Dear Tom and Ray:
Come on, you guys. I just read your most recent column, about buying a new car. I sell cars for a living. Although I realize everyone wants that "good deal" out there, why do you advise people that "the dealer invoice is a good number to shoot for when negotiating"? I work on commission, and the closer to invoice we go, the less I make. What's wrong with a profit for me? Many cars just don't sell at invoice, or even close to invoice. It's articles like yours and that annoying Consumer Reports that continue to poison the public's minds about my profession. Anyway, I do enjoy your work, despite all this. -- Ron
TOM: Sorry, Ron. What we meant to say was, "The dealer invoice is a good number to shoot for, unless you're buying a car from Ron."
RAY: Actually, Ron, we are sorry. But unfortunately, you're bearing the brunt of all the plaid pants, white belts and white shoes worn by your occupational ancestors.
TOM: By using hard-sell tactics for the past, oh, century or so, car salesmen have become some of the least-trusted people in America, according to surveys. And it shouldn't make you feel any better, Ron, that you sometimes get beaten out for "least trusted" by politicians.
RAY: Are there honest car salesmen? Absolutely. And they're all going to send us hate mail as soon as they read this. But there are two things working against even honest car salesmen these days. One is that the profession's reputation has been reinforced over many generations, and it might take that long again to fully repair.
TOM: And second, there are still guys out there reinforcing the stereotype of the sleazy car salesman -- saying whatever needs to be said to move the metal, and selling people stuff they don't want or need, because they make a commission on it.
RAY: If you want my suggestion for how to get back on the right track, here it is: Swing the pendulum all the way in the direction of honesty. Lay out the facts for the customer. Say, "Here's what we pay for this car; here's how much we've paid in interest to keep it on our lot; there's a 2 percent holdback we get after we sell it; there's $1,000 of dealer cash incentive that they give us; here's my commission; and here's what the dealership earns in profit."
TOM: Most people don't resent the fact that you or your dealership want to make a fair living, Ron. People are just afraid that they're being ripped off. They're afraid of what they DON'T KNOW. And in my opinion, giving them as much honest information as possible is the best way to allay that fear and regain their trust.
RAY: Yes, it's true that the guy who sells pants for a living doesn't have to do that. But that's (A) a much less significant purchase, for most of us (only my brother spends more on pants than on cars, and that's not because he buys nice pants), and (B) because people have been taught over generations not to trust car salesmen. Although that might be no fault of yours, Ron, it means you have to go the extra mile now.
TOM: Give it a try, Ron. And if you get fired for being too honest, sign up for the fire department. They're consistently among the most trusted people in society.
RAY: Wait. I got hosed by a fireman once!