Why Would A Dealer Claim Not To Have A Car In Stock That Was Actually Available?

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Image: BMW

As Jalopnik’s resident car-buying expert and a professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve picked a few of your questions and will try to help out. This week we are discussing why a dealer would like about not having a car they actually had, and if Mazda dealers are “forced” to sell cars for MSRP.


Why would a dealer tell me they didn’t have a car that was in stock?

A few months back I was researching and ended up buying a slightly used BMW. I found the model and color that I wanted and scheduled a test drive. When I got to the dealership the dealer met me outside and showed me the car. The wrong car. Very similar to the one I wanted, same year, roughly the same price, roughly the same mileage but the wrong color (white). I told him it wasn’t the correct car and he insisted it was and that they didn’t have the black one I wanted on the lot anyway. So I pulled out my phone, pulled up the inventory, showed him the car.

We go back inside, he gets on the computer, feigns a pretty poor surprised sounding,”Oh we do have it!” Makes a call or two and 20 minutes later the car I wanted in the first place shows up and I go on my test drive.

I figured this is some angle but I can’t see what he was hoping to accomplish. Any insights?

In all the years I have been communicating with salespeople, it will sometimes still surprise me how bad some of these folks are at their job. This should have been a very easy conversation for this salesperson, but they had to make it difficult. As to why they would tell you the car you want is not available probably comes down to one of two reasons: Either the guy was lazy and just wanted to sell you want he had in front of him, rather than do a little work to find what you want, or perhaps the white car had been sitting on their lot for much longer and therefore they wanted to push it out.

Is Mazda really forcing dealers to sell cars at full MSRP?

I’ve never owned a Mazda, but I recently test-drove a turbo CX-5 and thought it’d be a great replacement for my end-of-lease Rogue. I was ready to pull the trigger and emailed multiple Mazda dealerships asking for their best all-ins, stressing I already knew the vehicle well and was ready to sign.

Every Mazda dealership responded that their agreement with Mazda corporate doesn’t allow them to disclose anything below MSRP and that I would need to come in or call. I figured that this was part of the usual car sales dickery involved in getting a bottom-line price out of many dealerships, but they all held firm to this statement.

Ultimately, I found these interactions so frustrating and illogical—”No sir, we can’t give you a written price, you absolutely need to stop by during this pandemic to meet with my sales manager to get the best price for this vehicle”—that I wrote the entire brand off my shortlist and went Volvo instead.

The icing on the cake was that one of these dealerships, before quoting me sticker price, initially responded to my inquiry with an email template that they forgot to fill in, with such gems as:

* “Many factors affect the price of a car. We are very competitive on pricing, and with the information you have supplied to us, I could get you in the driver’s seat for as low as $[MSRP]!”

* “We only have one [COLOUR] in stock, it’s a very popular colour.”

Could Mazda corporate actually be demanding that its dealerships not divulge vehicle pricing below sticker by email? Or is this just nothing more than dealerships being dealerships?

I assume by your spelling of “colour” (and your .ca email address) you are from Canada, and it seems that Mazda dealers over our northern border aren’t much better than the ones in America. I wrote a post a while back that discussed how Mazda is making a push towards “premium” products, yet their dealer group has, for the most part, not adapted to selling to “premium” customers.


I have encountered similar excuses from Mazda dealers, including one where a dealer could not send a price due to “privacy concerns.” Apparently, Mazda vehicles are very sensitive about their pricing, and if the numbers aren’t discussed properly there may be reliability concerns.

It seems in your case this is just another example of “dealers being dealers.” The automaker does not dictate what their dealer network can resell the products for, but for whatever reason, the dealers in your area want to make Mazda the “bad guy” for why they won’t offer a competitive price.


Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!



I work sales at a dealership, and as for the first question, a few options it could be:

1)Yes, the salesperson was lazy and didn’t want to go get the car.

2)Yes, the one shown could be sitting a long time, could have a huge bonus to get rid of that particular car, or paid out bigger.

3)The car you pointed out could be at the bodyshop or getting major work done. Hearing this puts off customers, so he could be avoiding that car.

4)They could know that the car you pointed out has problems, but doesn’t want to tell you outright. I’ve tried to silently push people away from problem cars, simply because I don’t want them inevitably coming back and being angry at me.

5)In this case, they did have it and brought it out. But some shady used car dealers will leave cars on their website after they’ve sold to get you in the door. Then you get there and “oh, it just sold yesterday, but we have this”.

6)He could legit not know that car was there. Sometimes on big lots, we don’t know half the cars that are out there. Or their CRM system pulled over a different car.

7)The salesman might have had somebody else on the hook for that car. Especially if he feels you’re going to want a heavy discount, then he might reserve that car for his other customer to make more on, or just to not lose that guy’s business and try to flip you to another car.

Every salesperson is different and has different levels of disingenuousness. Some may be honest, others may have ulterior motives. But that’s not for me to judge and I don’t have the full background for this story.