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How to Buy From a Dealership and Avoid Car Dealer Tricks

The following tips are designed to prevent you from being pushed around by the salesman and to ease your mind of worries in regards to car dealer tricks.

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Purchasing a vehicle from a car dealership can be an anxiety-inducing experience. What I discovered was that the number one emotion women felt when considering buying a vehicle was anxiety followed by uncertainty.

In this article, we will review 3 tricks that dealers and car salesman use that cause this anxiety and uncertainty. I will teach you how to overcome these feelings, and become immune to the tricks.

The worst thing that can happen to us as consumers are purchasing something and quickly regretting it. This is called buyer’s remorse and it is a terrible feeling. Why? Well, you didn’t figure out how much car you can afford and just spent $20,000 and you are married to a monthly payment for 3-6 years. I do not want this happen to you! The following tips are designed to prevent you from being pushed around by the salesman and to ease your mind of worries in regards to overpaying and car dealer tricks.

Car Dealer Tricks to Avoid

Here is a list of car deal tricks to avoid.

1. Emotional Manipulation

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During my car salesman days, we were taught many subliminal tactics to get customers interested in vehicles. One is emotional manipulation. The reason salesmen often insist on test driving is to get you to create a sense of ownership in your mind. “Ma’am take a seat, adjust the mirrors, now adjust the seat until you are comfortable. Go ahead and turn on your favorite radio station and flip back the sunroof.”

Is your heart beating faster and your excitement increasing? You are unknowingly getting excited and your mind is taking mental ownership of this nice new vehicle. That awesome new car smell isn’t helping either is it? That feeling of euphoria is a very human response. They are counting on you to feel this way.

What happens next is quite primitive. As our excitement builds, the emotional part of our brains begins to take over. When this happens, we are much more likely to make a choice based on emotions. Have you ever heard of dogs that go crazy and get scared during lightning and thunderstorms? I had an adorable Shizu dog that would run miles away when thunder rumbled the house.

RIP Bootsy.

During these storms, the logical part of his brain would turn off and the emotional part would take over. In this case, fear dictated my dog’s behaviors. Much like my old boy Bootsy (my mom named him btw), this happens to us when we take mental ownership of a new car or lease. The budget we set and the price we wanted is now more likely to be negotiable.

How to overcome trick #1 “Emotional Manipulation”

Be mindful of your emotions. Simply being aware of this tactic beforehand and how our mind/bodies will respond is half of the battle in not making a poor emotional based decision.

I always recommend that we sleep on it.

My rule of thumb is to never make a large purchase the same day. This isn’t the same as picking up a Snickers while in the checkout line. This is a 5 figure purchase that we will be married to for the next 3-6 years. Be smart, go home, sleep, and revisit it the next day when your mind has had a chance to tend to other matters. Keep this in mind if you want to avoid common car dealer tricks.

2. Pushing You Towards Payments

After the test drive, we will be directed to go inside, sit down, fill out our contact information, and discuss the price. Car salesmen are taught to negotiate the payment with us instead of the price of the vehicle. This has two benefits for them.

  1. Making an affordable payment is relatable and gets your mind off of the actual price. We end up paying more this way. (See Ex1 at the end for a math based scenario)
  2. The interest rate and the length of the loan can quickly fall into the background with this payment focused presentation. The payments method works because we are more likely to digest the affordability of monthly payments versus the 5 figure sticker price.

Over six years, a $100 dollar increase is not that much, but by doing the math it will add on $6K to the total price – wow, that’s mind-blowing!

See below how Customer 1 saved $4,200 by focusing on a $70 lower payment. This is worth repeating…A $70 monthly difference saved $4,200!!! car dealer tricks

How to overcome #2 “Pushing you towards payments”

Tell the salesman up front “I am not interested in going overpayments right now, let’s stick to the price of the car out the door.” You must be proactive here. A skilled salesman may even give you a rebuttal of “well ma’am, I just want to make sure you get something that is affordable and fits your budget”.

Just smile at your new adversary and politely say “While I appreciate your concern, I have all of that figured out, please just get me the out the door price”.


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(Make eye contact and smile for added value and enjoyment). They will get the picture.

You want the individual price of the car and that is what you want to negotiate. You have now become a formidable opponent. You have now indirectly saved yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars by directing the negotiations down this road. (See Ex1 at the bottom for a math-based scenario on why this works) Also, the out the door price is the price of the car plus all of the fees that the dealer adds on.

Better to know sooner than later what fluff fees the dealers will add. Keep this in mind if you want to avoid common car dealer tricks.

3. The Finance Office

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After a price has been agreed upon, we are sent to the finance office. Here you meet the Finance Manager. This person finishes your paperwork, gets you financed (or takes your check), and offers you products to protect your new vehicle. This is where even the toughest buyers lose.

Why?

They lose because their guard is down. When we agree upon a price, we get a handshake and congratulations. Usually, the sales manager gets in on this as well. You give out a big sigh of relief.

In my sales days, I will never forget this one customer who was an excellent negotiator. He knew what he was doing and worked us down to a super low profit. He clearly was prepared and this resulted in the dealership making around $100 on the car (Nice job!).

What happened next really opened my eyes. He ended up paying $4500 for the warranty and GAP products as well as accepting an interest rate 2% higher than he should have (explanation of these products below in Example 3). All of the money he had just spent his energy and time saving was washed away in the finance office. Customers let their guard down when a price has been reached with the salesman. Don’t let this happen to you. Being aware of yourself and the situation is half the battle.

I want you to know the background of the Finance Managers and how they get that job. It’s not by going to business school and majoring in Finance. They get there because at some point they were the top car salesman in the dealership selling 20+ cars a month.

That is part of the car sales business ladder. It takes a different set of skills since they are selling an intangible product. You can’t put your hands on a warranty or an interest rate. Therefore it takes a higher degree of sales skills to be successful here. They are the best at what they do and that is why they get paid the big bucks.

The first move when we enter the finance office is to make us feel comfortable. Let’s not let his smile and firm handshake fool us. He has one clear goal. Convince us to buy what he has. He doesn’t make as much money otherwise. He will once again show us the NEW payments if we were to purchase products A, B, or C.

They make money in 2 ways.

The first is by increasing the interest rate we are charged. They borrow your loan money from Bank A for 3% and charge you 4%. The dealership gets a part of that and the Finance Manager gets around $500 per % point he charges us. See Ex 2 to see how a 1% increase can cost you well over $500. The second way they make money is by selling us the company warranty or gap products which can vary drastically.

How to overcome #3 “The Finance Office”

As before, we want to ask for the total price of the product we are interested in. It really is a personal preference whether you want any of these or not. I personally have and never will get any of them even if they do add free oil changes. Don’t let my stance deter you though because there are some amazing packages out there that add free oil changes for years.

Be ready to pay a little extra than you would normally though. The convenience is worth it for some. (See example 3 below for more information on products and how to get the best deals.) Next if not already done, we want to clarify what the interest rate is. Keep this in mind if you want to avoid common car dealer tricks.

Examples

I hope that this information will allow you to walk into a dealership with confidence. I hope this was helpful for you and will aid you in saving hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on your next purchase.

Example 1

We are purchasing a $25,000 car. Let’s say we go in wanting to pay $22,000. The salesman comes out and says you can choose from a payment of $460 or $391. “Which one works better for you sir?” Do you see what he did there? He changed your $3000 price reduction to a payment and asked you a question directing you to pick from HIS two options.

Many people lose here. They say they like one of the payments and lose OR they say they negotiate and say they want to be at $350 a month. The salesman takes your $350 request to his sales manager, they come back at $360 (They always come back higher). Great. The car is sold. Let’s do the math though. You wanted to be at $22,000. By accepting $360 you just paid $23,000 for that vehicle AND you have no idea what the interest rate is. The lesson here: Keep things simple and stick to the vehicle price first. When that is settled THEN work on payments.

Example 2

A $23,000 car loan for 72 months at 4% ~

You will pay $25,920 over the life of the loan assuming you pay 72 normal payments A $23,000 car loan for 72 months at 3% ~

You will pay $25,200 over the life of the loan assuming you pay 72 normal payments.

That is a difference of $720.

Know your local credit union or banks rates before you finance a vehicle.

Example 3

Be familiar with the products BEFORE you go into the finance office.

The $4500 example above was many years ago. Competition in the warranty market has increased and they are much less expensive nowadays. Still, do your homework and check around. Credit Unions often offer much cheaper products that do more if you finance with them. Companies like LendingClub now do auto financing and will give you GAP for FREE if you finance through them! My credit union charges $349 for GAP. Dealerships charge $750 and above. I hope you can appreciate the value.

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John Meeks
John is a freelance writer specializing in finance and entrepreneurship. He also consults clients about financial management and small business solutions.

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