“So, you aren’t going to tell me the trade-in value unless I commit to buy a new car?” I was standing in the middle of the showroom at Crown Honda at Southpoint in Durham, North Carolina, getting angrier by the moment.
My salesperson replied that they put the trade-in value into the computer, but I’d have to choose a new car first before they would show me on the printout.
So as not to lead them on, I’d told them from the start that I wasn’t going to buy for 1-2 weeks. After the test drive, I told the salesperson I hadn’t decided whether I preferred the Civic or the Fit, and that I’d think about it, and that he could follow up on Wednesday or Thursday.
I reiterated (for the third time) that I wasn’t buying today, but wanted to know what they’d pay for my old car — something they said they’d provide after my test drive.
A manager came over and told me they were pretty busy, that 15 customers had come in — so they probably hadn’t even gotten around to evaluating my 2000 Accord to even know the trade-in number.
Crown Honda gets sleazy on the sales floor
This was the exact opposite of what the salesperson had told me when I arrived two hours earlier — that there were three people in the queue, and they’d have my car evaluated in 30-40 minutes while I test-drove the Civic and the Fit.
I felt like Crown Honda was pulling some sort of sleazy bait-and-switch scam. At least they didn’t claim they “lost” my car keys when I was ready to leave.
I reminded them that the trade-in value had nothing to do with which new car I bought.
I’d previously told them several times that I needed to leave by 1:30 for an appointment. I checked the time — it was 1:22pm. I said, “You got eight minutes. Give me the number.”
The manager went over to someone else and they spoke for a few minutes, and he came back. “About $2,000.”
So apparently they’d lied to my face about not “getting around to” evaluating my car — they’d had the number all along.
If that’s how Crown Honda at Southpoint treated me at the beginning of the sales process, I can only imagine how pissed off I’d be at the end of the process.
As far as I can tell, this was typical car dealer behavior. The salesperson said they sold 150-200 cars a month. Sadly, it sounds like Crown Honda’s high-pressure tactics work pretty well… if you own the dealership.
Is there a better way? Of course there’s a better way. This is America, the land of consumer choice — just go to CarMax, the chain of used car superstores.
CarMax, the transparent alternative
Cars are a commodity. Is a red 2011 Honda Fit Sport (without Nav system) any different at one dealer or another? No, of course not. It’s the exact same car, probably at around the same final price.
When you sell what customers consider to be a commodity (cars, office supplies, Clementine oranges), the only way for you differentiate yourself is through service — and a transparent sales process.
When I went to CarMax, they had a written trade-in offer waiting for me after my test drive (they were busy, too, but that didn’t stop them for doing what they promised). My salesperson reminded me that their purchase offer was good even if I didn’t buy a car from them. And CarMax’s written offer was good for seven days — as opposed to Crown Honda’s verbal “take it or leave it” offer.
When CarMax gave me the trade-in estimate, their subtext was, “We’re so confident in our offer that you’re welcome to shop around.” Crown Honda’s approach speaks of fear and paranoia — that if I step out the door, they’d never grab my money.
Well, they’re right — Crown Honda at Southpoint will never get my money, but that’s their own fault, because they choose to be an old-style, high-pressure car dealer.
What I’m going to do instead
I like the simplicity of the CarMax buying experience but I want a new car, and the local CarMax sells used cars only. Turns out my insurance company has a buying service where I pick what I want and they give me a price.
The buying service does everything in advance, including transparent pricing at a dealer within a 50- or 100-mile radius. I just show up to sign the paperwork, pay for the car, and drive home.
Sounds good to me! Now, I just need to decide between the Civic and the Fit…
Have you ever switched vendors because the last one wasn’t transparent?