The agony of buying a car…by Thomas Zurbuchen

I hate buying cars. Buying cars is one of the most frustrating and time-consuming purchasing decisions. I love cars, I love thinking about buying them. I also love driving away in a new car, smelling the new car-smell and seeing the excitement of wife and children as they explore the new vehicle. But, I pretty much hate the entire process in between: from walking into the dealership until I sit in the new car, driving away from the dealership as fast as legally allowed.

I would buy more cars if I did not hate the purchasing process so much. And, talking to my friends, I know I am not alone. For so many, buying a car is like some stupid dance during which you feel the dealer wants to throw you on your back, while you just try to get done with the dance without major injuries – and drive away with a vehicle.

Consider the following typical purchasing experience:

The wife goes to the dealer and likes a car. The car is worth $300/month on a 39 month lease. But, instead of just giving that number, the dealer is trying to get her into a bigger car. He pulls up two cars and convinces the wife that the bigger car is worth ~$440/month and the smaller car is worth ~$420/month. And that is, according to him, after giving a great deal on the previous car.

She is all excited, but is puzzled. How come, the bigger car is only $20/month more expensive and it is so much nicer? The answer lies in a simple setup: at the curb stand a 4-cylinder most basic version of the big car, and a 6 cylinder fanciest version of the smaller car. No, it’s not criminal, but in every other business sales personnel cannot exist that behave like this.

Yet, a short time of analysis on the web shows that he is trying to rip her off. In fact, the wife is not alone. The vast majority of women feel totally ripped off when dealing with car dealers and repair shops. Somehow, the male dealer thinks it’s perfectly cool to BS his way through the entire process, thinking “She will love the color, she will be fine.” Similar experiences occur with foreign born car buyers. Many dealers treat them like total idiots – I can personally attest to that.

She leaves the dealership with a bad feeling. She loves the car – a GM brand she wants to support and which has amazing safety ratings – but she just does not feel right. She goes on the web and notices that she is being scammed. Yet, the dealer is leaving messages now every single day. He wants her to come back and finalize things. He wants to complete the kill, he is pushy.

But, understanding her situation, she now brings her husband because she believes that this will help her not being cheated. She notices that she is right because the dealer now only talks to him. Together, to the disappointment of the dealer, they immediately make the big car disappear from the discussion and focus on the car she really wants. He tries a couple of time to add to the car they told him they want, but they are not taking it.

Now, the dealer starts to whine and looks like his feelings are hurt. The wife-husband team do not take the eye off the ball, but offer what they found doing research – a decent market price around $320/month and tell him that they would walk out the door if he did not meet that. The dealer’s face looks like it is in sorrow. How can he feed his family this way – it’s agonizing!!

Now, the game takes a turn because another party gets involved. It’s another slimy character in the middle of the dealership. He works with the dealer for an inexplicable 20 minutes, until the dealer comes back with a face that looks like he discovered a treasure in this office. Like magic, he “found a way to make it happen.” It is still puzzling to me why adding and subtracting 10 numbers takes 20 minutes. Either, these guys just are not very smart, or this is yet another ploy to “simmer” people towards a better deal.

In this case, the dealer finally emerges. He beams all over his face when the wife confirms that she wants the car – the car that she wanted from the beginning because it now has a reasonable price.

After another 10 minutes of discussion in the glass office between the dealers, the slimy character stands up and shakes both their hands and thanks them for their business. The rest is simple: Now we are through all hurdles and ready to buy: Get title, pay for the car and finally, after 1 hour or so, drive away!

Yet, before they leave, the dealer urges the wife to give him a perfect evaluation of the sales process. He says: “I am sure you were totally happy, just max it all out.” And, again, he calls her phone over and over when she does not turn in her response on time.

The problem for him is twofold: First, she is angry at him now because she knows that he tried to cheat her. Second, two days after the sale, GM launches a sale of the same automobile with the same lease terms, for $299/month. By this time, the wife-husband team is angry enough that they fill out the feedback form in a very honest way: They love the car, but they hated the sales experience. And, in the end, they feel they still got ripped off by nearly $800.

A rep calls them up after receiving the not-so-stellar questionnaire. Clearly, it’s part of the process. It is obvious that the rep does not care to make things good. He just says “I am sorry,” but I am glad that you like the car. A few days later the dealer calls with a lengthy garble about how $320/month was a good deal as compared to $299/month and how there are hidden costs in this second number.

She can’t help but think that even web-offers are basic scams… By now the wife-husband team had such a bad experience, that they will never ever go back to that particular dealership. They love the new car, but they already now dread having to deal with that dealership again in 39 months.

I have bought seven cars in the US. I bought two of them used from individuals in a process that was easy and straightforward. I bought two cars threatening to bring in a top car executive in their company, when things turned bad. (I had emails from him to prove that he was going to engage.) So, it was still a negative process, but the dealers were worried and backed off. I was all bad news for them. And I bought three cars without the threat of a VIP in a process that I absolutely hated from dealerships I would never go back to (one from GM described above, one of them selling Fords and one of them selling Jeeps.) I don’t know whether dealerships selling foreign cars are better – for the sake of US companies, I hope not!

There is one car buying experience I absolutely loved: buying our nice, good-old Saturn. That was easy and simple. It was like buying a TV at Best Buy – walk in, select, get great advice, buy and walk out. I miss being able to buy cars like that!

There are two reasons for writing this story (besides the obvious therapeutic effect of writing down something annoying) and they both relate to customer experience. First: The most important rule is that it is not the first sale that matters, but the second one. We can buy advertisement and invite people to use our product for the first time. But, if they don’t keep coming back, we have a losing proposition in the long run. Second: No matter how good your product – customers want to feel the deal is fair and worth it. It does not pay to rip off customers. Sooner or later they will know what happened. And, at this point, we created a vocal enemy. As they say: “Friends come and go, and enemies persist.”

Impact-driven entrepreneurs understand this and know that, besides a great product and good profit, every company also affects people. Companies who forget that will fail; it’s only a matter of time.

I keep thinking about this experience in the context of US car industry. Living in Michigan and having many great friends working for the US automotive industry, I always buy Michigan cars. I basically loved all my Michigan cars I ever bought. Right now, I have two award-winning vehicles our family loves!

But, I buy less often than I would if the purchasing experience was fair and simple, dealing with dealers who want to be consultants who help me get the right car in a process that creates a win-win. I am not trying to cheat the dealer – I am willing to pay a fair price. But, I hate the stupid process now.

If I worked at these US car companies, I would worry about the fact that many dealers indeed are the obstacle to more sales and more satisfied customers. I know US cars are great and they have very competitive products, but many of their dealers are not competitive. I still miss the simplicity of buying a Saturn – that was great!

Comments (47)
  • Adam Feldman

    June 1, 2011

    Thomas, you should check out (ycombinator funded, I’ve heard good things about the service). It’s a reverse auction service for car buying where the dealers compete for your business.

  • otomotiv

    June 8, 2011

    nice post, thanks my friend

  • Edgars

    June 13, 2011

    “It’s another slimy character in the middle of the dealership. He works with the dealer for an inexplicable 20 minutes, until the dealer comes back with a face that looks like he discovered a treasure in this office. ”

    brilliant! easy reading and funny written article. and I couldn’t agree more, car buying most of the time is really pain in ***

    I believe (and hope) that crisis will change those ridiculous dealers. better for buyers as well as for car companies


  • canada

    June 17, 2011

    I like your website and did bookmark and digg it.


    ?????? ??????

  • 1967 Chevy Impala

    June 19, 2011

    thanks for the information shared:) hope to read more from your website

  • arabalar

    July 5, 2011

    Nice Post
    Good Cars :

  • Porsche Sales

    July 11, 2011

    it was nice reading your blog post from my eyes as the dealer, not all us dealers are the same there’s alot of website out there now where you submit what car you want and what car your partex and dealers all make diffrent bids on the car, getting you the best deal, feel free to email me is you want these sites.

  • Alexander

    July 22, 2011

    It’s all a matter of marketing the way you offered a product. You just have to learn the tricks of sales, and not be swayed by them …

  • Carmen @HomeBusinessIdeas

    August 11, 2011

    I had to have a good giggle at this post. Not because I am gleeful at others misfortunes or frustration but because I can totally relate to the process of purchasing a new vehicle.

    My parents had one car salesman they dealt with for almost 15 years and I purchased my first two vehicles through him. What was great about him was the fact that you could list exactly what you were looking for along with your price range and he would actually go out there and get you what you wanted for the price you needed it to be. He was also honest and consistent and in return our entire family supported him and referred all our friends who were looking to purchase vehicles to him. Definately a win-win situation. However he changed over to insurance about 4 years ago, just about the time that my previous vehicle decided to start giving problems.

    I was both excited and apprehensive at having to find another vehicle. My husband also insisted that we should buy new to ensure that the vehicle would last for many years to come but this just seemed to complicate the process further. I also ended up in a similar situation with a Honda dealership trying hard to get me to purchase a huge vehicle I could not afford and did not need instead of them giving me a good deal on a 2008 model jazz just before the 2009 model was due to be launched. The salesman would not budge on the price and he tried to rip me off with the trade-in value he gave me for my previous vehicle.

    The only way I could resolve the matter was to search online and phone a range of other garages to establish trade in value and availability and pricing of the jazz I had in mind. Needless to say they offered me over R8000 more for a trade-in than our initial negotiations and the purchase price came down by just of R10000.

    If you do not stick to your guns and diligently do your homework online, I feel that there is a good chance that you will be taken for a ride! I can only say that I am grateful that I will not need to look for and purchase a new vehicle in the near future so at least I have a few years of bliss before having to subject myself to the punishment again!

  • purchase pension

    September 27, 2011

    RSS Subscribed! Great informational resource,I will tell a friend 🙂

  • Ray

    October 4, 2011

    I have bookmarked this site. I like the way you write something from a different point of view. But I agree with Alexander that this is “all a matter of marketing…”

  • Mark Wilson

    November 1, 2011

    Excellent! Nice post. I think car buying is most painful but at the same time it’s most prestigious moment of life because car is like 2nd home for me.

  • asi

    November 2, 2011

    remind my the first car we got in FL
    we just land and the first thing we look for was a car it was fall so weather was nice…
    we had like 1300 cash
    this “sales” man show as Ford Thunderbird

    power window – not working answer: “don’t worry u in Miami windows stay down 24/7”

    no A/C – answer “don’t worry u in Miami no need A/C”

    we took the car summer come by and we start to understand how hard we been f**d

  • car news

    November 7, 2011

    well i absolutely agree with you..

    What youre saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what youre trying to say. Im sure youll reach so many people with what youve got to say.

  • Shannon Paulk

    May 31, 2012

    What a story! Thanks for sharing. Amazing how marketing differs between people.

  • Arun

    August 14, 2012

    Really awesome

  • austin automotive repair

    August 14, 2012

    Some good points here, had great time reading this. Thanks.

  • sacramento used car dealers

    August 21, 2012

    This is the main problem we have to face while buying a used car from a car dealer. And after all it is their business, so they will try every trick to make their deal profitable. It is our duty to check every aspect before buying. And I think we should always go to registered car dealers…anyway I like your article as it contains valuable info.

  • Produk kecantikan wanita

    January 9, 2013

    Thank you for another essential article. I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often. I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  • Derek from Frontier Car Leasing

    January 29, 2013

    Hey Thomas,
    I sympathise with you…nobody likes ‘sales people’ for sure. Say do you guys have an equivalent to car leasing in the states? So instead of purchasing the car outright, you effectively ‘borrow’ or ‘rent’ the car for a period, say 12, 24 or 36 months. Beauty of this is that you don’t get hit with the depreciation cost verus buying a brand new car. We do this a lot in the UK, in fact that’s what my company does and how I stumbled upon your article. I’m intrigued if you guys follow the same model as us?
    I wish you all the best in your future car buying endeavours!
    Derek – UK

  • kosmetik murah

    January 30, 2013

    thank you, it’s very useful, because i will buy new car this year

  • Lucas Dodds

    February 4, 2013

    Knowledge is power, the best thing a buyer can do is do as much research as possible before talking to someone trying to sell you a car. In my opinion, it’s rarely worth it to buy a new car. You can get great deals on save thousands of dollars by buying a car that’s a few years old but has been well maintained.

  • Auta

    March 6, 2013

    The University of Michigan, in a bid to expand and broaden its base of scientific research, is offering faculty members a new microgrant plan that would directly finance the exploratory phase of an idea.
    Under the plan, which begins today, all Michigan faculty will be eligible for a $20,000 credit that can be redeemed only if they work with two other faculty members, including one outside their academic field.


  • Pneuservis Kosice

    April 11, 2013

    Buying a car, whether it’s a first-time purchase or not, can seem like a daunting task. The first thing you must decide before you begin your automobile research is whether you want a new car or a used car. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks on both sides.

    Pneuservis Kosice

  • Shannon

    April 24, 2013

    Keep going back to this post. Thanks for sharing your experience. Sometimes I’m just amazed how good sales people can be, if you are looking at the car sale from the side you can see how some sales people are totally ripping “customers” off but they make it sound like they are doing them a favor.

  • used car sacramento

    May 21, 2013

    Amazing article! Love the way of your writing! I agree car buying process sometimes becomes really annoying some times as the procedure becomes lengthy but this not the case when you select to authorized or licensed car dealer.

  • junk cars new jersey

    May 29, 2013

    Thanks for sharing this. The right way to purchase a utilised automotive with out all the typical agony will depend upon you doing a number of issues in another way than what you’ve gotten presented within the past. Good groundwork will help alleviate the headaches and the well known buyers remorse that most persons experience after buying a car.

  • car servicing

    June 12, 2013

    Good preparation will help alleviate the headaches and the familiar buyers remorse that most people experience after buying a car.

  • ???? toyota

    September 12, 2013

    Keep going back to this post. Thanks for sharing your experience. Sometimes I’m just amazed how good sales people can be, if you are looking at the car sale from the side you can see how some sales people are totally ripping “customers” off but they make it sound like they are doing them a favor.

  • Limo Hire Brisbane

    September 27, 2013

    This is nice blog for Agony of Buying a car. Great information. Keep posting.

  • hummer hire

    October 18, 2013

    Keep what you sharing. Very useful article. Thanks!

  • used cars houston

    October 21, 2013

    Nice blogs about the cars information thanks for sharing it.

  • nomorsa

    November 16, 2013

    Excellent! Nice post. I think car buying is most painful but at the same time it’s most prestigious moment of life.

  • Andy Middleton

    November 29, 2013

    Always get a pre-purchase check-up with a competent mechanic. Preferably one which goes with you to check up on the car like those from

  • Limos Brisbane

    December 8, 2013

    Thanks for more information you’ve shared. I’ve learned a lot’s of details for your blog. Keep posting.

  • cream sari

    December 13, 2013

    This is nice blog for Agony of Buying a car. Great information. Keep posting.


    December 23, 2013

    Buying a new car can be one of life’s biggest decisions and is certainly worth taking a good deal of time to research. Not only will you be looking for a car that is stylish and looks good, but you should also look for a car.


    December 23, 2013

    Buying a new car is an exciting thing!

  • Neha Sharma

    January 2, 2014

    Depends on marketing……………………somebody like to buy and somebody not to buy…….Hahahahah

  • Sell any Car

    January 4, 2014

    Informative stuff and good research work has been shared.
    sell any car

  • UK Classifieds Cars For Sale

    January 15, 2014

    Great post. thank for sharing with us. Now you’ve got some experience, Buying a car is like lottery, with a bit of adrenaline and nervs
    Check latest cars on UK Classifieds Cars For Sale

  • Tom Hanes

    January 15, 2014

    Nice tips. car buying can be a pain but all fun. Very useful article. Thanks! <a href=";

  • santaanacanyon

    February 9, 2014

    What you wrote is completely true! I’ve had exact same experiences, which only goes to prove dealerships are all alike and treat everyone with the same lack of respect. Thanks for this.

  • Ynez Iamai

    February 17, 2014

    I know this. It can be also called the agony of buying anything expensive 🙂

  • C. H.

    October 22, 2014

    …and just look at what your Governor and the manufacturers you support just did — they just cemented the very model that you agonize over.

    I bought a Tesla 2 years ago, it was an awesome experience much like Saturn was before GM bought them, stripped them dry, and killed them. Prior to purchasing that car, I walked into dealerships and told them, very straight, “this is your first and only chance to get the business. I will pay $x for that specific car. No add-ons, no contracts. If the paperwork isn’t completed in 45 minutes, I walk out whether you like it or not.”

    Just look at the dealership model — in St. Louis, a dealer is suing his customer because the dealer was caught cheating on service tickets.

    The dealership model is a cancer, and GM was publicly steadfast in its support for Tesla bans in both Ohio and Michigan. As a result, I’m never buying a GM car again.

  • selaput dara perawan

    December 2, 2014

    Amazing article! Love the way of your writing! I agree car buying process sometimes becomes really annoying some times as the procedure becomes lengthy but this not the case when you select to authorized or licensed car dealer.
    visit also

  • selaput dara perawan

    December 2, 2014

    Good article and good at reading, good luck and greetings blogger …..
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