Why Is The Dealer Always Trying To Buy My Car When I Take It In For Service?

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we will talk about dealers trying to buy your car when you have it serviced, buying a GTI for a teen, and selling a car that doesn’t run.

First up, why do some dealers try to buy your car instead of fixing it?

“Every time I take my vehicle to the dealer for service I’ll get calls/texts/mail from the dealer offering to buy the vehicle. I drive a 2013 Chevy Avalanche, which is not a rare vehicle in my part of the country, and to my knowledge, not a highly sought after vehicle. At first, I assumed they did this to everyone, but it seems other people I know don’t get as aggressive marketing as I do. It has been going on with different dealers in different states since I bought the truck 5 years ago.

The problem is that if I take it to the dealer to fix something, I get the feeling they would rather buy the vehicle than fix it. For instance, I had a problem with it running rough. The dealer said they couldn’t find a problem, but would be willing to take it off my hands. Then I took it to someone else. They connected it to a code reader and said, well you have 12,000 misfires on one cylinder. Let’s try new spark plugs. That fixed it.

I can’t imagine the dealer really wants a 6-year-old truck, but also have a hard time believing they missed 12,000 misfires. What’s going on here? Is it like I assume and just a dealer trick to get people in the door or is there more to it? Are they increasing the pressure lately because the Avalanche hit the 6-year mark and they assume I’ll be in the market?”

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While the Avalanche was kind of a unique truck that is now discontinued, you are correct that there isn’t some crazy demand for such a vehicle. However, there is a demand for used trucks in general as they tend to be an easy sale for a dealer. Your gut is correct that this is often a ploy just to get you to buy a new car. Some dealers even have a policy where salespeople hover around the service area to see if they can convince someone to trade in what they brought for service instead of fixing it. Of course, this wouldn’t happen if it didn’t work and you would be surprised how many people fall for the “Instead of doing that oil change, we can get you into a new car with the same payments!”

This is why a trusted independent mechanic is often better than the dealer’s service center.

Next up what’s the best way to go about getting a quality manual hatchback for a new driver?

“ I’m shopping for a first car for my son and I’d like to get him a used GTI manual in the 12-15k range. I live in Austin which has a relatively small market of used cars and although there are a couple GTIs here around 15k they are at dealers and I don’t really feel like I know what I’m getting from a dealer.

There are a couple Jalopniks in Dallas and Houston selling their clearly well-cared for GTIs but here again I don’t know what to look out for.”

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First of all, good for you for starting this kiddo with the right kind of car. As a GTI owner, I’m always happy to get other folks behind the wheel. However, in this particular instance, I don’t know if a GTI is the best choice. Quality, German hot hatchbacks in the $12,000-$15,000 range, as you have found, are difficult to come by. Often these cars have been driven hard and the maintenance costs can be hefty as the miles climb.

I would strongly suggest a Mazda3 hatchback instead. There should be plenty of inventory if you cast a wide net and it’s still a fun car, but not so powerful that it gets him into trouble. The insurance is likely to be a bit lower and the Mazdas tend to be a bit more reliable.

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Finally, what if you acquired a nice car that doesn’t run. How do you get rid of it?

“My mom has a 2006 Cayman S with about 60k miles (from her memory), that’s unfortunately been left sitting for about 3 years in her driveway. Physically it’s in good condition, one crease in the back right quarter panel, but that’s about it. It’s obviously got flat tires and definitely needs a new battery, but no major repairs last she knew. It needs a thorough cleaning, and a check for what might have developed while it’s been sitting. She had it restored once - towed, cleaned, inflated, etc. but then let it sit again. I’ve already chastised her on the travesty it is.

I was wondering if you knew of a good place to sell a car like this that isn’t a junkyard? We want our friend to have a new loving owner.”

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Selling a car that doesn’t run can be tricky because a potential buyer can’t drive it and they need to find a way to transport it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. A 2006 Cayman that needs a bit of work could be a great project car for someone as long as the price is right. I would put the car on the major listing sites like Craigslist and such and disclose everything. Serious buyers are far more likely to contact you if they have all the information right in the ad. If you price it far below the running examples, the right Porsche fanatic might scoop it up and give it a second life.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)