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Car Lot Lingo: Talk the Talk

(updated May 18th, 2009)

Picture this: you are escorted into the sales office at a car dealership. You sit across the desk from a seasoned car salesman who says, "So how can I earn your business today?"

You return his stare and say, "You want to post another unit on the board? Give it to me for a nickel back of invoice. You make a nice voucher and you can even spiff your F&I guy for prepping the docs."

Now the salesman is staring at you, mouth open. Finally, he stammers, "So you used to sell cars, huh?"

You lean back with a maybe-yes-maybe-no expression on your face. Instead of answering directly, you just say, "Let me put it this way — I know all the tricks. So keep this deal clean and we'll get along just fine."

Now let me ask you this, will you be treated carefully and given a good price? Or will the salesman try to take advantage of you? Obviously, he thinks he's dealing with someone in the know. And he will proceed with caution.

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While the above example is a bit exaggerated, and I don't really recommend trying to fool people into thinking you are something you are not, there is an important point here. Besides conveying direct information, language communicates a hidden message. Even a hairy-knuckled auto mechanic will take note when you drop off your car for a brake job and add, "The rear drums were turned last time it was in the shop. And the front pads still had about two-30-seconds left on 'em." I don't think that wrench is going to try to talk you into unneeded extras by saying, "I think it's time to change the air in your tires."

After "Confessions of a Car Salesman" appeared on our site, a friend read it and laughed at how the word "up" is car lot lingo for a customer who walks onto the lot. Many dealerships also have an "up system" to fairly distribute customers to salesmen. At car lots it's not unusual to hear the managers griping to the sales force: "We've got ups all over the lot, and you guys are in back drinking coffee?!"

This friend of mine went to buy a car at a local dealership where the salesmen were all standing on the curb out front smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, waiting for customers to arrive. As he got out of his car and saw several salesmen begin to approach him, he said, "OK guys, who's up?" They immediately took him for a former car salesman and treated him with kid gloves. That one word was like a code that seemed to reveal his past.

If you are interested in probing further into car salesmen's shop talk, I've assembled a glossary of words and key phrases. Use them at your own risk. After all, if you talk the talk, they may expect you to walk the walk.

Be-back: A customer who leaves the car lot promising to return later, saying, "I'll be back," or some variation of that statement. "The guy was a be-back. But I think he meant it. I'll see him again."

Bumping: Raising the customer's offer for a car. "If Mr. Customer says he only wants to pay $250 a month, just say, 'Up to — ?' He'll probably bump himself up to $300 without you doing anything."

"Buyers are liars": Car salesmen know they have a reputation for dishonesty. But they counter with this claim of their own.

Salesman #1:After the test-drive, this guy tells me he has to leave 'cause he's got a doctor's appointment. Yeah, right."

Salesman #2:"What can I tell you, man? Buyers are liars."

Closer: An experienced salesman who is brought in to "close" the customer by making them agree to a deal. "If I worked with a better closer, I'd have more units on the board."

Demo: This is the test-drive. "This guy comes in, demos the car, and I think he's ready to buy, right? Then he tells me the car's for his wife and he can't make a decision without her. Same old line."

F&I: This stands for the Finance and Insurance office where the documents are signed. The F&I salesperson usually will push products such as extended warranties, fabric protection and alarms. "The wait for F&I is two hours. Better stick with your customer so they don't skip out the back door."

"The feel of the wheel will seal the deal": It is assumed that if you test-drive a car, you will buy it. "This prospect was on the fence, right? I get him in the car, he drives the thing, now he's hot to buy. It's like they always say, 'The feel of the wheel will seal the deal.'"

First pencil: This is the opening offer from the sales manager, usually written onto the four-square worksheet, so-called because it is highly negotiable, i.e. written in pencil, not ink. "I show my customer the first pencil and it's so high he nearly dies. I scrape him off the ceiling and make a deal."

Four-square: As negotiations begin, the salesman pulls out a worksheet divided into four squares which represent the four elements of a car deal: selling price, trade-in value, monthly payment and down payment. "I started working the four-square and looked up at the prospect. It was great — they had no idea what the hell I was talking about."

Full pop lease: This is when a vehicle is leased at 110 percent of the sticker price — the highest amount allowed by most banks. "I got them into a full pop lease. I'll get a nice voucher for that."

GM: The general manager. The GM is the head honcho at the dealership. He runs the business from day to day. "The guys were standing out on the curb drinking coffee so the GM called them into the tower and read them the riot act."

Green pea: A new car salesperson. "The funny thing is, green peas can outsell the veterans. That's because they don't know how hard this job is."

Grinder: A customer who negotiates for hours over a small amount of money. "We were only $100 apart, but the guy wouldn't sign. Man, what a grinder."

Home run: This applies when a salesman has taken advantage of every element of the deal: trade-in, sale price and financing. "I stole their trade and buried them in a full pop lease with 9.9 percent financing. Home runs like that don't come along everyday."

Lay down (Also "Lie down" depending on usage): A customer who takes whatever deal the salesperson offers. "I quoted him monthly payments of $575 and he took it! I wish all the customers were lay downs like that."

Mini: The commission on a deal where the car was sold at close to invoice price. "Sure, the deal was only a mini. But I qualified for a weekend bonus and made a grand."

Mooch: A customer who wants to buy a car at invoice. "People are spending too much time on the Internet reading invoice prices. It's turning them into a bunch of mooches."

Packing payments: Adding extra profit to the cost of a car. "This place I used to work got busted for packing payments. Bummer. But it was great while it lasted."

The Point: The place on the car lot where the "up" man stands looking for customers. "The GM saw me standing on the point with my hands in my pockets. He went ballistic and sent me home for the day."

Pounder: A deal with a $1,000 profit in it. "Doctor comes in and buys the top-of-the-line model, fully loaded — and he pays sticker! That'll be a two-pounder for me."

"Rip their heads off": This describes taking a customer to the cleaners. "I sold them this fully loaded, top-of-the-line model at a grand over sticker — I mean, I just ripped their heads off."

Roach: A customer with bad credit. Not to be confused with the "roach coach" (see entry below). "The guy looked good. But we ran his credit, and he turned out to be a roach. We're talkin' a 400 credit score, repos and bankruptcies out the wazoo."

Roach coach: The food truck that comes around to the dealership everyday. "I shouldn'ta eaten that chili from the roach coach. My stomach's killin' me."

Spiff: A tip, kickback or payment of any kind, usually cash which is handed between salespeople. "I spiffed the F&I guy $20 bucks, and he took my customers first."

Strong: This has a special meaning on the car lot. It means holding firm on your price and being a tough negotiator. "When they ask for your price, you have to be strong. Hit 'em with high payments, then scrape them off the ceiling and start negotiating."(See also "weak.")

Tower: The office where the sales managers work. This is usually a raised platform allowing the managers to see over the roofs of the cars so they can watch customers and their salespeople. "Attention: All new car salesmen report to the new car tower!"

Turn over: Also known as "turning," this is the practice of passing a customer from one salesman to another. It is thought that this will prevent customers from leaving the car lot. The theory is that the customer might just have bad chemistry with the first salesman and he might like the next salesman. "I turned this guy to my partner and he wound up buying. I'll get half of the commission on the deal."

Up: A customer who walks onto the car lot. The term probably comes from the order in which customers are taken, as in: "Who's up next?" "There are customers all over the lot — looks like the ups bus just arrived."

Voucher: Car salespeople receive a voucher to let them know what their commission was for selling a car. They don't know until the deal is finalized exactly how much they will receive. "Check out this voucher. I thought I had a pounder. Instead it's a mini."

Weak: This describes being a weak negotiator or coming down too quickly on price. "The guy was weak so he only lasted a few months. How are you going to make money in this business if you give away cars?"