Niagara Gazette

May 10, 2013

TOM’S CORNER: Quiet, it’s a secret ... I’m buying a car

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Why it is that car sales people experience what seems to be the worse treatment of professional sales people in the world of business? 

The other day a friend of mine who is a salesman at a long established car dealership locally, walked across his lot inspecting the vehicles that were for sale to make sure they were clean, “ballooned up” (a term used to describe vehicles that have colorful, helium-filled balloons attached to them to bring attention to the car lot) pristine and ready for presentation to prospective buyers.

This salesman noted a customer driving back and forth in the car lot perusing the vehicle inventory. With a friendly gesture my friend flagged the customer down to ask him what he was looking for in an effort to make his vehicular shopping experience easier. The customer bellowed a warning that if he was a car salesman he was not going to put up with that kind of pressure !!$$##! … Well, ahem, you get the gist.

The question that came to mind was,  “Why such an aggressive attitude?” Possibly this customer had a bad experience with a car salesman at one time (or someone he knew did). My friend immediately gave the customer a business card and told him that, when he was ready to buy, let him work with this customer because he enjoyed working with people like him who know exactly what they want! This completely disarmed the aggressive, secretive gentleman who didn’t want anyone to know he was in the market to buy a vehicle even though he was driving back and forth in the car lot.

What’s the big secret? Why so hush-hush and defensive? Historically, some people have classified all car salesmen in the category  “All Car Salesmen Are Pressure-Applying Thieves.” And while this might be true for a very small percentage of people in the business (as is true in any profession) it is not the rule. This attitude is probably the result of the way cars were priced years ago when there was much more wiggle-room in pricing and hiding incentives simply because there was no way for the consumer to gain access to the pricing information on vehicles. Hence, some dealers would confuse pricing in order to muddle negotiations and gain unfair advantage. However, with the dawn of the Internet there is so much accurate information available on pricing, as well as comparative pricing and incentive programs made available by the carmakers.  Because carmakers make such info available to the public, there is no reason you should worry about being taken advantage of and fear overpaying for a vehicle.

Finally, a significant change in the car industry occurred after on of the most tragic events in our country’s history, September 11th, 2001, another date that will live in infamy alongside Dec 7th, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day). Over three thousand Americans died that day; and the car business in the US came to a screeching halt. Carmakers rose to the occasion and a new way of selling cars came to light: Customer Incentives. This approach first began as a way to jump-start the economy. Then, based on the positive response from the public, it became a way to aggressively compete with each other. Hence, The Incentive Wars began. And Incentives are still a large part of selling vehicles, so there’s no secret way of getting prices way under the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) on a vehicle any more (unless you have an “in” with someone high in the food chain at a particular carmaker like GM, Chrysler, Ford or Toyota).

However, there IS a way to get a better vehicle price than your neighbor. Something that you DO have control over: The value of your trade-in vehicle! Remember, trading a vehicle is, in fact, selling it to the dealer. So how do you get a higher price on your trade? Build a case for a higher trade value. Keep in mind that dealers are looking for clean, well-maintained vehicles to sell. There are things you can do to realize a higher trade value.

• Professionally detail your vehicle. By professionally having your vehicle detailed, you save the dealer the cost in cleaning the vehicle for presentation and you bring out the higher attributes of the vehicle.

• Organize your vehicle’s service history in a clean, easy-to-read manner. This way the prospective buyer can see that the vehicle was well maintained during your ownership.

• If you removed the OEM radio to install an aftermarket sound system that you want to keep. Re-install the OEM radio and make sure it works.

• Make sure all vehicle options work; replace any bad bulbs including dash lights.

• Make sure all maintenance is up-to-date. This indicates that the vehicle was well cared for. Things like low tires should be aired up to pressure, fluids clean and full and any other general maintenance done. This saves the dealer money on getting the car ready for presentation.

• Broken/cracked glass repaired or replaced. Use that glass coverage clause in your car insurance.

• Repair minor dents/dings. There are companies out there like Dent Wizard that repair dents without major cost. Paintless dent repair is a method of massaging the inside the body panels to “pop” minor dents out without major/invasive work. Well worth the cost when you consider what it will cost you in trade-in value.

• Pull a Carfax report on the vehicle and hand to Appraisal manager. If you do this and the Carfax history report is clean with no accidents, you immediately raise the value of the trade because a clean vehicle with no accidents in its history is valuable to prospective buyers, hence raising the vehicle’s value.

• Interior should be clean, no tears or holes in upholstery. Inside should also be void of any offensive odors like cigarette smoke, animal urine, etc. 

Use your common sense when preparing your vehicle for trade to a car dealership. If you think it’s important to address, it probably is and will cost you money in trade if ignored. 

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.