Eight years ago, his pasar malam (night market) sales hit a peak of $1.5 million worth of cars in a week.
He sold 27 cars at a spot near Causeway Point, a shopping mall beside the Woodlands MRT station.
Yesterday, after nine days at a pasar malam at Serangoon North Ave 3, Mr John Ling, 53, who owns SJ Motor Enterprise, said he had yet to sell a single car.
The contrast in his fortunes reflects the changing face of the motor industry, as COE premium prices continue to rise in recent bids despite the release of more car COEs.
Mr Ling started selling cars at night markets in 2003, though his main revenue comes from showroom sales at his Bukit Timah main outlet.
He now owns three outlets in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre where he sells new and used cars and offers car servicing and repair services.
It was the desire to "be where the customers are" that led him to rent space to sell new and used cars at these night markets, he said.
Said Mr Ling: "Pasar malams are just another place for me to sell cars, and it's an added bonus that it is usually quite crowded."
But it was originally a tough sell for the car dealer, who got into the business after starting to fix cars when he was 11 years old.
It took him years to establish himself at the night markets because many people did not trust a car dealer who operated in such a cheap environment, he said.
Once he got going, however, he experienced his best week in 2008, when cars were at their most affordable.
It was around the time when COEs hovered at around $3,000, and buyers were allowed to take 100 per cent loans.
One of his regular customers, Madam Shim Siew Tin May, 45, assistant manager at Princeston, a distributor of floor mats, bought three vehicles for her company.
She bought a Toyota Hi-Ace in 2012 when she first saw Mr Ling's booth at a pasar malam in Toa Payoh.
She later bought two Nissan lorries from Mr Ling in 2014.
"I don't mind the heat (of the pasar malam) since he is a very sincere man who quotes very reasonable prices," said Madam May.
Recently, COE prices have hovered close to $50,000 in all car categories, while buyers can only take loans of up to 60 percent, depending on the type of car, with a maximum loan period of five years.
Said Mr Ling: "Recently, it has become more difficult for people to get loans so it is inevitable that business does not do so well."
He will take a loss for his latest night market foray at Serangoon North. Mr Ling's operational costs at night markets range from $3,000 to $30,000.
A large portion of it is spent on rental of the space and the rest are for hiring manpower to distribute fliers and promote his cars.
Groomers are engaged to polish the cars. He even hires guards when he has a large fleet of 10 to 20 cars to take care of overnight.
The operating costs at the Serangoon night market for nine days is about $4,000 and he would have needed to sell at least two cars to offset it.
In previous years, 30 per cent of interested parties would buy a car but the number has dwindled down to about 10 per cent, he said.
Despite this, Mr Ling does not regret venturing into sales at night markets.
"To me, the most important thing is that I do an honest trade and I trust people will continue to buy their cars from me," said Mr Ling.