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What does a car dealer do?
A car dealer is sometimes also known as a car sales executive. They buy and sell various vehicles, e.g. new ones from manufacturers and nearly new or used ones from previous owners.
Car dealers can work in dealerships that buy and sell new vehicles, used vehicles or both. They can specialise in selling cars, specific makes/models, specialist cars or other vehicle types, such as motorbikes or vans. Therefore, what a car dealer does will depend on where they work and their specialisms.
A car dealer aims to negotiate good deals with customers and find vehicles that suit their needs. They also have an essential role in making a profit for businesses (if employed) or themselves (if self-employed). Overall, happy customers equal a successful enterprise.
Car dealers will carry out many tasks, including meeting and greeting customers, identifying customer needs, advising customers, organising test drives, listing, selling, buying and part-exchanging vehicles, handling customer payments, offering loans and finance options, dealing with customer complaints, etc. The role can also encompass some administrative and IT work, e.g. record-keeping.
Car dealers will work with many people internally, including management, other car dealers, support staff and vehicle technicians. They may also liaise with external stakeholders, such as customers, manufacturers, suppliers, mechanics, Government departments (i.e. the DVLA), local authorities, Ombudsman, insurance companies, financial lenders and banks, etc.
Car dealers can work for dealerships of different sizes, from large corporate organisations to small family-owned businesses. They can also be self-employed with their own dealership business if registered.
A car dealer’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including where they work, their specialisms and whether they are employed or self-employed.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Advertising and marketing.
- Meeting and greeting customers and building a rapport with them.
- Identifying what customers are looking for and helping them to find a vehicle that meets their needs.
- Advising customers on vehicle features and benefits and other products.
- Answering any customer queries.
- Organising test drives.
- Inspecting vehicles before and after a sale.
- Listing and selling vehicles.
- Negotiating sale and trade-in prices.
- Buying new vehicles from manufacturers and nearly new and used vehicles from people wanting to trade.
- Part-exchanging vehicles.
- Handling customer orders and payments, e.g. cash and card.
- Updating stock lists.
- Dealing with customer complaints.
- Organising vehicle deliveries.
- Updating customers on their orders.
- Contacting potential customers about new vehicles and deals.
- Offering financial assistance and packages to customers, e.g. loans and other finance options.
- Attending auctions.
- Keeping records, e.g. sales, contracts, repairs, vehicle registrations and road tax.
- Maintaining good housekeeping standards, e.g. forecourts and showrooms.
- Keeping vehicles clean and tidy.
A car dealer can expect to work around 40 hours a week. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role. Their hours will also depend on whether they are employed or self-employed.
Some car dealers will work unsociable hours, such as evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Employed car dealers tend to work Monday-Friday (8.30am-5.30pm) in full-time, permanent roles. There may be some jobs where flexible working, part-time, job share or hybrid may be possible. Those self-employed will set their own working hours, which can be highly variable.
It is uncommon for car dealers to travel or work overseas as part of their role, but some jobs may require this depending on the company.
Car dealers may need to travel nationally to work at different dealerships or auctions. However, this will depend on the company and the role.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a car dealer, especially if individuals have a passion for cars, love driving and like working in a customer-facing role. It can also be exciting to buy and sell different vehicles and make a sale. It is a job suited to the extroverted and those who like working indoors.
Being a car dealer can also be rewarding. Vehicles are a lifeline for some people, as they need them to get to work, school, appointments, etc. Car dealers help customers to find a vehicle that meets their needs, which can make a positive difference in their lives. It is fulfilling to see a happy customer drive off in their new vehicle.
Some car dealers have the opportunity to drive expensive and fancy vehicles, which can be thrilling for some individuals. They may also get other perks, such as discounts on cars and accessories.
There is the potential to earn significantly with this job. However, it will depend on the talents of the individual making the sale. Most car dealers earn over £30,000 on average, but some can make over £50,000.
Car dealers can have a decent work-life balance, as most jobs are Monday to Friday, and usually have weekends free. However, there may be some roles that require evening and weekend work.
Being a self-employed car dealer and having an opportunity to be your own boss can be attractive. It can give individuals the independence to take charge of their working day and overall career progression.
Car dealers are unlikely to get bored, as their work is very varied. They will be involved in buying and selling various makes and models of vehicles and deal with people from all walks of life.
Even though there are positives to being a car dealer, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Pressure to sell – working as a car dealer can be stressful at times, as it is predominately a sales job, and they will need to negotiate with customers to make a sale. There will be a lot of pressure to achieve sales targets. It is probably not the most suitable role for individuals who don’t feel comfortable selling and who are introverted.
- Challenging customers – working with customers is not always a joy. Some can be rude and even verbally and physically abusive in some cases. Working in any customer-facing role can be challenging and mentally demanding, which individuals must bear in mind.
- Lack of job security – sales jobs do not always offer the best job security. A car dealer’s job depends on customers wanting to buy and sell vehicles. If the demand is not there, it can put jobs at risk. If an individual is self-employed, they won’t have an income if they don’t make a sale.
- Limited career progression – there are few opportunities for promotion and career progression in this career unless individuals can go self-employed or work as a dealer manager or principal. However, individuals could use transferable sales skills to move to other sectors and roles.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. There is pressure to sell vehicles, and meeting sales targets can be challenging and stressful. Customers can also be unpleasant, and there is a lack of job security and career progression. However, there are many positives too, and those who become car dealers enjoy working with vehicles in a sales environment.
When considering whether to be a car dealer and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a car dealer
Some of the personal qualities a car dealer requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for vehicles and driving.
- A passion for sales and customer service.
- Knowledge of the motor industry.
- Knowledge of different vehicle makes and models and their features and benefits.
- Knowledge of vehicle markets, trends and costs.
- Knowledge of financing options.
- A business acumen.
- Confident, assertive, extroverted, friendly and approachable.
- Ambitious and results-driven.
- Honest, understanding, sensitive and empathetic.
- Excellent customer service skills.
- Excellent communication skills, especially verbal.
- Excellent sales skills.
- Excellent negotiating and influencing skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Maths and numeracy skills.
- Questioning skills.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to drive various vehicles.
- The ability to juggle different demands, prioritise and multitask.
- The ability to develop relationships and rapport with customers.
- The ability to work to tight deadlines and meet sales targets.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain confident and calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment, e.g. computers and hand-held devices, and relevant software packages.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
Qualifications and training
There are many routes to becoming a car dealer. Individuals could go to college, enrol on a private training course, do an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
Undertaking a college or private training course can help individuals become car dealers. There is no specific course for becoming a car dealer. However, any topics relating to vehicles, sales, marketing, business or customer service could help.
Some example courses that may be useful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Automotive Technology.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Vehicle Sales Principles.
- Level 2/3 Certificate in Sales.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Sales.
- Level 2/3 Certificate in Marketing.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Marketing.
- Level 3 Diploma in Vehicle Sales Competence.
- A Level Business.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 and A Levels – four or five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent (including English and maths for an A Level).
It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short courses to see if a career selling vehicles would be suitable. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a car dealer. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that individuals are keen on the job and may give them a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become car dealers, e.g. Vehicle Sales Executive Apprenticeship. Other apprenticeships may also help, e.g. sales and customer service. The entry requirements will depend on individual employers.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed. Car manufacturers may also have apprentice roles on their websites, e.g. Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, and BMW Group.
Individuals do not need qualifications for some roles, but companies may ask for GCSEs or equivalent, including English and maths.
Employers will likely want individuals who can demonstrate relevant experience and skills, e.g. sales, negotiation and customer service.
Some employers may take on individuals as trainees and train them if they have the necessary personal qualities, skills and enthusiasm for the role. It would help individuals to have previous experience. However, the requirements will depend on each employer.
Car dealership roles are on various job websites where individuals can apply directly.
Individuals may be able to get work in a car dealership in other roles and shadow car dealers. There may be opportunities to work as a receptionist or administrator or wash and clean vehicles.
There may be temporary roles with recruitment agencies in sales and customer service, which could help individuals develop the skills needed to be a car dealer.
Volunteering can also help people gain valuable experience and develop skills. Individuals could volunteer with charities in customer-facing or sales roles, e.g. memberships. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career as a car dealer include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Equality and diversity.
- Disability awareness.
- Work-related stress.
- Violence at work.
- Workplace first aid.
- Conflict management.
- Display screen equipment (DSE).
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Office health and safety.
- Driving safely.
- Data protection and the GDPR.
- Complaints handling.
- Customer service skills.
- Time management skills.
- Business management.
- Resilience training.
- Anti-bribery awareness.
Professional bodies, associations and institutes may also advise on reputable training courses, e.g. the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), the Independent Motor Dealers Association (IMDA), the Auto Trade Associates, the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF), the Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA), the Motor Ombudsman and others. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become car dealers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, AM Jobs, British Automotive Jobs, and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for roles and company websites for dealership jobs, e.g. BMW Careers, Porsche Great Britain, Audi UK, Jaguar Land Rover, etc.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
There are additional responsibilities associated with being self-employed. Car dealers must:
- Notify the local authority.
- Apply for trade licence plates with the DVLA.
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. public liability, motor trade and business. If employing anyone, employers’ liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data, e.g. customer data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed are on GOV.UK.
If an individual decides to be a self-employed car dealer, they will need to factor in certain costs, such as:
- Showroom, forecourt or other premises to store and sell vehicles.
- Office space.
- Premises running costs.
- Vehicle costs, e.g. repairs, maintenance, fuel, parts and consumables.
- Good-quality tools, equipment and machinery.
- Travelling costs, e.g. to go to auctions.
- Computer and mobile phone.
- Marketing and advertising.
They should also research and decide on the area, market, competition and services to offer customers.
Becoming a member of an association or getting accredited can also help self-employed car dealers gain more business. They could also become a franchise dealership.
Criminal records checks
Car dealers may be required to undergo a criminal record check. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. It can even affect association membership. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Car dealers will need a full driving licence, preferably with no points. Some companies require individuals to have held their licence for more than 12 months.
Self-employed car dealers will usually need access to a suitable vehicle and have business insurance, etc.
Where do car dealers work?
Car dealers can work for various organisations, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Automotive manufacturers.
- Independent franchise dealership networks.
- International automotive retailers with dealerships.
- Dealership groups.
- Family-run automotive dealers.
- New and used car dealers.
- Multinational car dealerships.
- Car sales garages.
As mentioned, car dealers can also become self-employed and set up their own businesses.
Car dealers typically work indoors in showrooms and offices but may also work outdoors at forecourts.
Some car dealers travel to different dealerships or auction houses during their working days. They may also accompany customers on test drives.
Jobs are available nationally, and car dealers can work in cities, towns or rural areas. There may also be opportunities to work overseas.
How much do car dealers earn?
A car dealer’s salary will depend on their working hours, types of cars offered, specialisms, location, qualifications, experience and whether they are employed, self-employed or work for a franchise.
Some examples of average salaries include the following (these figures are only a guide):
- £31,211 a year (Glassdoor).
- £32,500 a year (Totaljobs).
- £36,974 a year (Indeed).
There is also an annual salary survey report issued by BDO, which provides further insight into salaries in this industry.
Some car dealers can earn more if they are on commission, and some companies offer generous benefits, e.g. holidays, discounts, pensions and flexible working.
The salaries for self-employed dealers will be variable. They will also need to consider expenses, e.g. tax, insurance, premises, utilities, equipment, marketing, advertising, etc.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of car dealing to specialise in
Individuals can specialise in working in different types of car dealerships, for example:
- Car supermarkets – these are also known as independent dealerships. However, they are larger than other independents and hold more nearly new or used stock. They typically have significantly sized showrooms, warehouses or forecourts.
- Brand-specific dealerships – only sell specific vehicle makes and models, e.g. Audi, BMW, Mazda, Honda, Mercedes, etc.
- Independent dealerships – car dealerships not owned by large corporations and do not have partner licences with manufacturers. They can sell a variety of vehicles that are nearly new and used. They can be family-run businesses and owned outright by larger companies. They may or may not have a showroom. These are the most common type of dealerships.
- Franchised dealerships – car dealers can work at dealerships licensed to work directly with the car manufacturer and sell their vehicles. They may also offer other services, such as vehicle servicing, MOTs, aftercare and accessories.
- Online dealerships – some car dealers can work solely online, which can be an option for those without a showroom.
Car dealers can also specialise in buying and selling new cars, nearly new cars, used cars or part-exchange.
All specialist roles require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All car dealers must have excellent sales, negotiation, communication and customer service skills. They will also need in-depth knowledge about the motor industry and various vehicle makes and models.
Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for and a car dealer’s intended specialist areas. Further qualifications and training may be necessary for specialised roles.
If car dealers do not do their roles correctly, they could fail to make sales, miss targets, advise customers incorrectly and increase customer complaints. Therefore, whatever the type of role, they must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Vehicles, services, laws, trends, customers and technologies are always changing. Therefore, car dealers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives car dealers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, association or institute can help prospective and current car dealers enhance their skills and overall career. These may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There may be an opportunity for career progression for car dealers. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a sales manager or dealer principal who manages more car dealerships. They can also decide to specialise in specific dealership types, e.g. franchises. Alternatively, they may become self-employed and have their own car dealership.
Knowledge, skills and experience gained from working as a car dealer can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could use their transferable skills to move to a marketing, sales or training role. They could also take further qualifications and move into other vehicle-related jobs, e.g. technician or mechanic.