10 Clever Tricks Car Salesmen Use That You Should Know How to Handle

men in car lot

Car lot | Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images

Buying a car is an involved process. For many of us, it involves months of research and planning. According to Dealer Refresh, 48% of us spend between one and three months shopping before we make a purchasing decision, and 83% of us conduct online research before buying a car. Sure, we come out of the whole deal with a shiny new vehicle (new to us, at least.) But the process of finding the right car can be frustrating. Consumers report that one of their top frustrations when buying a car is dealing with car salespeople.

Sales is an art, a science, and some may even describe it as a game. The salesman’s object is to convince you that a product or service will improve your quality of life, make your daily life easier, save you time or money, or provide you with a set of benefits you cannot get elsewhere.

Car salesmen have received somewhat of a bad rep over the years. Some of us have come to imagine a man in a plaid suit, maybe with a mustache and a funny hat, who says to us, “Now see, this is the car for you,” while pointing at the lot’s lemon.

Odds are, when we arrive at the dealership, we’re not going to encounter a car salesman that resembles Danny Devito’s character in Matilda, William H. Macy’s Character in Fargo, or even those guys from the movie The Goods. Most car sales people are just like other workers; they simply want to perform well at their jobs and make decent money.

By the same token, some car salespeople do have a few tricks up their sleeves. Many of them are trained to coax us into impulse buying and making us spend a little more than we originally planned. By talking to experts and reviewing some publications on car selling tactics, we found out some of the tricks car salespeople use to convince us to spend impulsively. You can discover a few car salesmen tricks and information on how to get the upper hand when buying a car on the following pages.

1. Clever wordplay

Mazda vehicles sit on the lot of a Mazda dealership

Car dealership | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Many car salespeople use clever wording to persuade you into buying a vehicle. Instead of saying the words, “Can I help you today?” or “How can I help you today?” the salesperson may choose to ask, “Are you looking for a sedan or an SUV today?” or “What type of vehicle can I help you find today?” This leaves little room for you to respond with, “I’m just looking around, I don’t need any help right now.”

Around half of people don’t know the make or model they’re going to buy when they arrive at the dealership. While looking around the lot, you may see a model you like and ask the salesperson to tell you a bit more about it. He or she will highlight the car’s best features, painting the car in only the best light. “It had only one previous owner, an elderly couple” he or she may tell you. If that couple hated the car, he or she likely would not mention such information. When you ask about the price, you’re likely going to hear “fifteen, nine, nine, nine,” as opposed to “fifteen thousand nine hundred and ninety nine dollars.” This makes the price sound lower in your head.

While you’re at the dealership, don’t be afraid to say no to a salesperson. If you want to look around by yourself, ask if you may do so. Also, bring your phone or mobile device and do your own research. If you see a vehicle that piques your interest, you can visit websites like Truecar.com or Kbb.com and find out the vehicle’s value, specs, and additional details.

2. Playing coy with prices

car for sale

A price tag hangs from the rear view mirror of a car for sale | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you hear that a vehicle costs $29,999 (or twenty-nine, nine, nine, nine) it may sound like something you cannot afford. But, hearing monthly payments of $455 per month may sound a bit better to you. By obscuring the real price of the car, car salesmen can make an expensive vehicle seem within reach. They can also get you to spend more by stretching out the payments or padding the final price with extras and upgrades.

“You should always ask for the all-inclusive cost of the car in order to price compare with what you find online,” Scott Chesrown, Chief Revenue Officer at Vroom, told The Cheat Sheet. “Most dealers will avoid showing you things such as fees, interest rate, and trade value. Instead, they will focus on the monthly payment and make sure it is something ‘you are comfortable with.’ The problem is that they are likely charging you too much for the loan, not giving you enough for your trade, and packing in a few additional fees to bump up their profits.”

Your best defense against this tactic is preparation. You should know both how much you can afford to spend each month on your vehicle, as well as how much you want to spend in total. Then, make sure to stay under both those numbers.

3. Long loan terms

buying a car

A car salesman tries to make a sale | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Any loan is “affordable” if you can stretch the payments out over a long time, though you’ll end up throwing a lot of money away on interest. But sketchy car salesmen play on people’s poor financial knowledge to convince them it’s the monthly payment that really matters. Once they figure out how much you’re willing to pay for your car every month, they can make even the most overpriced car seem like a deal by playing with the loan terms.

“Loan terms of 72 or even 84 months on a car are not wise,” Chesrown said. “Not many people typically keep their car for 6 or 7 years, and if you want to get out of it beforehand, your depreciation has likely exceeded your loan amount, leaving you underwater on your vehicle.”

4. Low-balling your trade-in

Woman taking car key from car sales rep

Woman taking car key from car sales rep | iStock.com/kzenon

If you’re trading in a vehicle, someone from the dealership will likely take a look at it and provide you with the value of your trade-in. While examining your vehicle, they may run their fingers along any scratches, stick their finger inside any holes in your upholstery, and use other clever visual tactics to show you that your vehicle has flaws. This way, if they give you a low-ball offer for your trade-in, you may feel as though you’re lucky that they gave you as much as they did.

“One of the main ways dealers try and get you to spend more is to lowball you on the price of your trade-in,” Chesrown explained. “If you have a guaranteed offer for the car before setting foot in the dealership, then it gets much harder for them to take advantage of you.”

5. Too-good-to-be-true deals

buying a car

A man looks at a special sale price tag for a new car | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A dealership may advertise a great deal on a new car or truck, but don’t expect to waltz on to the lot and pick up your new wheels for a song. Car salesman reel you in with bargain prices, but what they don’t tell you is that they only have one or two cars available at that price or that you’ll need near-perfect credit to qualify for the most advantageous terms.

“The deals you see on TV are usually too good to be true,” Chesrown said. “They are loss leaders to get you in the door and it typically takes excellent credit to even qualify for one. Once they get you in, there is a high likelihood that the seasoned sales veterans can get you in a car, even if it isn’t the one you want, instead of you walking out without one.”

6. Unnecessary upgrades

car salesman talks to buyers

A car salesman talks to buyers | Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you have a certain car picked out, don’t be surprised if the salesperson attempts to offer you a few added features. “Are you interested in our extended warranty plan? How about a tire upgrade?” Those extras can add up to a few thousand dollars, and some extra commission for the salesperson. Sometimes, sneaky dealers even try to hide upgrades and extra fees in the final paperwork, hoping you won’t notice that you’re being charged more since you think you’ve already settled on the final price.

“Negotiate fees down, or outright refuse to pay them,” the experts at Car & Driver advised. “And deny any extras offered by the finance and insurance manager. Basically, if it’s anything he offers you after you’ve negotiated your sales price, you don’t need it and you shouldn’t pay for it. Particularly egregious are paint and fabric protection — essentially wax and Scotchgard that dealerships often charge hundreds of dollars for.”

7. Interest rate shenanigans

used car financing

A sign advertising bad credit car loans | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Shop for financing before you head to the dealership if you want to get the best deal. When you apply for dealer financing, the dealership may tack an extra percentage point or two onto the rate offered by their bank or financing company. They get to pocket the difference.

If you have financing already arranged through your bank or credit union, you can spot this scam, and then either negotiate a lower rate or bypass dealer financing altogether.

8. Yo-yo financing

Promotion sign at the dealership lot

Sign advertising cars for sale | iStock.com

Buyers who don’t have great credit should watch out for yo-yo financing. Here’s what happens: You find a car you love, agree to terms of sale, and drive it home. The dealer even lets you take it before the financing has been approved. Then the ball drops. After a few days of showing off your shiny new car, you get a call from the dealership saying the original offer fell through. To keep your vehicle, you’ll have to settle for a higher interest rate or pony up for a bigger down payment.

The Federal Trade Commission is on to this scam and has come after dealers who pull it on unsuspecting buyers. To protect yourself, try to secure your own financing before visiting a car lot, and never take a car home until the deal is actually done and you’re clear on all the terms.

9. Hiding the vehicle’s history

flooded cars

Flooded cars | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Unscrupulous used car dealers may engage in title washing, or altering a car’s title to hide that it was previously salvaged. Usually, people get away with this by moving vehicles to a state where titles are recorded differently. Then, the car can be sold for more than it would be if people realized it was flooded or wrecked.

To protect yourself, run a vehicle history report on both CarFax and AutoCheck. But vehicle history reports aren’t always perfect, and it can take a while for a car to be rebranded or get a new title after it’s been damaged, Cars.com explained. For that reason, savvy used car buyers should examine the car closely themselves and even consider an independent inspection.

“Open the doors, trunk, hood and look at the bolts that hold them on. When cars haven’t been painted, the bolts will be the same color as the car and the paint will be very clean,” Chesrown said. “If the bolts have any sign of wear on them, this is a good indicator the car has had paint work and possibly been in a wreck.”

10. Playing to your emotions

buying a car

A man tries to sell a woman a car | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We buy replacement cars for a variety of reasons — to get the latest technology, to benefit from new features, and for increased safety. But we can’t deny that status and appearances play a large role in our auto purchasing decisions. Car salespeople know that our appearance matters.

Some clever salespeople may use a mirror or large window to show you what you look like in the driver’s seat. The salesperson may make it a point to tell you how great you look driving the vehicle. He or she may also pay close attention to what features are important to you, and then begin to focus on those features, highlighting them on each vehicle thereafter. If you ask about safety on a vehicle, for instance, the salesperson may tell you all of the wonderful safety features the next car has to offer.

Make sure that when you look at each vehicle, you remember why you came to the dealership in the first place. Focus on the long-term benefits and remember you are making a large purchase that involves a level of commitment. Don’t be fooled by flash.

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