December 7, 2014


car park
We’re looking for a new vehicle. There are lots of options. Prices usually start under $25,000 and easily reach $40,000 with the features we want (AWD, heated rear seats, navigation, keyless ignition), taxes and other charges.

Each manufacturer makes compromises. You might get better materials but less features. Or many features but a disappointing engine. You’ll find lots of useful information online, including many YouTube videos. There’s less about improving the process for customers.

The buying process still involves visiting dealerships for test drives and talking to the salespeople. Manufacturers can raise the standards. Let’s look at our actual experiences with various brands in Toronto area. The dealerships aren’t identified and your experience would likely vary.


Tell salespeople to leave their videogame consoles at homes, not in their offices. Tell them to phone customers back when promised, not three days later. Remind them that a test drive with a nearly empty gas tank doesn’t inspire confidence.


Tell dealerships to make sure the vehicles run. An engine that shuts down during a test drive does not encourage a return visit. Walking back to a dealership was good for cardio, though.


Make sure the salespeople have a passion for their product and know basics about the marketplace (e.g., the CX5 is not a Honda). Tell them to only give brochures on products which interest the customer. If customers dislike ample use of cheap hard plastic, a glossy brochure won’t change their minds.


Tell salespeople to refrain from asking customers where they were born and the colour of vehicle they want to test drive. Don’t put customers in a vehicle with a manual transmission without asking since they probably want automatic. Let them go on the highway if they want. Tell salespeople that being new to the dealership doesn’t excuse ignorance about what they’re selling.


Tell salespeople to provide printed quotes upon request, rather than telling customers to write information down on the back of a business card. Have brochures that explain the optional 10 year / 200,000 km extended warranty. Ditto for the non-KIA protection plan for undercoating, tires and rims. Putting the prices online would save time and reduce the feeling that the finance manager makes up the numbers.

For test drives, put the customer in a higher trim level if the dealership doesn’t have the right one. This might even be a way to upsell. How is a customer judge a touch screen navigation or sound system from an explanation? Make sure the website works:
KIA Trade-In Calculator doesn't work


Tell the dealership to make customers feel welcome. The place looked dead an hour before closing. No one was at the reception desk. The three salespeople alone in their offices saw us but didn’t offer any help. Maybe the boss was away (unless one of them was the boss).


Tell smaller dealerships to put desirable vehicles in the showroom. Who aspires to a
  • B250 ($43K) with no power seats
  • GLA250 ($47K) with no sunroof
Make sure the test drive vehicles work. The backup camera in our GLK250 showed a blank screen, though the vehicle had been driven 493 km and had been backed into its parking spot.


Tell salespeople to stop whining about how few Foresters and Outbacks they have. Supply chain problems don’t concern customers. The allocation between dealerships isn’t our concern either. Have dealers put accurate inventory information online, rather than this:


When a customer  shows up for a scheduled test drive, don’t tell them another salesperson went home with the demonstrator. Wouldn’t a successful dealership have another vehicle to test drive? Sorry won’t do. Neither will saying that some customers buy without a test drive because we don’t.
Don’t tell customers who want to test drive on the highway to go another Toyota dealership but return to buy. (Yes this really happened).


Make sure the salespeople know how blind spot detection works even if your vehicles lack this safety feature. Asking the customer is unusual. The best answer to why doesn’t the Tiguan offer a diesel engine isn’t to blame government regulations. When the competition offers a power trunk closing, adding that feature to your top trim makes more sense than having salespeople quip there’s less to break with a manual system.

If you’re promoting a $4,000 cash discount off the negotiated price of the outgoing model, discontinue the promotion if there are no vehicles left. We were told the dealership ran out months ago. Better still, have a substitute offer. Otherwise customers may feel they were tricked.


The car shopping process remains poor. Buyers have more information than ever but the dealership experience remains disappointing. The manufacturers could help by mystery shopping and enforcing higher standards.


PS We visited the dealerships and quiet times and only waited a few minutes for a salesperson.

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