Going Topless: Dealership Drama


Perpetuating the old stereotype of the slimy used car salesman, Amy Tokic has an unforgettable experience at an independent dealership. This continues the streak of bad luck she’s had looking for her VW Eos.

After my surprising experience with the online car scammers, I was ready to head to a dealership. Yep, I wanted to get my hands on an actual (not fake) Eos and had my fingers crossed that this would be a worthwhile endeavor. I mean, how could things get worse? And with that thought, I jinxed myself.

I used the same car listing site as I had for the private sellers and found a lovely 2008 Eos in light blue with Comfortline trim, 59,000 km (36,000 miles) and a $23,995CND (about $20,000 U.S.) price tag. After checking Canadian Black Book, which is our version of Kelley Blue Book, I discovered that the average 2008 Eos at that price actually has more miles on the odometer. So far, so good. I was going in for a closer look.

Now this wasn’t just any ol’ dealership I was heading to – it specialized in fine and luxury automobiles. I was expecting a classy reception.Yeah, not so much. I arrived on the lot and saw the car I was interested in outside. A scout stood at the door of the dealership. He yelled out to ask if I need help and I replied in the affirmative. He came out a few minutes later with the key.

He opened the car door and went over all the basics that I found on the online listing. He asked if I had found it online and looked at the features, and I said I had. He proceeded to tell me about how the car was still under its original warranty, and I pointed out that it would be over at the end of the year. And that’s when the problems started. Here’s a snippet of the conversation (more or less).

The car originally came with a four year, 80,000 km (50,000 mile) warranty. Capable of simple subtraction, I deduced that in this the year of our lord, 2012, the warranty had almost expired. He tried to convince me otherwise, harping on the 80,000-km maximum and ignoring the four-year shelf life.

After spending a few excruciating minutes, I hung up my math teacher’s hat and asked for a test drive.

Like a waiter demanding a tip, he asked if I planned to buy the car that day. I replied honestly, explaining my plan to view several cars before spending, and things only got worse. One tense moment later, I walked away.

That whole process took a total of five minutes. It was the quickest car browsing session I’d ever experienced. And just in case you were wondering, I am never going back to that particular dealership. Ever.

After this eye-opening experience, I reiterated the story to LeeAnn Shattuck, Chief Car Chick at Women’s Automotive Solutions. We laughed at his expense and she gave me some great advice for the next time I went into an independent dealership.

The thing you have to remember, she said, is that these dealerships aren’t held to the same standards as the manufacturer dealerships. That’s why it’s important to research a dealer online before you go in person. Check out review sites – Better Business Bureau, social media posts – anything that will give you an idea about how a dealership operates. Just remember that no dealership will have a completely positive record, so don’t expect it.

Always use CarFax before visiting your prospective vehicle purchase. It’s a couple of bucks, but it could save you big money down the road. This is a non-negotiable fact – you need to see it. Some dealers will offer to show you the AutoCheck. It’s not as detailed as the CarFax, but it’s better than nothing.

Shattuck recommends that you call them before going in. Ask questions about the car you’re interested in. A few include:

  1. What did you do to the car to recondition it for resale?
  2. Where did you get this car?
  3. Is this car a trade in?
  4. What fluids were changed?
  5. Were the tires changed or are they the same ones that came with the car?
  6. Is it certified? Has it gone through green emissions and mechanical inspection testing?
  7. What does your internal service process for your cars? Can you outline your standards?
  8. Do you inspect the cars yourself or do you send them offsite for testing?
  9. Is the car sold as-is?
  10. Has the car been smoked in?

Once you establish a rapport with a salesperson, be sure to deal with them exclusively. It’s like following the chain of evidence – with less people handling the information, it’s less likely that some important aspect is going to get lost.

As well, you’ll be able to ascertain how forthcoming they are with information. If they don’t have the information or dodge the question, you can skip that dealer and move onto the next one. Besides, you can get a pretty good idea about what kind of dealer they are after a phone conversation.

Shattuck cautions buyers shopping out-of-state. Regulations don’t always cross those borders when it comes to used cars. For example, California has the strictest car emission laws of any state – if you’re bringing a new used car into Cali, you’d better make sure that car is up to snuff. As well, if there’s a problem with the title and you cross state lines, it becomes an even bigger problem… for you, not the dealership.

When it’s time to go in, you may be pleasantly surprised by the smaller independent dealership. Some places look like a hole in the wall, but the service and cars offered are amazing. On the opposite end of the scale, the most upscale dealerships can turn out to be pretty crap-tacular.

And if all goes well and you’re serious about the purchase, you must take the car to your mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. This is a must if the car is non-CPO and has more than 30,000 miles on it.

Lessons learned:

Listen to that pesky little voice in your head and that feeling in your gut. This is why it’s important to be prepared. This salesman just assumed I knew nothing and was willing to tell me anything to get me to drive the car off the lot that day. Perhaps it was because I am a woman or he just didn’t like my look. Maybe he was just an asshat. Whatever it was, I didn’t dig his vibe or the way he treated me. There are plenty of fish in the sea and that dealership wasn’t the only pond I could dip my pole into.

Stick to your guns. If you know that you’re right, don’t let anyone to you differently, even if they are in a position of so-called expert. Hey, you might be wrong… it’s possible. But it would have been foolish of me to just blindly believe the warranty information the salesman was trying to sell me. Besides, I did some research when I got home and it turns out I was right (like there was any doubt). Take that sleazy salesguy!

Next Up:

Will the third time be the charm? My experience with a CPO Eos.