Friday, May 25, 2007

Car Buying Experience

I mentioned in a previous post that I was thinking of buying a 2007 Honda Accord. And I am happy to report that I purchased the car for (a) hundreds of dollars less than what listed as the dealer invoice price and (b) a few dollars less than a comparably equipped 2006 Accord at CarMax. I had my heart set on buying a used, crossover SUV. But my financial planner suggested the Accord (reliability and resale value and factory to dealer incentives).

Thanks to, I was able to negotiate everything with the dealership via email. So, the whole car buying experience turned out to be a pleasant one. But it definitely started off on a sour note.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Honda dealership on the north side of Chicago to test the Accord and the CRV. When my friend and I got there, we were accosted by an older woman in her 50s or 60s (unusual for a car dealership), who immediately went into hard core sales mode. But as we talked, and she realized that we were serious buyers, she toned town her sales pitch a bit. I told her that I wasn't ready to buy the car that evening, but I did want to test drive the Accord and the CRV. She wound up telling us a bit about her life story. I sensed that she was an honest person who was trying to make a living under some difficult circumstances. If she managed to sell a car to me, she would earn $175 in commission. So, although they didn't have the car that I wanted in stock, I decided in my own mind that I would come back and order the car from her.

But then we got back to the showroom. Funny how our feelings can change in the span of a heartbeat. Our salesperson went to log my contact information into the computer, but she was accosted by her manager, who proceeded to berate her in a very loud and hostile tone of voice. "Are you going to close the deal tonight?". No, she needs to sell her car first. "Well, what is she driving? Did you talk to her about trading it in?" No, she's already promised to sell it to a friend. He gave her a dirty look and then announced, "Well, I'm going to ask her myself!" Mind you, from where we were sitting, my friend and I could see and hear the entire exchange. So when he turned and walked over to where we were sitting, I was both irritated and apalled by his bad behavior. He introduced himself and then asked if I'd be willing to buy a car that evening if he offered me a great deal. I explained that I was going to wait a few days because I was selling my car to a friend, and she was in the process of applying for a loan. "Did you think about trading your car in? I could give you a great price." No, you couln't. I've already looked up the trade-in value, and my friend is willing to pay the private party value. "Did you think about the tax savings you'd get by trading in your car?" Yes, I've already calculated that. In my head, I was thinking, "Does he really think that I'm that stupid?" I'd save at most a couple hundred dollars in tax and lose thousands of dollars on the actual sale of the car. He tried one more time to get me to negotiate an actual price with him, and then finally gave up and walked back towards our salesperson where he proceeded to berate her yet again because she was having trouble logging my contact information into the computer system.

At that point, my friend and I were absolutely furious. I can deal with people who are condescending or disrespectful. But it turns my stomach when I see people being verbally abusive towards children or the elderly.

The salesperson came over and explained that when I was ready to buy, she would be my advocate and get me a great deal. And she assured me that I would wind up paying about the same price at any other dealership. I made a vague promise to come in the following week to close the deal and then my friend and I left in silence. When we got back to my car, I said "Was it just me or was that manager just a complete ass?" And that's when my friend let it rip. She said that she was on the verge of telling that manager off, but she didn't want to embarrass me.

Sigh. I really wanted to buy the car from the salesperson. But I just couldn't stomach the idea of adding to that manager's bottom line. So, I called her the next day to cancel my appointment. She of course had the day off, and I had to leave a message with the receptionist. And then we played phone tag for the rest of the week. When we finally did connect, it was the day after I had purchased the car from another dealership in the suburbs. She said that she needed to explain to her management why I chose not to buy the car from her. And so I told her that I didn't appreciate the way her manager talked to her. The sad thing is that she didn't remember the incident. "Was the manager tall and blond or shorter with dark hair?" Which leads me to believe that verbal abuse is a fairly common occurrence for her. Even worse, she tried to defend her manager. "Well, you did come in kind of late in the day." Umm, right. That still doesn't give anyone the right to be disrespectful towards their employees. In the end, she asked if she could relay my story to upper management, and I told her that she should definitely feel free to do so.

So, have you ever walked away from a deal because of poor customer service or because you just really didn't like the buyer/seller?


S. B. said...

Maybe I am just totally cynical of car dealers, but the first thing that occurred to me was that maybe the entire conversation between salesperson and manager was a standard act. In other words, perhaps a manufactured "good cop" / "bad cop" scene so that you would feel sorry for the salesperson and buy from her.

Maybe...maybe not...but that was my first reaction to the story!

IRA said...

S.B. - Maybe you're right! Now that I think about it, it's a fairly common negotiating tactic.