Confessions of a Car Salesman

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Confessions of a Car Salesman

Part 2: Getting Hired


Car Buying Learning Center

The application they gave me at the car dealership included a "personality test," a list of about 80 questions to which I had to answer yes or no. There were no right answers, the instructions told me. The questions gave me insight to the kind of people who typically applied for jobs at car dealerships.

The first few questions were innocent enough, something like: "I enjoy relaxing and listening to music: yes or no?" But soon I noticed a trend developing. Question 7 was, "I enjoy going to bars: yes or no?" A few more innocent questions followed, then, "After going to a bar I feel good about myself: yes or no?" Questions about bars continued throughout.

Then, at about number 73, was this loaded question: "I like guns: yes or no?" I wondered how they would react if I crossed out the word "like" and put in "love." Better yet, I considered inserting the word "automatic" in front of "guns."

It was pretty obvious what they were looking for. So I recorded my answers and took the application back to the receptionist.

"Dave told me to page him when I was done with this," I said.

She stabbed a button on a phone panel and spoke into the receiver. "Dave, to the front desk. Dave, to the front desk." Her voice echoed down the hallways and boomed out onto the car lot. She turned back to me, "He'll be right with you."

I sat down and waited.

And waited. But he wasn't "right with me."

The thing about car dealers is they seem to like to keep you waiting. Later, I would find out how important it is for the salespeople to feel they are controlling the customer. If you are waiting for them they must be controlling you. This obsession with control extended to job applicants too.

As I waited I tried to look like a promising candidate for a job selling cars — whatever that looked like. I tried to look eager and hungry. These are not traits that come easily to me so I studied the other sales people around me. They stood in poses of assertion and power: legs spread, hands on hips, arms folded across chests. All the men (which were 99 percent of the sales force) wore white shirts and ties. Their hair was slicked back and they favored jewelry.

Soon, I noticed that dealership people were walking past where I sat and they were taking an unusual interest in me. A sandy-haired man strolled by several times. On the next pass he nodded and said, "Good morning."

"Good morning, how are you?" I returned. The man nodded and kept walking. I began to think the reason Dave had me waiting so long was so they could eyeball me before they interviewed me.

I wondered if Dave was testing my assertiveness, so I returned to the receptionist and asked to have him paged again. She did, and Dave immediately reappeared and led me to a sales cubicle in the back.

Sitting across from Dave I saw that he had a wandering eye. I kept trying to figure out which eye to look at. Dave reviewed my application and frowned.

"You've never sold cars before. Is that right?"


"Why do you want to work here?"

My first inclination was to say, hey, I'm a car freak. Always have been. I could explain cars, how they work, get people excited about the performance and the different features. But then I remembered my editor's advice.

I smiled at Dave, trying to convey the feeling that the answer was obvious.

"I want to make a lot of money," I said.

The effect on Dave was amazing. He smiled and relaxed, as if I had said the password to enter an exclusive club. If this had been a cartoon, dollar signs would have appeared in his eyes accompanied by a loud "Cha-ching!"

Next, Dave asked me what the best part of my personality was, and what the weakest part of my personality was. After I was done answering, he said he didn't really care what I said, it was the fact that I replied immediately that he liked. He added, "Your answer could even be a lot of B.S. but in sales you have to always have an answer."

It was clear that Dave liked me. And I sure liked Dave. Still, I had never sold cars before. My application showed I had a background in video sales.

Suddenly, Dave extended a ballpoint pen to me, one of those 59-cent jobs made of clear plastic. "You want to be a car salesman. OK, sell me this pen."

Over the years, I've read a number of self-help books about positive thinking. It always seemed these books were written by salesmen. So I've absorbed a lot of information about selling without realizing it. Here was my chance to put all that into action.

I picked up the pen, paused dramatically and began speaking slowly and deliberately. "Dave, you've asked me to make a recommendation about a pen. You're in luck because I know a lot about pens and I'm in a good position to point out the features and benefits of this model of pen. The first thing you'll notice is the cap. This can easily be removed and stored on the other end of the pen so you don't lose it. The next thing you'll notice is how it feels in your hand. Also, you'll notice it's easy to see at a glance how much ink is left. This means you'll never run out of ink without..."

I continued in this ridiculous fashion for a few minutes. Then I set the pen back in front of Dave and stopped. I held his gaze firmly — hoping I had focused on his good eye.

He picked up his pen as he said, "Yes, well, that's very nice." He thought it over for a second and said, "I'll be right back."

But he wasn't right back. I sat there for at least 15 minutes. I had a good opportunity to look around. On the wall of the cubicle was a sign stating that in California there was no "cooling off period." It said that once you sign a contract it was binding even if you changed your mind or decided that the car cost too much money.

Another man eventually appeared around the corner of the cubicle and introduced himself. His name was Michael and he was the sandy-haired man I had exchanged greetings with earlier. He had a very pleasant manner. He didn't ask me anything about myself; instead, he talked about how the dealership worked. I would be on a team of six salesmen of which he was the assistant sales manager, or ASM. He told me that I would train for about a week, but then I would be selling cars.

"Selling cars isn't hard," Michael told me. "It's dead easy. You just got to get right up here." He tapped his forehead.

I used the same tactic I had with Dave, repeating that I wanted to make a lot of money. It seemed to be the magic word.

"Oh you can make money here," Michael assured me, smiling. Then he lowered his voice as if telling me a secret. "You could make three or four grand here your first month. It's happened. Sometimes the green peas are the best salesmen."

Green peas. That's what they called the new guys. I had heard that nickname once before from a car salesman friend. I would be hearing it a lot in the coming weeks.

Michael stood up to leave, saying that other people would be in to meet me. But then he ducked back into the cubicle and said in a low voice, "Your driving record — is it clean?" I assured him it was.

I sat there for another 15 minutes before a young woman named Rosa, from human resources, arrived. She led me to a small room where I watched a videotape about this company. It also had interviews with people that worked in car sales telling how much money they made and how they loved their jobs. They didn't read very convincingly from the teleprompter.

When the tape was over Rosa reappeared carrying the personality test that asked me how I felt about going to bars. She said the test showed I was, "dominant, competitive, and impatient."

"Impatient? Is that bad?" I asked her.

"Oh no! No!" she assured me. "It means you want results now now now," she said snapping her fingers.

She then explained how managers handled the shifts. I would work from 50 to 60 hours a week, with a lot of night and weekend shifts. She also said they use an "Eight-step process" for selling cars. This probably worked well for applicants that spent a lot of time in bars.

Then she dropped a bomb on me.

"I was going to have the general manager interview you," she said. "But he listened in on your interview and he really liked you."

Listened in on me? I realized she had just confirmed a rumor about dealerships: the selling rooms are bugged. Later I learned that they aren't actually bugged, it's just that the phones have intercoms that can be used easily for listening.

I had been in the dealership for three hours and I was eager to leave. Rosa told me I would need to take a drug test and that they would then do a background check on me. She then paused and looked at me as if waiting for an answer.

"Is there anything you want me to know about?"

"About what?" I asked.

"Sometimes, when I say I'm going to do a background check, people stop me right there."

"Oh," I said, catching on. "My background's clean. No felonies."

"No DUIs?"

"No. I've been a good boy."

"You never know," she said. "I'll call you in a few days and if everything looks good we'll send you to get your sales license."

It was a relief to leave the dealership. As I drove home I reflected on what I had learned so far: To be a car salesman you needed to be able to sell pens, have a clean driving record and be drug-free.

I expected to get a call the next day and begin work immediately. But Rosa didn't call — and she didn't return my calls.

Over the next few days I continued applying for sales jobs. At one dealership, which sold high-end Japanese cars, a manager named Sid reviewed my application.

"But you don't have any experience selling cars," he said, as if I had misrepresented myself.

I went back to the formula that had worked so well.

"No, but I want to make a lot of money."

"Really?" he said. "How much do you want to make in, say, a month?"

I remembered Michael saying they made three or four grand in the first month. So I repeated this figure.

Sid burst out laughing: "I got guys out there makin' 20, 25 grand a month."

"You're kidding."

"No," Sid said, "I'm telling you, man, this is the big leagues."

Sid continued reviewing the application as if he might have missed something. "So you've got no experience selling cars?" he repeated.

No, I admitted for the second time, no experience.

Regretfully, he said he couldn't hire me until I had experience. He added that treating their customers well was more important than selling them a car. I told him that was exactly why I was here. I knew I could treat his customers well. This didn't cut any ice with him. He'd seen guys like me before, trying to fast talk their way into a job they weren't qualified for.

"I'm sorry my friend, but you have to prove it first. We need quotas. It's not enough to talk the talk. You need to walk the walk before you can work here." He handed me back the application and I left.

The next day I had a chance to interview at a dealership that sold American cars. Right away I sensed these guys were different than the salesmen at the dealerships that sold Japanese cars. There, they were slick young guys with expensive silk ties and gold watches. Here they were down-home, average Joes selling pickups and American-built cars.

I shook hands with a man named Jim who had slicked-back hair and a goatee. We sat in a selling room and he began telling me how great business was here. He said the dealership was perfectly situated on the Auto Mall, and the Auto Mall was the busiest in the area. And this area was the busiest place in the country. And America was the busiest place on the planet. So life was good and everyone was making lots and lots of money.

Jim asked me a number of questions about how I would handle situations on the car lot. He wanted to know how would I go about selling cars. I told him simply the best way to get a sale was to repeatedly ask for it. He liked this a lot. I could tell he was agreeing with all my answers so I wasn't surprised when he told me he was going to have his manager speak with me.

Several moments later (no waiting around like at the other interviews) a new guy entered named Stan. He said he had just told the sales staff, "If they sell two more cars by 6 o'clock we're all going out for pizza and beer."

I could tell that Stan couldn't figure out why I was there. I didn't make sense to him as a car salesman. But the more I talked the more he warmed to me. Finally, he said, "You play any sports?" I told him I was a big golfer. He asked me what my handicap was. I told him I was down to a 12 but I knew that if I took this job my golf game would suffer.

"Oh no. You're gonna get to play a lot of golf on this job. You have your mornings free and you'll be working evenings." He snapped the folder shut and said, "I asked you about sports because I wanted to see your competitive side."

I knew these interviews came in threes, so I wasn't surprised when Craig walked into the room. He told me that he had been a schoolteacher before he got into the car business. I could see him as a teacher — he had a warm, intelligent manner. He said that being a car salesman was hard on your life. "Truth of the matter is, you lose all your friends. Not because you're a car salesman, but because when you're around, they're not. And when they're around, you're not. You wind up making all new friends." I thought of the guys getting pizza and beer after selling two more cars. Would they be my new friends?

Craig asked me questions about myself, but mainly he was there to tell me the realities of the job. He told me that I would be successful selling only 20 percent of the time. So about 80 percent of the time I would be failing. He asked me how I took rejection. I said, "If you knew my wife, you'd know I'm an expert on handling rejection." He laughed and said, "A good sense of humor is important."

I was left alone for a few moments while the three of my interviewers held a pow wow. I overheard one of them saying, "He seems like a nice guy." The other one said, "Yes, definitely." Craig returned and told me that I would be sent for drug test and background check. If both of these were clear they could start me in about 10 days.

As I left the dealership I realized I was facing a dilemma: did I want to work with the slippery guys who first interviewed me? Or should I go with the good ole boys at the American dealership? At this point I was leaning toward the slippery guys. I knew I was going to leave in a month anyway. I wouldn't mind cutting and running from the Japanese dealership. The other American boys might shake their heads and say, "If only he'd hung in there, we could've helped him become a successful car salesman."

I called the first dealership back for about the 20th time. This time I didn't give my name, but I had Rosa paged. After a long wait, she came on the line.

"Oh yes," she answered cheerfully (no mention of why she hadn't called back). "Come down Monday morning and we'll send you off to get your car sales license. You can do that while we're finishing your background check."

Did that mean I was hired? On Monday I went to the dealership and Rosa gave me the forms to take to the DMV. But first, I had to have my fingerprints scanned. I went to a local university's security office where they had a special computer for this purpose. I waited three hours before a technician led me into a small, hot room. A sweaty young technician rolled the pads of my fingerprints across a glass plate. He told me that my prints were being sent by modem to the Department of Justice — a scary thought. I then went to the DMV where I had another long wait because the computers were down. Finally, I went to the window, paid $56 and had my picture taken. A few moments later I was handed my "Vehicle Salesperson Temporary Permit" with my photo on it. I was now a car salesman. So I decided to play the part.

Speaking through the glass, I told the DMV clerk, "I just got my sales license. You'll have to come on down to the dealership. I'll sell you a car."

"Sorry," she said. "I just bought a new Toyota."

The rejection had already begun.

Read Confessions of a Car Salesman Part 3: Meeting, Greeting and Dealing

Car Buying Learning Center

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.



  • jpricejr jpricejr Posts:

    Outstanding article with terrific insight and advice. Reads like a novel. This guy really went all out to do the digging. He is going places.

  • striker33 striker33 Posts:

    Excellent article...

  • siyu siyu Posts:

    Awesome article,give me ideas and confidence to deal with dealer tomorrow!

  • karl4111 karl4111 Posts:

    I have sold cars for 18 years for both kinds of dealerships, and this is the most accurate article that I have ever read, on the subject. The point that the author didnt make but is obviuos as you read it is remarkably the agressive dealers have far more floor traffic....Why?

  • karl4111 karl4111 Posts:

    Im going to answer my own question...because basiclly we are like sheep and want to be lead. Thats what the big stores do, just look how we are funneled to where they want us to go in Walmart.

  • dudemon dudemon Posts:

    "confesions of a car salesman" is a joke. it's an article wriiten by a guy who spent a few weeks selling cars at a sleazeball dealership and had an agenda from day one. I've been in the business for 20+ years and have never heard of a dealer basing commisions on gross. Dealers do base commissions on volume, for example 0-8 units pays 22% 9-12 Pays 25% Retroactive etc. Also the finance depts get margins from the lenders. if you walk in off the street to BofA and apply for an auto loan and get 3.79% the dealer may get that same loan carried with BofA but get a "buy rate" of 2.9% from the bank therefore making a .89% yield spread. Edmonds would have you believe that because we send so much business to the lender and therefore get a discount that we are somehow being deceptive.

  • "Spiff" - Poor example. "Weak" - just post a pic of yourself. Edmunds TMV is a joke and U know that! Talk about giving buyers unrealistic expectations. BTW Greenpea - 3 months does NOT a car salesman make!

  • csthreatt csthreatt Posts:

    This was great information.

  • Um... best article ever! Thank you. I consider myself a veteran haggler and have always fought for invoice deals. However, in reading this I can easily reflect back and see how the dealerships and salemen tried and used each and everyone of these techniques.

  • nita56 nita56 Posts:

    amazing and so real. The dealership where I work at was so bad. And when I mentioned that some of their salesmen should be drawn and quartered for their customer services.I was reprimanded and fired. Told I'm the new girl I don't get to have an opinion.Customers(buys a $60,000.00) car calling in six times in one day and they are to busy trying to scam the next customer. Adding 2-4% to the rate just to make a profit. Customers staying there for eight hours because their credit is so bad. Then they get charged 25.99%. Then I'm told at my age appearently I know nothing about customer service. I'm a consumer every day. I was appaulled at the behavior and your article is the absolute truth.

  • p51d007 p51d007 Posts:

    As you can guess, there are a lot of bad car dealers, and there are good ones. If you find a good one, STICK TO IT. My father retired as a car salesman after 32 years in 1999, and was ONE OF THE BEST. Small town (less than 5,000 population), but, he had clients all over the USA, and even a few in South America! I asked him long ago how he was so successful. He told me straight out, NEVER lie to a potential customer. Tell them the truth, straight out. Something I've carried with me to this day.

  • Good article. I WAS the sales manager at a very high production import dealer and not all of us were jerks. I was one of the best and ranked in the top 50 in the country. I was also the training manager for new hires. " needs based selling" like you had at the 'no haggle' store was the most effective of them all. Out of the thousands of car deals I either closed, to'ed or turned,very few customers paid too much. It was my experience that half of our customers could NOT pass a drug screen, thorough background check and basic math test, much less have the acumen to be a car salesperson.Customers lied about thier credit, lied about the condition of their cars, lied about accidents and service records, etc ad nauseum.Some of the most entertaining and intelligent men I have ever met was in the car business and although I'm not in the business any longer, I miss the comeraderie but I don't miss the hours or the lying customers who insisted on us buying their 100,000 mile 'highway miles' turd that had been hit more times than Joe Frazier, while insisting that we didn't have the right to make a profit because the 'interwebz told them so" Just do your reasearch on 3 cars you like, find a salesman you can trust and drive your new ride.

  • What is a "reasonable" profit for a dealer to make on a car?

  • izzyrider izzyrider Posts:

    This article was hilarious, brought tears to my eyes with laughter. I always wanted to be a car salesman, well aware of the hard work, long hours and lack of respect for the job. I took the week long car sales course. The description of the participants and instructor was spot on. I too was out of a job after a long career. I learned to shake hands in the correct manner. Never actually took a sales job as they wanted me to pay to take the rest of the course, another sales job by the instructor. Loved the "tuna" story, best part of the entire article, guess that is why they went out of business. I bought that brand of vehicle for my daughter, never saw another "up" in the showroom other than my self, and the sales person was a female. She was very pleasant, enjoyed the experience, but alas she was gone in two months. No tuna, no money. Next time I buy another car, I'll remind the sales person he not scoring a "pounder" on this sale, better expect a "mini".

  • dealernerd dealernerd Posts:

    Sorry my friend, this is not the normal experience for car salespeople. A real car salesperson would recognize this dealership is disorganized and go to another dealership and make a decent living for their family. To qualify yourself as a cars salesperson you need to understand how many hours it takes to become certified and believe in the product your are selling. You are no Irving Silver or even know who his is, so do not call yourself Car Salesman. Its like being the stadium janitor and saying your in the NFL.

  • sanca sanca Posts:

    Thanks for the knowledge. My wife is ready for a new SUV. Hopefully I can use something I learned from this article. One thing for sure is now I can walk away from aggressive, bullying salesperson.

  • stevie9 stevie9 Posts:

    Interesting and pretty much what I remember. Except the pay. Most just pay 150 or 200 no matter how much the dealer made. They just play with those numbers too

  • equinox27 equinox27 Posts:

    Very informative article for the vast majority. I spent 20 years in the car business, starting with selling Pontiacs, and ended up selling Jaguars and Ferraris. The majority of the new car sales information is correct. The no-haggle information is probably correct. however I worked for the only true no haggle car dealership in Florida, and no I am talking about Carmax. This dealership was so effective that the other 3 Chrysler dealerships in town bought them out. The sad thing is that it was very successful, for customers and employees. It is the way the car business should be. Would love for Edmunds to contact me about how this actually worked as it was back in the 1990's. Oh and a footnote. Prior to around 1957 new cars did not have prices on them and that is how dealers made their money, giving different prices to different people on the same car. Which is how the MSRP Manufacturers Sugessted Retail Price came into play, to help level the playing field. Which of course it did not.

  • equinox27 equinox27 Posts:

    Sorry for the typo, I meant to say, no I am NOT talking about Carmax.

  • tifypop1 tifypop1 Posts:

    I was a career auto sales man for over 32 years, and was very successful. I think it is laughable that this clown did i tfor two whole months, and pretends to know something about it. that is like me spending an evening in an nba locker room, and saying i know all about the nba life. you would need o know the highs and the lows to know what that is like, to be the best at your job, like a hired gun, in the old west, where your repuation preceeds you, and people say reverently, "i have heard of you." do you know what it is like to walk by the gm's office. and him beg you to take a three or four thousand dollar advance, cause he knows the cars you will sell to make up for it. or to have you gm advance you ten to twelve thousand dollars after a storm, because he does'nt want you to go someplace else when they re- open, this poor fellow is " a lost ball in high weeds."

  • carpoor3 carpoor3 Posts:

    My wife and I had a horrible experience with Camelback Toyota in Phoenix, AZ. The deal was done until we met with Finance. Oh, my.... This clown wanted to talk about hunting and fishing while piling on "EXTRAS" to the deal. After two hours of saying NO, NO, NO, NO and being frustrated, we finally signed the papers. You can't believe the hard pressure to purchase CAR JACK to protect your car..... After all, Mexico is 3 hours away??? Tire protection in case the helium in the tires leak??? An extended warranty for $3,000.00 in case the car fails??? Doesn't Toyota warranty their cars when they are new??? Scotch Guard the seats to protect against stains??? Uh, no kids! Be sure to take a condom with you if you deal with CAMELBACK TOYOTA in PHOENIX, AZ. You will need the protection!

  • I'm not a car salesman, but I am in the sales profession, and I sell products that are also high-dollar, on a commission basis. For someone who complains so much about stereotyping, there sure was a lot of it in this article. I'm glad you cooled off, somewhat, by the end... but you are still harsh on owners and managers. Is it ok with you that the dealership makes money? I mean, that's why they are in business. Would you not agree that they offer a service? How much profit do you think they are entitled to? If you think that the car sales world is sleazy because it is profit based, you better go off and try some "undercover jounalism" in some other places. I'd start in real estate, stock brokerage, advertising sales, a travel agency, or just about any other industry that involves producing a good or service in exchange for capital. While we're on the subject, I've met plenty of [non-permissible content removed] jounalists in my time...

  • rokster rokster Posts:

    Thanks for the great story, it reminded me a lot of Bill Bryson's writing, making one laugh and (nearly) cry a lot. At least we will soon walk into a dealership well prepared and ready to negotiate.

  • bones1939 bones1939 Posts:

    Why did you have to go undercover? ***On a mission to lie. Anyone that can fog a mirror can sense that you have no intentions on buying a car. Be a real hard working journalist and get a job a car salesperson and get the facts. YOU AS CONSUMER SHOULD KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. DEVELOPE A LIST ITEMS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU. ie:style, fuel effieciecy, budget. BEFORE YOU STEP ON TO A LOT AN WASTE PEOPLES TIME. THAT EXPEDITES THE WHOLE PROCESS.

  • tbahama tbahama Posts:

    I have been in the car business for 18 years, and this article is the worst written article I have ever read. It's like Edmund's took ever horror story and night mare they have ever heard and put it in this article. The first thing is no one in the franchise car business roles back or employees anyone who roles back odometers. People do prison time for that sort of thing these days. Automotive specialist now days come from all walks of life, college grads, included. We are people too. Not to mention the government uses our industry to track the economy. I think the most disappointment comes from Edmund's themselves. If it wasn't for all the car people in the country, from the lowliest custodian, through the tech's that turn wrenches right up through the high powered exec's like Rick Hendrick. There wouldn't be a place for Edmund's to even exist. I think this is a prime example of "Biting the hand the feeds you!"

  • ghostsales2 ghostsales2 Posts:

    I am in car sales and have been for the past several years. This article is outdated. Much of these things aren't true anymore. Some yes, but most not anymore. First, Many dealerships don't use the sales square anymore. They have come up with different presentations for pricing. Many dealerships have become very competitive with pricing due to the increased presence of online shopping. Used car prices are so competitive that mark ups, or profit are very minimal. As far as the microphones in the booths and such, this isn't common anymore. Most dealerships have no microphones and don't use phones from the sales desk to the tower. THey just speak with the tower directly. Most dealerships are now much more Customer service oriented. Many laws have changed to make car sales easier.

  • ghostsales2 ghostsales2 Posts:

    This article was published back in 2001. 12 years ago and lots of things are different now. Take into consideration that when this was written 9/11 hadn't happened, The shootings of Colorado in the movie theater hadn't happened and the bombings that happened last week hadn't happen. So much time has past and thus so many things are different. If you are a customer and plan to buy a car, I urge you not to go into the dealership thinking you are going to experience these things, because so many laws have changes. We even have a new president since then..2 elections. Things are different then they were back then. 12 years ago.

  • jb3138 jb3138 Posts:

    If people only knew !no way ill buy a new car again ill get a year old or two.

  • pbeng12 pbeng12 Posts:

    yeah gotta love the scum bag tactic these wretched low life "sales" reps use....

  • bkenis bkenis Posts:

    I really enjoyed that. I don't remember a story of this length ever popping up on the yahoo main stories, but it definitely read as a novel, as others have said. Very informative and insightful. Bravo!

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