Articles

CUSTOMERS CAN BE CROOKED TOO

A dealer was sold a car without an engine. Pretty bad, all right, but would you admit that your crate is gulping oil? Would you tell about hitting that truck?

October 1 1949
Articles

CUSTOMERS CAN BE CROOKED TOO

A dealer was sold a car without an engine. Pretty bad, all right, but would you admit that your crate is gulping oil? Would you tell about hitting that truck?

October 1 1949

CUSTOMERS CAN BE CROOKED TOO

A Used-Car Dealer Says —

A dealer was sold a car without an engine. Pretty bad, all right, but would you admit that your crate is gulping oil? Would you tell about hitting that truck?

ONE WET September afternoon during the war a little old guy in a wrinkled raincoat pulled on to my used-car lot in North Toronto with a clean-looking 1934 Chev standard four-door sedan and asked for the ceiling price list.

I showed it to him and stood there wondering how much over ceiling he was going to try to nick me. He did some figuring on the edge of a newspaper. The ceiling price for that model was $325.

The little guy finally looked up and said “I’ll sell it for $290. That will allow you a profit of about 10%. ”

When he left, one of my salesmen who could have doubled for W. C. Fields looked after him and croaked, “He must have just murdered his mother. Nobody can be that good.”

That was the only customer I saw during the entire war who was willing to sell a reasonably clean car at less than ceiling so that the dealer could make a profit within the law.

He was the one man out of, I’d say, 50, who is really honest when he’s selling a car. He’s the one a dealer will go out of his way to help.

A month ago I saw a dealer I know along the street sell a customer like that, a young bricklayer just over from England with his bride, a $595 car for $500.

“I don’t know why I did it,” he told me later as if he was wondering if he’d gone nuts. “I felt like doing something for him.”

But men like the one in the wrinkled raincoat are scarce. For every one of them there are 49 customers as trustworthy as wet pavement. For some reason when a man has a car to sell he automatically becomes a crook.

The Preacher Was Parsimonious

YOU JUST have to think about it. Take yourself for instance. Honest, now, would you tell me that your car was pumping a lot of oil or that it had a main bearing knock, or that you turned it over in a ditch on your holiday trip to Montreal six months ago?

It doesn’t matter whether the customer is an 18-year-old punk or the vice-president of a bank. They’re all the same when it comes to cars. One of the worst hosings I ever got was from a minister.

I tangled with the preacher when I was running a new-car agency. He bought a 1947 Cadillac and brought it back for his 500-mile checkup. He had to leave it overnight, and, as a favor, I loaned him a new Chrysler. He wrapped the Chrysler around a streetcar that night and refused to pay me a dime. I had to take him to court to get it out of him.

There’s a story going around town now among the dealers that has them grinning from ear to ear. It happened to a dealer who made himself a small fortune during the war so nobody is too unhappy about it.

We’ll call this dealer Art Brannon, which isn’t his name. Art has handled probably more used cars than any dealer in Toronto and he knows them the way a Broadway producer knows chorus girls. He never drives a car to test a buy. He doesn’t have to. He walks around it and gives the guy a price in about 30 seconds. He’s hardly ever wrong.

One day last week, right after supper, Art was sitting in his shack when a big lanky, grinning guy rolled up in a ’36 Ford coach which should have been shoved oil a cliff. He came to a stop right, in front of the door of Art’s lot office, jumped out of the Ford, hollered, “Give me $200 for the Ford?”

Art has a sense of humor. Without moving off his chair he said, “What’s the other side look like?”

“The same as this side,” the customer grinned.

Art reached for his cheque book and started to write a cheque but the guy said he wanted cash. Art gave him a long stare, but he finally counted out 20 $10 bills. The customer signed over the license and left.

Art called his lot man and told him to put the Ford way back by the fence. In a couple of minutes the lot man came in. “I’ve seen a lot of funny things in this business, Brannon,” he said “but that Ford has no motor.”

“What the devil are you talking about?” Art said. “I just saw the man drive up in it.”

“Maybe he drove up here,” the lot man said, “but that car has no motor now.”

Art looked. The car had no motor. The guy had had someone give him a push, down a grade, got rolling, and rolled right up on to the lot. He must have rehearsed a couple of times the night before.

Art got the customer on the phone later and mentioned that the car had no motor.

“I know,” the guy said.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Art asked politely.

“You didn’t ask me.” The guy hung

up.

I Buy a Dead Duck

Two weeks ago I had something almost as bad pulled on me.

A youngish gent with honest-looking glasses brought in a model that’s notorious for burning oil.

“You don’t need to tell me about this make,” he said, “I know they’re oil burners. Always were. But, so help me, this one has never burnt oil since I got her. Just goose that motor and see if there’s any smoke coming out the back.”

I did. He was right. There wasn’t a sign of smoke. I drove the car around the block. It was in pretty good shape and that exhaust stayed as clear as mountain air. I bought the car.

I found out the next day why it didn’t burn any oil. There wasn’t any oil in it. That character had drained it before he brought it in. Any car will go five minutes or so without oil. After that it begins throwing things out the side. I had to write that one off as a dead loss.

The funny part of it is that the public in general think there’s nothing wrong with pulling a fast one with a car if you’re selling it to a dealer. Dealers are fair game. It’s always open season. The way most customers operate it’s a wonder they don’t try to collect a bounty.

Don’t get me wrong. I know some dealers who have made a full-time job of hooking the public. I remember one day seeing a dealer sell a woman an old heater as a reconditioned car. I wouldn’t have sold it to the head of the Wartime Prices and Trades Board.

The woman drove across the road and then the car threw a connecting rod. When she came back, still shaking from the explosion, the dealer moved his cigar to the other side of his mouth, said, “Lady, you’ve just bought yourself an automobile.”

There are bums in any business. But the average used-car dealer is in business for himself—a tough business because the customer makes it tough.

You’ve got to be able to handle yourself in the clinches when the other side is playing it with brass knuckles, spikes, lead pipes and everything but sawedoff shotguns. The point is, why is the dealer always the one who’s pulling a fast one?

The dealer doesn’t make cars. He buys them from the public, and according to the selling public there are no bearing knocks, just noisy tappets; no cars that are hard to start; no body that can’t be fixed with just a little paint; no clutch that hasn’t just been overhauled; no car that would be sold if it weren’t for somebody dying, having a baby or leaving town.

The dealer buys them at the curb and tries to find, in five minutes, all the faults the customer has worked a week to cover up. He has to make up his mind in five minutes or the customer takes the car to another lot. If he gets stuck with a clinker, the customer tells his friends about it as a good joke; if he sells it for what the customer said it was, he’s just another crooked dealer.

Cars are Like Some Wives

But let the same customer come in and buy a 12-year-old jalopy for the price of a good-sized doll carriage and find it has a growl in the rear end and he’s back with a red face and blood in his eye. He’s going to have the law. He’s going to phone the Better Business Bureau. He’s going to blow the lid off.

Even the few customers who are honest when it comes to repairs on their cars get a bit careless about time. To the average man a car is something like a wife. She gets older, but the change is so gradual he doesn’t notice it. A complete engine overhaul to them is a complete overhaul, whether it was yesterday or five years ago. The repair bill stays a garden-fresh memory.

Two days ago a sad-looking character pulled up to the curb outside my lot with a ’41 Ford sedan. He gave me a sob story. His wife was going to have a baby. He had to sell the car. It was such a sweet little job he hated to part with it.

I asked him what it was like. What was it like! The guy gave me a dirty look. He had hills at home for a new complete motor overhaul. He could show them to me.

I got in and drove it around the block. Whenever I put the gear shift into low it popped into second.

“You have to hold it,” the guy said.

I figured maybe I’d better check closer on the overhaul job. He’d had it overhauled all right. And he had the bills for it. The only catch was they were dated five years ago.

Other sellers don’t lose track of time. They just lose track of the truth. From the time 1 went into business 20 years ago the tricks of John Public have been daily routine. Let’s take yesterday as an example.

Around about 10 in the morning an insurance salesman came in with a 1947 Chev four-door sedan. He was the laughing kind. The kind that always laugh when you quote them a price. They’re the worst. The Chev was in good shape, he said. The only reason he was selling it was that he had a new car coming through in a week.

I looked at the speedometer. It showed 20,000. I asked him if that was the right mileage.

He laughed. “You dealers,” he said. “You’ve tried to stick the public so long you can’t believe anybody can tell the truth. That’s the right mileage all right, Jack.”

I took a tour around the block. When I got back I quoted him a price, the price for a ’47 Chev four-door sedan which has gone 60,000 miles. He stopped laughing. I didn’t know it had gone 60,000; it was a guess and I’ll bet a pretty good one.

In the first place, if that guy had only driven 20,000 miles he sure had a hobby of changing tires because that car had four different brands on it. In the second place it had new pads on the clutch and brake pedals. Clutch and brake pads don’t get so worn that they need replacing in 20,000 miles. There were other things; the arm rests were worn, even the paint outside the left door was worn off by someone who drove with his arm dangling.

Twenty thousand miles! Oh, you honest customers!

The next customer was an old man who looked as if he’d be too timid to drive a car let alone chisel a dealer. He had a quavering voice and a nice friendly smile. He also had a ’34 Plymouth coach which had never given him any trouble from the day he’d bought her, he said. Only reason he was selling it, he had to join his daughter in England. Somebody should warn the English.

It was a clean-looking car with good rubber and good upholstery. I quoted him a price. He said that was fine. We started for my lot office, but I thought maybe I’d better lift the hood. It all looked good except for two or three reddish marks running down from the head.

I’d seen those kind of marks before. They were rust marks from the water that had trickled from a cracked cylinder head. I ran my finger over the head. Sure enough, old Father Innocence had covered up his welding job with grease, then carefully sprinkled fine sand over it.

I was lucky. Usually a cracked block is a tough thing to spot. Usually it begins to show five days later when all the guck those poor, long-suffering customers pour in to the rad gets lost and the cracks begin to widen.

In the afternoon a foreign family came in with a ’47 Buick. A sedan. The whole family was there, Momma, Poppa and all the kids, and they all sat tight while I looked the piece over.

When I asked them if they’d mind getting out they didn’t like the idea. I don’t blame them. The seats were covered up with nice, clean blankets. I lifted a blanket. You’d think a lioness with cubs had been sharpening her nails in there.

I rolled up the two windows that were cranked down. They were both cracked.

And how the boys like to fiddle around with those oil-pressure gauges. They’ve found a new way I haven’t quite figured out yet that keeps the pressure up on the gauge without shooting any more oil to the bearings.

I don’t always find the fix before I buy the car. Looking around my lot now I see a ’46 Dodge coupe I was careless enough to buy on a rainy night. You’d be surprised at all the people who have cars to sell on a rainy night. The rain makes the worst old ashcan glisten like a jewel.

I got careless this night. You should see the Dodge now, out there under the sun. It will cost me somewhere around $50 to get it refinished.

It isn’t only men that pull the fancy tricks. A while ago a nice woman about 45 or so drove in with a toughlooking ’41 Plymouth sedan. Her husband had died and left it to her, she said; she wanted to trade it in on a car for her son. She picked out a ’39 Cadillac convertible.

I made a deal: the Cadillac, plus a new top which would cost me $45, for her Plymouth and $395. She said she owed $120 on the Plymouth so she made me out a cheque for $515. I was to pay off the finance company. It was a good cheque, too.

The only thing she overlooked was that the amount owing the finance company was not $120. It was $469. That left me holding the bag for $349. Two days later, while I was still trying to locate her, I found that the Plymouth had an internally cracked block.

A gal dropped in last month, a babe that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of—until I took a look at the dipstick in the ’41 Plymouth she was peddling. All the boys try to muffle knocks with heavy oil, but she must have had a friend with a service station. She had transmission grease in the crankcase.

A Bouquet to Honest Harry

Another thing the dealer has to put up with is repossession. If you buy a car from me and fall down on your payments, guess what happens? I have to pay up the finance company. I get the car. You should see some of the cars I get. I can show you two on my lot right now: one of them ran into a bus; the other turned over three times in a ditch.

The customers have lots of other tricks. For instance, there’s the one that happens almost every day of somebody giving you a cheque so he won’t lose his chance of getting a car while he goes the rounds of dealers. If he finds something he likes better, he just stops payment on your cheque.

One family did that to me two days ago then sent me a note, “May God forgive us!”

But as I said in the beginning the selling public isn’t made up entirely of crooks. There’s one out of 50 or so who’s honest. He doesn’t come in with a mechanic and he doesn’t come in with a “see lawyer.” (See lawyers are the friends who jusl come along to see the dealer doesn’t get away with anything. Usually they are particularly shortsighted.)

Honest Harry comes in and tells the truth. He tells what’s wrong with his car as far as he knows. He tells the real reason why he’s selling it. He tells you how much is owing on it.

He doesn’t think you’re a crook. He thinks you’re an ordinary Joe who would rather give him a good deal than a trimming. And he gets a fair deal from me, and from most of the dealers I know.

But there’s one customer who nine times out of 10 comes out second best. He’s the one who comes in to do the dealer. He has to step fast. He hardly ever steps fast enough. That’s what gives dealers a bad name.