Crazy Car Business Stories

12:02:00 PM


Having been in the automotive industry for quite awhile I thought I would take the time to write down some of the best stories that have actually happened while on the front lines of retail automotive sales. Thankfully I no longer sell cars, but here are some of my favorite customer interactions.


Mustang Fakeleen:

The owner of the dealership I worked for really wanted to carry Saleen Mustangs, however, just down the road another local Ford dealer was the regional authorized Saleen dealer so we were out of luck. So he and some of the manager hatched the plan of creating the dealership's own aftermarket car department similar to Galpin Ford's GAS. 

The owner must have watched a few episodes of Pimp my Ride for research, thus having researched the aftermarket completely via MTV he hired a manager who claimed that he "grew up on the mean streets of Alta Loma," used words like "dawg," and ended every sentence with "you know what I'm saying." This would be the man to build the new aftermarket department. One of his first tasks, build a package to rival Saleen. 

Now, this guy had a history of building devastatingly bad vehicles and had worked at one of the worst companies in the aftermarket known for creating the rice rocket fad. You know the one, they built products like “simulated carbon fiber spoiler” and “racing style seats” all made in China very poorly. 

His plan to rival Saleen is to build, well a Saleen, but a clone “down to the decals dawg” and he gets the owner to give him not one, but two brand new Mustang GT’s to do a complete “Saleen Conversion” on. I and others pointed out that they need to put a disclaimer on the car that it is not a real Saleen….but in their wisdom, they decided that that would take away from the car and they would just call it a “Saleen Equipped Mustang.”

So the first two cars are put on the showroom floor, a customer comes in and sees the black “Saleen” convertible, supercharged, complete Saleen package, (no seats, or interior modifications) and writes a check of $65,000 for his new “Saleen”. The whole time I am trying to get anyone a manager, finance guy, even salesman, to have the customer sign a waiver stating that he understands it is a "Saleen Clone." They refuse saying “it will take away from his buying experience.” 

16 months pass and the Fakeleen is parked in front of the dealership, a fuming customer comes storming into the dealership looking for blood. It seems he decided to trade the “Saleen” in at the BMW dealer across the street for a new M3, only to be told that his $65K+ Saleen is really a $28,000 Mustang GT with some parts on it, and it has a trade in value of about $19K, not the $45K of a true Saleen. Needless to say, some lawyers got involved and the dealer wrote a big check for the full amount of the car. The customer got to drive a supercharged Saleen equipped Mustang for free. The car was later resold as a used car with the correct tags pointing out that it was not a real Saleen.



Your tax dollars at work:

I was working as the Internet Sales Manager for the dealer group that included Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, and Kia when a phone call came in from a local state assemblywoman’s office. The staffer was frantically looking for two Lincoln Towncar Signature L models, which had recently been discontinued. "I need two Black on Black Towncars. One for the local office and one for the Sacramento office" he said with stress in his voice. I put him on hold to check the regional database, only to find that there were none within 500 miles. I let him know I would have to call him back, since California is the largest car market if we did not have it, likely no one did.

So as I am checking inventory to no avail, I decided to Google the assemblywoman’s name. I find countless bills, speeches, and articles on her green legislation, hybrid car bills, and other general tree huggery. After finding that there are no Towncars left I thought I'd have a little fun with the staffer.
I pick the phone call the assemblywoman's office, they transfer me to the staff member. “Good news, I have the perfect cars for your boss in stock. Two Black on Black Ford Escape Hybrids” I said.  There is complete silence on the other end of the phone. I continued “Seeing as the assemblywoman is so concerned about the environment that she keeps passing laws regulating the cars we should drive and the types of cars we should have in California, I thought she would like a car that gets double the gas mileage of a Towncar, and costs about $15,000 less each would be a perfect fit.” The staffer flies off the handle and says “She cannot be seen in something like that she needs a prestigious car for entertaining dignitaries… if you are not willing to help us we will go to someone that will” 

At that point, I was just laughing a the idea of a state assembly member “entertaining dignitaries” and the idea that they wanted to spend about $100,000 for two Towncars so some hack can be driven around in by a staffer like she was the president. Your tax dollars at work.



The Millionaire:

“Hello sir welcome to XYZ dealer, how can I help you” I ask to the poorly dressed, dirty, and disheveled man standing in front of a new GT500. “I want to drive it” he said. “Well sir I am sorry but no one test drives the GT500, not even me” I replied. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM…I OWN A VIPER, A LAMBORGHINI,  A CORVETTE, A FERRARI, AND ABOUT 20 OTHER CARS, I'M A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE SUPERCAR MARKET” he yelled.

 “Well that’s all well and good sir, but the store policy is that no one drives the car until they are approved to purchase it if you would like to fill out a credit application, I can see what I can do,” I said as he cut me off. “I AM A FUCKING MILLIONAIRE; I WRITE CHECKS FOR MORE THAN YOUR ENTIRE YEARS PAY, I DON’T FILL OUT ANY FUCKING PAPERWORK, WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR MANAGER.” He is turning red at this point and only about 2 inches from my face. I step back and open the door and tell him to please come in.

“Brian this gentleman would like to speak to the manger about driving the GT500” I say to the general manager who happens to be at the front of the sales tower. “Tell him no” he replies without even looking up. Before I could say another word "The Millionaire" explodes. “FUCK; THE TEST DRIVE, I AM PAST THAT, I WILL BUY THAT CAR FOR FULL PRICE IF YOU WILL FIRE THIS SALESMAN (me) RIGHT NOW IN FRONT OF ME, THIS LITTLE PRICK TRIED TO TELL ME THAT I NEEDED TO QUALIFY FOR THE CAR BEFORE I COULD DRIVE IT, DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM”. He is freaking out so the manager invites him into an office to try and claim the man down and keep the noise off the showroom floor. A few minutes later the man comes flying out of the office, red in the face and he yells as he leaves. “FUCK; THIS DEALER, THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE WITH MONEY, AND I’LL BE BACK MOTHERFUCKERS”

The manager comes out and just says “that guy was nuts”, we watch through the large windows to see what supercar he jumps into in the parking lot. There were some nice cars parked out there like an  M6, an AMG Mercedes, and a Ford GT in for service…. Nope, he walks over to an early 1980’s Toyota pickup truck with a mismatched bed, a bondo filled door, and he does a burnout as he leaves the parking lot.

While that was amazing, it got better. He kept his promise and the next day showed up the next day with a sandwich board sign and one of his "supercars," a gold metallic 1980 Corvette that had seen better days. He spent the day marching back and forth ranting about our dealer wearing his cardboard sign that had a long rambling message that could not be read at a distance. Eventually, police helped him leave.



ACLU vs BMW:

We had a used BMW out on the lot, one morning a large woman in stretch pants, walks up and says "I want to buy that BMW in the front, can you pull it up?" I was up, so it was my turn to help the tire kicker. I run out to the line, unlock the key box and pull the car up to the front. As I exit the car she says “I will take it for that price right there” pointing to the large yellow stickers on the windshield which read $2599, you could see the outline of the missing sticker on the windshield. I started to explain that it looks like someone has pulled a decal off and that it happens from time to time with the cars on the front line and that the rest of the stickers, the window sticker, and the tag in the window all say $25,999.

“Nope, not gonna work, I know my rights, that is false advertising and I am going to call the ACLU,” she said. I asked her why she would call the ACLU to report an advertising dispute, to which she replied: “They give people free lawyers for when people like you try to screw them over.” 

I started to laugh because it was just so crazy and she got even more pissed off. I go to move the car and have the decal fixed, when she yells at her “partner” an older man with a cane, who was wearing some very nice sweatpants that said MICKEY on the butt, to block the car, while she took photos with her camera phone. “This is for the ACLU, the shit is gonna hit the fan once this gets out” she yells at me. I pull the car away, the old man was a little slow to react, I have the decal fixed and put the car back on the front line.

Upon returning to the front of the dealer, I find she is now inside and yelling at the sales manager, who invites her to leave. She says "I am gonna wait for the ACLU to call back and then we will see what’s what." She helps herself to some free coffee and sits down in front of the TV in our service lounge. Turns out she was waiting for her car in service.



Toilets are for customers:

All the salesmen are standing around at the front of the dealership killing time on a Tuesday morning when a really large man walked around the corner from the customer lounge. He looks like he is not happy and on a mission. “Can I help you sir?” one of the salesmen asks. “I NEED TO SEE A MANAGER RIGHT NOW” he replies in a gruff voice. The desk manager turns around and says “What can I do for you?”  

The man looks like he is shaken, angry, and almost about to cry at the same time. “I WAS JUST IN YOUR RESTROOM, AND I SAW ONE OF YOUR SALESMEN. THAT GUY (he points to Steve who's face looks shocked) USING THE HANDICAPPED RESTROOM STALL” he says.

The manager looks completely confused and replies, “Sorry about that sir, I’ll let the guys know to try and not use that stall, I am sorry if you could not access it.”  This seemed to anger the man even more… “I AM NOT HANDICAPPED, I JUST AM SICK OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE HANDICAPPED,” he said pointing at Steve and staring at him with intensity. The man slowly lowered his finger and walked away never to be seen again.




The Angry Husband:

One morning was walking towards the service department with another sales guy when a man walks into the guest lounge. Now this guy was fairly overweight in a really bad fitting purplish colored suit. He looked like he should be lecturing kids on living in an old van down by the river. 

He is looking all around, spinning on his heels at kind of a frantic pace; he spots me and points towards me. “You’re the guy… YOU’RE THE GUY” he says. I have never seen him before in my life, so I reply “Who are you looking for?”  With a crazy look in his eyes, he says “You! You’re the guy I saw climbing over the back fence at my house… you’re the guy that HAS BEEN SLEEPING WITH MY WIFE!” He is now shouting. 

I am in complete shock now, never seen this guy, not sleeping with anyone's wife, and I have no idea who he thinks I am. “Your name is Dave right, I saw the text messages,” he says. I say, “Look man my name is Mike and I am not sleeping with anybody’s wife." Immediately the guy’s whole mood changes… “Oh well, I am sorry… I am looking for a Dave if you could point me in his direction,” he said it like he was asking where the drinking fountain was. Now we had a Dave who worked for us but I decided to send this loon across the street to a rival dealer where we told him Dave was now working.


Kia Nut I:

It was a nice normal slow weekday morning when a customer came from service and wanted to talk to a sales manager. The man was not happy that his nearly 100,000 mile Kia Spectra’s transmission was not working in the way he thought it should. The fact of the matter is that Kia had already backed up the warranty and put a brand new transmission in his car under the 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Now the issue he wanted fixed was that if he runs out to the car early in the morning, and starts it, put the automatic transmission into 1st gear (not drive), the transmission tries to shift to 2nd gear when he is flooring it beyond the speed 1st gear is designed to operate at. But if he lets the car warm up for about five minutes it works fine... yeah kind of a odd problem to have.

I know it is hard to believe that 10 year old Kia with 100,000 miles on it is not as fresh and perfect as it was on day one. But the manager tries to work it out, and finds that Kia motor company has replaced the transmission, and they are not going to be replacing any of the non internal lubricated parts as per the 100,000 mile warranty. So he calls for weeks demanding that he be able to drive his car in 1st gear, as fast as he can without it trying to shift into 2nd. The service staff points out that there is very little chance that he would ever need to do so, and that if he lets the car warm up he can do it all day long.

This serves only to enrage him, and being a fireman he has more free time then most unemployed people. So he launches two websites against the dealership and one aimed at Kia. He then starts writing a blog, he even starts an online radio show to talk about how the dealer is treating him a “paying customer” like crap. The "Paying Customer" line was a joke because he never had purchase a car, serviced a car, or done any business with the dealer before the warranty claim that Kia honored. He demanded that the dealer fix his car or give him a new one, because his 100,000 mile Kia was “like new” other than the 1st gear shifting  issue.

He is getting nowhere fast with our dealership, so he ramps up the efforts, getting on local radio and TV shows and getting consumer advocates to do stories on the dealer. When they interviewed one of our dealership service guys  live on the radio they pointed out that if he let his 10 year old car warm up it worked fine, and that the dealer had offer to install the part that was not covered under warranty for the cost of parts since they had the whole transmission out when they did the warranty repair. The host was shocked because the crazy guy never pointed that little fact out to him.

So to justify his claim he said on the radio “what if I was in the mountains in the snow, and there was an emergency, and I needed to be in 1st gear, and I could not wait five minutes for the car to warm up, my life and my family's life would be in danger because of Kia and this dealership” the radio host then realized he was also dealing with a crazy man.

 He railed on for about 18 months posting you-tube videos, showing him driving in 1st gear, and blog posts, until he went to purchase a car at a Carmax, who he was so happy with and said they had a service department that knew what they were doing… the thing he did not know is that Carmax would drive all its like brand vehicles over to the same dealer he hated for all major service. In the end he ended up fading away.


Kia Nut II:

The first Kia nut never purchased a car from us, but this Kia Nut did and she wanted a Kia Optima. This 40 year old wonder was having her mommy and daddy buy it for her. Why you ask? Because she was still going to college and had been for the last twenty years. She was just about to get her BA and then go onto Law School. She was also was trying to show her parents how much she learned in school by getting the best deal on the car she could.

After some back and forth we sold the car at invoice minus rebates because it was last year’s model and we wanted it off the lot. She then declared that wanted to see “the real invoice” because “you guys have fake invoices you print out, I learned that in my pre-law class.” So after five and half hours of back and forth they sign their paperwork at invoice. This is where the real nightmare begins.

First they want me to go over every nut and bolt, they even ask me to climb in the trunk to make sure that the emergency trunk release works. I declined and they all started yelling about what if someone kidnaps their baby girl and she can’t get out because it is a faulty trunk release. Then they demand that I get CD’s and test the CD player, but I need to test it with at least five different CD’s so they know that it really works. Because according to her "dealers have a special CD that works but normal CD’s won't, that way we can charge them for repairing the CD player later."

Then they demand that I check all the fluids and tire pressure in front of them. “We bought a car once and the dealer filled the oil with water so we would have to come back a few weeks later and have the engine worked on,'" the mom said. I was starting to see where the daughter got her brains from. Then, after all that, they wanted me to drive around the block once more so they could check for any problems. Guess what? Everything was a problem, “do you hear that?” she asked. “No that would be the normal sound that the tires make” I replied. “That old game huh, you are going to tell me it’s normal,” she said. So they drove the car back to service and the service manager who had just pulled the plastic off the car a few hours before looked at the crazy family and told them all was normal.

The next day I get a call, she is on the side of the freeway and she is crying. “I have a check engine light, you sold me a lemon, you fucking sold me a lemon” she sobs. I ask what she has done and she said she had been on a road trip to see family up north and had just gotten gas for the first time. I told her to check the gas cap, to see if it was loose because that would trigger a warning light. She gets out and checks the gas cap and shockingly it turns out she had not screwed gas cap on all the way; it was loose and had triggered the check engine light. “I am not driving it with a check engine light, you need to send a tow truck, NOW,” she says. I tell her she can call the roadside assistance and they will take her to the nearest dealer.

So three hours later she calls me back and is all pissed because the tow truck had taken three-plus hours to get to her off highway 99 in the middle of nowhere.  She was also mad that he wasn't going to tow her car to our dealership which was over five hours away. The truck driver towed it to the nearest dealer, who reset the check engine light, and confirmed that it was just the gas cap. 

My phone rings the next day, it is her dad, "You owe my daughter an apology for costing her an A in her class because she was late on a paper, dealing with that lemon you sold her” he says. I point out that she could have driven the car, as it was just the gas cap. He cuts me off “that’s what you guys want, you want us to drive the car so that when the engine explodes you can get thousands in warranty work, we are not that dumb," he said. I am thinking to myself that "yes...yes you are that dumb."

A few more days go by and the car shows up at the dealership on a flatbed, keys in it, no reason, so they drop it off in the parking lot of the service department. I call her to see what is going on, she informs me that they don’t want that car and have purchased a new one. She said I need to just rip up the contract. The car now has over 1700 miles on it and scratches all down the side. I point out to miss pre-law that it will be a repo on her record as the financing has already been funded, her down payment check cashed and there is nothing wrong with the car. Her dad who was also on speaker phone says “she is going to be a judge one day, so you just watch yourself, mister, you speak to her with respect when you discuss the law." I suggested she actually go to law school before advising people on legal matters. Turns out dad ended up coming to pick up the car about a month later, I guess the bank said you can take the car or a take a repo on your credit.

The really funny part was she found the first crazy Kia guys blog and posted on there about how she had wished she had found it sooner…..this is why I am out of the retail automotive business.

Image: Flick via Google Images

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