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Today’s Used-Car Buyer Mantra: ‘Trust But Verify’

Yesteryear’s stereotypical used-car salesman – that shady, fast-talking guy smoking a cigar and wearing a plaid sports jacket – supposedly told prospective buyers: “This car was owned by a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays.”

That implied the previous owner had treated the car gently and kept the mileage low. Of course, the truth was stretched a lot on the car lot back then.

So, the original owner actually might have been a hot-rodder who drove all over hell’s half acre, running up the miles. (Part of vehicle “reconditioning” in those days consisted of turning back the odometer so it did look like the car only was driven once a week.)

And who knew if that speedster who kept the odometer spinning was really the original owner? He might have been the third or fourth.

Those were not the good old days for used-car consumers. These days are better.

Today, dealers are more honest and used-cars more reliable. But good selling still centers on telling a car’s “story.” Used-car consultant Tim Deese says, “If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.”

The difference between then and now is that the story is much more truthful. Third-party verification vehicle histories contribute to that cause.

Such reports detailing a clean bill of health help create consumer trust in a vehicle’s past experiences, present condition and future reliability. They also help a car sell faster and earn a higher gross.

That’s why many dealers selling used cars online and elsewhere make it a point to mention if a car has a condition report from firms such as Carfax. The presence of a vehicle history increases click rates on marketplace websites, says Armand LeVasseur, Carfax’s dealer marketing manager.

“The used-car shopper nowadays is an Internet shopper, and we offer vehicle ‘health’ reports to show we have nothing to hide,” says Joshua Fichter, director of operations for Five Star Ford in North Richland Hills, TX.

The reports provide assorted information, such as if a vehicle still is under warranty or has the skeletons of an accident in its closet. “Some things about a car you can’t tell just by looking at it,” LeVasseur says during a recent ADvantage webinar.

The vehicle histories also tell the number of previous owners, without getting into whether they are little, old, ladies or a combination thereof.

LeVasseur and Fichter differ a bit on how important single ownership contributes to a vehicle becoming a lot star.

“One-owner cars turn up to five days faster and make a 23% higher margin,” LeVasseur says, citing DealerTrack data. “We’ve seen that time and again.”

Fichter says: “Yes, a one-owner car plays out well. But what used-car shoppers want to know most is if a car has been in an accident. A clean history report is what they want, whether there were one, two or three previous owners.”

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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