Retired Bloomington Used Car Dealer Looks Back on 22 Years of Sales | Local company


Buying used cars has become an expensive proposition. Here are a few tips.

BLOOMINGTON – In 22 years of selling used cars at a busy intersection in Bloomington, Pete Hettinger has learned that some people fall into a “fun category.”

A customer of his Custom Auto Sales company, 711 E. Washington St., may not want to buy a brown or green car, he said.

Instead, Hettinger will call their paint jobs “mocha” or “metallic jadestone,” and he says buyers might be okay with purchasing this vehicle as their next set of wheels.

Pete Hettinger, owner of Custom Auto Sales in Bloomington, retired on Thursday after selling used cars and personalized details to people in the Twin Cities for more than 20 years. Hettinger, who owns a farm in Eureka, will trade in used Buicks for tractors as he takes over operations that include a sheep ranch.


Used car prices rose this fall, and Hettinger added that cheap cars don’t exist anymore.

Simply put, people keep driving their old cars if they can’t buy a new one. He also noted that cars continue to wear and tear day by day – or break down.

Add to the carnage wrought by tornadoes in early December in Kentucky, Tennessee and southern Illinois, as well as storms and flooding earlier in the year, he predicts that auto demand will remain high for at least the next year. minus the next two years.

Hettinger also said there will be a shortage of 3- and 4-year-old cars in 2024-25, as fewer cars have been built this year and last.

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Pete Hettinger, owner of Custom Auto Sales in Bloomington, speaks with a client on Thursday, December 23.


It is a market that is unimaginable for him.

Hettinger asked: “Who could have seen a pandemic?

Dark standards

Having worked in auto sales since 1982, Hettinger said he always loved cars, but they just aren’t so fun anymore.

He recalled how the cars came with colorful interiors, two-tone exterior paints and individualized customization.

“Now I have a hard time distinguishing one model from another,” he said.

He points to federal standards as culprits, such as the height of headlights or the slope of a hood being limited in case pedestrians are affected.

He finds some new models attractive, such as the recent Tahoe or Grand Cherokee.

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The Bloomington-Normal van corral filled Hancock Stadium in the late 1980s. It was one of Pete Hettinger’s memories of his 20+ years selling used cars in Bloomington.


Some of the most memorable classics that have found their way to its lot include a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, a 1976 Oldsmobile Tornado, and a 1936 Plymouth.

He also saw used cars looking like the inside of a dumpster. Others are so unfit to be driven that he wants them to be towed to the scrapyard.

“Some people trade in cars that I can’t believe are still on the road,” Hettinger said.

Return to technology

Hettinger said most people adopted new features like remote start and touch screens as they were introduced.

“But, with everything that is new, there are problems,” he noted. Like how a failed $ 3 battery in a keychain will result in a replacement fee of $ 250- $ 400.

He recorded an Automotive News article that says General Motors will not have heated seats that work in several 2022 models. The hardware is there, but the chips to make them work are not.

Hettinger considers himself a traditionalist, and he dislikes electric vehicles, which he says are expensive.

What is he driving? A 2005 Buick Park Avenue he bought last year with 17,000 miles from a 90-year-old man.

“No electronic nightmares.”

Closer to reality $ 15 million vehicle store at Bloomington National Guard facilities

Customer connections

One thing that amazed Hettinger was the number of cars he sold by advertising in the classifieds section of the Pantagraph.

“Everyone says printing is dead,” he said, “and I got so many calls and sold cars from the classifieds. “

It also relies on word of mouth.

“Most of the time after 22 years, it’s repeat customers, repeaters and referrals,” he said.

He got his cars from dealer auctions, private purchases, or exchanges.

Another lesson Hettinger learned from running a small business is that many of his buyers are “tired of the hassle” at the big dealerships.

“They like to deal with someone one-on-one,” he said.

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Pete Hettinger, right, owner of Custom Auto Sales in Bloomington, chats with longtime client Jack Kohl of Bloomington on Thursday, December 23. Hettinger said dozens of neighbors stop by his dealership to say hello, even though they’re not there. the urge to buy a used car.


One longtime customer who can attest to his service is Bloomington’s Jack Kohl. He said Hettinger is “honest, fair and a great guy”.

In his day, Kohl bought at least 20 cars from the store, according to the used car dealer. This includes a 2012 Honda Civic he bought in mint condition and a 2017 Ford Escape, both still on the road.

“A lot of people thanked me for a car they bought me and were very happy with,” Hettinger said.

Trading Buicks for Tractors

With his store in the Rearview Mirror, Hettinger will begin to eliminate a long to-do list on his 12-acre farm in Eureka. He said his parents are still alive and active and his father does most of the farm work.

“He wants to show me how everything works, because he knows that soon at 89, he won’t be here forever,” Hettinger said.

“And I have to learn it,” he continued, adding that he could barely wield a screwdriver.

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Pete Hettinger, owner of Custom Auto Sales in Bloomington, sells the old gas station and retires.


He said the property had been sold to a new, younger owner who was also considering selling used cars.

“It will bring a modern twist to used car sales,” he said.

Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison

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