Some car salespeople are mad at me after a recent column in which I offered advice on negotiating the best deal for an automobile.
"Most commentary assumes all car dealers and salespeople have an elaborate plan to 'stick it to the consumer,' " wrote one salesman, who said he has been in the business for 17 years. "When you paint a picture of haggling till the cows come home, outrageous and underhanded practices, and kissing your savings good-bye, you're feeding an unfair stereotype."
Ted Aronow, a car salesman in Maryland, left this message on my voice mail:
"It's people like you who give the industry the bad name that it has. There are a lot of good car salespeople out there, and I'm one of them. I found your column just appalling."
Okay now. Let me see. Exactly what did I say to get these salesmen so angry?
Oh, yes. I recommended picking up the April issue of Consumer Reports. In the issue, the magazine explains some of the ploys that dealers use to squeeze more money out of car buyers.
I pointed out some of these underhanded practices, such as telling buyers they have worse credit ratings than they actually do. The intent is to get a buyer to finance the car at a higher interest rate than what he or she might get from another lender.
"For most people, buying a car is the single biggest purchase they make, and they should do their homework before they go shopping," said Robert Gentile, manager of the New and Used Car Price Service for Consumer Reports.
The fact is, Consumer Reports said, if you want to save money when buying a car, you need to negotiate and be aware of the tricks of the trade.
It's that last warning that many people in the industry took exception to. But I can take their heat. So I called Aronow back to give him a chance to present his side.
To start off, I asked Aronow to tell me what I wrote that made him so angry.
"The way the article came across it's as if every car dealer is ripping people off," he said. "Ten or 12 years ago you had better believe dealers had a license to steal. And yes, there is a minority out there that does rip people off. But it's not everybody."
He went on to say: "I treat every consumer that walks into the dealership the same."
Really, I challenged. "You offer everybody the exact same deal?"
"Well, no," he conceded. "A consumer who is more knowledgeable can cut out a lot of the back-and-forth. They can cut down on the negotiating. In fact, I welcome a customer who walks in with 10 or 12 pieces of paper of research. It makes my job easier."
"Now, come on," I said. "You like it when someone has done their homework and knows what the dealer paid for the car?"
"Look," Aronow said, "as the saying goes, 'a fast quarter is better than a slow buck.' And by that I mean I'd rather sell five cars and make $100 profit on each than to try and make $500 profit on one car and not sell it at all."
Speaking of profit, I asked what's wrong with telling people to negotiate till the cows come home.
"I'm not saying there's anything wrong with negotiating the price of the car," he countered.
"But where else can you sell a $40,000 item and make a gross profit of $500? People criticize us for wanting to make a profit, but that's the American way. You have people who know the car cost $38,000, and they make me an offer of $37,000. I have to remind them we are not a nonprofit organization.
"Obviously every dealer would like to get sticker price," Aronow said. "But we don't. And why? Because of the Internet, consumers come in here and they know the [wholesale or invoice] price of the car."
And what about the ones who haven't done their homework?
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "There are some salesmen that will take advantage of the uneducated buyer, but they are few and far between.
"I guess your article did hit it right on the head," Aronow finally acknowledged.
"The bottom line is, consumers who do their homework will save time and they will save money."
While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Readers can write to her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at email@example.com.