Say Anything: Breaking Up with Your Car Dealer

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald | Sep 21, 2016

My dear friend Victoria tagged me in the following Facebook update the other day:

Dear Craig Fitzgerald:

I need relationship advice on breaking up with car salesmen. They keep calling long after we sent our beloved Accord over the Rainbow Bridge and brought home our new buggy. The salespeople with zero product knowledge and "hey little lady" swagger got a "we bought a car from SOMEONE ELSE! BWA HA HA HA HA!!" reply.

The nice guy who nearly broke into tears over our rejection of his Equinox deserved our gentle "it's us, not you" explanation. The well-oiled machine at the local Honda dealership refuses to give up; we're beset by well-meaning nice people who are in denial about our recent purchase of another marque. What do we tell a forlorn suitor who refuses to give up?

(Besides take out a restraining order)

Maybe their moms smoked during pregnancy or they were exposed to radiation, but for whatever reason, car salespeople were born without a rheostat. They only have an on/off switch. That means you typically encounter one of two scenarios at your average car dealership: You can be hard pressed to have another human being make eye contact with you. They're busy with other tasks: their 27th styrofoam cup of Kurig coffee, making time with the receptionist, Candy Crush, waxing their mustaches, whatever. What they won't do is saunter over to you with the keys to the car you've spent the last 20 minutes looking at in the cold parking lot.

The other scenario plays out like this: You roll onto the lot, just intending to browse around to get a gander at how the new F-250 looks. You hear a hard *thwack* as seven ravenous salespeople hit the showroom window simultaneously, all salivating for the opportunity to make $300 on a sale.

Car salesperson in stealth mode. (By Lip Kee, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Victoria's case, she was a golden opportunity for any salesperson. She was preapproved for a loan, she knew what she wanted, she knew more about the car than 70 percent of the salespeople on the floor, and she was ready to buy.

She visited a half dozen showrooms, drove a few potential candidates, and finally settled on a car that met her needs.

What nobody tells you, though, is that while YOU may have settled on a new car, salespeople have a General Manager who thinks you'd be willing to dump another $30k on a second car, so for God's sake, KEEP CALLING.

Has this strategy ever worked?

"Well, Lurleen, I just jammed a Bloomin' Onion, the Fondue Washtub and an entire Crab 'N' Steak Bash in my face but now that you mention it, why don't you bring me the entire left side of the menu and the Never Ending Chocolate Fountain, too?"

Auto dealers have also stuck with a communication method that's only slightly less dated than the Fax: Email. See, a car dealer can't assign a value to anything on social media. How much iron does a Facebook Like move? What dollar figure can you attach to retweet?

With an email address and some relatively rudimentary customer relationship management software, a dealer can see exactly how well an email newsletter performs, and they can even figure out whether opening it and reading an article eventually led to a sale.

The only people more obsessed with email than car dealers are Russian hackers at a DNC convention.

At the beginning of the summer, I helped my 86-year-old mother lease a 2016 Volkswagen Beetle, a car in the vague shape of the Beetle she wanted in the 1960s. When she leased her car, the dealership was insistent that it needed an email address.

My mom is Straight Outta the Depression. She still uses the Yellow Pages and has a VCR that has been flashing "12:00" since Murder, She Wrote was on the Tiffany Network. She'd be more likely to have nuclear launch codes than she would an email address.

My mom and her new Beetle. "How do I 'Log On' to Compuserve?"
My mom and her new Beetle. "How do I 'Log On' to Compuserve?" (Craig Fitzgerald)

I gave them mine instead.

By the time I got home the day we leased her car, I had at least seven "THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS" emails. I got one from the General Manager, the Sales Manager, the salesman, the receptionist, the service deptartment, Volkswagen USA, VW Credit, the janitorial service, a guy that lives next door to the dealership, and the president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 201 that installed the sign out front.

Every time she goes in there for an oil change, I know it before she even gets home because an email lands in my inbox telling me so, thanking me profusely, and asking me to fill out some kind of survey.

The only entity that abuses email more flagrantly than a car dealer is Guitar Center. No joke. I've gone in there to buy a pack of picks for the princely sum of $5.94 and within an hour received the following email:

Hey, CREGG A. FIZGERLAD, it's JUSTIN from Guitar Center #1107 NATICK. Just wanted to drop you an email to see how those TORTEX MEDIUM GUITAR PICKS, GIG PAK, Qty. 13 Part No. 747505B are working out for you. Just wanted to let you know you have 30 days to buy the extended warranty. Keep Rockin', Bro!!!1!!!!

All this stinks of desperation. Yeah, I suppose it might work once every six months but, in the meantime, you've accomplished exactly the opposite of what you intended.

I tried exactly the average car dealer's strategy with a high school girlfriend who broke up with me. I called and wrote and sent flowers and jewelry and even stood out in front of my Malibu with a boom box over my head while Peter Gabriel sang "In Your Eyes."

What do I have to do to put you in this Malibu today?
What do I have to do to put you in this Malibu today? (20th Century Fox)

All I got out of it was an overtly threatening conversation with her dad.

A little tip for car dealers out there: Your customer is a little, timid squirrel who has as much trust in you as they do the German Shepherd tied up in the yard next door. You don't want to rush in waving your arms around when you're trying to feed us a peanut.

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