August 1, 2005

How Not To Sell A Car

My wife and I are interested in buying a new vehicle. We decided it would be “fun” to run around and test drive different makes and models. We went to a bunch of dealerships in between Austin and San Marcos.

I know these day s you can find pretty much any vehicle you want on the internet, know what the best price is and buy it. Some folks even shop on the Internet and don’t even deal with a salesperson until they go to pick their car up. The stress-free way to buy a car, I guess. Others pick the car they want then shop for dealerships and head in to find the best deal. Still others (like my wife and I) know basically what kind of vehicle they want (a mini SUV or a 4-door sedan) and jump from dealer to dealer to see what that dealership has to offer.

For the most part, all two weeks of shopping net us was a pile of brochures, some interesting stories, and a couple of headaches. For the most part, if you are open to dealerships in the area, I would recommend Howdy Honda out of Austin (ask for Eden) or Gillman Mitsubishi out of San Marcos (ask for Chris). These two were the ones that I felt more comfortable with and I didn’t feel like they were shoving a vehicle down my throat. Eden and Chris knew they weren’t getting a sale that day and really tried to work with us to find out exactly what we needed and the price we could afford.

But, we visited a number of dealerships with varying results. I stopped in a World Car Mazda twice (I had rented a Mazda 3 and liked the ride) and was ignored by everyone. We tried San Marcos Toyota to test drive the Matrix and the salesperson was sexist (told my wife “atta girl” for sitting in the back seat to see what room she’d have when she would be taking care of our daughter in the car seat while I was driving…in his eyes it was where a mom should be). We stopped in at Chuck Nash in San Marcos and just didn’t find a vehicle we liked at our price, but the salesperson (Peggy) was really nice. I contacted a few dealerships in Austin via e-mail and never heard back.

We spent a lot of time at San Marcos Auto Outlet. Our salesperson is a good guy, but somehow he was able to almost sell us a completely impractical vehicle for our family of three (14 month old daughter). We were seconds away from buying a 2005 PT Cruiser convertible. It was the floor model so it’s really sweet…and he offered to pay off our present vehicle on trade (a 2001 Ford Focus...a tale I’m going to tell later) and get us into this MSRP $30K car for just under $17K. What a deal...right? Luckily we had to walk away and think about it for the night. They “lent” us a non-convertible PT Cruiser for the evening so we could get a feel for driving a PT Cruiser.

Once we got home we realized a few things. It would be virtually impossible to load/unload a child in a car seat when the top was up. The trunk space didn’t work for a family with a young child. It was a two-door. Yes, among all the buzz of “great deal” we didn’t even notice that this car was a two-door. Man he had us going. Sure, it was a nice car to drive and the one we took home for the evening was nice. It had an MSRP of about $16K. When I took it back the next day and was about to leave, he suddenly offered to pay off my car off as the trade-in, pay my truck off (I’ve got about 8 months left on a Ford Ranger) and I would drive off that lot with payments of $450 a month for 4 years. Man…that sounded really good… be free and clear of about $660 a month in payments AND have a new vehicle. The buzz hit me again… Thank God of two things. I went there by myself (so I had to go discuss things with my wife before signing) and I had no access to the $1K down I needed to plop…or a checkbook to “hold” it at that point.

I almost paid $21,600 for a $16K car...over 4 years. I’ll have the truck paid off in 8 months… we’ll have the car paid off in 18 months. In the words of Dierks Bentley…”What was I thinking?” Well... I know what I was thinking. PT car……we can be rid of the Focus… ZZTop rocks… the whole family could learn that synchronized move that the guys in the band do in “Sharp Dressed Man…” I wonder if he’ll throw in that Terri Clark CD I saw in the lobby even if I don’t buy a Dodge truck…people will check me out driving this thing…sure it’s ugly, but in the best way possible… man I hate Red Simon Ford and really want to get rid of this damned Focus…if I buy this PT Cruiser, I can drive by Red Simon Ford and show them I was serious about buying a vehicle and they lost a customer because their staff is mostly made up of rude, angry, argumentative, asses who don’t give a flip about the customer and make it abundantly clear.

Yeah, my head was more on revenge then buying a practical car that would suit my family’s needs. So I’ve teased you enough. Let me explain about the experiences I’ve had at the hands of Red Simon Ford in San Marcos, Texas. But let me prelude this by saying I love my Ford truck. I have driven a Ford Ranger for the last 13 years (a used 1987 Ranger from 1992-96, 1996 Ranger Extended-cab from 1996-2001, and I currently drive a 2002 Ranger Edge). Nothing against the “blue oval.”

The prelude.
In 1998, I fell asleep at the wheel of my 1996 Ranger. It was damaged bad (luckily I wasn’t). We had it fixed at Red Simon Ford. A few months after getting it back, I was getting a ticket for parking illegally on campus at my college (I parked in a teacher’s space to run up to a building really quick and pick something up… University Police happened to drive by and see my truck and I was busted…my bad). Well, when I got back to the truck, they were writing my ticket and when I approached them they almost arrested me for having fake plates. Seems the wonderful folks at the body shop at Red Simon Ford put the wrong license plate back on the back. The right one was on the front. When I took it to get new plates, I didn’t get a word of apology or anything of the sort.

The first act.
In 2001, my wife (fiancĂ©e at the time) walked into Red Simon Ford. She was driving a really bad car that she bought used and was not safe for her to be driving. We decided the best thing was to get her out of that vehicle and into a new car. It was the first new vehicle I had bought without the help of my consumer-reports-reading-chief-negotiator dad. I had next to no experience buying a car other than walking into a dealership in Laredo, TX once, test-driving a Trans Am (I know…but I can’t help it… it’s the Smokey and the Bandit in me) and having the dealer take one look at the long-hair 22 year old in front of him and saying “You can’t afford this car” (Even though I could have at that time I was designing a hunting magazine and was making some nice pocket change). I walked out of there, went to the next dealership, test drove the 1996 Ranger, called my dad and told him that was what I was looking at… and 3 weeks later he called me up and told me to go pick the truck up and he got the best deal possible. I picked up the truck, drove right over to the dealership that told me I couldn’t afford the car, and made sure the sales rep knew he lost a sale. (That made me feel really good...but I’m sure the salesperson couldn’t have cared a flip).

Anyway... our salesperson at Red Simon was a guy named Mark. We test-drove the Focus and Mark didn’t know anything about the car. He didn’t show us any features; he didn’t try and explain the safety features, nothing. We didn’t know he was supposed to. All I knew was this little car would work, and if I could get it at about $300 a month, we’d buy it. My mantra was “I need this at $300 a month. After “negotiating” with him for a good hour (where he took calls on his cell phone and joked with a few other sales reps about going out and getting drunk that night). We got it at $309.25 a month. We signed the deal and drove home. It wasn’t until later that we figured out we signed it for 72 months. So, we’re driving a car right now that we owe 2 times what it’s worth…and we bought a Ford Focus for over $22K. Man I could kick myself still today.

Plus the sales rep never contacted us again. Except for his card in the case of the Focus instruction manual, he was all but vapor to us. What a piece of work.

Signing the deal was our fault. We can take the blame for that. No problem. Here’s where Red Simon screwed us...and continues. We had problems right off the bat. The service manager, Rusty Doherty, treated my wife on many occasions like a ditzy blond (she’s no ditz or blond) when he couldn’t find out what was wrong with the vehicle. He blamed the problems on her and her driving. They couldn’t find out what was causing the problem so it must be a women driver. In one particular instance, a few months later, there was a recall on the part that was causing the problem. He didn’t even acknowledge my wife or I when we got it fixed.

A few months later, I wanted a new truck, so we actually drove down to New Braunfels and had one of the most wonderful experiences in our lives buying a vehicle from Bluebonnet Ford. Our salesperson was the Internet Director at the time (Virgil) and he put us at ease, explained all of the options to us, made us very comfortable, told us all about the Ford Ranger Edge, AND told us about features on our Focus that we never knew existed. He spent an entire Saturday with us when he really didn’t have to.

We decided we never needed to step foot on Red Simon Ford’s lot again. From then on we took our vehicles to New Braunfels any time we needed anything done. In fact, Virgil has become our vehicle guru and kind of a salesperson-father-figure to my wife and I. We got fed up with the Focus at one point and visited him a few years ago and he took a good hour out of his day to talk with us, talk us out of trading in a vehicle (we were and still are upside down in payments) and even suggested a place we could go to consolidate our debt. Virgil rocks like Slayer.

Act two.
Well, fast forward four years… the sales rep that sold us the Focus is gone, and I had seen a few commercials on TV that made me think it was time to check out Red Simon Ford again. So, we went back in armed with the knowledge that they had done us wrong and they would at least have to give the Focus a good look-over (we had some knocking that we couldn’t pinpoint) and see how the service was before we made our decision.

We liked the Ford Escape, but wasn’t sure about Red Simon. We were ignored by and large by everyone but our sales rep (the girl in the receptionist’s desk didn’t even smile (or acknowledge us) when she looked over to us. The guy in the desk next to our salesman was talking (loudly) about how much better his car was than one of those on the lot…to another sales rep that was sitting at his desk. But... our sales guy (Kirk) was a nice guy and really wanted our business. When we told him we had a bad experience (didn’t even go into detail) he had Rusty come up and shake our hands and say he was “real sorry” we had such a bad experience and he’d make sure we were done right this time.

My wife ended up dropping the Focus off at the dealership on a Tuesday and they set her up with a rental car. Now… it may be just me, but shouldn’t a Ford dealership set someone up in a Ford rental when they are getting serviced? I’d think so, but I guess they thought different and my wife came home in a Toyota Camry.

Tuesday afternoon we hadn’t heard anything so my wife called and when she finally got hold of the service department Rusty said he heard the knocking and it wasn’t something they were familiar with so they had to take the car apart. Wednesday...we heard nothing. The sales rep did call on Wednesday to find out how our experience with the service department went (he could have walked a few feet or called “his” service department and seen that the car was actually there at the time). Thursday my wife called a few times and when Rusty called back he was extremely condescending to my wife and said the car was ready (It’s funny now…but at the time it wasn’t because it was never explained to us… but the ball attached to the antennae was knocking on the roof when the wind hit it). A few hours later someone called from Red Simon to let my wife know the car was ready (a conversation we’d already had). My wife was a little perturbed and asked me to go with her to pick the car up.

When we got there, we were directed to the service check out…and there the girl at the desk said it’d be something like $84 for the work. My wife said, “No, Rusty is taking care of it.” She got a bit of an attitude because we made her stand up and go make things right…but came back and said, OK you’re set. When I asked for a print out of what they had done, she seemed put out that she’d have to “print it again.”

Nobody explained what was done to the car. Nobody even told us where it was parked on the lot. All I knew was they took the thing apart and apparently an antennae ball was what they thought it was. I doubt they ever took a look at the car, other than driving it for 2 days and leaving the car on empty. The spare tire was out of the wheel well. So I asked my wife to take the truck to San Marcos Auto Outlet (you’ve read that story) and I’d be there as soon as I got someone to put the spare tire in.

I was going to be calm and nice and just request the tire be put in. I walked in to the service area and Rusty was there. I asked him if it would be possible to get someone to put the spare tire back into the wheel well like my wife had asked when she brought the car is, he said it wouldn’t be a problem. Then he gloated about how he had his guys do 10 hours of work on that car and he drove it for two days and he didn’t charge us a thing for that. My response was “I can tell you drove it for two days, it’s on empty.” At that point he told me that I didn’t have to get all argumentative with him and that mentioned again that they didn’t charge for the work. I mentioned that he was never going to charge for the work, as was the agreement in the first place, and that he tried to charge for it anyways. I then told him I hadn’t even begun to get argumentative. (All this with a calm voice... I was pretty proud of myself.) He then copped an attitude with me and started spouting about something. I finally said all I wanted was him to have someone put the tire back in like he said he would, and I’d be on my way to another dealership where I would buy my next car (I raised my voice a little at this point). His response was “Why don’t you have that other dealership put the tire back in then.” We had about a 20 second staredown...I told him that he was a wonderful professional and before I raise my voice again I was going to wish him a good day.

I walked up to the salesman’s desk left him a note that said I’d never buy a vehicle from Red Simon Ford again and he was too nice of a person to work at that dealership…then I left. I drove right to San Marcos Auto Outlet and almost bought a PT Cruiser.

So, I implore you, if you are going to buy a Ford, go to Bluebonnet in New Braunfels, or one of the Austin dealers. Just steer clear of Red Simon Ford. If I stop one person from making the same mistake I made, I have done my job.

The conclusion.
So I guess to wrap this up I can recommend you think about a few things when you buy a vehicle.
- Don’t buy out of spite or anger towards another dealership.

- Don’t buy anything on the first day you test-drive the vehicle.

- Don’t trade in a vehicle that you owe more than it’s worth.

- If you’ve had a bad experience with a dealership years ago and decide to give them a second chance, don’t be surprised if you get the shaft again.

- Go in armed with the knowledge of how much you are willing to pay for a vehicle. Do your Internet work; find out how much a car is worth.

- Don’t play the negotiation game with a salesperson unless you really, really know what you are doing. They do it 10 times a day and will crush you if you’re not careful (And THAT is your fault).

- If a salesperson doesn’t care enough to know about what he is selling, ask for someone who does. OR go to the next dealership. There are too many car dealerships for you to feel obligated to one.

- If you are just test-driving a car to have some fun, don’t go sit down in the salespersons office. You are either wasting his/her time, or you’re going to dive off in a car you don’t need.

- I have a neighbor that said he had a wonderful experience at Red Simon Ford. So, my opinion is worth what it cost you, but if I’d read this story by someone else, it’d have saved me about $11K and 6 years of headaches.

- Ask your friends and family who they went to for their cars, who their salesperson was and if they would recommend them to you. That’s how we found Chris at Gillman Mitsubishi.

- I am not a professional when it comes to buying, selling, or recommending vehicles at all. I’m just a customer that had an experience and thought by sharing it, I may be of help to someone. Every name I included in this story is a real name, the players all know who I am, and know I’m not stretching the truth in the least bit, but I suspect I’ll be called a few choice names by at least one “professional.” I hope it makes him feel better. I know I do now.

Oh, and for the record, I think we’re going to go with a Honda. The CRV or Accord…but we’re going to wait until the cars are paid off. Buying a car is too stressful right now.