but judging by how quickly the officers tagged and bagged him into the Crown Vic I can assume it wasn’t for jay-walking.

Picking Up the Pieces

One time I was showing this nice couple around the lot. They wanted a Nissan Altima and we had four lined up side by side at the very front on display. I was doing my best impression of Kurt Russell from the film Used Cars and while showing them the first Altima. It was brown with a v6 and manual, which I thought was a fun car, until I reached for the driver side door handle and it came off in my hand with the same effort as taking frosting off the top of a wedding cake.

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I froze for a moment with the handle in my hand, the couple was on the other side of the car and they didn’t see what had happened. I had no choice but to kick the handle under the car and made an excuse that the white 4 cylinder Altima behind me was a better model. I didn’t make the sale.

A similar thing happened again when I was showing an elderly couple a white Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. It was right in the front of the lot, the first car you see when driving past the dealership. I get the keys to see if they want to go for a test drive. I get in and find out the battery is six feet under, completely dead! It had not been turned over in months! I ran back to get a spare battery and quickly swapped it out. I guess the elderly couple took pity on me and waited for me to get the Honda running. New battery in place I turned the key and the Ridgeline coughed into life. I tried to shift into reverse but I couldn’t move the shifter, it was stuck.

This is the middle of summer, I’m sweating through my shift and tie from running back and forth across the lot carrying car batteries and now the truck doesn’t want to get out of gear for reasons I had no time to troubleshoot. That was enough for the elderly to politely say they needed to be somewhere else, and I didn’t blame them.

Self-Proclaimed Certified

This dealership was a “buy here, pay here” type of place. Meaning, you make the car payment directly to the dealership using their in-house financing. The showroom always had one or two angry customers who were there to complain about getting a visit from the repo-man a week after missing a payment, or bringing in their new used car to be fixed. The receptionist behind the desk was a pro, and a mother of four, so nothing phased her as waves of angry customers tried to wear her down.

One day, however, there were no customers at all so the salesmen were just on their computers spamming posts about great car deals on social media. The only other person in the showroom was a woman and her 2 small kids whose patience for sitting still had just ran out. It wasn’t long before the woman came up to me asking why it was taking so long for her car to be fixed. A red Dodge Nitro, brought in for an AC recharge and it had been 2 hours. Anyone who’s seen or done an AC recharge knows that it is a very basic task that shouldn’t take that long.

Trying to provide good customer service, I walked back into the garage to see the status of her Nitro. It was an 8 stall garage and all of them had a car or truck in them in various stages of repair. All the mechanics were young guys probably mid to late 20’s, and one old redneck lumberjack-looking fellow who in charge. During my investigation of the Nitro I learned that none of the young mechanics were certified or had any formal training. They were just average-joe grease monkeys. One of them actually told me that they search how-to videos on YouTube when they come across something they don’t know how to do. The lumberjack was the only master mechanic but he was certified for diesel engines only. Not saying these guys weren’t doing a good job, but it came as a shock that the cars I was selling as honest runners were being put together by un-trained amateurs. Felt like I was working in a movie cliché.

It took another hour for the Nitro to be fixed and a week later I heard it was brought back with the same problem.

Turf Wars

I mentioned early that this was the second dealership the family owned. There was another location on a different interstate that had been established for years. I kept noticing that the few decent cars we had listed on inventory reports were not on our lot. Turns out that the manager of that dealership was sending his crew over here to swap their junkers for the few good cars we had. My manager didn’t care since either way the family was making money if cars were being sold, but the salesmen did because it was our commission they were driving away with. Working there was a tense environment, a real shark tank.

Warning: Video Contains Strong-Language

It created a “grass is always greener on the other side” situation when I went to visit the other lot to take photos of the nice cars for the website. The showroom was cleaner, with newer furniture and someone took the time to decorate the offices. The cars were a little more upscale with newer models with fewer miles. Naturally this created tension when the main owner of the dealerships would get on our case about not meeting sales quotas. It began to leave a very bad taste in my mouth.

The Wheeler Dealers

The top salesman at my location was an ex-body builder. Military crew cut hair style and  a polo shirt he considered to be business casual. Nice enough guy, but always on the verge of being annoyed by the slightest thing because he was high strong, like his mind was idling at high RPM’s. He was the one who showed me the ropes when I first started. Giving me the Glengarry Glen Ross speech about always be closing and keeping it straight and to the point.

Two weeks later I found out he was fired because he was selling cars way below sticker price just to make a sale. It was a fixed commission, so you get the same amount whether you sell a 10k car or a 50k truck. Not only was he cutting deals for customers, he was lending out inventory to friends who needed a ride, or for his own personal use. Rumor was that he started crying when they fired him.

As a salesmen, I was about average considering what I had to work with. I remember a Lexus showed up on the lot and from my desk it looked great. It was a gold champagne color that made look like a Rolex on wheels, until you got close up. This was a repo car that was sold at an auction and it must have been a bad one because someone had taken a key and ran around the entire car with it. One continuous scratch around the whole car that looked like a rodeo lasso pinstripe.

Two cars I sold had to be jumpstarted, during the demonstration of the vehicle, with my own car. I had jumper cables in my desk at the ready. Yet, for reasons unknown to me, people bought these cars and drove off happy. A co-worker was amazed that he sold a 2000’s Chrysler 300 with very bad oxygen sensor problems for $18,000 and the new owner was happy because the car came with some generic large sized chrome wheels.

What Did I learn?

I learned why most people hate used car salesmen. Not saying they are all bad, but you know what they say about one bad apple. I left that place after 2 ½ months because the whole scene was getting too sketchy. High down payments and financing to anyone no matter how low the credit score or income, and a repo truck that was always out on a job.

The dealership has since improved for the better, as far as I know. When I occasionally have to drive past it, the cars look much better and the building looks remodeled. Hopefully they have cleaned up their act, for the customer’s sake. My mom always tells me that every job is a school. You learn something at every place you work. I learned a lot about human behavior while working as a used car salesmen.

Read Part 1 of this series here.

 

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