Can You Trust a Used Car Salesman?

I recently had a car-buying experience that caused me to pull out my MAP of Trust.  If you've watched my training video, you know the three components of trust are Morality, Ability, and Predictability. (MAP) If you have not seen this 15-minute video, it is available for free at this link.


The Situation  

I had purchased a 2013 Mazda 3 from Carmax about 8 months ago for $11,500.  I decided to trade this vehicle for something a bit newer and more equipped and returned to Carmax in search of an upgrade.  Since I had purchased the vehicle from Carmax a few months prior, I assumed the trade-in process would be straight-forward.  It took them a bit longer to come back with an offer than it should have and the offer came back a little lower than I expected.  I was thinking they'd offer me about 10k and the offer was only for 9k.  The slightly low offer also surprised my salesman, who we'll call Dave.  Since I wasn't in a hurry to sell and Carmax didn't have the perfect replacement car anyway, I decided to think about it for a while.  No big deal.  

The next day I found an interesting vehicle at a dealership near my home.  I checked out the car, liked it, and asked them to make me an offer on my Mazda.  Jamie came back with an offer of only $4,000 dollars.  I laughed, thinking he was trying to low-ball me.  He told me the book value for a 2011 Mazda 3 is only 5k, in absolute pristine condition.  I pointed out to him that my car is a 2013, not a 2011 as he stated.  Jamie assured me that my car is a 2011, based on the VIN information. We eventually determined that I had somehow paid for a 2013 vehicle but actually bought a 2011.  My initial reaction was that Carmax had somehow made a very strange mistake.  Jamie took a different view.  He said, "Dealers do this kind of thing all the time."  


Now Where is that MAP??? 

I was attributing the situation to a failure of "Ability".  Carmax simply made a mistake.  In fact, I probably made a mistake myself somewhere along the line!  Jamie attributed the situation to a failure of "Morality", implying the dealer where I purchased the car knew exactly what was going on and they were scamming me.  We had two different interpretations, either of which could be true.    

Regardless of the root cause, I had a problem on my hands.  I was the owner of a $4,000 vehicle, for  which I had paid $11,500 just a few months prior.  I also had a Carmax offer of 9k and that offer was good for 7 days. My choices were clear:

1) Take the 9k from Carmax and buy a car from Jamie

2) Take the 9k from Carmax and buy another car from Carmax

This is where the MAP of Trust really informed my decision.  Had I attributed the situation to a failure of "Morality", as Jamie had, there is no way that I would choose option #2 because the last thing I would do is give Carmax MORE of my money after they scammed me the first time.  Since I was holding the situation as a failure of "Ability", I had a much different perspective.  I believed that Carmax had made an honest mistake.  They had no bad intentions.  As such, I was perfectly happy to buy another vehicle from them if they happened to have one that I wanted.  (Which, by this time, they did.)  

I considered the situation even further, using my trusty MAP...Carmax offered me 9k for a car that was worth only 4k.  They were under no real obligation to do this.  (NOTE:  I went back and checked the original documentation and everything showed that my original vehicle was a 2011, not a 2013 as I thought.) Although Carmax sold me a 2011 vehicle at the price of a 2013, in the end, this was my responsibility.  Caveat Emptor, as they say in...wherever they speak Latin.  I viewed this stance from Carmax as a relatively high-integrity move.  It also bolstered the "Predictability" of my overall Carmax experience.  I further noticed how quickly Jamie was willing to attribute the situation to a failing of "Morality", which caused me to question his own morality.  Either he is wired to think that all car dealers (himself included) are scoundrel or he was trying to manipulate me to run from my relationship with Carmax.  In this way, my trust level in Jamie dropped a bit.

In the end, I purchased a new car from Carmax and I took the 9k offer on my Mazda.  I walked away perfectly happy with only small amount of money "lost" on the transaction, which I chalked up to the cost of a life-lesson learned.  If I had any constructive criticism for Carmax, aside from improving their systems to prevent this kind of thing from happening again (increasing their "ability") it would be this:  I think my trust level would have gone up even more had Carmax come totally clean in the first place.  They obviously realized what had happened because they were offering me 9k for a car that was worth only 4k.  They could have sat me down and explained exactly what happened and their plan to "make it right".  Instead, they chose to handle the situation without calling attention to it.  In this way, Carmax demonstrated their low trust in me.  They could not predict whether I would own my contribution to the situation or whether I would fly off the handle, putting full blame on them.  They scored me low on "Predictability" and this cause them to take an approach that I'd consider sub-optimal from a customer-relationship perspective.  Keep in mind, if I were giving Carmax a grade, I'd probably give them an A- instead of an A or A+.  I would buy another car from Carmax and I would work with Dave any day of the week.  


The Challenge

Take a few minutes to look at your own life, particularly at a relationship where you have a low degree of trust.  Detrmine whether the failure is in the area of Morality, Ability, or Predictability.  If you find the answer is "Morality", then challenge yourself to explain the situation using the other two options.  Failures of "Morality" are incredibly difficult to work through because they are very emotionally charged.  Many times, we jump to Morality as the explanation when Ability or Predictability would explain the situation.  If you are able to shift your interpretation to to Ability or Predictability, you'll likely have way less stress about the situation and you'll also find more ways to work through the challenges.  

If you want help analyzing your trust situation, feel free to email me at or feel free to post it in the comments below!

Prosperous Journey,