Confessions of a Car Man


The Return Of Fix It Again Tony

I remember the last time Chrysler was going tits up back in 1980. A knight on a white horse by the name of Lee Iacocca came to its rescue. His talent? Common sense and the idea for something called a mini-van.

In those days Chrysler products were nightmares. I went to work for a Dodge dealer back in 1978, and the quality of the cars were shocking. They made a car called a Dodge Magnum. The alloy wheels had these pretty clear plastic hub caps. The problem is that they refused to stay on the cars. You could walk through a line of Magnums and see them scattered all over the lot!

I remember opening doors and having the rubber seals detach and stick to the door frames. I remember trim panels not fastened property, gaps in the trunks and hood the size of the Grand Canyon. This being the days of carburetors, just about every car had fouled spark plugs so most of them ran like shit.

I lasted there three weeks.

Fast forward a couple of years. Chrysler was on the ropes, the government co-signed a loan. Lee Iacocca, Fords wonder boy if the ‘60s, took the reigns of the troubled company. He got rid of the junk and stripped down the design of the cars to their basics by creating the K platform. The K Car was a wonder for its time. It was uncomplicated and extremely practical. By keeping it simple the quality of the cars went up and so did sales.

My brother, Danny, bought a Chrysler-Plymouth franchise. I for one thought he was nuts. But as it turned out the cars weren’t bad. The K platform, though not sexy or exciting, was used for a number of cars from the Plymouth Voyager to the Chrysler Laser. We sold the crap out of those cars!

Though housewives hate them today, the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager was just about the most amazing, trailblazing vehicles to come along since the ’65 Mustang. I wish all of you could see them through my eyes at that time. Nothing on the road looked like them nor was as practical. They were the perfect vehicle for the time, a home run on the sales floor.

Then Lee retired and the dark days began again.

No matter how much they try, all car manufactures tend to screw things up for themselves. Unfortunately it’s the American companies that get hurt the worse. The Japanese have a core of practical cars that are guaranteed to sell, so if they get greedy and start building big SUVs and trucks it doesn’t hurt them much when that area of the business goes south. No so the American companies.

Volkswagen built its empire on a practical little car affectionately called the Bug. Instead of building on the legacy of the K Car as VW did with the Bug, Chrysler abandoned its platform and the philosophy behind it to go for a plethora of new models that looked good but were mechanically iffy. Anyone have any experiences with a Chrysler 2.7 liter engine?

Along the way they were acquired by Mercedes, who soon realized they had attached themselves to a nightmare. I guess now Fiat will give it a shot, the return of Fix It Again Tony! Back in the day Fiat’s were probably worse than comparable Chrysler products.
Any Car Man that’s been around for a while can come up with a couple of horrible Fiat stories.

I’ve have a theory that Italian cars didn’t work here because this country is too damn big for them. Their cars were not designed to handle the rigors of L.A. rush hours or thousand mile vacations across America’s hot summer heartland. The broke down faster than any cars I have ever seen!

So I guess it comes down to how far Fiat has come since its hasty retreat form America thirty odd years ago. Can they stand the rigors of American driving? Can they contribute to the rejuvenation of Chrysler or will it just be SSDD: same shit, different day.

Only time will tell.

Talk to you later,



Managers call it leg, a more polite way of saying they’re packing the payments. I realize they don’t quite see it this way, but it’s one of the ways car dealership management rip off their salesman. Here’s the way it works: You work your ass off all afternoon to close your customer at a payment $400 per month. After much agony (and maybe even a turn!) you finally make your deal. You think, All right! High five! Another job well done!

But what your sales manager didn’t tell you is the real payment on the car was actually $380 per month. There’s an extra $20 packed in there, $20 THAT YOU WORKED YOUR ASS FOR, that will be used by the finance guy to help him sell an extended warranty, sealants (AKA snake oil) or whatever other bullshit stuff they’re currently hawking in F&I office. AND YOU DON’T GET PAID ON!

Back in the old days, it was the salesmen who sold the extra market stuff. It was a lucrative way to make more money. Sometimes it was more than the commission on the car. But in their heart of hearts most car dealers don’t like it when the salesmen are making a lot of money. (Not talking about you, Tom!) They feel this way because they think that salesmen that are kept hungry will work harder, or they simply have an aversion to signing big paychecks.

So somewhere around twenty years ago selling aftermarket was taken away from us and given to the F&I department. Ironically, this was probably a good idea. When the salesmen did it, the guy who was best at selling the crap sold the most stuff. By having someone with some talent sell the snake oil, the dealer was assured that more items were sold per sale.

The problem was they forgot about us, and even though we we’re doing part of their job, i.e. the leg; they decided we weren’t deserving of participating in the profit generated by our efforts. I’ve got nothing against the F&I department selling the stuff—as long as we get a little taste of the action if we’ve helped them. The problem is that Car Men, whether on the line or in a manager’s office, are ultimately a little lazy. So if they can make their lives a little easier by screwing us out of a part of the gross, they will do it. Every time.

I think the F&I department should earn his money just like we do. I think that every dime should be put into the deal, and if the finance man can bump the customer good for him. Or if payments are being packed, a generous spiff should be paid to the salesman.

A year or so ago the state of California came up with a form called “The Optional Products and Services Disclosure”. The form tells the customer what is payment is with all the extra crap on the contract and what it would be without it. It has effectively put an end to the leg. Hallelujah!

Now I know the state of California could give a rat’s ass about car salesmen. This law was designed to protect the consumer. (I won’t go into how I feel about that!) But an unintended result is a little payback for the guy on the line. At least in California we won’t be doing extra work for free anymore!

Got a feeling this will piss some people off. I love it!

Talk to you later,


My Beast Of Burden

A young man contacted me via email yesterday. He had stumbled upon the blog and was considering a job selling at a local Ford dealership. He told me that he was determined to read the entire contents of “Confessions of a Car Man” before he started his new career.

I was extremely flattered by his email and offered to help him in any way I can. I gave him a little insight into what to expect at his new job and gave a couple of pieces of advice. All well and good. But when I went to bed that night I found myself starring at the ceiling wondering if I had done the right thing.

“Confessions of a Car Man” was conceived as a kind of catharsis for me. It is my way of setting down “on paper” my memories, observations and frustrations. It was not in any way meant to be some sort of training manual for selling cars. To be honest I don’t feel qualified to give advice. The best thing you can say about me is that I have a great power of observation and a wicked sense of humor.

But there I was lying in bed thinking about the power of words. I was wondering if the young man reads the blog from beginning to end, all 84,000 words of it, will he come away with knowledge that will help him, or will I kill the enthusiasm he will need to make it in this business before he even has a chance?

This all comes at a time when I’ve been mentally coming up with a plan to turn the blog into a book. My angle is simple: you’ve never read a book about being a car salesman like this one! As the blog’s banner says, “The only pro car salesman blog on the planet!” I envision a book that is pro salesman, completely original in concept, completely irreverent in execution--and more than likely completely unsellable!

I like writing this blog. In a time when our business is in great peril, it gives me my own little corner of the world that I can control. I have always considered it as entertainment. I don’t know how I feel about someone actually taking it seriously. And I would feel really bad if my writing damaged or hurt anyone (except for The Others, of course) or caused them to make a wrong decision—like selling Fords for example.

Oh, well. What’s done is done. I can’t change the blog, I couldn’t bear to delete it even if I wanted to, and will continue to write it compulsively until I either run out of words or keel over dead after yelling at an Indian on the lot.

It’s my beast of burden.

Talk to you later,


My First Up Last Saturday

NOTE TO THE OTHERS: If you’re going to be a vampire for Christ’s sake, at least try to be clever about it.

On Saturday my first up was a woman who parked her car and headed over to a ’96 Pathfinder on the lot. I went up to her and asked with a smile, “How are you today?” (My standard opening line.)

The lady looked at me and said, “I’m planning on buying a car from a private party, so I thought I’d go to a couple of lots to see what cars are selling for.”

What? I thought. Am I hearing things?

“So you don’t have any intentions to buy a car from me?” I asked, my voice still friendly.

Her eyes widened. She realized she had blown it. Her evil plot to stroke me had been spoiled by her own words.

“Well, well,” she stammered, “there are plenty of private party cars out there!”

Now at this point I know that a sales trainer would urge you to bring out your arsenal of clever closes to use on this lady. Charm here, woo here, make her your best friend. Make a sale God damn it! But to my jaded mind, the one that has prevented me from being a super star all these years, I just couldn’t do it.

I just starred at her, the same smile on my face. I said nothing.

There was that delicious moment of uncomfortableness. On her part, not mine. What followed only lasted a few seconds, but to her, I’m guessing it seemed like an eternity. What was she thinking? “This guy got me,” maybe. Or, “Damn salesman! This is exactly why I want to buy from a private party!”

She was like a deer caught in the proverbial headlights, unable to move. At about five seconds in real time (one hour in stress time) she stammered, “Well, thank you very much!”

“Your welcome,” I replied, still smiling.

I turned and watched as she scurried back to the safety of her car. She hurried out of the lot avoiding my friendly gaze and headed to the lot across the street from us to give it another shot. She was only there for about five minutes. Did she get the information she wanted so she could properly try to screw a private party?

I’ll never know.

Talk to you later,


The Laws Of Motion

My older brother, Danny, is now retired and living in North Carolina. We were talking on the phone the other day when the conversation turned to the car business. Danny explained his time-test formula for penciling a deal when it’s first brought to the desk.

“Send the salesman back at full list including the pack, and use a 12 chart (for determining the payment). Tell the salesman to present the pencil as written and then shut up, because sometimes the customer will say yes.”

Now I realize this is really old school, but it’s still correct, even though I don’t think formula quite works for today’s customers. First of all does anyone use a pack sticker anymore? Second, I always think it’s a good idea to discount the car at least a little on the first pencil. Even a token amount works wonders to soften a customer’s attitude.

As for as using a “12 chart” (12% add-on, which is roughly a 21.00% APR) that payment, given today’s car prices, is going to be crazy high and might cause a customer to launch. But packing the payment by using an elevated APR on the first pencil is still a good idea. Let’s them know who’s boss!

The most important part of his statement was to shut up. I’ve mentioned before that the “silent close” is the most important and effective close you can use with a customer. All too often a salesman will talk over his chance to hear his customer say yes to a pencil. So do as Danny advises; present the pencil and shut the hell up!

A car deal is a little like two kids on a teeter-totter. The balance of power goes back and forth between you and your customer. Many times a salesman takes too much responsibility for what’s going on in a deal. Remember, you’re not buying the car, the customer is. Let him feel the heat of the desk, not you, and let the desk take the heat from the customer. Your role is to be a very clever deliverer of messages, so don’t say anything that takes that power away from you!

In the old days, these powerful first pencils were a matter of course, and the beginning of a battle that could literally last for hours. These days, working under the specter of the dreaded CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index), we have all become wimps. Don’t want to piss anyone off! No, no! Don’t want to try and make a decent deal on that new car! Someone might complain.

Supposedly, CSI was introduced to tame the Wild Wild West that was once the car business. But who made the old school Car Men (and women) the people they were? If customers had approached buying a car in the same way they’d buy a new couch, our jobs would have been easier, and the various exotic ways we concocted to get the job done would never had been deployed. In other words: IT WAS THEIR FAULT, NOT OURS!”

Not that I’m prejudiced or anything like that.

That’s not to say that the business hasn’t seen its share of scoundrels, but what business hasn’t? I’m sure there are plenty of kinky heating and air conditioner salesmen out there!

A car deal is nothing more than a series of actions and reactions strung together. It’s like Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Car Men react to a customer’s attitude. If they give us a chance to make a fair profit, we treat them with all the respect that’s due them. But if we’re presented with a car thief who wants nothing more than to screw us, we act accordingly.

And remember this: a good Car Man always wins, even if a deal ends badly. We will do what we can to make a deal, but sometimes the joy you feel when booting a particularly nasty customer off the lot is even better than the mini-commission you would have had to work an entire day to earn!

Now how’s that for old school!

Talk to you later,


Selling Cars On The Internet

The telephone rings. “Dave’s Quality Cars. May I help you?” I say.

A cheery recorded female voice says, “Another quality lead from!”

“Dave’s Quality Cars,” I repeat.

“Uh, how much are you asking for the 2003 Silverado?"

Here we go again! I think to myself. Why is it that whenever you get an up call from an Internet ad they always ask you how much the car is even though the price is right there in front of them? Automatically I raise the price two grand.

“It’s 12,995, sir,” I say in my friendliest voice.

“But it says $10,988 on your ad!” he protests indignantly.

“Then its $10,988,” I reply. Or If I’m in a pissy mood I will ask, “Well if it says $10,988, why the heck are you asking me how much it is?”

They never have a good answer for this. I suppose they’re hoping that I’d say lower rice, say $9,988. But the paranoid part of me always thinks it’s the beginning of another evil plot by The Others to screw a Car Man.

Psychologically their inane question backfires on them. By saying $12,995 I am planting the seed that the $10,988 price on the Internet is a special one, leaving at least some people to think that maybe they can’t get it for less money than the Autorader price.

Then there’s those idiots on Craig’s List.

Craig’s List people are a breed apart. I’ve come to the conclusion that this world would be a better place if the majority of them could be humanely destroyed. They are by far the largest collections of idiots you will ever encounter in the car business. Why do I say this? Because from the very beginning of the call they want to bargain the price on the phone!

I’ve searched Craig’s List hoping to discover some sort of training manual that instructs them that they should approach any car ad with an instantaneous grind, but I haven’t found anything. The only conclusion I can reach is that it’s in their genes.

“How much will you lower the price on the Silverado?” they ask. Of if they’re Asians, “You give me last price on Silverado.”

Possible replies:

“Not a dime.”

“How longs a piece of string?”

“Give me your number and if it’s still here six months from now I’ll call you back.”

“The price will go up $100 every time you ask me that question.”

Perhaps a more reasonable approach is in order, though Craig’s List people are rarely reasonable.

“Why don’t you come down and see if you like the truck then we’ll talk about it.”

Usually these conversations turn into Mexican standoffs. They want to grind you on the phone; you want to get their ass down to the dealership so you can tell them the price is the price directly to their sorry face.

As part of my job I post ten cars a day on Craig’s List and each day I will receive a couple of phone calls like the one mentioned above. The up side of it is that it keeps my blood pressure from getting too low.

Don’t get me wrong. I need the Internet to do business. My lot is in a poor neighborhood where almost no one can qualify for a car that’s more that $7,000. So If I have a nice, late model Camry for $12,995 my only hope of selling it is on the Internet.

But boy, I have to wade through a bunch of assholes before I find the ass for that seat!

Talk to you later,


The Saga of Jesse James

Please note: This blog entry is not about the outlaw Jessie James, nor is it about the Jessie James who was married to Sandra Bullock. But you might find it amusing!

In early 1973 my brother, Danny Teves, was given the opportunity to buy a Ford dealership in Oakland, California. Believe it or not at the time there were five Ford franchises in that town alone! So after getting fired from my hi-fi job, I joined him at Elmhurst Ford. The dealership was located on the corner of 96th Avenue and East 14th Street (Now International Boulevard). It was a memorable place for me, for it was the first time I had the opportunity to work with a crew of black salesman. They were a wonderful bunch of guys; full of the usual Car Man quirks but with the element of cool thrown in. I have fond memories of them all. Well, mostly fond memories, for there was the case of a salesman named Jesse James…

Yes, Jesse James was his real name, and this Jesse was not inappropriately named for he was the biggest kink I have ever met in this business. That’s saying a lot! I’ve been around nearly forty years so as you might imagine I’ve met a number of kinks in my time. None of them had the deceitful talent and all out balls of Jesse James.

Jesse was about 30, I suppose. His most distinguishing characteristic was that he spoke with a stutter. Jesse was--and I’ll try to be as kind as I can here--a first-class liar. He would say anything, promise anything, do ANYTHING to sell a car. It was because of guys like him that CSI was invented. Jesse James was truly out of control!

For example, Jesse had a customer that wanted a new Ford LTD with a 429 engine in it. The problem was we didn’t have one in inventory. Jesse actually talked the guy into buying the one we had in stock with a smaller V8 with the promise that he could come back the next week and we’d change the engine! (These were simpler time, I guess.)

When confronted with this and other outrageous lies he regularly told he would raise his hands in horror. “The ma-ma-man’s cra-cra-crazy!” he’d protest. “I’d-I’d-I’d never pro-pro-promise something like that!”

For a while he got away with it. I mean, who would honestly believe that a salesman would have the balls to promise a guy an engine? This was in the days before Due Bills, so there was no paper trail, no one to believe but the salesman or the customer. So for a while Jesse got away with his disgraceful behavior.

Here’s a story that will top that one. Jesse’s father (his father!) came in one Saturday looking for a used LTD. To be exact he told his son wanted a blue LTD. Jesse took him over to the used car lot. We didn’t have a blue one, but we did have a white one, a 90-day unit that just happened to have a weekend spiff on it. And boy, did Jesse want that cash spiff!

In those days used car managers usually desked used car deals, but our used car manager, Al Gracier, was off that weekend so there was no one there to supervise Jesse. The new car manager had no idea that Jesse was promising what he promised. That’s right! He told his father to bring the car in on Monday and they’d paint the LTD blue!

Monday came and Jesse was very conveniently off. His father went to Al Gracier to see about the promised paint job. Al went postal! Jesse’s father kept insisting that he would only accept a blue car, so they ended up having to unwind the deal. So Jesse James didn’t get his commission--but he still had his cash spiff! Al swore that he would fire him the next day. Unfortunately, he never got the chance.

Apparently Jessie had a little side business going—curbing cars*. The problem was he didn’t feel the need to go about the job properly. The normal procedure is to sell the car, hand the title over to the customer, and have him to go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the sled registered. I’m not saying the cars Jesse curbed were stolen, but by his actions it was apparent Jessie James didn’t have titles to the cars he sold several young men on the mean streets of Oakland, California.

When a dealer sells a car in California, a paper ROS (Report of Sale) is placed in the lower passenger’s side front window. So instead of handing over a title that he didn’t have, Jesse took his customer’s money and sealed the deal by placing a blank, folded up piece of paper where the ROS belonged. The unsuspecting buyer was then sent on his way.

About the same time Jessie was telling his father he’d paint his white car blue, a car load of young men were pulled over by the Oakland police in one of Jesse’s cars. The young men explained to the police officer that they had just bought the car from Mr. James who worked at Elmhurst Ford. The shit, as they say, hit the fan!

That Tuesday wasn’t a good day for Jessie. Al Gracier was out for blood, but before he could get to him, a paddy wagon pulled up in front of the dealership, and the police officers that got out it asked if a salesman by the name of Jesse James was in.

He was.

They took him away, and the weird thing was that no one ever saw or heard from Jesse James again. We did discover that he spent some time in jail, but he never tried to contact anyone at Elmhurst Ford ever again. It was like he had fallen off the face of the earth. Several years later a guy told me that Jesse had lost his sales license and was painting houses for a living.

Boy, do I feel sorry for those people!

Talk to you later,


*Curbing a car means selling cars, usually older ones, on the side. These cars were sometimes parked at a curb near the dealership with a “for sale” sign on them, hence the name “curbing”. The dealers have always frowned upon the practice. It’s considered stealing from the House. At Hayward Ford curbing a car could get you fired!