Life At The Dealership: A Used Car Sales Dilemma

December 14, 2010

I specialized in marketing used cars when I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer. I also worked with retail customers on the sales lot when no other floor sales staff were available. One beautiful summer Saturday, a family of four walked into the dealership. We were swamped with customers so I went over to help.

The mother, father, and two kids were in need of a low mileage used car that was safe, and one they could afford on their limited budget. They also stressed that their old car had strained their finances with high monthly maintenance costs. Something was always breaking down. They wanted a vehicle that would be easy to keep serviced and would last for years to come.

Nissan Sentra

We had a 4-door, 4-cylinder Nissan Sentra that met all their criteria. The Nissan Sentra is comparable to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, except it’s what I term a “sleeper,” meaning most used car buyers don’t know that although its value is comparable to that of the Civic and Corolla when purchased used, it costs a lot less money than the other two popular vehicles.

It doesn’t take all my years selling cars to know when someone is not interested. The dad’s disinterest in the Sentra was evident. I was surprised that he kept walking over to a Dodge Durango that we had for sale. This behemoth was an 8-cylinder, gas-guzzling SUV with way too many miles on the odometer and a less-than-stellar reputation for longevity. I knew that I could bring the selling price down low enough to meet this young family’s budget, but I also knew that this Durango would destroy their monthly budget in gas costs and long term maintenance expenses.

The Moral Dilemma

Many car dealers don’t let their sales staff know the gross profit on individual used cars. If they did, sales people would only sell the vehicles with the highest profit so they earned more commission. This would result in low profit cars languishing unsold. However, as Internet Manager I knew that both the dealership and I stood to make more money on the Durango than the Sentra. Should I ignore my own moral compass and begin to extol the virtues of the Durango while downplaying the obvious benefits of the Sentra?

As it turns out, this was not my first rodeo. I had run into this moral dilemma many times in the past. When I saw the Dad’s interest in the Durango I walked the entire family back to the Sentra and said, “Before we proceed, I want to make sure I understand the kind of car you want to buy. When you arrived I thought I heard you say you needed a vehicle that would not only meet your limited budget, but one you could afford to buy gas for—one that wouldn’t break the bank every month with maintenance costs.” I paused before asking, “Is that correct?”

The family’s response tomorrow.


L. James Johnson is the guy who wrote the book on how to sell your vehicle online. HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! is available on

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from the site. I can withdraw my consent at any time by unsubscribing.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.