It’s no surprise that working in the auto industry since the 70’s has yielded dozens of crazy stories. Zach asked me to gather together some of my craziest dealership stories in one place. You’ll hear some good ones, some bad ones, and they’re all a sneak peek into the life of working at a dealership.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Robbery
Back in the late ’70s, we had a customer come to the Nissan dealership and go through the motions of buying a new car. When it came time to do a test drive, we took a photocopy of his ID, and he and the salesperson headed out. During the drive, the customer asked to make a stop at a 7/11 to pick something up.
It turns out what he wanted to “pick up” was all the cash out of the 7/11 cash registers. He planned to use our car as the getaway car for his robbery. The salesperson was an unwitting accomplice (don’t worry, the salesperson wasn’t charged), and the robber was arrested.
Back at the dealership, when the test drive had dragged on for longer than normal, we called the cops, and they were able to track down the robber and his unsuspecting accomplice. This is one of the many reasons why we take photocopies of driver’s licenses before test drives. In my 43 years of being in the car business, this experience might hold the top spot as one of the craziest dealership experiences I’ve ever had.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Kidnapper
Much like the story above, I remember when I worked as a sales manager at singlepoint Pontiac dealership (yes those existed at one time), and a customer was going through the motions of looking to purchase a car. When it came time to test drive the car, he and the female sales associate disappeared. After being gone for 7 or 8 hours, there was cause for concern.
Again, back at the dealership we called the cops (you’d be surprised how many 911 calls I had to make during the early days of my career), and fortunately the prospective customer (and kidnapper) came back with the car and our sales associate. When he arrived, the police were waiting, and he was charged with kidnapping. Thankfully, having a photocopy of the driver’s license helped the police bring a quick resolution to the kidnapping.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Accident
At our old Mini dealership, we carefully picked all of our test drive routes based on showing off how well the Minis handled. Many people buy Minis because of how fun they are to drive, so our job as a sales team was to expose prospective customers to that experience anytime they got behind the wheel. I was a sales manager at the dealership back in the early 2010’s, and I still remember the day I had to rush from my office to a backroad only a mile from the dealership to once again call 911.
A customer out on a test drive drove right into a tree. The car rolled and was totaled, and both the customer and the salesperson were rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, everyone survived, and miraculously the salesperson only missed a few days of work.
I remember the salesperson telling me that their last words right before the accident were, “You might wanna slow down here.” If only the customer had listened. I always hated it when prospective customers drove too aggressively on test drives. I didn’t like having my life put in jeopardy. This experience was a good example of why you need to be careful when test driving a new car.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Theft
Two mistakes were made in this next story: the salesperson said “yes,” and they didn’t take a photocopy of the customer’s ID.
This story took place at a Jaguar dealership, which is a car brand known for high-value cars. A customer came in one day and wanted to test drive a vehicle. He brought in a high-value vehicle to trade in. He said he wanted to take it home to show his wife, and he wanted to go alone.
This part is where our mistake happened. The salesperson agreed to it without even taking a copy of their license.
We never saw the customer again. It turns out the trade in vehicle was also stolen, and the Jaguar that was test-driven to “show his wife” was the next stolen vehicle.
Since there was no photocopy, there was nothing to give to the cops once the salesperson (and sales manager) realized what had happened.
Fortunately that experience didn’t happen to me, but the lesson was still learned: always get a copy of the ID every time.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Cloud
This one didn’t happen at one of our dealerships, but it was a nearby dealership. There was a Mercedes-Benz dealership directly across from us when I worked at Acura North Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona. All of the dealerships in the complex shared the same (or at least similar) test drive routes.
I still remember the day we saw a big smoke cloud on the not-too-distant horizon. It turns out; one of the driver’s test driving a new Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicle didn’t quite realize that the road had a sharp left coming up and kept driving straight directly into a storm drainage ditch. The car was totaled, but fortunately, nobody was injured.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Ballpark
How about a change of pace? Let’s talk about a positive experience from our time in the auto industry.
Back at the Mini dealership, we had an arrangement with a minor league baseball team (the York Revolution in York, PA) to showcase our cars. For about four years, we would caravan 50 or 60 Minis up to the stadium from Maryland every year. I negotiated with the Revolution that our caravan would drive around the field, and as a group we would enter from center field and drive around the warning track.
The crowd loved it, the sales staff loved it, the customers loved it.
It was one of the things we did that brought our staff and our customers together. It helped show them that we were people just like them, not con artists out to raid their bank accounts.
One thing that we loved about this experience was seeing people from all walks of life come together over one mutual interest: their love of their Mini.
Craziest Dealership Stories: The Good Ones
Let’s finish up our craziest dealership stories with a few short positive stories.
Every year during Christmas at our Acura dealership, we would set up tables and all the necessary supplies to wrap gifts. We would invite sales staff, customers, and everyone’s families to come wrap presents for Toys for Tots. It was an excellent experience for us all, and it felt good to give back to the community.
When we were in Phoenix, we had regular BBQs for our customers. In reality, it ended up being for all the salespeople and their customers in the entire auto complex. We enjoyed providing a full spread of meats and sides for our fellow salespeople.
My last story is one of my favorites. One time, our dealership was selected as one of the top 30 best places to work in Phoenix. As they counted down and gave out awards to 30 small businesses around the Phoenix metro area, we wondered why they hadn’t gotten to us yet. As it turns out, they were saving us for last. We secured the number one spot as the best small business to work at in Phoenix, and the day of the announcement I was the one at the event representing Acura of North Scottsdale. I still remember getting up on stage to accept our award and not having a clue what to say. I was dumbfounded and proud at the same time!
The Ups and Downs of a Career in Auto Sales
Working in the auto industry for four decades has yielded plenty of stories. Much like any career, there are some excellent stories, some bad stories, and plenty that fell in between. I’m grateful for my time in the industry, especially now that I am able to help thousands of people from the other side of the desk.