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Dealing With Dealers


Recently an issue came up where somebody saw a 1979 300SD on a dealers lot for $7500 and aksed on one of the mailing lists for opinions. It's pretty universal that $7900 is too much for a run of the mull (ie, not show quality) diesel, S class or no...

When it became interesting was when somebody had a friend in the business interpret for us what the dealer was saying and what they means. Here's how it went down:


Thanks for the input. I have them down to $7,500 at this point. Still too rich for my blood. I told them to call me before they wholesale it. Anyone here have firsthand knowledge of the wholesale market for such a car (i.e. unusually low mileage, excellent body and interior, etc)

I spoke to my buddy again tonight and asked him what the value of the car would be. Keep in mind that this guy does not have a love affair with any automobile, it is strictly business. He could not care less what kind it is.

  1. Wholesale value is $2,000 to $2,500 tops.
  2. Retail Value is:
    1. average condition $3,000
    2. nice condition $3, 500
    3. low mileage <100k nice condition $3,500 - $4,000
    4. pristine condition w/all records since new $5,000
He said to forget the body condition and interior unless trashed. Forget mileage, unless over 200K.

Concentrate on what works and what does not work and the maintenance records for the vehicle.

If no records are available, be very careful, it could be for a reason. (this little jewel from a car dealer yet)

Keeping in mind that it is a 20+ year old car, ask yourself the hard questions,

  1. How much money will I have to spend on this car over the next two years. If over $1,000, walk away, a better one will come along.
  2. Don't include tires as a maintenance item as they are considered expendables. Dealers usually put cheap set of new tires on a car to help sell it.
  3. Crawl under the car or put it up on a rack if possible. dealers clean the engine compartment from the top down only. Check for oil leaks and problems from the underside and towards the rear of the car.
  4. Always remember that the dealer has spent money and time to clean the car to make it more presentable to you as the prospective purchaser.
While the W116 are slowly becoming harder to find, they are still quite common in certain areas of the country.

Hmm, when I offered $4K he said he had wholesale bids higher than that.

"absolute BS. A dealer normally does not take bids from wholesalers. We call 2 or 3 of our best wholesale sources get their best price and "kick the pig" ".

I know dealers "stretch the truth" and I expect it

"No they don't, they outright lie. Anything to make a sale and get out from under the flooring charge. I have been in the automotive business for over 30 years and it still astounds me that some of them still have trouble telling the truth. Having said that, you should also hear the lies and deceit the dealers get from the public when it comes time for a trade in. The sleeze is unbelievable"

but it still bugs me when I am flat-out lied to.

It would bother me also.

I disagree. Rust-free is a big plus in my book, good interior a close second. Even if the engine was melted I'd consider buying a car that had a near-perfect body.

OK, but remember he is talking about a Kalifornia car where most are not rust buckets. For your area rust might well be a serious consideration. Remember that he is a dealer, he has no love affair with the vehicles like we do. It is just an item to be sold to make a profit. His comment below:

"Interior parts are easily obtained and minor dents and dings are cheap to take care of. Bad engine? Unless rare or very difficult to find and in very high demand, the car is worthless. Sell it for junk."

In this case I don't think it's been done. The engine is very clean, but it does not appear to be newly cleaned. There's a difference.

"With the newer cleaning material and techniques available to the industry today, most people would not be able to tell if the car had been cleaned cleaned or not. And the dealer wants you to believe he got the car that way, it implies that the vehicle was well taken care of."

In this case he may have done a little but I don't think a lot. That's why I'm not assigning a lot of value-added here.

"Why not? detailing the car only costs us $125 - $150.00."

Funny thing is, the car is always parked at the very back of the lot behind the shop area. If you did not know it was there you could drive past, or even through the lot, and never notice it was there.

"There is more to this than you are being told, something is wrong. It may well be possible that the dealer does not have a clear title to the vehicle or there are other problems somewhere. If the car is or has real selling potential, it would be out on the center lot, particularily with a good looking body."

I think that's what this guy is doing -- hanging on for a while hoping that someone will come in and pay his price on an impulse. Can't figure out why he almost seems to be hiding the car on his lot, though.

"No, there are front, center and rear lot vehicles, something is not right here. Front row cars are the ones who are the tougher sell mixed 50/50 with the vehicles who are the tantalizers. Get people onto the lot and looking and work them to the area they can afford. This is why the salesman meets you at the front gate. For us, the center row cars are the real sellers as these are the ones which have good financing and the most negotiable pricing. The back row cars are the older, cheaper and more problem vehicles. These are know to us as "Dump Vehicles". "

How long does a dealer normally keep a used car before selling it to auction? This dealership is a new-car dealer too, not just used.

"Cars are held under varying conditions. A "Slammer" or junk vehicle will go to the auction immediately, it will not ever be brought onto the lot. The one step up from junk vehicle will be sold for cash. Mexican dealers come through every month to pick up cars to take back to Mexico paying in cash. Any car remaining on the lot for 30-45 days will be sent to auction. No matter how good or what type it is. I don't care if it is a Rolls Royce, if it doesn't sell, it goes to the auction. I have no need for a car I can't sell. I do not collect cars, I collect money, preferably US Dollars and lots of them."

I don't want to appear too anxious by checking in every day,

"Then don't, give them your phone number if you havn't already and wait it out. If you appear anxious, they will play you. Remember, we are talking profit here, nothing else. You are someone with a wallet, the only thing they want from you is what's in the wallet. If they like the car so much, let them take it home and put it is their garage."

but I'd hate to see this car go to auction if I could "snipe" it at the last minute, so to speak.

"I suggest that you buy a current blue book for your area and use it. Check out all the auctions in your area, then register to purchase vehicles. At the same time, watch the lot without being obvious and see if the car disappears. If is does, check the auction to see if it shows up. You may be suprised what you find at the auctions anyway as you may find something better. Go check it out, you have nothing to loose. The other alternative is pay their price."

All comments in quotations are from a friend of mine (Big John) who is a New/Used car dealer in Southern Kalifornia. I got quite an education from the conversation. A lot of things I did not know about the car business.

Whaddya know -- they just called me, said they are ready to make a deal. I'm stopping there after work.

I called and spoke to my buddy tonight and asked what the game is. His comments after a hearty laugh:

"They are trolling. They think they have this guy on a string and almost ready to take the bait and they are playing for all it is worth.

Stand firm, do not call them or make contact in any form. Don't go by the place or let them know you exist. It they call, don't bargain, set the price you are willing to pay and that's it. If they call you, have the cash ready to fork out. When cash is available, they may be in a better mood although they would much rather prefer to have you finance it through them.

Another ploy you may be able to use is offer YOUR price and then tell them you will finance it through them. If they bite, buy the car, ONLY AT YOUR PRICE, finance it through them, wait a week and pay if off. Drive away laughing."

Indeed -- it was basically the same deal they offered last time we spoke. They came down a couple of hundred dollars. I walked...again.

Much to the relief of some, I'm sure, this tale has come to a conclusion.

The car has sold, and I was not the buyer. They called me today and asked if I was still interested. While I was on the phone they said somebody just came in for a test drive. I suspected another ruse so I said, well let me know what happens.

Got a call a while later that they sold it for $5750. That is more than I would have paid for it, so although I am somewhat regretful I at least am happy that I did end up upside down in the deal. Perhaps if I taken a more rigid "take it or leave it" approach a week ago rather than a "call me if you change your mind" I could have snared it. Oh well, water under the bridge at this point.

I'll console myself for a while continuing the work on my W110 gasser, and perhaps look for a diesel again at a later time.

Thanks to all for the advice and suggestions. I'm sure that without the counterpoint provided by this list I would have been much more tempted to overpay for that car, perhaps without even knowing it.