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Success Secrets of Used Cars

Updated: Mar 22

It’s been my good fortune as an ad guy to work with some of the most successful franchised used car dealers in America over the past 30 years. When I say successful, I’m talking about consistent profitability coupled with exceptional customer satisfaction. A recent research report summarized that the highest customer ‘loyalty’ (read: repeat business and referral business) is directly correlated to the CPO market. That just makes sense. If you’re selling a newer vehicle with an outstanding warranty for 20-40% less than the original msrp, you’re winning a lot of hearts, minds and wallets. Not only that, you’re shortening the buying cycle with that customer. A substantial percentage of CPO customers are trading 24 to 36 months. But certified success is not the only reason used car sales are through the roof. Today’s used car, even with 125,000 miles on it, is a whole bunch better than the sleds traded 20 years ago. More and more dealers are retailing mileages vehicles with confidence.

So, what are the ‘heavy hitters’ doing to ring the bell with used cars?


You will never achieve the level of used car success without a person who truly understands the pre-owned market. Not just in your own backyard, but regionally. Vehicle preferences can vary dramatically within population clusters in your primary marketing area. If you don’t have the best people in charge, do whatever you have to do to make that happen. You can pay a GM too much money. You can pay a new sales manager too much money. You can never pay a top notch used person too much money.


You may have great new car salespeople and you may have great used car salespeople, but every salesperson should be focused on the needs, desire and financial ability of the customer. Your marketing efforts may bring in a customer on a used vehicle, but that customer might be better served with financing opportunities on a new vehicle. Conversely, a new vehicle shopper might be thrilled to find out the new model they were shopping has a low mileage sister in the exact color, with the exact options they were looking for at a substantial discount with your certified availability.


Who’s doing the best job in your marketplace with used vehicles? Take a look at their lot. This Marketing 101 for a profitable turn on used cars. A consistent fresh look. Vehicles clean and standing tall. Display end caps that scream value. Pricing and payment signage that hooks attention without looking like a flea market. A lot that looks so nice, your customers will walk through it and ask where the ‘used cars’ are. If you have a separate used lot, it shouldn’t be a downgrade in presentation from the new vehicle display.


A number of franchised dealerships who do a big job in used have taken to displaying their best inventory on the showroom floor. In fact, once such dealer has a 30-car showroom displaying ONLY certified vehicles. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can engage conversation on a vehicle that looks new with a factory warranty and a price several thousand lower than the market price of a similar new model.


If Audi, Mercedes, INFINITI and others devote substantial budgets selling ‘certified’ on traditional electronic media, maybe some of your ad spending should be there also. Radio is a particularly powerful medium for creating interest in used/CPO offerings. You can also sell a lot of sizzle in a 60-second message and capture a lot of attention with pricing and value, along with a sense of urgency since YOU are the ONLY dealer with this specific vehicle.


Advertise value, buying experience and trust. Recently one of the New York newspapers offered the following reasons for buying used vs new: Save money on the big depreciation hit. Save on sales tax and insurance. Reliability of better quality. CPO programs fueled by leasing. Vehicle History Reports. Drive ‘more car’ with more options. Those are the messaging hot buttons. I would add inventory into that mix. People love choice and they love shaking hands with the door handles.

Even though new vehicle dealers will sell about 16 million used vehicles this year (out of 50 million vehicles sold nationwide this year), there is still a strong preference for used vehicles sold by franchised new vehicle dealers. A big part of that is trust. No matter how thorough a reconditioning process is or what the ‘Carfax’ says, there is still some inherent risk in a used vehicle purchase. Franchised dealers are trusted more than corner car lots, and substantially more than private parties. Your strong brand, longevity and historical performance are the biggest assets in marketing a used vehicle.

Remember, no matter what the market does, what the economy does, who is President or how deep a recession, Americans still get to where they are going in a motor vehicle. Balancing your sales portfolio with at least 50% used vehicles is a great way to survive and prosper in any situation.

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