Confessions of a Car Man



I miss wind-wings. You know the rectangular front side windows that graced the front of most cars until about twenty-five years ago. In my opinion, cars went down hill when they took those handy suckers away from us. If I had my way we’d boycott new cars until they bring them back.

Wind wings were convenient little suckers. Opened a crack, they were a great way to get a little air in a car. They were the first air conditioners. Twisted all the way out, they could bring in a fresh gust of outside air. The faster you drove, the better they worked.

Wind wings were perfect for flicking cigarette ashes, deposing chewing gum, a balled up straw wrapper and an occasional bugger. As they aged they made delightful whistling sounds just to let you know they were still there. They did their job perfectly and without complaint. I don’t recall a wind wing ever being recalled. Why, oh why did they take them from us?

I feel the same way about three-speed, column shift manual transmissions, commonly referred to as “three-on-a-tree”. I’m proud to admit that I’ve been around long enough to have sold these mechanical wonders on brand new cars. Ford Mavericks, they were. The Maverick was the last purely practical car the Ford Motor Company ever made. And three-on-a tree gave them a quaintness that has held them near to my heart even after all these years.

One item they have on modern cars that have revolutionized our society is cup holders. Introduced in the early eighties, they were an instant hit. So much so that it became hard to sell cars that didn’t have them. A car with wind wings, three-on-a-tree and cup holders would be an unbeatable combination in my book.

Another great invention was a fader control for car radios. Even in the days of AM-only a rear speaker with a fader control made you feel like you were one step away from High Fidelity. I became absolutely giddy the first time I encountered one. They were the great-grandfathers of the audio systems we enjoy today.

Last, but not least, we have the case of full-size spare tires. Now, I understand why they were taken from us. With the advent of radials, tires were no longer rotated tires the way you used to, and they were heavy suckers. Back in the 70’s and 80’s before computers took over the emission control job, Detroit was desperately trying to reduce the weight of cars, throwing off things like heavy spares and wing-wind windows like a guy trying to save a sinking boat.

The public hated the idea of donut spares, especially since the early ones had to be blown up by an air canister. Old white guys, always in the forefront of resistance to change, led the charge of refusing to accept the donuts. It got to the point where you even didn’t open the truck of a car during a presentation unless you had to. For quite a while a donut spare could be a deal killer.

I’d also like to mention running boards, spot lights, and those canvas bags you rigged up to your front bumper just in case you needed a little water on a road trip. I realize that these are things would serve no practical purpose in modern life other than to remind us that there was once a time when driving was a completely different experience. I grew up straddling both eras, and it’s increasing difficult for me to say which one I prefer.

Such is the life of an old Car Man!

Talk to you later,


The Salesman Of The Moment

When you’re hot, you’re hot; when you’re not, you’re not. When it comes to selling cars, it’s a simple fact of life. Sales trainers say this is not true. They claim you can control your fate by skill and proper work habits. To a certain extent this is true, but in life a lot of things happen in cycles, and nowhere is this truer than in selling cars. Why this is is one of life’s great mysteries right up there with how they built the pyramids and where Chinese people buy their cars. It’s a fact of life, and no sales trainer can explain it away.

Let’s not talk about the “not” part of this equation. It’s a crap out, and I’m not in a crap out mood today. Let’s talk about the hot part. That perfect moment in time when you become “The Salesman of The Moment”.

I believe it was my brother, Danny, who coined this expression. He used it to describe a guy who can suddenly do no wrong. Back in the day, car dealerships regularly held “salesmen of the month” contests. If you won you got a spiff and one of those cheesy plaques with the silhouette of a guy in a hat and carrying a briefcase with your name engraved below it. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about those magic times when you get hot and everything you touch turns into a car deal. That’s what makes you “The Salesmen of The Moment”.

Everyone experiences this automotive equivalent to luck in a bottle. It happens to the best salesman and can even happen to the worst. Remember, what goes around, comes around, and when it comes around for you it’s the best moment in the world. You feel on fire, alive, and capable of doing just about everything.

Like a baseball player in the zone, the magic moment of being hot is a wonderful thing. Everyone you talk to wants to buy a car. It’s as if you can see hundred dollar bills plastered on their foreheads and all you have to do is pick them off. For a brief period, a day or two or maybe a week, no one is buried in their trade, everyone’s got good credit, and they all need a car today.

I remember one time when I was in the zone. I was selling Datsuns at the time. I delivered four fresh deals in one day. I was like a human sales vacuum cleaner. If you got anywhere near me, you were sucked in. In times like this I used to crow to the guys, “If anyone of you had any common sense, you’d throw me in a car and take me to Reno!”

More importantly than the sales, it’s the feeling you get when you’re suddenly “the guy”. Life becomes clearer; your vision is razor sharp. You’re ready to hit any fastball anyone wants to pitch at you. Girls check you out in bars, dogs want to lick your hand, babies coo at your gaze, and grocery clerks want to give you too much change. It’s the most wonderful feeling this side of being asked out by Penelope Cruz.

Even in down times like now this phenomenon can happen to you. And my advice is that when it happens you savor it and pump it for all you can. For when you look back on your life as a Car Man you can remember that time when the fireman paid nearly full list for that SUV, and you buried a real estate broker in a 66-month lease.

It never gets any better than that!

Talk to you later,


The Blowout Box

I went from working at one dealership for eighteen years to working for seven different dealerships in a four-year period. Why this happened is a story for another time, but my experiences working at so many different places made me develop the concept o the blowout box.

A blowout box doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A medium-size cardboard box from the parts department will do. A box with a top is preferable but not mandatory. Once procured the box should be placed in the salesman’s office under his desk or next to it. There is should remain until called upon.

Related to the blowout box is the concept I refer to as “the five minute rule”. The rule is simple: do not keep anything in your desk or office that cannot be thrown into the blowout box within five minutes. To have more of your stuff around then necessary is stupid and makes you more vulnerable the idiot managers with vengeance on their minds.

Using the blowout box takes two forms. The first form is you’re called into the office and fired. Upon being fired, you should be able to return to your desk, get everything you want to take with you within five minutes, load the blowout box in your car and leave.

(The correct Car Man expression for leaving a dealership is “to launch”. When telling your buddies what happened you say, “I decided to launch” or if you feel the need to be honest, “they launched me.)

The second form of using the box runs along the same lines as the military launching a nuclear missile. There are three stages of crisis: Def Con 1, Def Con 2, and Def Con 3. If things are going bad at the dealership, or something has really, really pissed you off, you go to Def Con 1. In this stage you just verify that the blowout box is there and in a ready mode.

If things escalate to Def Con 2, the box should be moved to its “ready” position and the drawers of your desk should be opened. Letting off a little steam by cursing under your breath and partially filling the box is acceptable, but hopefully you will “stand down” and the items will be returned. Full use of Def Con 2 can be very therapeutic and has the same benefits of a shot of Tequila. Warning: it’s not good to keep a bottle of booze in your desk, unless you are a superstar who can get away with a lot of crap before the first form of a blowout box comes into play.

If things escalate to Def Con 3, all bets are off. Assuming the police haven’t been summoned to either a) escort you from the building or b) take you to jail, the blowout box should be quickly but thoughtfully filled. Said box should be put in the trunk of your car and be brought out again when you find another job.

I had a blowout box behind my desk for eight years. It was used when I found another job.

So if you’re a Car Man a blow-out box is the thing for you. It supplies comfort during times of high stress, and practicality in times of crisis. I repeat: under no circumstances should you have more stuff in your office than can be loaded into the blow-out within five minutes. To do so is foolish and can possibly be embarrassing when you’ve just threatened a manager with his life.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

Talk to you later,


The Pot Lot

I manage a pot lot. For those of The Others who might be reading, a pot lot is a car lot that specializes in older, higher mileage cars. We make our living selling the cars the new car dealers don’t want to screw around with. A car that can be retailed for between $5000 and $6000 is my bread and butter. I sell cars that are more money than that, but no one in this neighbor hood can qualify for a vehicle over $10,000. It’s just a fact of life. Thank God for the Internet!

The average car on my lot is six years old and has about 100,000 miles on it. When I first came here after so many years of working in new car stores, I was a little taken aback. Heck I remember a time when a dealer wouldn’t keep a trade over 70,000 miles on it. Today, if I get a car with 70K on the odometer, I’m a happy bastard!

Working at a pot lot has given me great insight into the quality of both foreign and domestic cars and the selling attributes of both. In the time I’ve been here, I’ve learned a lot, I gotta tell you. I’d like to pass some of my observations on to you.

First let’s get the obvious out of the way. Which would I prefer, a 2000 Chevy Cavalier, or a 2000 Honda Civic? Having both would be cool, but believe it or not if I had to choose, I’d lean toward the Cavalier. It’s no secret that if the mileage on the two cars are the same, chances are the Honda is a better car, but a Honda is more expensive than a Cavalier. At my end of the car business spectrum the more costly the car the harder it is to get financed.

A domestic car’s worthiness largely lies on how well it was taken care of during its years on the road. It can still be pretty serviceable when it has 100,000 miles on it as long as it wasn’t beat up. A beat up Dodge Neon can be the proverbial money pit (thank God for used transmissions!), but a Neon that has experienced a little TLC during its life is still a pretty good car.

Keep in mind that when I sell an older car, it’s not with the intention of telling a customer that this baby will last another ten years. I deal mostly in flakes. Flakes get financed sub-prime. The contracts are rarely longer than 30 months, and we try like hell to keep them at 24. My pitch to the customer who’s looking at that Dodge Neon is this: This car is not destined to last a long time. It is not supposed to be your dream car. The purpose of the car is for it to last you a 2 or 3 years while you hopefully make the payments on time and re-establish your credit. After that, you can get that new Toyota if you want to.

And if they don’t make the payments on time, it’s not my problem.

In this scenario any car will work as long as the deal can be structured correctly. And because American cars can generally be purchased for back of book, it makes them easier to finance. The secret, of course, is to make sure it’s a decent car.

The problem with domestic cars is that they all seem to have inherent problems that their Japanese counterparts do not have. Older American cars have problems with power windows. They fail so often it’s almost predictable. All Dodges have suspect transmissions, and the 2.7 V6 should be avoided if at all possible. General Motor vehicles have clunky steering that is apparently not anything to worry about, but they scare the crap out of the guy trying to by that old Monte Carlo.

And Fords? Well what can you say their Fords? Hold up two fingers in the shape of a cross and hope for the best.

I happen to like Hyundai’s. For some reason, these cars seem to get better with age. A used Elantra with a 100K on it is usually still a pretty tight little ride. Most of the time you can buy them right, and it’s easy to make a sub-prime deal work. Wish I had a lot full of them.

Japanese cars are great, but they attract propeller heads, and I as I’ve ranted many times in the past, these people are just a pain in the ass. A Chevy Cavalier with a 100K on it might be $5000, but a Honda with 100K on it is still $7000 or maybe more. The problem is that propeller heads want the Honda for the Cavalier price.

I don’t get a lot of used Hondas or Toyotas. They go for a lot of money, and are virtually useless in a sub-prime situation because you’re rarely in them right. Give me that old Cavalier. Wobbly steering and broken power window or not, it’s still an easier sell to a flake.

I’ll let you deal with those Honda buyers. I’m too old for that shit.

Talk to you later,


The Voice of Doom

Every dealership has one. He’s the guy who has the attitude of an undertaker on a bad day. He’s the one who seems determined to take the smile off your face and money out of your pocket. He is the Voice of Doom.

For the Voice of Doom, every aspect of the business is a negative, unless of course it’s good for him. The proverbial half a glass of water is always half empty to him. If you don’t believe this, try splitting a deal with the guy. He never gets a half deal. He lost a half deal.

For the Voice of Doom something is always wrong with everything. The store has too much inventory. The inventory is crappy. They’re buried in all the used cars. They’re screwing him on his trade-ins, on recon, on the pack. The managers are incompetent. Everyone is always trying to skate him. I even had a Voice of Doom inform me with syrupy concern in his voice that management was on the verge of firing me. They weren’t.

The Voice of Doom can be deviously clever in his attempts to bury your attitude. He’s like the character Wormtongue in the “Lord of The Rings” movie. He will whisper in your ear and mess up your mind. He will try to destroy your attitude so that when you take your next up you’re too crapped out to make a sale. Why does he do this? Some guys thieve on screwing with people. They’re so obsessed with winning that the prospect of anyone else succeeding is a threat to them.

Of course not all Voices of Doom are maniacs. Some just take that “glass half full” thing to an extreme. They are in a constant look out for threats to their security and feel obligated to pass the information on to you. They’re paranoid to the extreme and can’t conceive of why you’re not too. The weird part about all this (and I truly hate to admit it) is sometimes they’re right. Sometimes the sky actually is falling. Just ask the guys who sell Cadillac Escalades for a living.

A sales manager can also be a Voice of Doom. He can take a Saturday morning sales meeting and turn it into the most depressing thirty minutes of your week. Bound and determined to prove to you that you’re a piece of shit, “Captain Crap Out” feels obligated to ruin your attitude and blame you for it. So much for a productive weekend! The finance manager version of this guy assumes that all customers are guilty until proven guilty or until the buy an extended warranty, whichever occurs first.

As I write this, I’ve started to wonder, am I a Voice of Doom? Let’s face it, many of my writings concentrate on the frustrations of being a Car Man. I will admit to a pretty low opinion and tolerance of “The Others”. By pointing out these things, am I being negative? Has your income dropped significantly since you started reading this blog? Admitting this possibility should somehow worry me, but oddly it does not. I call ‘em as I see ‘em, as the saying goes.

And if it craps you out in the process, well that’s your problem.

Talk to you later,