When I finished my undergraduate, I got my first big-kid job at a car dealership. It was full-time, it had benefits, and it was a “normal” Monday-Friday arrangement. Management quickly realized my talents could be better utilized elsewhere, and within a few months I was an admin in the finance department. A few months after that, I was put on the sales floor.
I’ll never forget my first sale, because I’m pretty sure I brought financial ruin upon a kindly old woman for my own profit. I didn’t know this while I was selling her the car, so that brings me some small level of relief from the guilt, but I’d be a liar if I said this first experience didn’t set the tone for my entire time in sales at that dealership.
It was a slow Tuesday and a real beat-up sedan pulled on the lot. A tiny old woman got out of the car and I introduced myself. I was working closely with the floor manager, since I had only one day of experience under my belt at this point.
Her car was over 30 years old, and spent most of its life on the east coast in incredible humidity. It was a wonder the driver’s seat hadn’t dropped straight through the bottom of the car; there was so much rust on the frame of the vehicle we could actually see through the holes to the ground below.
She told us all about toting her kids around in the back, and later her grandkids. She told us about how the car got dressed up for her wedding and afterward she and her new husband drove off to their honeymoon with cans clinking behind them and so much paint on the back windshield they couldn’t see out. She teared up more than once while reminiscing.
I felt determined to get this lady into a new car, not only because it sounded like she deserved to treat herself to something but also because the car she was drove onto our lot was a fucking safety hazard.
We found a car she loved. My manager essentially took the lead during the negotiations, and the first thing he did was try to spin her into a lease because the lower payments are always more attractive to people looking at new cars. I could tell she was distressed about the payment regardless of it being substantially lower than the purchase payments, because she was retired and on a fixed income and suddenly looking to add this large monthly expense. I helped talk her through it, and she ended up settling on a payment that was decidedly larger than she had been anticipating. I felt a little stressed on her behalf, but she went through with it so I figured everything was fine and she was just having the purchase-jitters.
After she signed all the paperwork and left, my manager told me I made almost $2k on that sale.
Leases are easy to make money on, because people don’t know what they’re looking at when they see a lease breakdown. It’s so convoluted, unless your experienced with reading them you’re never going to figure out exactly how much you’re paying. We could have offered her a payment almost $100/month lower, and I would have made far less commission, but I didn’t know that while the process was unfolding.
She came in three or four months later desperately seeking advice because she just couldn’t afford her monthly payment. She wanted to trade into something smaller, less expensive. I had to be the one to tell her that anything else she purchased (or leased), even if it was somehow half the MSRP of the car she had now, would leave her with higher monthly payments because she’d have to roll her currently lease balance into the new car loan. We basically shit on her entire financial resolve.
I’d like to say that was my only unsavory experience in the business, but alas. The car business is one of deceit and profit, and anyone trying to convince you otherwise is definitely in that business. Because when your business is money, you’ll do just about anything to make almost $2k in a couple hours.