Car Sales Job Help, Please

I’ve been unemployed for a bit now (few months). I haven’t had any great job offers in line with what I’ve been looking for during this time and I’ve been approached by a few car dealers to sell cars for them. Anyone that can help me make a decision I would greatly appreciate it.

I love cars. I understand that selling cars is competitive and solely commission-based. I am more knowledgeable about the specifics of cars than the average schmoe. That said, I have never sold cars before, but I’ve been in sales before and consider myself good at it.

That said, here are some questions I thought of:

How much money does a salesperson make per car? How much of this varies with new versus used cars and how much of it varies with the asking price of the vehicle and how much haggling occurs? In other words, does haggling cut into the salesperson’s take, or the dealer’s (or both)?

How competitive is it between salespeople? Do the salespeople take turns greeting customers are are you left to shoulder each other out of the way to get to them?

How much financial acumen is required for calculating interest rates on loans, down payments, etc?

How mush of what a salesperson makes is tied directly to the sale of a car versus selling add-ons and extras (extended warranties, etc)?

Any additional insight or advice would be much appreciated. I really don’t want to sell cars but I really need a job at least until I can find something more suited to my work experience.


Sales staff are on an “ups” sheet. When you start there, you’ll be at the bottom and have to wait for your “up” before you get to talk to a customer. That said, many sales guys wander around the lot and hope a customer will approach them. It can be a back-stabbing business. Some sales guys will try to collar a customer just to get their contact information, then send them in to see whoever is next on the ups list, thereby claiming half the commission. It’s dirty pool in most cases, but occasionally it’s legitimate. For example, if someone else’s customer comes in on that salesman’s day off and wants to buy a car RIGHT NOW, then you may have to do the honors, and you split the commission.

Dealerships differ in how they pay. Some pay a flat amount per car sold. Those dealers usually also pay you a flat salary per month so you won’t bolt on them when you have a bad month. Some pay a percentage of the sales price. The RV dealer I worked at did it that way, so if you sold a few big buses, you could make a nice check for the month. There was no safety net, though, so during the winter things could really get tight.

You shouldn’t have to calculate shit. That’s for the finance guy to figure out. What you need to do, though, is be able to mentally ballpark how much someone wants to pay for a car. I usually established up front (after finding out if they had a specific model in mind) whether it was going to be a cash or payment contract. If the person says “payment”, then you ask if they’re planning on a 3 year or five year or whatever term. Then you ask how much per month they’re budgeting for. From there, you can figure out what cars you should be showing them. If they say “cash”, then just ask what their upper limit is and show them those models. Without the money information, people will waltz you all over the goddamn lot and then walk away without buying, which is just a waste of your time.

Spend time talking to the other sales folks, who can help you get your feet on the ground. Whatever you do, do NOT go with the old “If I could…would you?” sales technique, i.e., “If I could get that price for you, would you buy the car?” That shit went out in the 60s, and people hate it. Most people know exactly how much a car should cost, so if you bullshit them, they’re going to know it.

Desperation shows. People can see it on your face and in your body language. Try to relax, be folksy, be yourself, and don’t be pushy.

Thanks for the advice, chefguy. I’m hoping more people will chime in. The car sales business is pretty much looked upon as a disreputable one, and in many respects, I guess it is. I am hoping that it’s possible if I were to take this job, even if temporarily, that not only could I make some money but keep my self respect and whatever shreds of my soul that remain.


Hi. I worked at a car dealership for a little while.

Some dealers have the “ups” sheet and at some you call cars. I prefer ups, but what you get depends on where you go. Some dealerships can get pretty cutthroat, but it’s possible to find a friendly place.

It’s my understanding that salesmen get a cut of the profit on the sale, so the price of the car is really irrelevant. 20ish% was standard 10 years ago when I did it, and many dealers incentivized by increasing that percent based on how much you sold. There was usually a lot more profit in used cars (they buy 'em for pennies), but buyers seemed to think the commission was based on the price of the car and would get antsy when directed to a more expensive, brand new car, and more relaxed when steered toward the used Civic. Maybe at some places your pay is set by the car price, but all the dealers I knew of based commission on the profit.

Zero finance acumen is required for calculating interest rates, etc. The initial quote salespeople give on that little four square sheet are usually just made up by the salesmen, and when they go back to that booth to talk to their manager, the finance companies are determining the rate.

The commission for all those add-ons customers buy when in the backroom go to the person selling it to them, the “finance” guy, or whatever they’re called, not the person who sold the car. But any markups over MSRP you see over the sticker price I think go to the salesmen.

So that’s all I know. Please note my knowledge of this area is about a decade old. I don’t imagine much has changed, but what do I know.

Good luck! Selling cars isn’t glamourous, but there’s decent money to be made if you’re good at it, and it can help you out in the meantime while you search far more than some minimum wage job or lab ratting.

As someone once said, there is honor in all work. It’s only dishonorable if you practice it that way. Never lie to a customer, regardless of what your sales manager or other sales people may tell you. Don’t play word games or try to “grind” someone into buying something they don’t want. I was in your position of trying to find work in my field and decided to sell RVs because I was bored with myself and wanted to try something new for a bit. I don’t know where you live, but there are much larger commissions in the RV business because of the larger amounts of money involved.

The long-term money in selling vehicles is in return business and referrals by happy customers, but I’m assuming you’re not in it for the long haul, so you’ve got to make money while you can. You can do that by being honest and genuine, or you can do it by being a lying asshole. Problem with the latter is that the internet has all the information anyone could possibly need in order to get a decent deal on a car. There are still people who will pay MSRP, and those who think getting a few hundred bucks off the sticker is a good deal, but they’re getting fewer and fewer.

I did best when I just chatted with someone like we had just met at a party or something. Once someone gets a sense of you, it’s easier to talk about things like money, but some people balk at any talk of amounts for some reason. When that happens, you just try to get them focused on a model. I had people refuse to tell me how much they wanted to spend and tell me “show me some of those big ones.” I would tell them what the price ranges were and ask them which part of that spread they wanted to look at. It’s a bit different for cars, of course, but there’s a $30K difference between a Mustang Shelby GT 500 and a V-6.

One last thing: know the products. Take the brochures home and try to memorize important information about the cars. If the place sells trucks, get a good sense of how much weight each model line can tow (F150, 250, 350, for instance). A lot of customers may know more about the vehicles than you do and may test you to see if you’re going to try to lie to them. If you don’t know something, just say so and suggest that you can find out for them. When you’re not with a customer, go sit in the vehicles and get an idea about fit, finish and accessories and how they work. I had one salesman sit in the front seat trying to show me how the heads up display worked, but he had no clue as to how it operated. He never should have tried, as he wouldn’t give it up, and I just became annoyed with him after about a minute. Something as simple as not knowing how to open the hood or trunk can put a customer off.

A few years ago I was drinking a beer at a brew pub in Utah when I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me at the bar. He was a local car salesman, and he said he did a pretty good business. I asked him if there was any “secret” to his success, and he said,

“When I first meet a prospective customer, I don’t talk about cars at all; I act as if I have no interest in selling one. For ten or fifteen minutes I will talk about high school sports, local politics, things like that. Often we’ll have a mutual acquaintance. I befriend the person. Once we are friends, they want to buy a car from me. In other words, I first sell them me.”

This American Life did a great segment looking at car sales at a dealership on Long Island. Worth a listen.

Very true. People tend to run from salesmen, which is odd, considering they’re usually there either to buy a car or at least to gain some information. They’ll go to a subject matter expert for most anything else, but their distrust of salesmen overrides common sense. Not that the distrust hasn’t been earned ever since the automobile first became a consumer item, of course.

Moving from MPSIMS to IMHO.

That’s no doubt true, but as the ex-wife of a successful car salesman I recognise the “I’m your instant best friend” tactic as utter bullshit, especially when all I actually want is hard information about the car. So the faux friendly thing turns me off completely and I get surly.

Sure, if it’s fake you can spot it right off. Some people are naturally friendly and relaxed, and are more successful at sales. The guy who taught the training we all had to go through actually tried to tell us to pick out something about the person and then fake an interest in it: “Wow, that’s a really nice pen. I’ve been looking for a good pen; where did you get it?” :smack: That’s the sort of BS that anybody can see through, IMO.

Well, I appreciate the advice (sorry** Ellen Cherry** if I posted this in the wrong forum…I wasn’t sure where it should go between the two) and I now have two different dealerships to go to tomorrow. Seems people are buying cars again as dealerships now need more people again.

One place is promising a minimum of $600/week during the sixth month training period, and also health benefits. I find this hard to believe and figure it’s somehow tied to a “draw” where you’re borrowing money from them against future earnings. I’m going to have to get very clear information on how that all works…I don’t much like the sound of it.

No, it’s a stipend until you get your sales numbers rolling. Too many people would get discouraged and quit otherwise. They’re betting that you’ll more than pay that back with sales.

Are car dealerships (and other commission only based jobs) exempt from paying employees minimum wage, like restaurants are?

Probably. You’re basically contracting to work for commissions, with the assumption being that you’ll exceed minimum wage without a problem. Honestly, if you can’t make at least a living wage at it, then you’re a piss poor salesman.

It’s an odd environment, really. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked where employees refused to come in to work and there was no penalty. Other sales staff don’t care, because that means more ups for them during the day. They can’t afford to fire you if your sales numbers are good, and they don’t want to lose the experience by having to hire a noob. I saw sales people get away with murder in that regard. Sales Manager: anybody see Bob today? Us: nope. Sales Manager: shrug. There is a high turnover in that business, as people like you and me take the job as a temporary position while looking for something else. Some of the RV staff would work at car dealerships during the winter, then come back to where the money was in the spring.

A top RV salesman in a place like Arizona or Florida can easily make six figures, with some up in the $200K/year range. Hell, as someone with zero sales experience, I netted over $20K in the three months I did it, and never sold one of the really expensive rigs.

Thanks for the help, chefguy. Damn, 20k in three months? That’s over 6k a month! Couple other questions:

Are taxes taken out of your earnings or is that one of those jobs where you need to sock away money throughout the year to pay a huge tax bill at tax time?

What exactly is an “up”? I assume it’s a sales lead of some kind.

The very worst part of this type of job are the people you have to work with. A greedy pack of backstabbing cocksuckers.

Also…does everyone in car sales smoke cigarettes? The last couple times I bought a car it seemed like there was always a group of guys huddled around in a smoking circle outside.

Taxes were taken out of my check.

The “ups” is just a rotating list of sales people. The top sales person for the previous month is at the top of the list for the next month (or however long the dealership keeps them there). It’s a perk for being good at what you do. The worst salesman is at the bottom. That means the guy at the top is first “up” every day when a customer comes on the lot. Once he gets a customer, the next guy moves to the top and gets the second customer of the day, etc. I made it to number two the last month I was working at the RV lot, but the guy who was almost always number one had been selling RVs for years and routinely cleared $80K or better every year. He had a lot of return business from people upgrading to bigger models.

Gatopescado is correct. There is a lot of backstabbing, and you need to protect your paycheck. A good sales manager can help with that if it gets out of hand. I had one guy who was always in my pocket, and it really pissed me off. Seemed like every time I sold a motorized RV, he was getting half my commission. He was a lousy salesman, and customers who knew him avoided him, so he made his living picking pockets.

As for $20K being a lot, keep in mind that the cheapest RV was a pop-up tent trailer that sold for $8,000-$12,000. They’re easy to sell and the commission was 20-25%. Sell a couple of those and a trailer, and you’re easily at $6000.

You have to learn how to lie, cheat, how to be dishonest, how to elbow the other salesman, how to put up with a customer walking out and coming back only to buy from another salesman who in turn will lie, cheat and be dishonest about how it was his customer first.

You have to wear a clean shirt, nice tie with unwrinkled pants and sports coat. Your hair has to be just right, clean shave and fresh breath, non- smokers do better than smokers.

You have to have product knowledge that is better than the competitions down the street. Don’t knock the other cars or they will go back and tell the other dealer what you said and he will disprove everything you said.

You have to have a great personality, friendly with people from the first good handshake treating them like your long lost rich uncle.

You can’t afford to get depressed by hearing the other salesman’s excuses of why no customers from complaining about the weather to the circus is in town to the state and federal taxes are due.

They charge for the demo’s too unless your top salesman that is and you have to keep it clean subject to sale at any time means no personal gear left in automobile.

I started selling cars in 1965 for Westhimer Dodge in Houston, Texas when I was 21 years old. The owner was Art Grindel one of the biggest crooks that ever hit the car dealerships. He would get up on top of a car with a sledge hammer and say, “I want to sell you a car”.

I would have people come in and say, “You mean this is Art Grindel’s place” and walk out. As a young man of 21 I had to learn the ropes from the old fat salesman sitting on the couch in the sales managers office.

My job was to take the people on a ride and then write up the deal at any ridiculous price and bring it in to the manager who would then have me introduce the fat salesman to the new customers and it was this seasoned veteran of car sales that did the number on them, not me.

I was selling brand new Dodge Darts for $3,500 with no spare tire … that’s how old I am lol

I quit after three months and went back to something normal like the US Navy, but in my three months I sold over forty cars making an average of $10 to $20 per sale due to just being on the front end. This was in the days of $1.50 an hour minimum wage.

Try staying looking good in your clothes in hot/humid Houston … I would need another shower by noon everyday.

If you do make a go of it … good luck and don’t forget the follow up is where the money is. Don’t forget to follow up on the phone and try to be honest somehow they can tell. Remember their names too nothing like short circuiting their memory by calling them by the name they just gave you.

Touching them and guiding them helps control the situation too, but these are all the little secrets you learn. Don’t leave the wife out of the conversations they like to feel important too.

PS Try not to work for a hard sale place