Morality For Sale - No Money Down!

People assume the car business is a lot like they see on A & E. You find a customer looking for a car, you show them an expensive car, agree on a price, and after you shake hands, your customer hits the gong after buying an '04 Charger.

Unfortunately, this business is more than dream cars and slick talk.The reality is that no everyone has perfect credit like on "King of Cars." People with bad or no credit are exempt from this wonderland of car buying and must fend for themselves against a swarming pack of sub-prime lenders, eager to put the customer into anything with four wheels.

My three years in the car business have always been in sub-prime lending. I take pleasure from helping people who wouldn't normally be able to finance a vehicle. Many of my customers come to me depressed, dejected, and cynical. They've been "pre-approved" five times before sitting down at my desk. They're just waiting to hear those familiar lines:

  • "I can get you approved if you have a co-signer."
  • "Do you have $2000 for a down payment?"
  • "You're approved for $3000, but we don't have any cars that cheap."

In those years, I've created an equilibrium between morality and salesmanship. I'm still good at what I do, yet I'm honest enough to sleep well at night. I've rationalized charging 21% interest on a car loan, I'm not surprised to see an '03 Ford Taurus with 120,000 miles, and when a customer objects to their vehicle choices, I kindly remind them of their credit situation.

Most times, I don't feel like The Chopper. I feel like Kurt Russel,
wearing a checkered jacket and luring people to the lot with a dollar bill at the end of a fishing pole.

I've never sold a Hummer,a Cadillac Escalade, or one of those fully loaded Dodge Chargers you see at Tobwin Dodge. My cream puffs are Pontiac Grand Am's, Oldsmobile Alero's, and the occasional Ford Explorer. A few years ago, we were elated to have a '99 Dodge Durango hit the lot. I took a deposit on it before it was even ready to sell.

I've never had a customer with a 700+ credit rating. As a result, I've never sold a vehicle at or near Blue Book value. I've never given "$1000 for your trade, no matter what you owe!!" And only once in my life have I ever done a deal with zero money down. I stand at the edge of a cliff each day; one wrong step and I could lose all my scruples.

I swim with the sharks, compete to sell the most cars. For years, I fooled the others into thinking I was one of them, ready to strike any helpless prey. But after years of pretending, my disguise is wearing thin. Co-workers see how I struggle to "bend truths" or "overcome objections." I wince at training rhetoric such as: "Do what you have to do to put those people in a car," or "Buyers are liars. Put your selling shoes on!"

My drive, other than being debt-free before entering a seminary, is knowing that even in this polluted shark-tank, God exists. God exists because I try to be truthful to my customers, and I tell them how expensive it will cost to finance a car. God exists because people at my desk don't see me as another salesperson, they see me as someone who is trying to help. God exists because I've had customers hug me and cry on my shoulder, overwhelmed to be given a chance when normal banks tell them they aren't good enough. God exists because each time I sell a customer, I'm reminded of my own second chance.

So for those who feel a prospective priest has no business selling cars, please take your guilt elsewhere. We're all full up here.

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1 Response to Morality For Sale - No Money Down!

July 14, 2007 at 10:17 AM

Hmmm....very interesting take on this. I currently work in the insurance business, although I gave notice a couple weeks ago. I can't take it anymore. I do have some moral problems with my job, although overall it's all very ethical, etc. But I feel like the tax collector in the Bible, or the publican next to the pharisee. Well, I hope I'm more like the publican...hope you know what I mean.

I have no problem with a future priest working as a car salesman, as long as you're doing your job morally. People do get into their own credit problems, and if I can't find a job and end up losing my house, well, I might end up as one of those people.

Anyway, we have a local dealership that caters to such people, but I don't think they do business very ethically; in fact, they walk a very thin line. They take bad, run-down cars, pretty them up, and offer limited warranties. Every customer I've had who bought a car there had a bad engine that needed to be replaced. Which it was, but I find the statistics beyond comparison to any other dealer. They also charge about $3,000-$4,000 over market value, and 24-26% interest rates.

And of course, when this stuff comes across my desk, of those claims that art legitimate (high percentage of fraud among that group; trying to unload a crap car they can't afford at $300/ month which is worth only $10.00, etc), thee legit people always have negative equity and I can't do anything about it. And they aren't offered Gap insurance, likely due to the bad risk. The Gap company would go bankrupt!

I can't wait until my time is up. From what you say, though, that's not the kind of dealer you work for. Hopefully. If you do, then just do your best to work within a bad system.