Personal Shopper Does The Legwork

Published in the Toronto Star, July 14, 2007, Written by Lorraine Sommerfeld, Wheels Columnist

Several weeks back, there was an interesting letter to the Wheels editor that caught my eye and held my attention. Though the name was withheld, it was written by an auto dealership sales manager. I have always approached buying a car with great trepidation, a deeply ingrained sense of paranoia and the belief that I am about to engage in a truly intimate act with someone whose face I can’t even see.

Turns out I was right on all counts. I gasped in recognition as Letter Writer outlined every step of the buying process; beginning with the salesman who beats you into submission, then deposits you in a little back room where the person I call Extended Warranty Commando puts the final bullet in your head.

Sitting in that little room surrounded by golf trophies, you are cornered and coerced into signing up for rust proofing on a leased car and extended warranties on things already covered.

The Letter Writer, bless him, told us not to feel bad because this is a top-level sleight of hand. But he also begged us to wake up and quit being suckered in.

A friend called me recently to tell me about a guy I wish I’d met earlier. James Temos is a personal vehicle shopper. His company, Automall Network (, brokers car purchases. We engage brokers for buying houses and insurance, why not for a large investment like a car?

After working in finance within the auto industry, he walked across the floor and sold cars at a dealership. He lasted six months, and then decided he could change the dynamic — for the customer.

You pick the car you want. Better yet, if you’re not sure, Temos will help you. He knows cars, and you can ask him any questions you like. He has no vested interest in which car you decide on — he receives no kickback from a manufacturer or dealer.

Then, and this is the part I particularly like, your broker goes into that nasty little office to hash out the details.

You do the fun stuff; the test drive, the colour picking, tons of questions — and he does the part that gives you a headache. The part that takes hours. The part where I am prepared to confess to killing Jimmy Hoffa just to get out.

Recognizing that dealers work from a floating set of numbers (the reason you and your neighbour can pay different prices for the same vehicle), Temos sets out to hammer out the true costs.

This begins with the dealer’s invoice for the car you have chosen. Automall holds a dealer’s licence and can find this number out. It is difficult for you to do the same.

Temos admits that before getting in the business, in six car purchases over five years, he overpaid every time. Like advice from the Letter Writer, this insider information should be ingested rather than ignored.

His negotiation with the dealership ascertains a fair profit for the dealer. The decision on all the mind-numbing what-are-they-throwing-at-me-nows? have been made beforehand, and you have a dispassionate, informed proxy sitting in. For $350, he avoids all of the sand traps outlined by the Sales Manager Letter Writer.

Yes, there are decent dealers out there. But I hear far more horror stories than heart-warming ones.

Yes, there are buyers who are incredibly savvy. But many of us aren’t, and while we should be informed, we shouldn’t have to become experts not to get ripped off.

Lorraine Sommerfeld’s column appears Thursdays on, Saturdays in Wheels and Mondays in the Living section.
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