Confessions of a Car Man


My Ride With Rudy

Over the course of my career, I sold cars in Oakland, California on three separate occasions. Oakland, to be blunt, is a sad, sad place. The amount of poverty, crime and simple human desperation makes it a tough environment in which to earn a living. That being said, nothing bad ever happened to me during those years. I saw my share of weird stuff, but I experienced no violence or robbery. But there was the time back in the early 80’s I when I went for a ride with a man named Rudy Henderson . . .

Rudy was a drug dealer. I did not know this at first. He looked nothing like the drug dealers you see in the movies. He was not very tall, but he was stocky, and it was all muscle. (I would learn later that Rudy was a weight lifter.) He dressed conservatively; partial to jaunty caps perched on his massive head. He had a disarming way about him: cool, soft-spoken, and almost gentle in his own way. He did not use foul language and seemed like a pretty nice guy all things considered.

Rudy used to launder his money through car dealerships. This is how it worked: Rudy would come in and look at a car, typically an expensive one. “I don’t have time to drive it now, but I’ll be back later to buy it”, he would say. “Could I put a deposit on it?” The time I waited on him, he handed me $5000 in cash as a deposit on a Mitsubishi Starion. He peeled the money off a massive wad of cash extracted from the pocket of his loose-fitting kakis. “Be back later,” he assured me, and as he had done to many Car Men before me, he disappeared.

Sometime later, a week maybe even two, Rudy would reappear. He would tell you that he had decided not to get the car. Could he get his deposit back? Of course the returned money would be in the form of a check. He was happy with this because depositing a $5000 check in his bank account aroused fewer questions than $5000 in cash. That was it. He had used me, but what could I do? He was an Oakland drug dealer, and nice or not, this is not the type of person you can tell to screw off.

Over the months I learned to avoid Rudy, and his attention turned to newer salesmen who were not aware of his con game. But one winter evening, he came in and everyone was busy. I had no choice but to wait on him. He had a friend with him, a nasty-looking thug with two prominent gold teeth. He said there was a car outside he was interested in. He wanted to buy it for his girlfriend. What struck me was that the car he was pointing at was a modest sedan, not the type of car that Rudy usually picked for his scam. And this time he wanted to drive the thing. Whore that I am, the greedy part of me went into gear. Heck, even drug dealers buy cars, I told myself. Maybe this was my lucky day.

Thus began my ride with Rudy.

It was 5:30 on a dark, cold winter night. An afternoon drizzle had left glistening diamonds of water on the windshields of the cars. We closed at 7:00, plenty of time for a quick demo ride and a deal. I got the keys to the car. Here is where I got stupid: I neglected to tell anyone that I was going on a drive. I did not make a copy of his driver’s license. Why bother? I would be right back. Rudy and his buddy got in front seat. I climbed into the back. We were off.

It started to go wrong as soon as we left the lot. I suggested he turn right, but he turned left. Nothing pisses off a Car Man more than a customer who refuses to follow his prescribed demo route, but what was I going to do? It was his town; let him drive where he wants, I told myself.

Rudy glanced over the back seat. “You don’t mind if I make a little stop would you?” he asked politely.

I was reluctant, but I told him that would be okay. He then proceeded to make a series of turns into an area that an Oakland cop had advised me never to venture. It seemed that this neighborhood, an old housing track that had gone to seed, had only one way in and one way out. The perfect place to get hijacked, he warned.

Rudy drove a couple of blocks then suddenly pulled over to the curb. Out of the shadows came a young man. Rudy rolled down his window. The young man handed Rudy a thick envelope. Not a word was exchanged. Rudy placed the envelope in his coat pocket and we left.

Well, that’s done, I told myself. Now we can get back to the business at hand. But when Rudy emerged back on the main road, instead of heading back to the dealership, he took the car deeper into the bowels of East Oakland.

I was not a happy camper.

Rudy made three more stops, each one farther away from the dealership. I sat in the back seat becoming increasingly paranoid; hoping this evening would not have a bad ending. I kept my mouth shut and tried to be invisible. At each stop Rudy collected an envelope, the last one from a lovely young lady who wanted to have a chat, and chat they did for about ten minutes. In this type of situation, ten minutes can seem like a lifetime. I glanced at my watch. It was 6:20. The dealership was going to close in forty minutes. We were probably six or seven miles away. I decided to speak up.

“Rudy, we need to get back. The dealership closes at 7:00.”

Rudy glanced in the rear view mirror as if suddenly remembering I was there. “Don’t worry bro. I’ll get you back.”

Rudy turned and said something to his friend. I did not hear what he said, but they thought it was really funny. He took off in the car, again heading the wrong direction. We were soon in downtown Oakland. I became more than a little nervous, not exactly scared but close. Rudy was heading in the direction of the freeway that could quickly take us back, but a block before the entrance he made an abrupt right and turned down a dark side street.

He pulled over in front of an abandoned house. The two men stared straight ahead in silence. It had started to rain again. Only the rhythmic clapping of the windshield wipers broke the silence. Someone darted out of the darkness and knocked on Rudy’s window. I jumped in my seat. Rudy rolled the window down a crack and a fifth envelope was slipped to him. Then without a word he made a U-turn, turned right, and got on the freeway heading south toward the dealership.

I was one relieved son-of-a-bitch. Rudy pulled back into the lot five minutes before closing. He pulled into the parking slot and said, “See, I got you back.” But when we got out of the car he added, “I’ve got to think about this. Thanks for the ride, bro”. And that was that. The sucker had used me for a money collection run!

Six months later I was back selling cars in Hayward. One Saturday I was standing on the showroom floor talking with my GM, Freddie Martin Jr. Freddie had lived in Oakland for many years and seemed to know everyone in that town. All of a sudden who do I see walking across the lot? I said, “Well, if it isn’t Rudy Henderson.”

Freddie turned to me, startled. “How do you know him?”

I told him briefly about how I knew Rudy and added, “He’s a drug dealer.”
Freddie laughed. “David, he’s not just a drug dealer. He’s THE drug dealer. The biggest one in Oakland. He’s not someone you want to mess with.”

I looked at Freddie. “Don’t worry, Freddie. I’d never mess with Rudy Henderson.”

A few months later Rudy got busted. It was on the front page of all the newspapers, the leadoff story on the nightly news. Rudy was a big deal indeed; a mansion in the Oakland hills, another out in the country. He went to jail for a long time. Oh, did I mention that they confiscated several very expensive cars from his estates?

Well at least someone had made some money on him.

Note: In 2002 Rudy Henderson was released from prison. In December 2006 he was found in a car—shot to death. For more information, click on the link below.



I have an innate hatred for balloons. To me, balloons represent all that is bad about the car business. They are symbols of car salesman slavery; a daily reminder that the sales managers think of you as nothing but lot boys in nice clothes. Balloons should be banished from the face of the earth--unless you are at the Circus.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little.

The preoccupation with balloons began when I worked at a dealership that demanded that we put out one hundred balloons each day. These particular balloons came packed in something that looked like talcum powder. You couldn’t help but get it all over you. It used to really piss me off.

Each morning, after unlocking the three hundred plus inventory, the drudgery of the balloons began. You ended up with powder on your clothes, fingers aching from tying up the balloons, and a pissy attitude. A couple of hours had passed and valuable screwing around time had been lost forever.

Goddamn balloons!

Out of boredom we would sometimes get three or four balloons together and launch a coke can. I was always vaguely concerned that the can might hit someone when it came down, but I was comforted with the idea that it would probably fall on one of The Others, so who the hell cared?

We once calculated how many balloons it would take to launch a Nissan Sentra. I can’t remember what the exact amount was, but if supplied with enough balloons and the proper amount of motivational drugs, the job was definitely doable. But being lazy salesmen, we figured that ultimately it would just be too much work.

There was always the helium to screw around with. One big gulp and you could swear at your fellows in a most amusing voice. If you did enough of it, you actually started to feel a little high. I’ve often wondered if any car men were killed by helium overdose. How exactly do you explain that when you get to Heaven?

Are car men welcome in Heaven?

The only cool thing about balloons was launching them at the end of the day. Sending them to balloon heaven so to speak. Watching them float their way to freedom was a little sad, because you were still there; grounded to the patch of asphalt that was virtually your home. As I would gaze up at the disappearing spheres, I would wonder if there were car men angels up there, sitting on clouds watching them ascend. I imagined that if I listened closely I could hear them. And you know what they were saying?

“Goddamn balloons!”

Talk to you later,



Shortly after Henry Ford unloaded his first shipment of Model Ts at the first Ford dealership, a couple of sets of keys went AWOL. The salesmen, who were innocently hanging out in front of the store smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee at the time, were blamed. Thus began the unholy relationship between car salesmen and keys.

Keys are the bane of a car man’s existence. They seem to disappear without rhyme or reason, sometimes only to reappear at a later date usually after the customer has taken delivery of his new car. Why this happens is a mystery. I believe it’s something that should be investigated by paranormal investigators as possible proof of the devil.

Car keys have an almost Zen-like ability to screw with your mind. They seem fiendishly determined to get car men in trouble. Sometimes they will jump into your pocket so they can spend the night at your place. Sometimes you will find the key to one car sitting on the seat of another car. How the hell did it get there?

Keys are a better example of the force of gravity then Newton’s apple. If given a chance to fall to the ground they will—usually without the slightest provocation—and scamper underneath another car to hide.

Something should be done about keys. They are sneaking little shits. Years ago, when car dealerships routinely opened up every car every day, the rule was you had to lock them up each night with a key. That way all the keys would be accounted for. Those damn keys would sometimes play head games with you. They’d hide somewhere, snickering, as the sales manager threatened to call a locksmith, and all the salesmen would have to stay until a copy was made of the missing sucker, no matter how long it took!

Many car dealers have thought up ingenious plans to keep track of keys. They are kept on orderly keyboards so they can be accounted for. Kind of like when the jailer takes a head count each day. One Sunday afternoon, I was in the back of the lot showing trucks. I had the keyboard firmly in my hand. There would be no escapes on my watch. When I was finished with the customers I went to put the keyboard away, and the place was locked up. I had to take them all home for the night! At first I blamed this fiasco on lazy managers, but the more I thought about it, the more I believed I had gotten myself involved in some mass key breakout attempt.

One popular method of keeping car keys safe are lock boxes affixed to the windows of each car. Each key is placed in there like a prisoner in solitary until a salesman lets it out for exercise. Of course sometimes when you open the lock box, the key isn’t there. Clever, they are. Occasionally the entire lock box goes missing, skipping town on a dealer trade or hiding in the car for reasons unknown to car men. Sadly, sometimes the lock box keys themselves revolt against the treatment of their brethren, leaving the car men to face an angry dealer who for some reason thinks it’s their fault!

I tell you never trust a key. They are ungrateful and disloyal. They will break your heart if you let them. It’s a lesson every car man bitterly learns. It’s one of the reasons this job can be so damn tough.

Talk to you later,


Christmas Wishes

My Christmas wishes for you are as follows:

May all your ups be big dummies with a way to go.

May the line-pluggers find your front line full.

May all those who park in Laydown Lane have good credit.

May the fireman and real estate agents decide to stroke someone else.

May the Mexicans forget their math and just buy the damn thing.

May the propeller heads decide that asking for a discount is beneath them.

May all your sales managers go in and close the deal themselves if you get stuck.

May the dealer decide that he doesn’t give a flying leap about CSI.

May all the office ladies be young and single with questionable morals.

May you all have the gift of the “Three D’s”: a demo, a draw and a day off.

May they call off those freaking Friday morning sales meetings!

May you never have to stand guard at the front entrance of a Mouse House on a cold and rainy afternoon.

May the customers ask you if tipping is okay.

May your lot be closed on Sundays.

May all your Corvette ups either buy or explode.

May all your new car ups switch to used cars.

May your closer say, “Hey, its 3:00, why don’t you take off and enjoy the rest of the day!”

May you always have the car you need in inventory.

May the finance manager hang all your deals.

May you make enough to support your family.

May all of you dear readers have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Talk to you later,


I'm Not Ready For A Mini-Van!

Any salesman who sells SUVs for a living has run into people, usually women, whose reasons for buying the behemoth are suspect. Not that this is any of our business. Our job is to sell them the sled. But sometimes in the course of helping people, you realize that the SUV is not going to work deal-wise. The people tell you they have a grand down and only want to pay $400 per month. This does not compute on a $50,000 Suburban.

When faced with the possibility of losing a sale, a salesman thinks in terms of alternatives. You’ve already tried to show them a more affordable used Suburban so you might have a chance at making a decent commission, but they won’t bite. “We want a new one!” the wife whines. You then go to Plan B and suggest a new mini-van. It’s perfect for their needs.

The wife looks at you with horror. “I’m not ready for a mini-van!” she says adamantly.

You shake your head. She’s got three kids and one in the oven, and she’s not ready for a mini-van? If not now, when? She’s not going to tow anything; she never goes four wheel driving. What the hell does she need a Suburban for?

“I want to sit up high,” she tells you.

You want to spend $700 per month so that you can sit up high? Are you freaking crazy?

Why this obsession with SUV’s? I’ve done some serious thinking about it, and here is what I figured out. Back in 1984, I was selling Plymouths. When the Plymouth Voyager hit the market it, along with its counterpart the Dodge Caravan, they were the hottest things going. Young mother’s came in droves dragging their reluctant husbands behind them in frenzy to purchase the perfect solution for their growing family. They were the SUV’s of their day, and from the moment the mini-van was introduced, you couldn’t sell a traditional station wagon to save your life.

These women had grown up in the 60’s and 70’s with mothers who drove Ford Country Squire Wagons. They associated the act of driving a station wagon as a sign of fading youth. They didn’t want a wagon because their mother’s drove wagons. They wanted one of those oh-so-cute mini-vans—with the fake wood paneling on the side.

Just like mom’s Country Squire.

So, the next generation of woman grew up with mothers who drove mini-vans, and when these women grew up they sure as hell weren’t going to buy a mini-van. Hell no! They didn’t want to be like their mothers. Hence the spectacularly idiotic run of SUV sales in the late 90’s and early 2000’s until the fad finally hit the brick wall of high gas prices.

(Ironically, if you look at the configuration of a two-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban what do you have? A V8 rear-wheel-drive---station wagon; the same set up as grandma’s Country Squire!)

I have a firm belief that most of the people you sell cars and trucks to are (How do I say this politely?)—stupid. It’s great when you can use this stupidity to your advantage, but sometimes you can’t. Reason is something they don’t want to listen to. They want to sit up high! So what do you do? Slam them into that Suburban.

What do you care if they can’t make that $700 payment?

Talk to you later,


A Big Dummy With A Way To Go

My Friend Steve turned me on to the phrase, “I’m just looking for a big dummy with a way to go.” This expression incorporates all the things that a salesman hopes for, a way to make a nice lick on a car. These deals are also called “rent makers”. They are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Now I know that The Others are horrified with the prospect of a car salesman making some money, but let me say this: Believe it or not the happiest, most satisfied customer you can have is the guy you made a big commission on. Not only is he happy, he tends to have the best luck with a car. Maybe every other Dodge Stratus is a piece of crap; his runs like a dream and will continue to do so for the next 150,000 miles.

Mooches, on the other hand, are never happy. They stole that new Honda Accord. The salesman made a $75 mini, and he’d prefer never to see the propeller head again. They drive the service department crazy, and give you a bad CSI* report. And for some reason their car happens to be the worst Accord ever built.

The Car God frowns on low grosses.

“Bullshit,” you non-believers say. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but for the most part what I say is true, and every car man out there will back me up on this.

The big myth of this business, propagated by sales trainers and factor reps, is that we should all strive to make every customer happy. I say you don’t have to make everyone happy. Ten or twelve each month is usually enough! As for the rest of them. . .

Don’t get me wrong. Every customer should be approached in a professional, cheerful manner, but they should be given a short leash. As a manager I once worked for who was Chinese used to say, “The salesman should always be the honorable host, but the customer has the obligation to be a respectful guest.”

So, we all need a couple of big dummies with a way to go each month. These guys supply the grease that keeps the car man running properly and prevents him from going postal on some innocent bystander.

Talk to you later,


*For any of The Others who may be reading, CSI does not stand for Crime Scene Investigation even though murder is sometimes called for. It stands for Customer Satisfaction Index.

Car Language

Ever notice that the more expensive the car, the more the idiot driving onto your lot thinks he has a right to park it anywhere he wants? I guess if you’re driving a big Mercedes or BMW that gives you the right to use as many parking spaces it requires to protect your self-image on wheels. Honestly, when you see this happening, don’t you ever want to go out there and kill the people? Well, since that solution might put a “doesn’t play well with others” notation in your employee file, it’s probably not a good idea.

Car language is an overlooked part of a car salesman’s training. This is because I’m probably the only one who notices this crap, and I’m not qualified to train a dog much less another salesman. But if you look closely at the cars entering your lot, I suspect you might notice it too.

Most dealerships have certain areas that attract a certain types of buyers to park there. I’m not talking about your established customer parking area where most of the mooches park their $500 cars. I’m talking about the other nooks and crannies that certain people are compelled to seek out. I have given names to some these people and places. Let me share them with you and see if they fit where you work.

Line Pluggers. A line plugger is a customer who is drawn to park in any empty hole in your line. My favorite is the guy who shoves his old Subaru in the hole in the front line you neglected to fill, but he will park in any empty spot he can find. Over the years, I have found that the vast majority of line pluggers are liberals or as I like to call them, propeller heads. As I have previously written, these people don’t care about you or your business, so finding an appropriate place to park doesn’t interest them. You have a very slim chance of selling a line plugger a car. They are usually dumber than a bag of hammers.

Asshole Alley. Asshole Alley is a spot where no one in their right mind should park. They will park in a red zone, next to a fireplug, a place that blocks an entrance and in some cases, parking spots set aside for the disabled. These people are usually drive expensive vehicles and usually have severe personality disorders. They are generally really hard to control and are itching for some time of confrontation.

Firemen and real estate brokers love to park in asshole alley.

Laydown Lane. People who park as far a way from your customer parking area and walk in are usually either complete laydowns or have severely bad credit (or both). If it’s the former, they are the best ups you can have. Visions of a five-pounder dance in a salesman’s mind. But jubilation can quickly turn to disappointment when you discover their FICO score is 492.

I worked for many years at a dealership where it was possible for a customer to circle the entire lot. The car would enter the driveway, turn right, head down the used car lot, turn left and circle around the shop eventually emerging on the side of the showroom where he would either park or continue on his way back out to the street.

After watching this happen for a number of years, I noticed that not all people circled the lot. Some people would drive around the corner then stop, too timid to continue. They would either leave the lot from the same way they came, or park in Laydown Lane.

If a customer orbits your lot more than once, it is called a “John Glenn” after the famous astronaut who first circled the earth three times. Some customers also like to stop their cars in the middle of the lot, and exit their vehicle for a quick peek at your inventory. They will always leave the car running and the doors open for a quick getaway. This procedure is called a “Moon Walk”.

So, how’s your car language? Check out your lot. Do you have an Asshole Alley or a Laydown Lane? I’ll bet you a write up spiff you do.

Talk to you later,


My Bad Attitude

Many years ago a manager told me I had a bad attitude. I replied, “Just because you think I have a bad attitude doesn’t mean I have one. That’s just your opinion.” Now how’s that for being a smart ass?

All my adult life I have been plagued by the urge to be sarcastic. I have to suppress the urge to say something stupid several times a day. My mouth, which can be quite effective in a closing booth, has gotten me in trouble numerous times, and it has spoiled at least one friendship. Is this just a personality quirk, or is it a sign of a truly bad attitude?

The line between a bad attitude and a realistic outlook on life is a fine one. In spite of my vocal miscalculations, I think I have a fairly firm grip on reality. It’s just that this business can beat you down if your not careful. The Others like to complain that we are intent on ripping them off, even though every car man I’ve ever known was just trying to earn a living. From our standpoint it’s The Others that are trying to rip us off! That’s why there’s such a gulf between car people and everyone else.

A guy once told me a great truth. He said, “David, if the car business was easy, housewives would be doing it part-time.” Ain’t that the truth! People see us standing around and assume we are lazy, but we’re just like a swat team ready to jump into action when action is called for. The bottom line is that we are continually getting beat up by people—emotionally and financially. That’s what makes what we do so tough.

I am 58 years old today. I started in the business when I was eighteen, detailing cars, doing dealer trades, handing out brochures when the dealership was closed on Sundays. I started selling on October 20, 1970 a couple of months shy of my 21st birthday. It’s been a long, nasty haul.

Maybe I have earned the right to have a bad attitude, but I don’t think of it as bad. I think of it as being realistic. My attitude may have restricted me from being a great salesman or a great sales manager, but be sure of this: I speak the truth. I know how this all works, its great joys, its great sorrows.

I am a car man and proud of it.

Talk to you later,


Stolen Car Tales

We were all standing around doing what Car Men do best: bullshitting, smoking cigarettes, and drinking coffee, when we heard the sound of sirens. Curious, we moved toward the front of the store that faced Mission Boulevard to see what was going on. As the sirens neared, a car flew by us, a brand new red Nissan 240SX with orange Hayward Nissan happy tags in the license plate area. Seconds later, the first of four cop cars followed in hot pursuit.

There was silence for a moment, and then someone said, “Hey, wasn’t that one of ours?” It was then we noticed the hole in the second line where the SX in question had been parked the night before. Someone had stolen our car, and as we would later find out used it as a getaway car after robbing a bank.

Every Car Man has his favorite stolen car memories. Here are a few more of mine.

We had a new Nissan Maxima stolen. Somehow, the thief managed to get a hold of the keys and during the night drove it over the landscaping, the curb, and was gone. The car was missing nearly a month when we got a call from the police department. It seems that the thief was a student at the local junior college. One day he illegally parked the car in the parking lot of a movie theater across the street from the campus. It was towed to a city impound lot.

Believe it or not the car thief went down to the impound lot and tried to claim it; arguably one of the dumbest car thieves of all time! It reminds me of a line from “Good Morning Judge” a song from the 70’s rock group 10CC. “Saw a car but couldn’t pay/fell in love so I drove it away”.

All Car Men know that one of the most dangerous things he can do is go on a demonstration drive. A wag once noted that a successful test drive is one where they do not find you dead in the trunk. The car dealerships along Hayward’s auto row are particularly enticing for a car thieves. They are located at the base of a steep hill that runs up to the state university. The looping road goes up the hill and around the campus. During my days working in Hayward it was a favorite place for customers to drive a car, especially on the weekends when the commuter college was mostly empty. It was also a favorite place for car thieves to highjack cars. More than one Car Man found himself facing the wrong end of a gun in one of the lonely parking lots on a Saturday afternoon. In the days before cell phones the thief had plenty of time to make his getaway before his deed could be reported to the police. Though it never happened to me, I know of at least three instances where Car Men (and one Car Lady) were put in peril.

When I was a deskman, one of my green pea salesmen went out on a demo ride with a guy in a used VW bus. They got a couple of blocks down the street when customer told the salesman he was really thirsty and pulled into the parking lot of a 7-11. He told the salesmen if he went in and got him a Coke, he would buy one for him too. Well, you know Car Men, always amiable to a free drink, and I suppose you can guess what the kid discovered when he came out of the store, but there was a little wrinkle.

Said green pea was too ashamed to tell the police that he had been snookered out of the car, so he invented a rather elaborate tale about a gun and threats. The cops became suspicious of his rambling story and later charged him with filing a false police report.

Goodbye green pea.

My favorite stolen car story unfortunately happened to me. The car was not stolen at gunpoint thank God; it was a case of fraud. Our dealership was located near a naval station. A young sailor went to his credit union and managed to get a pre-approval letter for an auto loan. He came to us interested in purchasing a new Nissan Sentra, a basic one with no extras. When the deal hit the desk, I called the credit union and verified that the guy was indeed approved for a car. With this information, I gave the sailor a purchase order and rolled him. What I did not know was that he had used the same letter earlier in the day at another dealership. The idiot bought two cars with one approval! The first dealership’s deal hit the credit union first and was funded, mine did not.

Poor me.

The dealer (my brother, Danny) was upset about this, of course, but he did admit that procedurally I had done nothing wrong. But I rolled the car. It was my responsibility. We started to investigate. Apparently the sailor had just been honorably discharged from the Navy. How he had gotten approved for a car loan remains a mystery to me.

I took a very large salesman with me, and we went to his apartment. He had moved out. After calling his references, we discovered that he had given the first car to his girlfriend, and had left town with ours. No one knew where he had gone until . . .

About ten days later I received a call from a Nissan dealer in New York City. Our customer had apparently walked into the sales manager’s office at Manhattan Nissan, handed him the keys to our car and calmly said, “This belongs to Hayward Nissan.” He turned and walked away, never to be seen again. I guess he just needed a ride to New York!

I was in California; the Sentra was in New York. What the hell do I do? I first tried to see if I could sell the car to the dealer. “It’s a stick shift,” he said. “You can’t sell a stick shift car in New York City.” Made sense, I guess.

Danny suggested that I get on an airplane and drive it back. He seemed to think it was a fitting punishment since I had rolled the car. It was the middle of summer. The car had no air, no radio. Did not sound like fun to me.

Then out of the blue I received another call from the manager at Manhattan Nissan. It turned out he had a car stolen too, and it was found in L.A. He had a proposition: he would send a driver out with our car. If we paid for his gas and a plane ticket to L.A., we would be even.

I jumped on this, of course, not believing my luck. The deal was made, and three days later our Sentra pulled into the lot. Three days? The driver must have driven eighteen hours a day! He was dressed in his Manhattan Nissan work uniform, looking as if he had just pulled the car out of a service department. There was something surreal about it. The only thing in the car was a bottle of window cleaner and some paper towels. He had crossed the country in mid-summer without even a radio. What did he do to pass the time, hum?

I examined the car, fearing the worse, but the Sentra was undamaged, though it now had 6500 miles on it. Danny came out, looked at the car, and shook his head. I knew I had successfully dodged a bullet.

I cleaned up the car. All the expenses related to its recovery were charged to it. I put it in the showroom and put a spiff on it. A couple of days later we sold it—and actually made a small profit!

The Car God had shined on me.

Talk to you later,


The Apache Appraisal

I wish I could have met the Car Man who coined the phrase, “Apache appraisal”, but that was long before my time. The saying brings a stirring image to your mind: a handsome Indian brave standing high atop a hill, one hand held stoutly over his brow to shield his steely eyes from the glaring morning sun as he searches for distant buffalo. But in the world of a Car Man it is used to describe a manager who is too lazy to get off his ass. Instead, he raises a hand to shield his bloodshot eyes from the sun glaring through his office window to put a number on your distant trade-in. This is the Apache appraisal.

All Car Men have experienced the anxiety of having a manager appraise his precious trade-in without even going out to look at it. If the car is a piece of crap, this can work to your advantage, but more often than not, an Apache appraisal does nothing but cost you money. Your manager might be stupid, but he is not a moron (at least not normally), so the number he comes up with is usually lower than the sled is actually be worth.

True, an Apache appraisal on an old car leaning to one side might not be too bad a thing, but what if it is a three-year-old car? Who in their right mind would assign a value to a trade-in when he has neither given it a good look nor driven it around the block to see if all the gears work? The answer, unfortunately, is a lot of managers. Over the years, the Apache appraisal has cost me money, but let me tell you a little story about how I once got my revenge...

Al Gracier wore many different hats at Elmhurst Ford. You might remember Al as the manager who busted me for being the early worm that caught the worm. One hat he wore was that of used car manager. All and all Al was a great Car Man, but sometimes he suffered from the same glue-on-the-butt syndrome that many managers are prone to contract once they get used to the idea that they do not have to hustle for customers on the lot anymore.

At Elmhurst Ford, the used car lot was across a side street from the dealership. There was only one way in, so if you pulled a car over to Al’s office for an appraisal the driver’s side faced his window. Al was not dumb enough to do an Apache on a late model trade, but if it were an older car he would rarely go out and look at it closely. Not only that, he would not even let you tell him anything about the vehicle’s merits. He was not interested in your opinions or sales pitch. He would glance at the car and quickly write down a number, a total investment of about sixty seconds of his time.

One day I was working a particularly difficult deal. Getting the maximum dollar amount out of the old trade-in was critical for me to have enough down payment money for a roll. Unfortunately, the trade had a big bang on the driver’s side front door, and I knew that if I drove it straight over to Al’s office with the damage in plain sight, it would cost me dearly. So, I very carefully backed the car onto the lot so that the passenger’s side of the car, the TV side as we call it, faced his office.

I walked into the office. Al was busy at his desk. He had not noticed my parking maneuver. To cover my ass I said, “Al, I’ve got to tell you something about this car.”

All looked up and glared at me. “I don’t want to hear it,” he said. He looked out at the trade-in, wrote $500 on the appraisal form, and sent me on my way.

I was one happy son-of-a-bitch.

I backed the trade off the lot and parked it so he would not see it again until after I made my deal. Even after I rolled the new car, I waited until Al went to lunch. When I was sure he was gone, I backed the trade into a slot on the side of his office and put the keys on his desk. Mission accomplished.

A half-hour later, Al was back. I kept an eye on him from the showroom across the street. Eventually he emerged from of his office to examine the trade. When he reached the damaged door I saw him shake his head in disgust. At this point I started to panic. Hell, covered ass or not, I might be in serious trouble!

Al started across the street. I stood protectively on the other side of a Ford LTD sitting on the showroom floor just in case things got violent. He walked in, but instead of lunging at me, he continued toward the sales office. As he walked passed, he glanced over and said, “You got me!”

Sometimes life can be good.

Talk to you later,


Mouse House

Back in the days before credit cards, when a big car payment was anything over $100, there was a curious car business institution known as the Mouse House. Mouse House is a slang term for a finance company. I have no idea where the name came from; sure wish I did. Household Finance Company (HFC) and Beneficial Finance are examples of Mouse Houses, but there were many, many more.

Car dealerships used Mouse Houses to get down payment money for customers. (There were no such things as 100% loans in those days!) Car men called these loans “mouse loans”. To “mouse” somebody meant you set up a loan for them. Funny, heh?

Mouse loans were secured by the borrower’s furniture, or “sticks” as they were called. You moused somebody and tied up their sticks, it was said. I remember wondering if they actually repoed someone’s furniture if they defaulted, and I guess that’s exactly what they did.

Mouse loans were touchy. First you had to sell the idea to the down payment deprived buyer. This meant that when the desk gave you a pencil, there’d be two payments on it. The car might be $86 per month for 36 months, and the mouse loan might be $32 for 18 months. The two loans together were pretty high for those times. It was the salesman’s job to convince Billy and Betty Buyer that the almost impossible payment of $118 per month was a good deal, because it was for only half the time of the loan. After 18 months, the payment would go down to a more affordable $86 bucks. This was sometimes not an easy task, especially for a green pea like me.

While the deal was working, the finance manager would call the mouse loan in for approval. If he got it done, and if the salesman closed the customer on the idea, then the fun began.

In those days the sales managers wouldn’t let a customer loose to do anything alone except to go to the bathroom--maybe. So if the mouse loan was approved, the salesman would have to take the customer downtown to the finance company to sign up. The loan wasn’t really done until the customer spoke to the loan officer. Something could go wrong. So you had to coach the customer on what to say and what not to say. For example, you might suggest to the customer that he exaggerate the quantity and quality of their sticks.

I hadn’t been selling cars for too long when secondary loans like this were made illegal. So by about 1972 or so the Mouse House era was over. Or was it? A lot of customers still didn’t have money for a down payment, and the Mouse Houses were still interested in loaning money, so an unholy alliance was set up.

You see it wasn’t illegal for the customer, on his own, to go down and borrow some money. And if he took out a loan, the proceeds could be used for any purpose he chose. So when you were working a deal you still sold the concept of two payments. If the customer agreed, the finance manager would call the Mouse House, give them the heads up, and we’d send the customer down there to apply for a loan.

As a green pea, I still had to go with the customer. No sales manager in his right mind would let the people wander down to the Mouse House by themselves. But when you got there, you couldn’t go in with the customer. Technically, it was illegal for you to even be there, and the loan people were very nervous about that. Instead, you’d have to stand guard outside the front door and wait.

I have a memory of myself, age 21 or so. I’m standing in front of the local HFC office on the corner of “C” street and Foothill Boulevard in Hayward, California. It’s the middle of winter. It’s cold and raining. There is a small overhang over the entrance, and I’m huddled underneath it waiting. . . Those days are gone, of course. In the modern world, there is no longer any need for a Mouse House--

--but every once in a while I really get an urge to mouse somebody.

Talk to you later,


Vampires and America's Favorite Pastime

It is a common misconception that vampires only come out at night. This myth has been propagated by popular fiction for decades, but Car Men know from personal experience that vampires can come out anytime, especially on a Saturday around noon. There you will find them gathering at their favorite feeding place, a new car dealership, searching for their favorite prey, a gullible salesman.

Vampires come from all walks of life, from snooty college professor types to the working class stiffs with faded NASCAR stickers on their trade-ins. The professor has done his on-line research, read his well-worn copy of Consumer Reports, and is ready to “go out into the field” to do some serious stroking. The NASCAR guy does not know how to get on the Internet. He just saw the pictures of the new Mustang in the latest issue of “Car and Driver” down at the tattoo parlor and wants to put the pedal to the metal.

Vampires are not particular about whom they suck the blood out of, but green peas are a favorite target. They are young, naïve, and have a lot of product knowledge that they are more than willing to give away. Whether it is a green pea or a seasoned pro a vampire has this uncanny ability to exploit the salesman for everything he knows without buying the car from him.

Protecting yourself from vampires can be tricky. First you have to recognize them. They are very good at disguising their intent; lulling you into believing you might actually have a sale. They feign ignorance about the vehicle of their interest and want you to tell them all you know about the product.

They will suck the energy right out of you and ruin your day.

Why do they do it? Well to put in bluntly: THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU! They do not care about the time and effort you put in to make them an informed buyer, it’s price and only price that really interests them. So the Car Man who spends two hours of his life helping them out gets the same chance at a commission as the glorified clerk who just quotes a price over the Internet. Oh how they like that Internet shit! It makes them feel like their screwing somebody, and boy do they like that feeling!

A sales manager reading this might say that if a salesman does his job properly he will get the sale, and frankly he is right in most cases. If a Car Man does a professional job he will either get the sale or recognize a vampire early on in the process and broom the asshole off the lot before he can do too much damage. But sales managers can be a heartless bunch. They want you to go full bore on everyone you speak to. They have either forgotten or fail to understand the effects of a vampire once they get their fangs into a Car Man.

No salesman who has not been snorting something has the energy to do more than two or three proper presentations in a given day. You have to protect yourself, especially as you get older. If you exert too much energy on the noontime vamp, you may have nothing left in the tank for the real buyer at four o’clock.

Vampires are a treacherous breed: selfish, self-centered. They do not care about anything except the object of their automotive desires, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. So what is a Car Man to do? Murder is usually out of the question, but it is fun to think about.

Over the years I have developed a trick when dealing with them. I give them a brief presentation about the car then bring out the automotive equivalent to holy water: a closing question. I ask them to buy.

“Ahh!” they scream. “I’m melting! I’m melting! Oh, what a world!”

Well perhaps I exaggerate, but you can definitely see them squirm. If they do not bolt immediately, you can then proceed with more fun-filled facts about the car before asking them to buy again—this time a little more forcefully.

Car Men have to be wary of The Others and their intentions because figuring out ways to screw us is America’s favorite pastime. The Others are raised to believe that all businesses have the right to make a profit except oil companies and car dealerships. This belief is handed down from one generation to another for reasons I do not think even they understand. It is as part of our society as teaching your daughter to cook or tossing a football with your son. Any Car Man can tell you stories of customers out on expeditions to teach their young how to buy a car. It works roughly the same as a lion teaching her cub to hunt. They come prowling your lot in the hopes of catching fresh meat. Unfortunately the fresh meat is you.

I cannot deny that over the years there has been considerable hanky-panky at our end, especially in the days before CSI, the dreaded Customer Satisfaction Index. Some Car Men are sharks and you have to be careful when swimming with them, but for the most part we tend to treat The Others they way they treat us. If we feel you are open to letting us earn a little money we are less likely to hit you with both barrels from the automotive shotgun.

There are significant negative side effects from the activities of the vampires and the hunters. It has to do with an old Car Man expression, P.P.M.P., an acronym for Poor People Must Pay. Its primarily meaning refers to people with horrible credit having to pay though the nose to buy a car. That is just a fact of life. If you live a screwed-up credit life you will pay, pay and pay.

But there is also a darker meaning. It is a simple fact that someone has to pay to keep a dealership’s doors open. Car dealers cannot survive if they are selling all their cars and trucks at invoice or below. So those who make it their life’s mission to get the absolute lowest price on a car make it necessary for those not as sharp as them to pay significantly more for theirs. As it turns out vampires suck on more than just the blood of Car Men! I have always found it ironic that the educated people of this country, so sensitive to the plight of their fellow man yet so bound and determined to screw a Car Man, make it harder for the average Joe to get a deal.

I suppose the war between Car Men and The Others will continue unabated forever. They will launch salvos of Consumer’s Reports, computer printouts, and Edmonds Guides at us. We will fight them off as best we can use the time-tested methods that are our heritage.

A customer once told me that he had made many a car salesman miserable. “No one has ever made any money on me!” he boasted. He said this with a smirk on his face that made my blood run cold. I wanted to inform him that he could not stand a chance against a professional Car Man. A real Car Man is so good at his craft that most of the time the customer does not even know what hit him. I did not say this, of course. Why bother?

All I know is later that day he drove off in a very nice used Chevy Suburban I sold him. As he drove over the curb I had to smile. He did not know it of course, but he had just joined what I like to call the Golden Circle. It is a club I have for the customers that I have made a commission of $1000 or more.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Here is a fascinating fact: It is common knowledge among Car Men that the happiest customers are the ones who paid the most money for their cars. I swear this is true. Those who mooch on a car deal are rarely satisfied and for some reason have the most problems (or at least perceived problems) with their vehicles down the road. What is that all about? What goes around comes around!

Talk to you later,


Unchartered Waters

After writing my last post, I woke up in the middle of the night with two things on my mind. First, I had misspelled the word canon. I had typed cannon. Two, it occurred to me that I am probably the first person in the history of the automobile business to write something about Mexican Math.

This means, my friends that this blog is in uncharted waters. I don’t think many people have ever written about the business as it really is. I believe all the things that have been written up to now have been the complete bullshit view, spewed out by so-called “sales trainers” to appease the consciences of dealer principals.

What does this all mean? Hell, I don’t know. There are probably about five people reading this thing and at least one of them is a relative. Hopefully that may change if you dear readers will spread the word.

What do I want to happen with this blog? Honestly, I never gave it a lot of thought until a friend of mine suggested I ought to try to market it. Maybe I’d get a column in a car magazine, she suggested. First of all, The Others would not make heads or tails of what I write about. And car magazines? Please! Gear heads do not like to be referred to as idiots, which is exactly what they happen to be. Not that I pass judgment on people.

As a failed writer with a plethora of rejection slips to my credit, I have soothed my hurt literary feelings by reminding myself that the rewards of writing is in the act of writing itself. Thinking otherwise, unless you are really talented and really lucky, brings nothing but heartache.

So my only concern is that I can continue to come up with things to write about. When I started the blog, the ideas I have been thinking about for all these years came rushing out, but now they are slowing a little. All writers fear that the well will run dry. So if you have any suggestions, I’d appreciate it. Write to me at

Happy holidays to all of you. May all your ups be big dummies with a way to go!

Talk to you later,


Mexican Math

Any salesman who’s been around for a while has run into the phenomenon known as Mexican Math. It occurs during that critical time of a deal when you get your first pencil from the desk, usually a monthly payment.

You go back to the customer, Mr. Garcia, a nice gentleman in a cowboy hat that has been pretty cooperative up until now. You sit at the desk, turn the write-up sheet around so that he can see the heavy black numbers which say: O.K. deal, $2000 down, $422 X 72 mos. O.A.C.

You then shut up and hope for the best.

Now if you’re dealing with any other nationality, one of two things is going to happen. The customer will either say okay, or “Are you crazy. I can’t afford that!” Now we all hope for the customer will say okay, and even if he doesn’t say okay you can probably deal with the second situation with little good ‘ol would-you-take.

But Mexican’s (and most other Hispanics) do something that no one else ever does. He slides the write-up closer, brings out a pen and starts to multiply $422 X 72 = $30384.

Your deal is now officially dead.

Now I got to hand it to them, because if you think about it, it’s probably not a bad ideal to figure out that the $21,000 loan has $9384 worth of interest. But it’s interesting that Caucasians almost never do this; they’re too anxious to get in their new chariot and drive away with the wind blowing in their hair.

Other nationalities are just thankful they can get financed.

Now I’ve tried all kinds of ways of overcoming Mexican Math. None of them have worked for me. Once they see what the car is actually costing them, you’re done! Mr. Garcia will never pay $9,384 worth of interest, but weirdly enough he might offer you $5000! Many a car man has gone home wounded, another victim of a Mexican who can multiply.

There is one way that works sometimes. It’s called zero percent financing. Sometimes Mexicans get so fixated by interest; they are more than willing to give up a rebate to get zero percent. But that means you have to sell a new car. Yeach!

I am currently in the sub-prime end of the car business, aka flakes. When dealing with a Mexican, once I determine they have some sort of driver’s license, I, too, have to deal with Mexican math. But in this situation I have the hammer. I can tell them to take it or leave it. They usually go for having the car.

My question is this: where do they learn this? Is there a special Mexican Math course they take at school, nuzzled in between Algebra and Geometry? Is it a skill handed down from generation to generation? Is there a secret canon in the Catholic Church in Mexico that commands them to do this?

Before go to that big used car lot in the sky, I would really, really like to know.

Talk to you later,