Confessions of a Car Man


Thoughts On The GM/Chrysler Dealership Closings

If I was a Chrysler or GM dealer caught up in the recent dealership closure announcements I’d be damned curious as to what type of criteria they used in making their decision. Rush Limbaugh is already bitching that Republican dealers are being targeted, but that is patently ridiculous. I mean, how may Democrat car dealers are there out there? Like four?

Now I realize that a drastic reduction in the amount of Chrysler and GM dealerships was necessary; too many dealers, too little sales. Someone has to go. But how do you make the decision as to who goes and who stays? If you need to get rid of 25% of your dealers, wouldn’t it be logical that you just get rid of the lowest 25% performers?

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be that way. From what I gather it appears that many successful dealerships that are making money each month have inexplicably received cancellation letters while other less successful dealers have been spared. What’s that all about?

Chrysler and GM might be using this opportunity to extract a little revenge on renegade dealerships. You know, the type of dealer with an independent mind that doesn’t like to play ball with the factory all the time. Maybe they demurred when they were asked to order an extra load of Durangos during the height of the gas crisis. They’ve got a good business; they know how to sell cars (something the factory is notoriously ignorant about), yet they are going away.

I certainly hope that political correctness hasn’t entered the process. Over the last three decades the manufactures have strived to have an “inclusive” dealer body. This means they wanted more than just white males as car dealers. Minorities were actively recruited, a lofty ideal that I wholeheartedly agree with. There are certainly some great minority men and women out there that have become successful dealers because they were given a chance.

But there were also some recruits who didn’t know their asses from a hole in the ground. I know this sounds harsh, but if you’ve been around this business for any length of time you have either worked for or heard of a dealer who got his franchise for reasons other than being a potentially great Car Man. So what about these inept goofs? Have some of them been saved at the expense of a hard working stiff who was dumped because he has the misfortune of having blue eyes?

Since I don’t work for anybody in the media, I can sound off on this. Since you don’t know exactly where I live, I don’t expect any Molotov cocktails to be thrown at my front window any time soon. I’m not a racist. I just call them as I see them. In my opinion a dealer’s franchise should only be canceled because of their proven lack of merit, not because of sex, race or any other factor.

Hey, you lawyers out there! Can you smell a class-action lawsuit in the air?

One more thought before I go out and hawk for an up. A friend of mine who works at a Dodge dealership that was given the ax told me they had received a couple of taunting calls from another dealership that had escaped their fate. Make me emperor of this country for a week, and I’ll line those bastards up against a wall and have them shot.

Never forget that we are all in this together. We don’t have to like each other, but we should all recognize the simple fact that everyone has a right to make a living, and we should all have a little empathy for all our collective fates. What happens to your automotive brother might happen to you some day, so have some compassion!

Talk to you later,


Classic Cars

One of the fun things about selling Fords, Chryslers or Chevy’s is the goofballs who own “classic” cars. Typically you’ll encounter them on a weekend morning. Maybe it’s a lovingly restored ’56 Chevy, perhaps an old Barracuda, or a ’66 Mustang. They pull on the lot and park their automotive obsessions in the most conspicuous spot they can find, maybe even taking up two parking spaces so no one will ding the door of their baby.

As a lad I used to enjoy these old cars. They were a welcome break in a busy day. But over the years I began to notice something. I never sold a new car or truck to a guy driving a classic. As a matter of fact it dawned on me that they only spent a cursory amount of time checking out my inventory. They mostly seemed interested in me checking out their inventory!

Guys who sell Toyotas probably don’t get a lot of this. I mean, there’s no one out there restoring old Cressidas. At least I hope not. But even Toyota salesmen are not immune to a guy in a Buick Roadmaster if he’s desperate enough for attention.

The truth is most Car Men don’t give a crap about cars. Don’t get me wrong, we can all appreciate a 50’s chrome beauty, but for us an automobile is just iron, plastic and paint. Most gear heads don’t make good car salesman. They get too wrapped up in the excitement of it all and forget about hammering out a gross.

But these poor bastards who spend all their free time restoring old cars; they constantly need attention. Car shows don’t come around that often. You can only go on so many caravan rides with you buddies. Sometimes they wake up on a Saturday needing a quick approval fix. They need someone to validate all their hard work. So they take the old Camaro down to their local car dealership, hoping that someone there will “ooh and aah” over their pride and joy.

Here’s something fun for you to do when you encounter one of these middle-aged, gray-haired gear geeks: Ignore the freaking car!

I pretend like I don’t even see the damn thing. “Can I help you, sir?” I ask in my friendliest voice, my eyes ignoring his ride. Thus begins an awkward fifteen minutes. He pretends he's interested in buying something. I pretend he's going to buy something. He lingers close to his little beauty to insure I see it. I pretend he drove in in a '97 Neon. I try to draw him out, suggesting we go out back to look for one of those new trucks he mentioned. He rarely wants to go. You can see the frustration and disappointment building. It’s great!

Now here’s a perfect example of why I’m not qualified to train anyone. Because as anyone who purports to know the art of selling cars would tell you, I’m not handling this properly. After all he might really be interested in buying something. You should go ahead and massage his ego a little. Do you what you can to get the job done, son! Be a company man for Christ’s sake!

But that’s not how I roll.

There was a lady who used to come into Shellworth Chevrolet about once a month. She had this beautiful ’53 Chevy. It was eggshell blue and white. Even my jaded eyes widened the first time I saw it. It was just like the one my grandmother had, the one with a blown reverse gear. The lady wore a Chevy jacket and Chevy earrings. I suspected she had a Chevy tattoo hidden somewhere on her body. She was proud of her car and desperately wanted me to acknowledge it. I, of course, being an obstinate asshole, refused to do it. I clearly pissed her off.

No matter whatever else happens in my life, I’ll always have fond memories of that…

Talk to you later,


When The Dam Breaks

Whenever business was particularly bad for a prolonged period of time, my brother, Danny, would point at the cars streaming up and down Mission Boulevard and say, “They won’t last forever! There going to have to buy something sometime. All we have to do is wait them out.”

And of course he was right. The market would inevitably turn, and the showroom would once again fill with customers. The mooches would resume their ritual of kicking tires and asking stupid questions. The salesmen would start the process of rooting out the buyers from the stokers. The automotive world would return to its rightful order. The only bummer was the trade-ins. They had all been driven into the ground, a veritable sea of $100 dollar cars. But the lesson of it all was that the business always comes back.


Now I will be the first to admit that I never envisioned a protracted automotive drought such as this one. In my wildest dreams I never imaged the five plus years of agony we have all gone through. And I’ll also admit that I can’t predict when this crap will end, but if I were a betting man I’d put down a hundred that we have another year of misery ahead of us. One more year of buying food off the dollar menu at McDonalds and drinking cheap beer. One more year of sales managers acting like dicks and dealers walking around with long faces.

Here’s a weird angle I bet you’ve never thought of: The quality of today’s cars has prolonged this drought. Forty years ago cars were about done at 80,000 miles, so the ability of The Others to hold out on us was limited. Today, most cars are just broken in at 80K. Even American built cars, dreaded by pipe smokers everywhere, can last well over 100,000 miles. So in a sense we are victims of our own quest for quality.

But I come here today with good news. When the automotive dam finally breaks it’s going to be like Noah’s flood. There is enough pent up demand for new metal in this county to make us all lots and lots of money. All we have to do is hold on--if we can. Young salesmen still have a chance to bail out of the business if things get too rough. Old Car Men like me have no choice but to wait. We were born to this business, and we don’t know how to do anything else.

The promise of tomorrow is that we will sell a helluva lot of cars. We’ll once again be able to throw the crazy people off the lot and concentrate on the buyers. The time will come when we’ll have the luxury of bitching about the low inventory and how upper management is flooding the floor with goof balls.

All well be as it was.

So get prepared. Get out your best rain gear. Because when the dam breaks we’re all going to get very, very wet.

Talk to you later,



In the beginning of my automotive career the deposit was king. The desk wouldn’t even look at you or your deal if you didn’t have something from the customer other than a piece of paper and a credit app. Money talks, bullshit walks as they say. If your customer was using a trade for his down payment it was easy, a key and the registration or title would suffice. But if he was putting a grand down, the desk wanted to see the grand up front. Getting the customer to write the check or even worse give you the cash before finding out if he had a deal could be difficult, but the penalty for bringing a deal to the desk without it meant you’re deal might be immediately turned.

As a green pea I had a lot of deals turned.

Get something out of the customer, that was the trick. If he wouldn’t give you the full grand, get something out of the mooch! A hundred? Twenty? A $5.00 bill? His watch? His shoe for Christ’s sake? You had to get a deposit!

.The reasons for this were sound. It was part of getting a true commitment from a customer to buy the car. It wasn’t enough that you had the guy sign a line that said, “Customer will buy and take home today for $1000 down and $250 per month.” No, sir, you had to get a piece of him too!

I swear to God I once saw a guy take a baby to the sales office

Is it a good idea today? Maybe, maybe not. In reality a proper written write-up is probably all you need, but I suspect most desk men still want something to hold the customer. Nothing’s worse than a salesman going back to the customer with his freshly-minted pencil only to discover the guy had bolted on him like a spooked horse.

In reality a customer who bolts has probably done you a favor, but the desk usually doesn’t look at it that way, especially if you have a pattern of people running out of the dealership like they’re on fire even before you have a chance to bump them. The desk begins to think you’re weak; that you can’t commit a customer properly and generally don’t have any control. Do that enough times and you’re out the door! But if the desk has faith in your abilities, the more they are not as likely to require you to resort to getting a customer’s shoes before they’ll look at your deal!

What about the other times when a deposit comes into play? For instance, what about the guy who wants to give you some money to hold a used car? Do you take it? Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that in most cases NOT taking a deposit is more effective than taking one, and I sincerely hope that lightening won’t strike me for saying this.

First, what if you take a deposit on a car and someone else offers more money for it? Take the money and run, I say, but that can get a little sticky legal-wise. Same thing if you tell him a deposit is non-refundable. It’s a good bluff, but good luck getting that past a small claims court judge!

Second, sometimes when a customer has a deposit on a car he thinks it’s safe to spend the rest of they day shopping for a car he might like a little better. What’s the hurry? He can always come back and get yours. “Hell, I’ve got a deposit on it!” he thinks.

I feel the threat of losing a car can be more effective than letting the guy think he’s in control of the situation. If you can create the emotion, you’ve got to make it clear that he’s going to lose that sucker if he doesn’t buy it now!

In my opinion a deposit on a car should be like an aspirin, it should wear out in four hours. And I think that if you decide to take a deposit you should let him know that.

Customers will always ask, “Has anyone else been looking at the car”? “How long do you think it will be here?” Well, how long is a piece of string? The car might be there two months from now; it might be gone in an hour. The point is do you really want to take that chance?

When you get your deposit at the time of the write-up keep the reasons for it a little nebulous. “Its good faith money,” is probably your best bet. Or “I need all the ammunition I can use to get your stupid offer through my boss!” Tell him anything, but DON’T TELL HIM IT WILL HOLD THE CAR!

The only thing that should hold a car is its emergency brake.

Talk to you later,