The woman asked me to withhold her 22-year-old daughter's name "because she still needs to buy a car, and she might have even more trouble than she has had already if you publicize her." I readily agreed, because I'm not looking to make a bad situation worse. And the situation in which this young woman finds herself is a bad one, any way you slice it.

The villains of the story are 15 auto dealers in Fairfax City and Fairfax County.

Over the last few weeks, the daughter has dropped into their showrooms, by herself, to shop for her first new car. At each dealership, she approached a salesman and told him that she wanted to see models priced between $7,500 and $10,500. At each stop, the salesman immediately announced that he had nothing in that price range.

After several days of this little minuet, it finally dawned on the young woman that the salesmen didn't think she was a serious customer. But she is.

Her mother tells me that the young woman works as a secretary five days a week and moonlights as a waitress three nights a week. "Bob," said Mom, with a chuckle, "she makes more money than I do." Handling the payments on a $7,500-10,500 car would be well within the young woman's range.

I ran this tale past a couple of acquaintances in the auto business. They confirmed my suspicions.

"What's going on is that the salesmen figure she's a scout for a husband or a boyfriend," said one sales manager. "Now, you can bet your life that they have cars for between $7,500 and $10,500. What dealer doesn't? But they figure the man's the real buyer, not this woman. They figure the woman'll just waste their time if they show her a car. If she walked in there with a man beside her, she'd see action like she wouldn't believe."

What does a woman have to do to be taken seriously, salesfellas? Walk in with $10,000 in cash in her outstretched hand? Wear a sign around her neck that says, "I'M NOT MARRIED OR DATING ANYBODY AND I CAN AFFORD A CAR"?

And remember: these are the same dealerships that are discounting every car in the place because they claim to be having trouble finding customers.