Confessions of a Car Man


The Gentlemanly Art Of The Turn

It was late in the day on a busy Saturday when the turn was offered to me. I knew that everyone was busy except for me, and that made me feel a little like a deer caught in the headlights. Jim, the salesmen in question, was new to our crew, still an unknown quantity to a certain extent, but during his short time at the dealership it was rumored that his turns were garbage.

I had just delivered a car, but there was still time left in the day to snag another buyer. So that made me more than hesitant when Jim approached me. But he looked desperate. He was up to his eyeballs in customers and needed help. I gave in.

Stupid me.

It was one of those watermark moments in my automotive career: the worst turn I’ve ever had. After talking with his customer for only a couple of minutes I realized I’d been had. I can’t remember the details; I appear to have blocked them out, except that they were truly horrendous. I was left confused. We Car Men can be a screwed up bunch no doubt, but when it comes to turning a customer we at least try to be honorable. We are all aware that we are screwing around with another guy’s living, so when you have to give up a customer there had better be at least a chance that the other guy can put a deal together.

Not so with Jim. It soon became apparent to all of us that Jim didn’t turn a deal because he thought there was a deal there. He turned the deal because he was certain there wasn’t a deal there! Pardon my French, but he didn’t give a fuck about you or the time you would spend spinning your wheels with someone who had no way to go. I have never met anyone before or since who was worse than Jim!

You want to hear the weird part? If Jim turned you a deal and by some miracle you made it—he was disappointed. In his mind he didn’t get a half deal, he lost a half deal!

Turning a deal, or a T.O. as it’s called, is a basic car business institution. There are many forms of it. The most common one is when a salesman has one too many customers at the same time and turns his customer to another salesman to work. They split the deal between them.

When I came up in the business you were in no way allowed to work two deals at the same time. To do so was to risk the wrath of a highly pissed-off sales manager who might very well take the second customer from you completely. So if you were with an appointment and a be-back came in, you had to find another salesman to work the second deal for you.

It’s a common courtesy to turn a deal to the guy who upped your customer, but that isn’t always practical. If the other salesman is dumber than a bag of hammers you have to do some serious soul searching before you give the deal up. A half a deal might turn into no deal! Most salesmen have at least one buddy on the crew with whom he can turn deals back and forth. It’s usually a guy who has a similar temperament so the customer doesn’t go into shock when that nice guy he came to see turned him to a prick!

Unlike my friend Jim, the turning salesman usually tries to make sure that the guy who takes your turn is not going to be jacked-off by a mooch. I’ve known plenty of guys who will turn the more promising deal if they can. But The Others are an unpredictable lot so when a guy takes a turn it’s with the knowledge that he’s taking a chance.

Here’s an oddity. I once worked at a place where the salesmen were allowed to work as many deals at one time as they wanted. I was shocked. In my humble opinion the sales manager was a complete idiot. I once watched in horror as a guy tried to work four customers at one time while I, who wasn’t doing anything at the time and likes to think is qualified to take a turn, was ignored. At least one of his customers left in disgust while the manager did nothing!

One good way to get abused when taking a turn is something called a “Hello T.O.”. In this scenario the offending salesman (the same guy who skated you last week) gets an up, spends five minutes qualifying him, and turns him to you like he’d been working the mooch for a week. Usually he turns the deal because he smells a mini, so he’d rather get half from you while he tries to find a big dummy with a way to go.

Experienced salesmen are always on the lookout for a Hello T.O. When taking a turn from a suspicious character, it’s best to ask the customer a few questions about how long his relationship has been with the offending salesman. As the saying goes, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me!”

Usually when a deal is turned, the two salesmen are “married”. At some dealerships both the deals have to be split to insure fairness, but that is the exception not the rule. Being married means that if I turn a deal to you, finish my first deal, and get a fresh deal while you’re still with the customer I turned you, I have to put you on that new deal. Sometimes on a busy weekend day you can end up being married to a guy for the whole day!

Many times a deal is turned while it’s at the desk. This usually happens when the salesman can’t get the deal done for some reason. He’s been with the customer for three hours, taken him down to the ten yard line, but can’t seem to get that final bump that will send him into the end zone. At this point it’s advantageous to turn the deal to another salesman because it’s an amazing how even just a change of face can breathe fresh life into a dying deal.

I have a bitch here. A deal should almost always be turned to another qualified salesman. Only as a last resort should a manager go in for the close. Why? First, a manager who regularly goes in to close a deal makes his salesmen weak and dependent on the manager. We Car Men can be a lazy bunch. Why should we bust his balls for that final bump when the sales manager will do it for free? Second, because they have the power to do anything they want, managers will sometimes give away the farm to make a deal. Third, many managers just aren’t not good closers. You wouldn’t send a salesman in cold to do the F&I man’s job, so what makes you think the F&I guy can close your deal?

Exception: In my opinion there is nothing more inspiring for a salesman than seeing a sales manger in a desperate situation get off his ass, grab the write-up and hammer a customer. IF USED SPARINGLY, it reminds the crew that the sales manager really could sell cars if he wanted to and is not afraid to get his hands dirty for the sake of his crew.

I remember standing outside the dealership that Saturday evening contemplating the significance of Jim’s shitty turn. I felt bad. I mean, if we can’t trust each other who can we trust? It’s good to remember that ultimately we are all in the same boat, and watching out for the other guy can pay for him and for you.

Always remember the rule: What goes around comes around.

Talk to you later,


P.S. I used so many cliché expressions while writing this piece someone ought to confiscate my keyboard!

The Golden Skate Award

On a bright morning in the summer of 1971, Mike Aahl was rooting around in the trunk of old Buick trade-in parked along the back fence of Hayward Ford. As his hands searched through piles of old newspapers, crumpled cigarette packages, and empty oilcans, hoping to discover any hidden treasures, his eyes brightened. There in front of him was quite a find. It was an old roller skate.

Mike withdrew his prize, his mind reeling with the possibilities. The skate itself was a scruffy, white leather affair, definitely something worn by a girl. It had old-fashioned steel wheels. Its metal frame was spotted with rust. As Mike inspected the skate, out fell an equally crusty skate key. All in all, it was perfect!

The plan for the skate’s resurrection started off simple enough, a quick clean up and a visit to the local hardware store for some gold spray paint. Within a couple of hours it was finished and set to dry along the warm western wall of the parts department. Beside it was the key, also sprayed gold, for it, too, was part of plan.

Someone suggested, “Let’s have it mounted on a nice slab of wood.” It was a great idea, no doubt, but by the time it hit the local trophy shop another even greater idea was hatched.

In a couple of days the skate was ready, and we gathered in Mike’s office to admire the results. There it was, a beautiful bright gold, looking like a bronzed baby shoe from hell. It had been mounted on an oak base befitting its importance. A small gold plaque read, “The Golden Skate Award.” It was ready to go.

Skating is a term used by car salesmen to signify stealing all or part of a car deal from another salesman. In the bad old days of the car business salesmen skated each other as if it were the national sport. This was particularly true in big dealerships where large crews of Car Men fought for survival each month.

There are different levels of skating. In it’s most common form, another salesman somehow manages to get his name on your deal after you have done all the work. Any Car Man who has been around for awhile can tell a story or two about going out to lunch only to return to discover that his appointment had shown up early. If intercepted by a shark, you could bet you lost half your deal. Even if the salesman was your friend the sales desk rarely allowed your customer to be held until you got back, so whoever was available to complete the sale got half a commission regardless of his previous involvement in the deal.

These situations managed to even themselves out over time. You could not be at the dealership to protect yourself 24/7, though management acted as if you should. Occasionally you lost a half deal, but occasionally you got a half deal back, and the order of the Car Man universe was once again restored. What goes around comes around.

Then there was the out-and-out, you-lost-a-deal skate. If it was done properly you might never know it happened. The customer you sold that Ford Mustang to sends in his buddy to see you. It is your day off; another salesman gets your referral, sells him a car and does not put your name on the deal. If you do manage to discover the evil deed the usual answer to your pissed-off inquiry is, “He didn’t ask for you.”

I have known salesman to tell customers that the guy they asked for did not work there anymore, or “David doesn’t sell used cars. I’ll have to be the one to help out with that.” Being the clever bastards we are, there were dozens of lies you could tell a customer to steal him away from the intended salesman.

Management never openly condones skating, but there is not a lot they could or would do about it. In their eyes a little skating toughens everyone up, and that is exactly the way they like it. They prefer to let the salesman work it out (or in some cases duke it out) among themselves.

Skating is one of those things that The Others could never understand. They live in a world of relative fairness in the work place where Car Men only have a marginal acquaintance. That is why the first rule of our business is the car business is not fair. It is something Car Men have to accept if they are to survive. It is not something your average schoolteacher or government worker could ever accept or understand.

I am not a saint, but I have never been one to skate people. You see, the second rule of the business, “what goes around, comes around” is a powerful force, and I learned early in my career to respect it. That and my Portuguese/Catholic upbringing always prevented me from being much of a skater, but I will admit I have been sorely tempted. Like former President Jimmy Carter, I have often lusted in my heart.

At Hayward Ford we had a kangaroo court. If the skate had been particularly egregious, you could ask for a hearing after a morning sales meeting. On average, this occurred a couple of times a month. These mini-trials were wildly popular if only for their entertainment value. Here you would have two impassioned opponents ready to hunt bear, but instead of bear it was each other.

After the sales meeting the managers cleared out. They rarely wanted anything to do with this, but agreed to honor the outcome. The salesmen would stay. We had a big crew so sometimes there would be twenty or more Car Men crowded into the meeting room, downing coffee, smoking cigarettes, and ready for a show.

Usually, three Car Men acted as judges. The accuser would point out the guilty party and state his case. Both sides would then tell their version of the events, most of the time wildly different from each other. If there were witnesses they would testify. Then the judges would deliberate. Keep in mind that the sales managers would only tolerate us being off the floor for fifteen or twenty minutes, so there was no Perry Mason oratory going on in there.

The judge’s decision was final. Sometimes you won; sometimes you lost. It was accepted that this was the end of the issue until, of course, the salesman who lost managed to get the other salesman back. Car Man justice!

It was out of this that The Golden Skate Award came into play. It was decided that Mike Aahl’s find should be given out monthly to the man who best exemplified not only skating, but also the spirit of skating. In some ways a Car Man who was a little out of control was admired. Sheer craziness was something grand to watch in a weird, sick way. Car Men are always into weird and sick.

The award would be given after a sales meeting at the beginning of the month. A few days before the event a panel of Car Men, headed by our salesman emeritus, Hank Medeiros would gather to choose the man they deemed worthy enough to be singled out for this honor.

The much-anticipated morning finally came. Everyone was in high spirits. Even the Grand Old Men of the dealership, many who had been with Hayward Ford since the late 1940’s when it was nothing more than a converted garage on the corner of Mission Blvd. and “A” Street, would came to watch the proceedings.

Hank was the MC. He was ideal for the job being a natural born ham. He had been at Hayward Ford for years. He loved to be in the limelight, tell a few jokes, and have a good time. He set the perfect tone for The Golden Skate Award ceremonies. I wish I could tell you the names of some of the winners, but the sad fact is that skaters, though entertaining in a strange way, never last long at a dealership. They are like the itinerant gamblers of the Old West, always drifting from one place to another to ply their trade before getting out of Dodge when the citizens got wind of their cheating.

Hank would tell his jokes then run down the list of the dirty deeds allegedly committed of the award’s winner. When the culprit was finally announced and presented his prize, it was met with howls of laughter and the red face of the thought-he-was-clever winner. Busted!

The second prize was then given out. The Golden Key Award went to the salesman who tried hard but came in second best. The glittering key was decked out with a fancy blue ribbon and presented with as much good-natured malice as the skate itself.

Prizewinners were required to keep their trophies in their offices and on prominent display throughout the month. There it could be seen by all, questioned by customers, and a little reminder that they were not as smart as they thought they were.

“The Golden Skate Award” is a cherished memory of my youth. These days, working mostly alone on a small used car lot, there is no one to skate me—though I have to keep an eye on my boss, another Hayward Ford veteran. But I am certain that the practice sill goes on because skating is part of our tradition, and for Car Men, traditions run deep.

Talk to you later,



If I’ve ever heard a car salesman pray, its for his next up not to have a trade-in. Any Car Man with a lick of common sense would prefer that his next up not have a trade. Why? Because after bad credit, it’s the most common thing that can screw up your deal and your commission.

On the surface a trade-in should be a good thing. After all, car salesmen prefer selling used over new, so what would be a better source of used cars than trade-ins? This is true as long if it’s the other guy’s trade. Let him be the noble one that supplies the dealership with much-needed used cars. Why not you? BECAUSE JUST ABOUT EVERYONE IN THIS DAMN COUNTRY IS BURRIED UP TO THEIR EYEBALLS!

Now I must confess that we only have ourselves to blame. After all, we’re the ones who buried them in the first place. You’d think that The Others would have enough common sense to hang onto their iron until it makes sense to buy another one, but it appears that a large portion of the American population has no common sense whatsoever! They financed a SUV for 84 months and now they want to trade it in after in 24? Hello! Don’t any of you idiots understand basic math?

A Car Men tries to discover the truth about a trade before the desk even knows he has a potential write-up. He tries to kick a problem trade if he can, because deskmen are sometimes not too helpful in these situations. This one of those times where the best interests of the salesman do not run parallel with those of the house because if the trade is desirable, the desk will try to get it no matter what, and the next thing you know you have a mini. I suppose many managers out there will not appreciate me saying this, but that’s just the way it is.

I suppose it’s a mute point anyway. Many times its damn near impossible to kick the trade. Then there’s the goof wants $3000 for a $300 car. You can try your best to line your deal properly, but in the end there’s not much you can do about it except write the sucker up and hope for the best. My advice: write quickly.

With credit being so tight, our ability to unbury people like we used to have diminished significantly. The banks and credit unions just aren’t rocking like they used to. It used to be that they would try to help you make your deal, but these days they seem more determined to find new and creative ways of turning your deal down. And these freaking trades don’t make it any easier.

My best suggestion for you truly buried customer: A mysterious fire in his driveway.

THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: I like to refer to it as “The Perfect Storm” of car deals. The customer has a trade that’s worth a fair amount of money, and by God it’s clear! (It also helps if he’s “a big dummy with a way to go”.) The golden cords of a U/A* beckon to you like a siren’s song. It’s a pounder in the making, and what a grand and glorious thing it is. It’s one of those times when you are reminded why you got into this business in the first place.

Problem trade-ins are a part of our business. Not much you can do it. Now I’m not suggesting you sandbag the desk—well I suppose I am—but it’s up to you to do your own due diligence before you spend a lot of time with a guy who owes $31,000 on ‘05 Yukon. And remember the rule: The Car Business Isn’t Fair. So don’t expect it to be. But with a little bit of creativity and common sense you can level the playing field a little.

Talk to you later,


P.S. For you managers out there here’s an idea from the old days at Hayward Ford. In those enlightened years before the advent of shoulder harnesses and 5 MPH impact bumpers the house had a policy that if you sold your own trade it within 30 days of bring it in, you’d get another 5% of the gross. I’ve always thought that was a great incentive for the guy who had to grind out the deal that produced that trade.

*U/A = Under Allowance