Knowledge, trusted relationships put vehicle owners in the driver's seat

FARGO - Women often tell car salesperson Kelsey Rohweder about how they were treated at another dealership. Like how they went to buy a car and the salesman talked only to their husband. "They feel belittled," Rohweder says. "They were expecting ...

Kelsey Rohweder
Kelsey Rohweder has been a Kia salesperson for nearly six years. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - Women often tell car salesperson Kelsey Rohweder about how they were treated at another dealership.

Like how they went to buy a car and the salesman talked only to their husband.

"They feel belittled," Rohweder says. "They were expecting more of the conversation to be for them."

Rohweder, who has sold vehicles for almost six years, now with Kia of Fargo Lunde Auto Center, says women often feel more comfortable shopping for vehicles with her.

Not because she treats them better. Because she treats them equal to everyone else.


Sometimes customers come in with their guard up because they've had a bad experience. Rohweder says she enjoys breaking through that barrier, educating customers and building a trusted relationship with them.

"I think sometimes people buy from me not because they like the product better, but because they like dealing with me. I'm not high pressure by any means," she says. "If you treat them right, they'll come back and they'll buy another car from you. They'll send their daughter to you."

Dealing with auto professionals - whether for sales or repairs - can be intimidating. Women especially may be concerned they are being taken advantage of or not being taken seriously.

Dennis Miller, one of three instructors in the auto tech department at Moorhead's Minnesota State Community and Technical College, hears the concern that a mechanic could overcharge them or invent problems.

"Sometimes people say it's easy for us to do that, because most people do not know what's inside" the transmission or engine, he says.

The key to being treated well is educating yourself and finding professionals you trust, those in the industry say.

'Trapped in the past'

Benjie Froemke, general manager of All City Auto in Fargo, has read articles about the mistreatment of women by auto sales associates.


"I don't think all dealers are like this, but there some that are definitely trapped in the past," Froemke says.

It doesn't make sense to Froemke, as more than 80 percent of car-buying decisions are made by women, he says. At his lot in recent months, about 60 percent of the vehicles sold have been to women.

If a salesman isn't listening to what you're saying or giving you the attention you want, Froemke says to ask for another salesman or simply leave.

"If you're not being treated right, there's just not time for that," he says.

Consumers today have more information than ever, Froemke says, and a well-informed customer will be more confident and less likely to be taken for a ride.

Websites such as and sources like the Kelley Blue Book can give people solid numbers for what a new vehicle or trade-in should be worth.

Rohweder also suggests doing research online, picking out your top three cars and then taking them for a test-drive. She suggests looking for a "best-priced" or "no-haggle" dealership.

Froemke says used car buyers should look for dealerships that will stand behind those vehicles and will allow you to take the car to your mechanic.


He suggests customers ask these questions:

How did you acquire the vehicle?

What work have you done to it?

Has it been in an accident?

What is your rock-bottom price?

Froemke says women are more emotional buyers. Car dealers may take advantage of that if the woman reveals how much she loves the vehicle upfront.

"Don't give up too much information right away," he says. "If you had a poker hand, you don't want to show all your cards right away."

Repair, maintenance

Once you've bought the car, you'll inevitably need to have it maintained or repaired.

Miller, the auto tech instructor, says he stresses with his students to be honest, and to respect and give equal time to every customer.

He feels like in Fargo-Moorhead, most repair shops are honest.

Some estimates may be more elevated than others, but that's often because of the quality of parts, he says.

Sometimes an honest misdiagnosis leads to more expensive bills, Miller says.

But some places may try to upsell customers, he says, especially at places where repairmen are paid on a commission.

When customers take their car in for an oil change, they should make it clear they are not going to pay for any additional work that day, Miller says.

Customers can request the mechanic show them the problem on the car, in person or through a photo if customers are not allowed in the service bay.

For major repairs, it's a good idea to get a second, if not third, opinion, Miller says.

Miller recommends customers choose ASE-certified technicians. The certification, which stands for Automotive Service Excellence, means the person has taken and passed an exam. The certification must be renewed every five years.

Customers who feel like they've been taken advantage of should write a letter to the manager of the shop, who likely will offer a free service, such as an oil change, Miller says.

Asking around for shop recommendations will yield good options, Miller says.

Another way consumers can empower themselves is to become more knowledgeable about their car.

Miller teaches a community education class called "Getting to Know Your Vehicle." It will be offered once in January and twice in February.

The two-hour class covers topics like owner responsibilities, inspections an owner can make and what indicator lights mean, as well as locating a reputable repair shop, explaining your problem and dealing with service people.

Miller also recommends taking your owner's manual to bed.

"It will cure insomnia for many people, but surprisingly, there's a lot of good information in there," Miller says.

If you go

What: Getting to Know Your Vehicle class

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 28, Feb. 11 and Feb. 18

Where: Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Moorhead

Info: (218) 284-3400


The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota's auto industry liaison offers these tips for buying and fixing your car.

• When buying a car: Explore financing options at your local credit union or bank first, so you can decide if dealer financing is a better option.

Comparison shop online. Research prices through Kelley Blue Book ( or Obtain reports on dealerships at

Look for rebates, paying attention to any eligibility requirements.

Take it for a spin. Tell the dealer you are there for a test drive only and will make a purchasing decision later.

Remember the car's final price will include fees for documentation, title and registration, and applicable sales tax.

Trust your instincts. If you're unhappy with how discussions are going, let your sales associate know that. From there, they can either work to address your concerns or, if not, you can leave and re-examine your options later.

If you're more comfortable dealing with a female sales associate, make that request.

• When repairing your car: See if any maintenance agreements are included in new car purchases. Some dealers also will offer limited time maintenance specials to buyers.

Start shopping for a repair facility before you need one. You can make better decisions when not rushed or in a panic. Ask around for referrals and then check out reviews at .

Look for a neat, well-organized facility with modern equipment, as well as courteous staff willing to answer all your questions. Ask if the shop customarily handles your vehicle make and model.

Get a written estimate for parts and labor. Tell the shop to get your permission before making any additional repairs. Understand shop policies regarding labor rates, guarantees and methods of payment. When picking up your vehicle, get a written explanation of all work completed and guarantees. Your repair bill should be itemized.

Source: Dan Hendrickson, communications coordinator, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota

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