That Used Car Smell
November 11, 2013 3:53 PM   Subscribe

What do car dealerships typically do to used cars before offering them for sale?

This question was inspired by hitting the radio preset buttons in my new-to-me car on the way home from the dealership. I'm not so much concerned with lipstick-on-a-pig tactics, but more with how a car transitions from belonging to one person to belonging to someone else.

Aside from safety inspections and repairs needed in individual circumstances (like something comes in needing obvious repair), what types of work are routine before a used car is made available for sale? My car came with an oil change sticker, which implies to me that they changed the oil. It's also scrupulously clean, so yeah, clearly it was detailed. But what else?

Do they fix small dents? Change out cheap expendables other than oil? (Air filter? Wiper blades?) Were those radio presets the tastes of the car's previous owner, or something innocuous set by the service guys?

I'm really just asking out of curiosity here, but I'd love to here any stories folks have.
posted by Sara C. to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It really depends. If it's a late model car that is low enough mileage to qualify for the manufacturers "certified" used car program, they'll do a decent inspection and fix anything that might bite them in the ass later with the guarantees on the certified used program. If it's an older car my experience has been they'll give it a good cleaning and do the bare minimum to pass whatever state safety inspection standards may exist.

When I bought a used Durango a few years ago it came with brand new OEM tires that the dealer had installed because the existing tires couldn't pass the state safety inspection. However, that same vehicle came with mismatched wrong size wiper blades and cracked plastic molding on the interior.
posted by COD at 4:22 PM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: It really depends.

When my father was in his early 20's, he bought a used VW Beetle (from an Oldsmobile dealer I believe) that was still in the parking place the previous owner had put it when he traded it in the previous day. It still has the trash from the last guy. No one from the dealer had got around to processing it yet.
posted by sideshow at 4:27 PM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: It really depends on who is selling the used car.

Dealerships tend to only take in trades on vehicles that are in good condition, both mechanically and cosmetically, so they typically don't have to do a whole lot to them besides basic maintenance (inspections, oil change, cleaning). They may or may not replace consumables (wiper blades, air filter, etc) and high-wear items (i.e. timing belts, tires).

Used car dealers tend to do whatever it takes to make the car look and run good, most often times in that order. Sometimes that's a lot of work, other times not. It's usually just based on how much profit margin they have on that particular year/make/model.

9 times out of 10, however, they don't usually reset the radio presets. So yes, the previous owner had that terrible taste in music.
posted by mrrisotto at 4:30 PM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: Last year I ended up at Carmax, where I sold my old vehicle and bought a new (to me) one. When I got into the new car, I noticed that they had programmed the radio to match the presets on my trade-in.
posted by spinturtle at 4:40 PM on November 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I looked at a used VW at a Wisconsin dealership last year, and it was leaking both oil and coolant, was basically OUT of coolant, was filthy, had lots of bumper stickers on it, and clearly had not been vacuumed or anything. I was appalled.
posted by Slinga at 6:02 PM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: I looked at a used VW at a Wisconsin dealership last year, and it was leaking both oil and coolant, was basically OUT of coolant, was filthy, had lots of bumper stickers on it, and clearly had not been vacuumed or anything. I was appalled.

I had this experience once, too--test driving a suzuki with cigarette burns in the ceiling and food wrappers scattered around the seats. It had been there long enough for them to photograph it and put it on the internet. I figured the physical condition was at least enough for them to knock it down a few hundred for me (at least the cost of detailing!) but the guy wouldn't talk about price, so I walked.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:28 PM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: I had a VW stall and die with what was likely a seized motor on a test drive once - when the salesman and I looked under the hood while we waited for someone there to pick us up, there wasn't a drop of oil on the dipstick. This was from a "real" dealership, not a fly-by-night used car lot. The car looked awesome and had been freshly detailed (including that unidentifiable "car" smell), but clearly they didn't bother to check the oil.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:17 PM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: My dad is a used car sales manager and I sold cars for a living for a few years. For most cars, they'll get a reasonably thorough inspection and an oil change since it's a cheap/easy to do while they're doing the inspection and people often check the oil before they buy a used car. Then it gets a thorough detailing. Here in the Twin Cities a lot of dealerships send their cars to a big car wash business where their guys come and pick up the cars and clean them, then drop them off.

That's usually it. The mechanics try to find something since it means more work for them and the sales and service departments operate as separate entities. They charge a lower rate to sales than they do the average customer but revenue is revenue for them (and certainly for the mechanics themselves).

The dealership I worked at is the largest dealer group in Minnesota, they also owned a Paintless Dent Repair business that would come around to the dealerships and work on dents, scratches, and other blemishes. Usually just the really obvious stuff and usually only on nice-ish cars. The $3,000 100k+ mile car might be a good deal but they won't be fixing the dents, there just isn't enough profit in it and it wouldn't really help sell the car anyways.

Then there is yet another company that will come out and take pictures of the car to put on the dealership's website and print off a window sticker to go up next to the warranty sticker.

Whether the car is taken in on trade or purchased at an auction there is a charge added to cost of the car called "the pack" that, in theory, covers all of the things needed to get the car ready for sale. It's usually $500-$600 and is the same for every car at that dealership. Take the sales price and subtract the book value, the pack, and any major unusual repairs and that is the "gross" on which the sales person's commission is calculated. The book value may or may not have any relation to what the dealer actually paid for the car.

I worked as a lot-man when I was in high school, kept the cars clean, got them ready for delivery when they had been sold, make sure they had gas, jump start them if they needed it, and whatever other odds jobs were needed. When I took cars through our automatic car wash I usually set the radio station pre-sets since I had a minute with nothing to do in the car. Trade-ins weren't really an issue but some of the cars bought at auction came from all over the country and would come with pre-sets on the radio that were just static. It wasn't something I was instructed to do but when I told my boss about it, he thought it was a good idea. After all, we probably didn't want people to turn on the radio and hear static blasting away or have them fumbling around with the tuner while they were on a test drive. It certainly isn't something that's standard but I wouldn't be surprised if other dealers had some kind process for setting the radios.
posted by VTX at 7:43 PM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of dealers will pressure wash the engine, and I've seen some that will then clear coat under the hood (the whole engine compartment, radiator hoses and all).
posted by 445supermag at 9:03 PM on November 11, 2013

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