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Test Driving Away Your Customers

, , , , , , | Working | October 13, 2021

My partner and I found ourselves needing to buy a car at short notice. We narrowed down our choices of second-hand cars online and then arranged test drives for two cars in the same dealership, a branch of a national chain. I spoke to a salesman who offered us an appointment time. There was a little bit of confusion during the call over my first name, as it is a traditional Irish name that sounds a little like a Biblical name but is spelt completely differently.  

We arrived promptly, and then sat and waited for fifteen minutes until the salesman I had spoken to sauntered in with no apology or explanation for his lateness. After some small talk:

Salesman: “[My Name] is a bit funny, isn’t it?”

He laughs at his own insult.

Me: “Nope, it’s just Irish. It can sometimes be confusing over the phone, though.”

We did the necessary paperwork, gave him all the details of the cars we wanted to see, and waited a few more minutes for him to locate them in the lot, and then he took us out to look at them.

Salesman: “Do you have any pets?”

Partner: “Yes, a cat.”

Salesman: “Ugh, you don’t want a cat; they don’t love you. I have a puppy!”

Fortunately, at this point, we arrived at the right model and colour of car… except it was £2,000 more expensive than on the website and the license plate number — which we had provided the salesman twice at this point — didn’t match. He had taken us to the wrong car, either through incompetence or a clumsy attempt at an upsell. We finally got to the right vehicle.

We noticed that he hung the rear test drive licence plate from the windscreen wiper rather than the boot latch as we had seen at another dealership, but we didn’t think much of it. Then, we got in the car and found it was nearly out of petrol — not a great start — and completely out of windscreen fluid — even worse as this means the car was technically illegal to drive until the fluid was refilled. We had no way to tell whether the car had no fluid because of a leak or if it simply hadn’t been topped up. We spent five minutes in the car before my partner was too uncomfortable to keep driving and we returned to the dealership. While we waited for the salesman to notice us, we took the first chance we had been given to inspect the car and realised that the boot wouldn’t open. The guy came over to see how we were doing.

Partner: “The car is completely out of windscreen fluid and almost out of petrol.”

Salesman: “That’s all right!”

Partner: “Okay… And the boot doesn’t open.”

The salesman tugs theatrically at the boot handle.

Salesman: “Oh, the latch must just be broken.”

Well, yes, I thought, that’s the problem! And it explained why he hung the test plate as he did; clearly, he knew about the issue and was hoping we wouldn’t notice.

Me: “Right, well, can we look at the other one?”

Salesman: “Yeah, just let me get it.”

We waited another ten minutes for him to find the car.

Salesman: “Actually, it’s out of petrol, so I’m just going to nip across to the petrol station. Sit tight.”

After another twenty minutes of waiting, we had now been in the dealership for over an hour and we had spent maybe fifteen minutes in the presence of an actual vehicle. We explained the issues with the first car to the branch manager who had been lurking near us through most of our appointment, and he was just as dismissive as the salesman. We decided — in hindsight, far too late — to cut our losses and leave, but we first had to explain ourselves to another salesperson, the branch manager, and then the salesman himself, who returned with the car just as we were making our escape.

The whole thing was so weird and awkward that I left a negative review explaining how rude and strange the salesman was and saying that we didn’t feel we could trust cars from that dealership, so we would purchase elsewhere. We got a standard, “Sorry about your experience; we will investigate,” reply and thought that would be that. But a few weeks later, I happened to notice that the reply had been updated at some point:

Social Media Representative: “We’re pleased to hear you have been contacted and have accepted our apology.”

This was a complete lie; we hadn’t heard from them since we fled the dealership a month earlier. I added an edit to this effect to the review and have had no reply. We have since bought another car from somewhere completely different, and it is serving us very well, but the whole situation still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.