A dealer responds: why does everyone think it's OK to ask for wholesale pricing when buying a car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm responding to your article asking dealers to tell you what a dealer
really pays for the cars he sells. I've been retailing cars and trucks for
almost nine years now, and I can personally tell you that new car dealer
profits have gone in the toilet. Not only do I have to compete with the
competition's prices, but now I have to fight Consumer Reports, too?

You're right that the dealer invoice is not the true dealer cost. But with
all of the information available to consumers about dealer costs, thank
goodness we at least have the "holdback." What right does anyone have to
get the dealer cost of anything that is for sale? Can't the salesman make a

If a new vehicle is sold at invoice, the salesman typically makes what is
called a "mini." I've seen mini commissions range anywhere from $50 to
$100. So if he or she sells 15 new cars in a month, and sells them all at
close to "invoice" due to the competition and information out there, that
means the salesman will make $1,500 to $2,000 a month. It's hard to make a
living and raise a family on that.

I haven't seen any articles lately on the wholesale cost of furniture or
clothing. Have you? Last I checked, everyone needs furniture and clothes,
so where are my wholesale lists? I want to buy a bedroom set at invoice!
Why not? Everyone expects to, and thinks it's his right to do that when he
buys a new car. I dare anyone to go into a furniture store and ask for a
copy of the furniture invoice. -- Scott

RAY: You raise an excellent point, Scott. And I happen to agree with you.
We don't ask for the invoice price of a bedroom set, a TV set or the real
cost of our cable TV service. We ask the price, we decide if it's worth it
(to us), and we buy or don't buy. So why do we treat car dealers

TOM: The answer is because you guys have treated us differently ... for
decades. Over many, many years, you commissioned sales people have trained
us to battle for price, by rewarding those who badger you and beat you over
the head, and punishing those trusting souls who don't. So how can you
blame people for seeking more information to avoid being one of the

RAY: I agree with you that it would be a better world if cars were priced
like cartons of milk, and salespeople worked for salaries plus some
incentives based on long-term customer satisfaction, or something that
didn't encourage a short-term commission-sale mentality (i.e. wringing the
most out of each individual sale). If the playing field were level for all
buyers, then I, as a buyer, wouldn't be afraid that I was being asked to
pay more because your last customer came in better prepared than I was.

TOM: Some dealers have gone to non-negotiable pricing and salaries for
salespeople. And it's a trend I hope catches on. Then I'd think you'd see
all of this invoice price research fade into the background. And we'd
probably be writing a "Furniture Talk" column and looking for inside
information on the wholesale prices of bedroom sets.

* * *

What's one secret of financial success? Driving a used car! Read How to Buy
a Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don't Want You to Know. You can order
it by sending $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope
to Used Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One