The story behind that list of dealership slang

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News.

F&I managers -- mostly appalled, but at least partly amused -- recently passed around online a link to a “Car Dealer Dictionary” of dealership slang, including terms that are supposedly in use in F&I departments.

Some entries are harmless, such as “Up” for “potential customer.”

Some of the terms are familiar in auto industry circles, such as the notorious “five-finger close.” That happens when the F&I manager covers offending parts of the finance contract with his or her hand, exposing only the signature block to the customer.

That’s bad enough, but some terms in the “dictionary” are offensive in other ways, like a code word for African-American customers supposedly based on the code number for ordering black exterior paint.

How this dictionary came to light is a story itself.

Ronald Burdge, a lawyer in Dayton, Ohio, who specializes in lemon law cases against manufacturers and fraud cases against dealerships and auto finance companies, has the dictionary posted on his website.

Burdge told me on Monday that the original dictionary was a list produced by a dealership’s employees. The dealership was forced to hand over the list to Burdge in the course of a lawsuit -- to the lasting regret of the employees and the dealership owners.

Burdge said the original list is probably 15 years old. Over the years he’s added terms. He said he’s thinking of adding “liar loans,” a term for what happens when an F&I manager artificially inflates a customer’s credentials on a credit application. A recent story in The New York Times used the term, which was originally applied to subprime mortgages.

There are several lessons to be learned from the “Car Dealer Dictionary.”

The first, of course: F&I managers shouldn’t use derogatory terms for customers, even in private.

Second, if F&I managers become aware of such terms, it’s probably a bad idea to write them down and keep a list.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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