Confessions of a car salesman

How can you make sure you get the best deal on your next car? Let our inside man fill you in on the tips and techniques the dealers don't want you to know...

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What Car? team
24 October 2017

Falling sales cost dealer 30 million
The sales process

The sales process (continued)

Q: Do you sell many cars to folk over the phone or is it almost 100% after a physical viewing/test drive?

A: I do. Quite often from customers travelling a fair distance who want to secure the car with a £100 deposit. Taking around 40 to 50 high-quality images, loads of five-star reviews and, more recently, video walkarounds seems to have broken down barriers beforehand.

If the car is as you have filmed and photographed it and as expected, it’s generally a done deal. We deliver three or four cars a month completely unseen to the customer and paid in advance. I expect this to become more common.

Q: With manufacturers introducing new car sales direct online, what do you think the knock-on effects will be?

A: Not a lot. Online sales have been on the go in a variety of guises for a few years now. The manufacturers are now making it possible to purchase directly with no human interaction before handover, but uptake has been minimal, despite massive investment.

Q: Is there a duty of care there for a dealer to mention a respray prior to sale?

A: At present, there's no duty of care to mention a respray or repair, but you can't lie about it if you're asked. If a car was in such a condition that it needed a full respray, we wouldn't have retailed it. In the slightly unimaginable circumstance that it slipped through in that condition, we would have taken it back without question.

Q: If it's nearing the end of the month and you're nowhere near your sales target, do you hold back some sales so that they book at the start of the following month to give yourself a head start?

A: We are individually targeted quarterly for both new and used deliveries, so if I'm not going to hit either of my targets, I'll do my best to hold as many back as possible until the next quarter.

Q: Is it the salesman or the sales manager who allocates a registration to a new car?

A: Neither. It’ll normally be a sales administrator who does that.

The sales process

Q: What does VAT-qualifying actually mean?

A: As far as a private individual is concerned, it means nothing except that your invoice will show the total price including 20% VAT. The reason dealers list it on adverts is that the vehicle will be more attractive to businesses or exporters who will be able to reclaim some or all of the VAT (depending on the type of vehicle) when they buy it.

Q: Does the positioning of cars in the dealership have any bearing? Are the cars closest to the entrance the ones the dealership wants rid of? Also, are there any warning signs that I should look out for?

A: If the dealer knows the car is a lemon, they’ll trade it out ASAP. There are so many consumer rights laws that it’s not worth the hassle. Generally, if a car is cheap, it’s because it has been in stock for too long and they need it gone before it falls outside the terms of the stocking loan.

AS: Our line tends to be grouped by franchise with anything a bit unusual close to the gate/fence.


Tyres and payments

Q: Budget tyres, for me, at a main dealer and on an approved car are very off-putting.

A: It depends on the car. I’ve made sure the correct Continental MO tyres have been put on Mercedes-AMGs and Michelin Pilot Super Sports on BMW M135is, but others have had Acceleras or other less well known brands.

I hate it, but if you buy a car for £5000 and sell it for £6000, according to HMRC, you've made £1000. So that’s what you will pay VAT on. Now, if it costs you £250 to prepare it for sale and £500 for branded tyres, you've only made £250 profit. However, the tax man will still take £166 in VAT, so your profit is less than £90. Now, if your budget tyres cost £200, you've made an extra £300.

Q: Do you still get many buyers paying in actual physical cash rather than just with a debit card/cheque?

A: I try to avoid cash as much as possible; we take a deposit of a couple of hundred quid and bank transfer for the balance. Cash is just a nuisance, because it's very easy to get distracted from counting it properly. I've had sleepless nights thinking "did I count that cash correctly?".


Used cars

Q: What would salespeople look for in a used car?

A: I look at every car I buy the same way. It's not rocket science, just methodical. My method is to start on the driver’s door and walk backwards around the car, going panel by panel and top to bottom doing each wheel face – but not tyre – on the way.

After that, it’s under the bonnet, engine off. Fluids, mounts, drips, leaks, visible belts, VIN plate (checked against HPI). Boot, spare, tools, floorpan (good indicator of leaks, rust and damage), parcel shelf and hinges (can be damned expensive to fix). Back seat, under seat, hinges, check straps (good for sign of over spray/mechanical marks) driver’s seat and book pack. Now turn the engine on: listen for rattles and check the wipers, lights, sat nav, heater and radio. Drive: forwards, backwards, clutch, brakes, steering. Smell. Park it up with the steering hard over and check the tyres.

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