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One afternoon I upped (approached) a man in the Trucks Department. I’ll call him Mr. Hawthorne. He was wandering around with his son, looking at the brand-new Gargantuan Crew Cabs. He told me he was just killing time while his oil was being changed. We started to chat and the next thing you know we’re test-driving a new truck. Mr. Hawthorne really seemed to like the way the Gargantuan drove (that new EgoBoost engine is amazing), so when we got back to the dealership I asked him if he wanted to buy it. He said it all depended on what we gave him for his trade-in.

By now, Mr. Hawthorne’s truck was out of service, so I took it to our used car manager. When the used car manager came back, he had a few questions for my customer. “I noticed the air conditioner doesn’t really blow cold,” he said. “Have you had it looked at?” “No,” Mr. Hawthorne replied. “I think all it needs is a little Freon.” The Used Car Manager also commented that the engine ran a little rough and there was a warning light. Did he know anything about that? Mr. Hawthorne said he had been told by our service department that the engine needed a new sensor of some kind, but the truck ran fine so he wasn’t really worried about it. The used car manager nodded, and went to his computer to put a number on my customer’s trade.

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I parked Mr. Hawthorne at my desk and went to the sales office to start preparing a buyer’s order, hoping to sell a truck that day. While I was talking to the sales manager, the service manager came into the room and started telling the general manager about an unhappy customer who was complaining about the cost of some repairs we were recommending. His truck needed about $5000 of work, including a complete overhaul of the engine and the air conditioning system. At that point my ears perked up and I turned to the service manager. “Is this guy’s name Hawthorne?” “Yeah,” the service manager replied. “How did you know?” “He’s trying to trade in his truck right now,” I said. My sales manager threw down his pen. “That’s this guy?!” “Yep,” I replied. “That’s him.” As it turned out, Mr. Hawthorne had a much more serious problem than a bad sensor. And he was fully aware of it when our used car manager asked him about the engine. He had chosen to conceal it. Buyers are liars.

If you’re in the car business you’ve heard this phrase a million times. I remember the first time I heard it, I had been in sales only a few weeks. A customer promised to come in on a Saturday to drive a new car, but never showed up, and I never could reach them on the phone. When I told my sales manager about it he just smiled and said, “Buyers are liars.” I was shocked. “What? Customers lie? No! Say it ain’t so!” Like everyone else, I had been programmed to believe that only car salesmen lie. I guess I was pretty naive. The fact is, if you stay in the car business for long you’ll find your faith in humanity sorely tested. I’ve been lied to by friends, little old ladies, high-ranking officers in the military — you name it. Something happens to people when they shop for a car. They may be perfectly honest in every other aspect of their lives, but put them in a car dealership and conventional morality goes out the window. I think the reason people feel it’s OK to lie to a salesman is because they think we’re lying to them. What do people lie about? Well, just about anything.

'Sounds like a good deal. Would you be willing to take a polygraph test?'

The Top 17 List of Customer Fibs, and their translation. If you’re easily offended, you might just want to click on the little “X” in the corner right now.

Lie: “We’re just looking.”
Translation: We went to the credit union this morning and have a draft for a new car in our pocket.

Lie: “This is the first place we’ve been.”
Translation: We’ve already been to five other dealerships and gotten numbers from each.

Lie: “Oh, we’re not doing anything today.”
Translation: The instant we find a car we like at a price we like, we’ll buy it.

Lie: “We’re not doing anything for another six months.”
Translation: See above.

Lie: “We have excellent credit.”
Translation: If you don’t count two repos and a bankruptcy.

Lie: “We can’t afford more than $300 a month.”
Translation: Actually, we’ve budgeted $500 a month for a new car.

Lie: “We don’t have any money to put down.”
Translation: Until it turns out we need it to get approved, then two grand will miraculously appear in our checking account.

Lie: “I don’t like to negotiate.”
Translation: Get ready for the fight of your life.

Lie: “We haven’t decided if we’re trading in our car yet.”
Translation: We’re planning on trading, but that’s what all the books told us to say.

Lie: “Our car has never been in an accident.”
Translation: Our car was cut in half by the 5:30 train out of Baltimore and put back together again with duct tape and J.B. Weld.

Lie: “The dealership down the street is going to give us five million dollars for our trade.”
Translation: The dealership down the street hasn’t even seen our trade.

Lie: “The dealership down the street has the Exact Same Car for five million dollars less.”
Translation: The car down the street is four years older, has twice the mileage, a bad CarFax, no leather, no nav, no sunroof, and a cloth interior with cigarette burns. And it smells like wet dog and dried baby poop.

Lie: “We’re in no hurry.”
Translation: We have to buy a car by Monday because that’s when they take back the rental they gave us after our car was totaled.

Lie: “I need to talk to my wife.”
Translation: I’ve been talking to my wife about a new car for the past six weeks, and this morning before I left the house she said “Honey, do whatever you want.”

Lie: “We’re going to go to lunch to talk about it.”
Translation: We’re going to pull out of the parking lot, turn right, and drive directly into the parking lot of the Toyota dealership next door. While you watch.

Lie: “Oh! I just remembered an important appointment!”
Translation: I have no appointment. I just want to get the hell out of here.

Lie: “We’ll be back.”
Translation: You’ll never see us again.
Or they’ve got to go home to let the dog out. Or let the dog back in. Or pick the kids up from school when the “kids” are in college, a thousand miles away. Or they have to be on an operating table in a 30 minutes. And so on.

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