Selling Cars Online or Offline: DIY F&I? WTH?


Today’s old car dogs will surely react with utter disdain and perhaps even great vengeance and furious anger when they read that I not only believe Do-It-Yourself F&I is the future, but that dealers who fail to embrace this trend will find themselves struggling to create a buying experience that customers love (and are willing to pay extra for).

Of course, I find this misdirected anger a little humorous when you consider it was the old car dogs from forty years ago who railed against the very idea of adding an F&I manager in the first place. (Similar to the old car dogs in the last decade who railed against the internet, used car stocking tools and putting vehicle prices online.)

Gradually, then Suddenly

Ernest Hemingway wrote some dialogue published over 90 years ago in The Sun Also Rises that applies here. It goes like this:

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

That’s how big changes happen – especially in automotive retail. They happen gradually and then suddenly. That is, just when it looks like predicted big changes will never really come to pass, we blink and we see they already happened.

DIY F&I is coming. It’s coming gradually; but just as we can with any major change, we will one day look back and marvel at how suddenly it happened. (Hint: It’s already happening with online buyers using tools like AutoFi.)

It’s About the Experience

Of course, if you read this post title and thought “What the heck? How am I supposed to make any backend gross without a trained killer in the F&I Manager’s chair?” you wouldn’t be in the minority, nor would you be naïve. It’s a great question.

So, instead of trying to wrap your head around something too difficult to comprehend (and that may still be on the distant horizon for most dealers), just open your mind enough to explore ways you can both improve the car-buying experience and grow your backend grosses at the same time. For example, empirical data shows that pre-presenting F&I products to consumers grows their willingness to purchase these once they reach the business office.

This means educating them (or allowing them to educate themselves with a product like AutoFi) about those items included in the menus you’re about to present. You see, the better they understand products like GAP, Lojack and Vehicle Service Contracts, the more likely they are to buy these.

While you’re not ready to move to a full DIY F&I, incorporating a tablet into your process – where buyers can learn about the benefits of the products they’ll be presented – reduces the education load on your F&I managers, while making the time your buyers wait for the business office seem much shorter.

Remove the Friction

The friction points that surround the F&I process (including the waiting, the hard selling, and the tons of paperwork) can all be removed with just a little technology. We already explored how employing a great tool that allows for buyers to self-present F&I add-ons – whether online or on a tablet in-store – removes the friction associated with waiting and hard selling; now the goal is to reduce the need for so much paperwork (or at least the perception of so much paperwork) where possible.

Moving some of this paperwork out of the F&I office and into the hands of the salesperson is one way to reduce that perception. Moreover, removing the friction doesn’t have to mean reducing your profits. As we know from looking at online vehicle sales, the backend grosses of those purchases (where the buyer fully self-presents the add-ons and completes nearly all of the paperwork before they arrive) is about equal to the average dealer presenting these in-store.

So, while there’s no need to get rid of your F&I department today, there should also be no need to panic about selling vehicles online or allowing your in-store buyers to self-present your F&I products while they wait on your trained killer F&I manager. Today’s connected customer wants speed, they want efficiency and they want to reduce the friction. You’re not going to lose your F & I grosses if you help them achieve that speed and efficiency while you remove the friction.

If you’re thinking, “Okay, I’m in, but how do we get there?” You’re not alone. It can be mindboggling to think about how to get from your current road to the sale to doing it all on an iPad.

Here’s a hint: You can’t get there overnight; but you should be working toward making buying with you a great experience because this major change will happen. It will happen gradually and then suddenly.

Next up: How Do We Get From Here to There?

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: It’s About a Great Experience)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at