The edmunds.com meme is making the rounds again. This reminded me of our own experience last year when we went looking at cars - we weren't sure exactly what we wanted, and we didn't know exactly how much it would cost us, but we had some pretty good ideas. So we saddled up with a couple of friends and went and hit dealerships.
Keep in mind that these visits happened almost a year ago - I think it was March 2003. So some of the facts may be wrong. The flavour is still there though.
The first lot we visited was the same place our friends had just bought a new PT Cruiser. They were pretty happy with the lot, and described the salesman as a nice guy. (We found out later that our friends didn't place as much stock in how salespeople treat you as we do; this becomes apparent later. But I digress.)
We arrived and, not being immediately accosted, went over to look at used cars. We had a pretty good idea what we were looking for - Neons. A salesman appeared fairly promptly, explaining that he'd been busy with the service guys, and pointed out three Neons in a row. He was pretty friendly until he asked if we wanted to take one for a test drive. No thanks, we're not buying today. A door slammed shut. "Well, if you don't buy one today, these ones might not be here." Yes, that's why we didn't bother test driving any of them. We just wanted to know what to expect price-wise. (Answer - far too much, apparently, for a two year old car with 175,000 km on it: $12,000, when new ones were $14,900ish. I know what kind of car gets that kind of mileage - rental cars. I know how they get driven too. That's about $6,000 too much, especially without a warranty.) "But the prices might be different the next time you're here." Of course, because the cars will be different, how stupid do you think we are? Not very, apparently, since he wandered off shortly thereafter. We weren't really interested in a used car anyway.
After that we went back over and talked to the same salesman that had sold our friends their Cruiser. Even when we uttered the dreaded "just looking for now" words, he stayed friendly and smiling, took us over to look at a last-years-model Neon and an SX 2.0, etc. It was bloody freezing out that day, so we didn't jaw outside too much, but went back in and he showed us some quick pricing, etc. He also took my email address and our phone number and promised to get back to us with better pricing and the like, saying "yeah, I hate it when people say they'll get back to you and don't". It's now almost a year later, we're still waiting. Guess what, if we go back to Bustard, we won't ask to see him, that's for sure. Again, more on this later.
Leaving Dodge, we went to a Toyota dealership. Linda wanted to check check out the Echo (her early favourite) and I wanted to also see a Corolla. We poked around outside at first - they had lots of cars - but got cold and went inside. It wasn't long before a salesman came over, and he invited us (all of us, even) to his office. We asked about the Echo, and he started showing us features and pricing and such. About five minutes into our talk, a mechanic knocked on the door, so I opened it. The mechanic ignored us and told the salesman that somebody was there to see him about a car, then stood in the doorway. The salesman said "OK, thank you," and the mechanic stayed. We all looked at him, and he said "They're here now..." at which point the salesman said "Thank you, I'll be there in a minute." It seemed to me - and Linda agreed - that the mechanic probably thought he was saving the salesman from a bum sale. We were impressed that the salesman finished his pitch to us, took another 5 minutes or so.
Staying with the import theme, we hit up Honda. We weren't really interested in much there - the Civic sedan was a bit out of our price range - but we still wanted to see. It was pretty busy, so we had about 5-10 minutes to poke at the Civic and the various other models scattered about. A salesman came over when I wasn't near Linda and our friends, and culled me out. Knowing what he was doing, I let him lead me to a side office (obviously a shared one), where he started trying to sell me a Civic right away.
Linda saw him leading me away, and gave us five minutes before she came over. He was a bit nonplussed at the interruption, but graciously "allowed" her to stand in the office (there were only two chairs, and we were in both of them). He told us that he couldn't give us pricing on the model we were interested in, because they moved so quickly (can't imagine why, if pricing isn't available) but he gave us prices on a slightly higher-end model. Linda said something about having read Lemon-Aid, whereupon he made the interesting suggestion that the best way to buy a car was to talk to salesmen, not read books. (Hm. What if we want actual prices on the models we *want* though? Maybe that's what the books are for...) He also suggested that domestic car salesmen were somehow less trustworthy than imports - I wish I could remember the exact wording, but it was pretty snarky.
So, once he was done telling us what he couldn't do for us, he asked if we had any other questions (nope), and basically dismissed us. On our way out, he asked me (but not Linda) where I worked. I said the university, he replied, "Oh, why didn't you say so, we have special deals for university employees!" "A couple of hundred dollars off, you know; we could use the discount to put on some extras, like a spoiler maybe." Perhaps he caught my look of disdain, or maybe it was my tone of voice, when I said "Um, no thanks, I'm not at all interested in spoilers, or shiny wheels, or low-profile tires," because he backed off pretty quickly. Perhaps needless to say, I didn't ask for his card on the way out.
From Honda, we went to a Ford dealership. We didn't stay more than 10 or 15 minutes, because apparently that day was "ignore the customer day". I saw some other couples wandering and poking, and all the staff were lined up along one wall by a desk, not doing much of anything. One salesman was showing a fellow the used Taurus they had in the showroom, and that was it. I collected some pamphlets for the Mustang so I could look at pretty pictures, and we left. We weren't seriously considering a Focus, and the Taurus is out of our league financially, but still, it would have been nice to at least talk to somebody. We looked at the Focus display model, and they had a two year old Taurus V6 on the showroom floor too.
Returning to the imports, we visited a Hyundai lot. This was one of our better experiences; it was also the only dealership we got a female salesperson at. She accosted us fairly quickly, but also backed off when we said we'd like to look for a few minutes first. We were interested in Accents and Elantras; they're not very far apart, pricewise. They had one of each on the floor. I can't really recall a whole lot more, save that the saleswoman was very patient and took her time showing us numbers, and wasn't at all annoyed that we weren't buying that day.
We paid a quick visit to Mitsubishi; the Lancers were new in Canada, and the dealership was new to our area. The salesman mostly told us about how new the dealership was, and how nice the new car was. (He also didn't take the time to invite Linda along to the table, despite her being on the other side of the car when he came over to grab me.) He was nice enough, but not at all informative, save when it came to motor specs. He had no pricing for us, didn't tell us about leasing or loan plans, and had no flyers. Disappointing, but at least he wasn't a jerk. He was pretty chatty, but it was pretty empty and he was likely kind of bored.
Our last trip was to a Kia dealership that was combined with a large all-make indoor used car lot. We checked out the used cars first, and had an interesting conversation with the salesman about first cars (mine was a Mustang, I don't recall his). We weren't very interested in purchasing used though, so we soon made our way over to the Kia showroom again. We drew a very nice salesman, who again wasn't at all disappointed that we weren't buying right away, and he took his time with the numbers too.
I'm sure having our friends along with us was partially responsible for the treatment we got some places: nobody shops seriously when they've got non-buyers in tow, or else they bring the non-buyers along to make sure they don't do something silly, like buy a car at the first quoted price.
Most of the places had tagged us - correctly, as it turns out - as people who were very unlikely to buy right away, and as a result, a few of them dismissed us out of hand. They weren't likely to make money on us soon, so they weren't interested in talking to us. The Ford dealership apparently didn't want to sell to anybody, as there were a fair number of sales-staff-types over by the desk, but not once did they even make eye contact - and believe me, I tried. The Dodge salesman talked a lot and promised a few things, which he never followed up on. Oddly enough, I found running my business that if somebody comes in and asks for a quote, and doesn't get it, they won't buy from you. So, while the lots we visited didn't sell us anything, a few of them un-sold us. We're never going back to that Ford dealership, and I think it's unlikely we'll go back to the Dodge one either. Hyundai and Mitsubishi were nice, so they'll likely get a re-visit, and perhaps Kia. I'm sensing a trend - and the American automakers wonder why they're in trouble.