Confessions of a Car Man


Pulling A Jacobi

I was saddened to hear today that my old friend and fellow Car Man, Ron Jacobi, died recently. I first met Ron back in 1976 when I went to work at Hayward Datsun. We worked together on and off for the next dozen years or so.

I’m not going into a big thing about Ron. You would have to have known him to appreciate him. Suffices to say he was a warm and funny guy and like most Car Men—a little nutty.

Ron had a little quirk. Well, actually he had a lot of quirks, but this is the one I want to tell you about. You would be talking to him about something. The conversation would end and later in the day, or maybe even a couple of days later, he would come up to you and begin talking about the subject right where he left it off without missing a beat.

This was always strange, because for a few seconds you would have no idea what he was talking about. Ron did this all the time. He just assumed that if he knew what he was talking about you should too. And if you stopped to inquire what the hell he was talking about he’d look at you like you were crazy!

Another thing Ron would do: He’d start talking to you the moment he saw you. He might be thirty feet away and you may not even know he’s there, so by the time he got to you he’d be half way through a story, and you wouldn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. He did things like this so often I coined the phrase, “pulling a Jacobi”.

Over the last thirty years I have accused dozens of people of pulling a Jacobi. I’ve done it so often it’s become second nature to me. My mechanic, Tim, does it all the time and each time he does it I say, “You just pulled a Jacobi”. Now the saying has a new meaning for me. It’s kind of a verbal memorial to a great guy.

So the next time someone does something like this to you, try and remember Ron Jacobi. Tell them, “Hey, you just pulled a Jacobi!” You’ll be honoring a great Car Man. A guy you would have honored to call a friend.

Talk to you later,


Throwing An Indian Off The Lot

I threw an Indian off the lot today, and boy, did it feel good! Now just so we have things straight, I’m not talking about a Native American here, I’m talkin’ about a guy wearing a turban with the last name of Singh.

This wasn’t my first encounter with Mr. Singh. A few days back he came in with his brother. I showed him a ’03 Camry that was still in recon. Nice car. He asked me what the price was. I told him $9495. Now my boss happened to pay book for this car. Well, he paid a nickel back, but by the time it hit the lot the new Kelly Bluebook was out and it had taken a substantial hit. The point is I didn’t have a lot of room in the price.

Mr. Singh asked me the question that makes all Car Men’s blood run cold. “What’s your last price?” Now I don’t know about you, but that question makes me consider violence, but for some reason I decided to go along with him for a while. I mean times are tough, right?

“I’m going to put it on the Internet for $8988 plus fees,” I replied. “That’s my “Last Price”. This asshole looked at me and said, “I will give $7000 out the door.”

I turned and without a word walked away.

Four days later. The Camry is on the lot, a propeller head’s dream: saftied, smoged and ready to go. I would soon be bracing myself for the calls from idiots on Craig’s List. And on this bright, December morning who comes back to my lot? Mr. Gurjant Singh, that’s who!

I was thinking to myself, I guess I wasn’t rude enough for this guy. If he’d been an American I wouldn’t have seen him again. But since you can’t seem to be rude enough for an Indian, here he was ready for round two.

Trust me on this. I was patient. Even though I’ve had nearly forty years of dealing with unreasonable Indians, I was willing to give it a shot. He asked me once again how much the car was. $8988 plus the fees, I replied. He pretended like he didn’t hear me and asked again. $8988 plus the fees, I replied. We bantered about this for a period of time. Dumb me; I thought I could reason with the guy. Tell him about the high resale on Toyota’s etc, etc. One thing for certain I wasn’t going to let him drive the car until we got this shit settled.

He seemed to relent a little. He wanted to know how much out the door. He explained he could put $4000 down and his brother would co-sign. I took him into the office, figured out the price on my computer and wrote it down on a piece of paper. The total was $9786.61.

Mr. Singh looked at the figure and wrote down $8500. No, I said. The price was firm. For the sake of not boring you, I won’t go into all the gory details, but over the next two minutes I reiterated that that was the price. “I’m not going to discount it one cent!” I declared. My frustration was growing.

Mr. Singh asked me about another car on the lot, a 06 Elantra. I had a little room in that price, and I gave him the figure, but after thinking about it for a few seconds, he once again declared his love for the Camry and said he’d pay the $8988-- if I paid the taxes.

I flipped out.

“Haven’t you been listening to me, you idiot?” I bellowed. “The price is $8988 God damn dollars plus the fees! That’s the price!” I paused for a second and continued. “You know what? I don’t want to sell you the car, how you like that? As a matter of fact why don’t you get your ass off my lot RIGHT NOW!”

Mr. Singh, who by the way was a pretty big boy over six feet and thirty years my junior, looked really pissed. I was wondering if he was weighing beating the shit out of me against the possibility of being deported. The fear of deportation won out, I guess. He bolted back into his aging Corolla and left.

For the first few seconds I stood there trembling, slightly ashamed of myself for losing control. Then a feeling of euphoria flooded my body as I realized that throwing an Indian off the lot could be a very satisfying experience. It feels a lot better than the ordeal I would have had to go through to get this deal down.

So my advice is if you’re feeling low, nothing beats kicking an Indian off your lot. If an Indian isn’t handy, any foreigner who utters the phrase "Give me your last price." will do. In this I am an equal opportunity kicker-outer.

Talk to you later,


Commission Vouchers

I was rooting around in my wallet searching for a two-for-one coupon for Burger King when I came across an old commission voucher. Years ago I developed a habit of saving the voucher on my largest commission to date and stuffing it in my wallet. When I sold a car that had a higher commission, I would throw the old voucher out and save the new one.

Alas, in my current job there are no commission vouchers. It wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway. It’s hard to make a big pop on a Pot Lot, especially when you’re dealing with severe flakes where you have to discount the paper to get the deal down. So I only have my memories of commissions past to remind me how good things can be sometimes.

For me saving the biggest voucher was a great motivational tool. It was a reminder that there truly were Big Dummies With A Way To Go out there, and every once in a while one would make your day. In a sea of shoppers determined to screw you, you can take heart that making a decent living in this business is still possible.

Now I have never made a huge, ball-buster, call the cops, pop. The voucher in my wallet, from early 1995 is $1915.54 on a used Corvette. Not bad considering it was at 25% of the gross. One thing I have noticed is that most big pops are made quickly. Generally, the longer it takes to get the deal down, the lower the gross.

I remember this particular deal well. It started off as an up call about 6:00 at night. The young lady in questions, Viola, called to inquire about the ‘Vette on the front line. Was it still there? Would you take my Honda in trade? It certainly was, and I certainly would, I replied. By 7:30 she was driving. I was beaming. My fellow salesmen, who were not happy that I’d beaten them to the phone, were not. Oh, well. What goes around comes around.

Driving in to work today I was thinking about vouchers in general. At my old Mother Ship, Shellworth Chevrolet, the vouchers were never wrong, and you hardly ever got a charge back. (I think I got two in eight plus years.) It was nice to know that I was working at a place where the managers were honest and the bookkeeping accurate!

This hasn’t always been the case. I worked at a Chrysler dealer where I used to refer to the vouchers as commission suggestions. It wasn’t unusual for you to get four or five different vouchers on one car. They would go up, then down. Usually down. I figured they changed whenever someone in the office figured out a new way to screw you out of a few bucks.

These variations in commission amounts were usually not a not a lot of money. They were more irritating than anything else. But one time, many years ago, I made a $1500 commission on a car that dwindled down to a mini as the used VW fell apart days after I rolled it. Boy was I pissed!

Technically, (at least here in California, the land of fruit and nuts) it’s not really legal to charge a commission back unless the entire deal falls apart. Once you’re paid, you’re paid. Most salesmen put up with minor charge backs as a necessary part of keeping their job. However I have longed suggested that if you’re working in a place that can only be termed an Evil Empire (a subject for a future entry), you can get your best revenge by keeping the highest voucher you received and your monthly washout statement. When it comes time to launch, you can always go to the labor commissioner and get your money back! Ha!

But remember, before you do anything drastic; make sure you have another job first.

Talk to you later,



Yesterday a customer asked me when the best time to sell a car was. I almost replied, “When there’s a buyer on the lot!” But that wasn’t what he meant, of course. He was wondering if like fishing, there was a predictable time when the ups were biting. Oh, if only I could answer that question!

In my many years in this business I have come to the conclusion that there is no pattern to this business. There is no predictable time when you are more likely to make a sale. You can make some general observations. For example, you usually sell more cars in the summer than the winter, but even that is a tenuous guess at best.

When I started selling cars, Saturdays were always a good day. In those days the dealerships were not open late during the week, so the average working Joe could not make it down to buy his new sled until the weekend. Saturdays could be crazy.

When The Others pass a dealership and see the guys lined up outside, he is seeing further evidence that there is no pattern to this business. If we could magically tell when a buyer was going to show up, we’d be able to spend our down times in a bar as God intended!

Further evidence: My worst month and my best month in this business were both in February. I’ve had good Decembers and bad Decembers. No pattern at all that I can tell. Nor can any overzealous manger or cock-sure sales trainer tell you when the best time is to sell a car. That’s why you have to look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself, “Today is the best day to sell a car!” You have to believe that, because if you don’t you’ll go nuts!

Over the years I have discovered a few clues about buyer’s habits. It’s been my experience that the prime time for selling cars is on an overcast day, the temperature about 60, and no wind. It’s too gloomy for The Others to go outside and work in the yard. It’s kinda cold (at least by California standards) but it’s not too cold. “I’ve got an idea, honey, why don’t we go out and check out new cars!”

Women, especially older women, do not like to come out to the car lot when it’s windy. It screws up their hair. So selling a Buick to an old lady on a windy day is a risky proposition at best. Overcast, slightly cold, no wind; that’s the ticket!

While I’m on the subject of weather, there’s something else I’ve noticed. Any abrupt change in the weather will cause the buyers to stay away. If it starts to rain, they will say to themselves, “I’ll wait until tomorrow when it clears up.” It’s only when the rain lasts for a few days and they’ve gotten used to it that they will ignore the weather. Conversely, if the weather suddenly turns sunny they will do the same thing for a couple of days until the weeds are pulled and the lawns mowed.

It is my hope that technology will eventually come to the rescue of Car Men. For years I’ve touted the idea that someone ought to develop a computer chip that can be easily implanted in the earlobe of The Others that would let us know if they’re buyers. These “go, no go” chips could be activated by a handy device easily clipped onto a car salesman’s belt loop. Aimed at the prospect’s head like a cop with a radar gun, one could easily determine who’s a buyer and who should be beat about the head and shoulders.

I just hope I’m still around when the computer geeks work it out.

Talk to you later,


12 Signs Things Are Not Right At The Dealership

12. Your pens have been replaced with crayons.

11. Grief councilors are on duty in the break room.

10. The shop doors have been removed to prevent carbon monoxide “accidents”.

9. The sales managers are going on dealer trades.

8. The shop is fixing twenty-year-old cars “under warranty”.

7. Your draw check is postdated with the note, “Cash after the bail out.”

6. All the used cars have suddenly disappeared, replaced by portable spas.
5. All the radios are missing from the new cars.

4. The parts department manager is selling radios out of his trunk.

3. All the liners have side jobs at McDonalds.

2. The finance guys are trying to sell extended warranties for $10,000.

1. The dealer is speaking in tongues.

Action '72

One Sunday last fall, my son, Joe, my friend, Tim, and I went to the San Francisco International Car Show. The Sunday trip was actually just an excuse to see how many microbreweries we could hit up without getting arrested. I planned on six, but as it turned out we only had the stamina for four.

While sitting around a table at the Gordon Biersch brewery across from AT&T Park, home of my beloved San Francisco Giants, I started reminiscing about the lavish new car shows Ford Motor Company used to put on for its dealers and salesmen in the city when I was a young and dumb green pea.

What I remember most about these shows was that they were always the same, nearly an identical event each year. It went like this. Everyone would meet early in the morning at the Alhambra Theater on Geary Boulevard. Before the show began we were entertained by a quartet of guys wearing straw hats in long-sleeve white shirts with a garter on one sleeve. The group featured a stand-up bass, guitar and banjo and sang songs that were older than a Model A.

At 9:30 the show would begin. Each year Ford produced a movie to showcase the new models. It was a full scale, wide-screen, Technicolor production. Each year had its own theme. The one I remember best was “Action ‘72” (I still have a souvenir money clip with the words engraved on it.) Film star Leslie Nielson narrated the extravaganza.

“Action ‘72” started off by showing a variety of thrilling sports spectacles: the Kentucky Derby, a Grand Prix auto race, and a hard-hitting NFL game. Very interesting actually until the thrill of the sports gave way to the introduction of the new line of Fords “Hey, get a load of that new Maverick! What a beauty!”

The movie lasted about an hour and a half—about forty-five minutes too long for my tastes—pouring over the exciting details of the new models. When it was over, we were escorted to the front of the theater where chartered buses waited to take us to our ultimate destination, the Fairmont Hotel over on Mason Street. There, Ford Motor Company had taken over a couple of floors to wine and dine the salesmen who would spend the next year trying to take customers into buying one of the new beauties.

Ford would have the exact car you saw in the movie on display in one of the ballrooms. If it was a green Pinto in the movie, they’d have a green Pinto for you to gawk over. The models were presented on rotating displays with sexy models standing beside them fending off the suggestive comments of Car Men who fancied themselves as lady’s men.

After checking out the new cars you were shown into the chandeliered grand ballroom decked out with a hundred tables draped in fine linen. There a chicken lunch was served. The thing I remember most about the lunch is that at the end there would be a trumpet call and the hall would fill with a small army of waiters holding trays up high each containing a dozen flaming deserts. Very classy, very impressive, very

When it was over you were supposed to return to your dealerships full of selling fire for the new models. Ford timed it so that the first batch of the new cars and trucks would be delivered that day. A nice final touch, I thought. But on the night of Action ’72 we did not go home after the lunch with the flaming deserts. Instead we hit the town for some partying.

Now when you’re twenty-one as I was at the time, going out the town with a bunch of older Car Men could be a magical experience. We headed straight to San Francisco’s North Beach, a beautifully crowded Italian neighborhood filled with the sights and sounds only heard in world-class cities. Broadway, which cuts through its heart, was lined with topless bars with blinking neon signs hawking their wares. Each bar had its own persistent barker determined to lure in unsuspecting sailors and wandering Car Men. The side streets were lined with wonderful restaurants, each emitting romantic candlelight and enticing aromas. From the middle of the afternoon until one or two in the morning we owned it. It was like a Car Man’s New Year’s Eve.

I won’t bore you with stories of our carousing—most of which my young, liquored-up mind does not remember, but one memory stands out in my mind. Midway through the evening we went to Ghirardelli square. The former chocolate factory had been transformed into numerous restaurants and shops. My brother Danny’s favorite was a place called The Plantation Steak House. I thought it was the most wonderful restaurant in the world.

We were seated at a large a table, my brother in charge, of course. When the waiter arrived, Danny pulled out his money clip and handed the guy a couple of twenties. (Remember, this was 1972 money!) He asked the amazed waiter to make sure he took care of us. The result: we were treated like kings the entire evening. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Even to this day I look back on that night and wonder how my brother, who’d been raised by the same parents I had, knew so much about the world.

These nights of revelry didn’t last long. I remember only two or three of them before our busy lives dictated that we headed back to the dealership after the flaming desert instead of cutting up the town, but the memories of those evenings have remained dear to me. To be out on the town in beautiful San Francisco without any worries, having a good time and a bunch of laughs, in the company of Car Men is something I will never forget.

Talk to you later,


Hard Times

As many of you know, I’ve been in the car business all my adult life, some thirty-eight years and counting. In my time “on the line” I’ve weathered many economic storms: the gas lines of 1974 and 78, the super high interest rates of the late 70’s and early 80’s, a couple of recessions. I’ve been present at the closures of more than one dealership. I’ve experienced both good times and bad.

But I’ve never seen anything like this.

These are, my friends, evil times for Car Men. I don’t care if you sell Fords or Toyotas; things are tough out there. These are times that separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women. It’s the Storm of the Century as far as I’m concerned.

Now, I’m not one to give advice; it’s against my sensibilities, but I feel that as one of the Grand Old Men of this business (if you don’t mind me saying so), good ‘ol Uncle David if you please, it’s time for me to say something. It’s easy to panic, especially if you’re a salesman. Shit rolls down hill in this business. The dealer grinds the GM, who grinds, the GSM, who grinds the deskmen, who grind the closers (if you work in a T.O. house) who grinds the salesmen. Somebody has got to blame somebody, and unfortunately that someone is often you.

It is my hope that those people in upper management understand that everyone has been caught up in this mess, and that pounding on the troops, although it might feel good, is very counter-productive. If you are a leader, lead. Or as an Iranian sales manager I once worked for would say, “If you want to be pro, be pro!” (I truly hated this guy.) If your salesman is loyal to you, be loyal to them.

So here’s my advice. The rules of this business, assuming you were taught them correctly, are there for good reasons. The steps to making a deal we’re carved out by generations of Car Men. They are tried and tested. They work. And the fruit of their labor has been handed down to you. They can be summed up in one sentence: resist the temptation to shake short cuts.

Like a baseball player who goes into a slump and then screws things up more by altering his swing, you must resist the temptation to alter the way you were taught to sell cars. The buyers out there are the same; there are just less of them. So this means that each “up” is precious. You must work them properly. As I like to say, make those people glad they met you, but take no prisoners.

If you’re fundamentals work, stick with them. Work each buyer the same way every time! Do not alter your swing! Remember that it isn’t what you say to that goofball in front of you; it’s how you say it. A true Car Man has the ability to grind the crap out of someone without them being aware that they are being beat up. Be pro!

Now keep in mind that the crazy people always come out. They are a static population, easy to take when times are good but maddening when times are bad. Learn to recognize these people early in the process so you don’t use your energy on someone who had no intention to buy a car. Resist the temptation to resort to firearms or fisticuffs, no matter how good it would feel!

Now is the time to follow up fiercely and make the most of your owner file. (I must admit to you that this is the weakest part of my sales process.) If you made the people glad they met you once, perhaps they’d like to meet you again.

As the late, great Pete McKissick used to say to me, “Don’t get your dabber down.” Whatever the hell that meant.

It’s time to hunker down as the expression goes. It’s time to trust your training and instincts. It’s time use the talent God gave you. And remember this: if you can survive this, I promise you can survive anything!

Talk to you later,