The New Car Buying Game

They say that the three most mistrusted professions in the world are car salesmen, real estate agents, and lawyers. Now, being a real estate agent myself, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that all real estate agents are lowlifes. There are a lot of good agents – great agents, in fact. Of course, there are a lot of very bad agents as well. As for lawyers I can’t make generalizations, since I have the world’s greatest attorney, Jay Wheless, here on the Outer Banks. And until this recent experience of buying a car, I would have said that there are a lot of good car salesmen, too, because I have been fortunate to have a relationship with Hal Chappell at Biggs GMC in Elizabeth City (Hal is wonderful!) But after this experience I have to believe that the good car salesman is an exception. I think the majority of them must be grown in pods where subliminal sleazy sales training techniques are endlessly broadcast during the cocooning process. When mature, these salesmen and women burst forth in all their glory, fully prepared to do whatever it takes to bully the customer into buying a a new car.

Toyota RAV4 in sage green
Toyota RAV4

My search for a Toyota Rav4 took me to five different dealerships in three different states. The closest North Carolina dealer is in Elizabeth City, which is an hour away from the Outer Banks, so I decided to call first and see if they had what I was looking for. I got some yahoo on the line who talked in circles and couldn’t give me a straight answer to any of my questions, so I decided I’d better make the hour drive and talk to someone face-to-face. “So, Ted (not his real name), what hours are you open?” “I’ll be here until eight tonight,” he replied. I tried again: “Well, I don’t know if I can come tonight – what are the dealership’s hours of operation?” “I’ll be here tomorrow and Wednesday,” he answered. Getting frustrated now, I became just a tad sarcastic: “Let me put it this way, Ted, is the dealership open seven days a week?” “I don’t work seven days a week,” he said. I gave up. “OK, Barbie – see you when you come in,” he said (I had introduced myself as Barbara). And this guy really thinks I’m gonna buy a $24,000 CAR from him?????

Time for Plan B. There are multiple Toyota dealers in the Tidewater area of Virginia, which is only an hour and a half from the Outer Banks. I hit the phones again. The first dealer didn’t have what I was looking for and didn’t seem to have any interest in locating a car from another dealer, so I tried a second dealer. This salesman was a lot more helpful and told me he was sure he could locate a vehicle that would be to my liking, so off I went to Virginia Beach. I drove an hour and a half to find out they only had one car in stock and no idea when more would be arriving. To his credit, over the next couple of days this salesman did a search of the entire region and of the cars due to arrive from overseas. But he could never get straight what I wanted. He would call to tell me he’d found a car, but each time I would discover that something didn’t meet my specs – either it was a 4 cylinder rather than a V6, or it was 4 wheel drive rather than 2 wheel drive, etc.

I finally decided that it made more sense to buy a car in Florida, since I am moving there soon and was scheduled to be in Sarasota this week. I found an area dealership online and again called to hook up with a salesperson – this time a woman I’ll call Lola. I arrived on a Friday evening in the midst of a Sale-A-Thon. Salespeople spilled out of the showroom floor and loitered in front of the entry like hawks circling for the kill. Inside, more salespeople hovered – there must have been more than a dozen behind glass-fronted partitions or standing around the sales floor. I connected with Lola and we went to her cubicle, where the games began. Again, they did not have the model I preferred, but by this time I was willing to compromise – I’d take the 4 cylinder rather than the V6, but I preferred the Everglades Metallic color, rather than Silver Metallic they had in stock. I asked them to see if they could find me one in Everglades and was led to believe they would search the Region, so the negotiations began in earnest.

Over the next three hours I was left sitting alone five separate times while Lola “checked with her sales manager.” At one point, while waiting for her to return, I decided to call the people who were going to buy my GMC Yukon to make sure we still had a deal before I signed on the dotted line for a new car. Lola sauntered over, saying, “Done with your phone call now?” as if I had been keeping HER waiting. On another occasion some guy walked into the cubicle and interrupted our conversation, trying to convince me that he could save me money on taxes if I traded in my Yukon and let them handle the sale to my buyers as a pass-through. Of course, he had no idea that my buyers were in North Carolina, since he had not been involved in the discussions thus far. It turned out he was from Toyota International, on site to do some training, and Lola didn’t even know his name.

By now, more than a little aggravated, I asked to see the factory invoice. Since I’d been to other dealerships, I knew what a factory invoice looks like. But when they printed out the invoice for me it bore absolutely no resemblance to other factory invoices I’d seen. It was obviously a manufactured document. That’s when I asked whether they’d found a car in the Everglades color and Lola said her sales manager had told her to try to sell me the Silver one first, since that’s what they had in stock. Now there’s good old American customer service. Let’s not give the customer what they want; let’s try to cram what we have in stock down their throats. I insisted she go back to the sales manager and tell him I was only interested in the Everglades color. Suddenly, magically, they could get me the Everglades model. That’s when the sales manager stepped in to close the deal. He actually sat down in Lola’s chair and made her stand against the wall. He was a nice enough guy, but by that time I felt so disrespected that I backed off and said I had to think about it some more before I made a final decision.

The next day I got the phone book out and looked for other dealerships. I discovered that Gettel Toyota of Bradenton was just down the road, so I headed off to do battle once again. To my surprise, my reception and treatment at Gettel was much different than previous experiences. I met with the Sales Manager, Todd, who treated me fairly and with respect. I told him what I wanted and within 10 minutes he had located a suitable vehicle at a Tampa dealership. He didn’t play games with me and I didn’t grind him down too much on the price. I got a good deal and he made a fair profit. The whole process took no more than 30 minutes from the time I walked in the door. I pick up my brand new Rav4 next week and I couldn’t be happier. Maybe all those other dealerships should take lessons from Gettel. I’ll be recommending them for a long time to come.

8 thoughts on “The New Car Buying Game”

  1. Buying a new car can be a tiresome work. One should know how to deal with their old car junk. This article shares important information about this. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Hi Barbara, thanks for the heads up on your blog. It will be great to be able to see what you are up to!! Jason just bought a truck from Toyota in EC (reluctantly) because the dealer kept talking about getting the “deal” done. What a horrible term to use when trying to sell anything! As a REALTOR I would never use that term. Anyways, post lots of pictures especially of warm tropical climates. Good luck and thanks for everything you have done for me…..I know I can be bull headed but you always seemed to see past that.

  3. Rubin you state you have had bad experiences with real estate agents but you never state about what. You also lead us to believe you are “young” so just how many homes have you bought or sold? What happened? Just curious.

  4. My experiences with Toyota of Elizabeth City were similar. I tried to see what they had by making a phone call and all they wanted to do was sell me a 4 Runner that wasn’t what I wanted! Priority Toyota in Chespeake was a similar experience when visited the dealership. Eventually I bought from Charles Barker Toyota in Va. Beach. They were an excellent dealership and also sell Infinity and Lexus so the know what good service means.

    My second Toyota is the current one I am driving which is an ’07 Camry XLE. In April I looked for one with fear for rising gas prices. The only dealer who had them was Checkered Flag Toyota. They gave me a deal I felt was too good to be true so I bought the car on the spot but did make a compromise. I’d had Navigation on the last few cars and didn’t get one with with it and that was a big mistake which I miss greatly.

    Checkered Flag’s salesmen and manager were a pleasure to deal with but the experience went downhill from there. When it was time to sign the papers and pay the money there was nothing but “issues” to deal with and resolve. If I hadn’t have bought so many cars in the past I would have been taken to the cleaners at this point. There were a few warranty issues and the service writer and tech were both extreamly rude and condesending. I wll never set foot in that dealership again and Toyota will know it when I get my first JD Powers survey to fill out!

    With 27 years as a licensed driver under my belt I’ve had the fortune to purchase over 20 new cars. Some have been good and others bad experiences. Typically high line dealers such as Mercedes, BMW, Infinity and Lexus will give you a thoughly rewarding experience from purchase on but you do pay for that service. I do have to say that the finest dealership I have ever delt with is Phillips Mercedes in Virginia Beach. Having bought 6 new Mercedes from them I can state without hesitation that they are a top notch orginazation!

    If you had a bad experience put it down on the JD Powers survey you recieve in the mail or write to Toyota. You can tell them about how good the dealership you purchased from was but the others you delt with were horrible! The dealership gets rewarded in many ways when those surveys come back positive but heads roll if they don’t!

    After the first of the year I am going back to an SUV as I miss having a 4 wheel drive so I will let you know how that goes. My first choice is the new GL 320 which is a new full sized SUV turbo diesel from Mercedes that gets 25 mpg and meets all 50 states emissions it runs so clean. I just don’t like the price so I might go to another 4 Runner. So if Shawanda at Charles Barker is reading this keep an eye out for a Silver 4 Runner just like the last one I had or maybe white with beige leather instead 😉

  5. You’re correct- I was contradictory. However, my poor experience happened 1 time. It was my first time buying a new car for myself and I was about 20-21 yrs old. I went in alone, picked the car I liked and signed the papers. I was uneducated and naive having never been in the situation before. I was able to sell the car 3 months later and pay it off with a profit. You on the other hand, with all do respect, look older than 21 and have probably bought several cars in your life. Not only that but you’re an educated woman and obviously do research online and “think about it” before you make a move. That’s what leads me to believe that you’re somewhat ‘at fault’.

  6. Rubin: Glad to hear that you had a good car buying experience – gives me hope that there are more than a few good salespersons/dealerships out there. However, I do find your comment a bit contradictory. You begin by saying that you, too, have had mixed experiences at car dealers then end by suggesting that, because I did not have a good experience, the fault was mine. For that matter, if you go back and re-read my post, you’ll find that I begin by praising the dealer and salesman from whom I bought my Yukon – I have nothing but good to say about Biggs GMC and now I feel I have found another good dealer in Gettel. Sometimes one has to go through a few bad experiences to find the one shining apple in the barrel – that applies to cars as well as to real estate.

  7. I read your response. I too have had mixed experiences at car dealers. I found my local dealer here in Sarasota to honestly be one of the best. In fact, I hear more good things about them then I do about Gettle. But anyhow, it’s funny that you’re a realtor. I have found that realtors think that they are “know-it-alls” and seem to think that selling homes and selling cars is exactly the same. It’s not. In my profession, I have found that realtors can be some of the rudest and most unprofessional people to work with. I wonder what my experience would be working with you? Maybe you’re thoughts of car salesmen effected your buying process? What if what they told or showed you was true but the paperwork and/or inventory varies dealer-to-dealer? Aren’t the cars all the same? I would guess it shouldn’t be that hard. You’re the one that found something wrong at each dealer. Give that some thought.

  8. Barbara, I wish I could have helped you. I love the whole process. I like playing the game. I had very similar experiences last Dec 30th when I bought my four runner.
    Interesting training that car sales people go through, I have never thought about it but it sounds about right. As you know I am in sales, for me they are great examples of how not to treat people. For example how about listening to what the customers are saying.


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