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10 sneaky car dealer tricks

Here are some tricks of the trade -- some more devious than others -- that you might encounter when you shop for a car.

By Stacy Johnson Dec 27, 2012 4:54PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoThe first time I bought a car, I got ripped off. I traded in my car for less than it was worth, bought a clunker for more than I should have, and got talked into a $950 warranty to cover rust as I was finalizing the paperwork.


The salesman saw me coming and pulled out every trick in the book -- from saying my credit wasn't good enough to tacking on "mandatory charges" during the final sale. 

Here are some tips you can use to avoid becoming the victim of common dealer tricks of the trade:
1. Payments

Dealers want to talk payments; you need to talk price. For example, the last dealer I met asked me how much I could afford to pay a month. When I didn't answer, he offered a "great deal" at $385 a month. He never mentioned the total price of the car or the length of the loan.


By focusing on payments and not price, it's easy to trick consumer into thinking they're getting good deals. Steer the conversation to the total price, and let the payments take care of themselves. 


Image: Car salesman showing couple new silver hatchback in car showroom © Juice Images, Cultura, Getty Images2. Loans 

A dealership can make as much money on the loan as it can on the car, which is something it's not likely to disclose. Instead, the salesman will make it seem that he's doing you a favor by getting you a great interest rate -- or getting you a loan at all.


Don't fall for it. Financing is big business for dealers, and you're not winning a prize when they get you a loan. 


Step One in any purchase that requires a loan is to secure financing. Never head to the lot without first shopping for -- and getting preapproved for -- a loan. Use online auto rate searches and talk to banks and credit unions to find the best rate. Then apply and get approved. This serves two functions: You won't overpay for dealer financing, and you'll be ready to pull the trigger when you find the perfect ride.


3. Bait-and-switch advertising

Bait-and-switch gets you in the door by advertising a super deal on a car, but switching you to another, lesser deal when you show up.


Read the fine print before you go to the dealership. If you're not sure, call ahead.


4. High-pressure tactics

The salesman's goal is to close the sale today, and he'll try any number of sales tactics to make it happen. My personal favorite: Insisting the car won't be there tomorrow.


Don't bite. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure of any decision, ask to speak to someone else or just walk away. Keep looking until you find someone you can work with.


5. Extras that add up

Car salesmen work on commission, and the more you pay, the more they make. One way to increase the sale price is by adding on extras, like wheel and tire protection, a warranty extension or rust protection.  To help sell you on these, the salesman will break them down to the total price per month. For example, when I bought rust protection, the dealer told me it was a "great service for only $25 a month." I ended up paying $900 over three years for something I didn't understand or even know how to use.


6. Undervalued trade-in

If you're trading in your current car, know its value. These sites can help:  

Also, check eBay to see what cars like yours are selling for in your area. 


If you're trading in, don't expect any dealer to offer your car's retail value. To get maximum value for your car, sell it yourself.


7. Manufacturer's suggested price

The "manufacturer's suggested price" is often used to make a deal sound better. For example, if the manufacturer's suggested price is $35,000, but the dealer is asking only $32,000, you might think, "Hey! I'm already getting $3,000 off and we haven't even started negotiating."


Sites like can tell you what people are actually paying for specific models.


8. Your credit score 

When I was buying my first car, the dealer pulled my credit report and told me my credit wasn't that grea,t but that he'd be willing to work with me. I felt a sense of relief, thinking, "At least I'm getting a loan." I later found that my scores were fine and that I could have gotten a better interest rate elsewhere.


You can get your credit scores for a fee at the websites of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion or from myFICO. If you find that your scores are low, improve them before you apply for a loan.


9. Negotiations

Buying a car isn't one big transaction; it is actually three smaller ones: getting financing, pricing the trade-in and buying the car. I didn't realize this when I went to the dealership alone for the first time. Rather than look at each piece, I looked at the total cost and thought, "OK, I can afford this."


Negotiate each part separately to get the best deal. 


10. Mechanical issues

Don't take the dealer's word for the condition of a used car. Never buy any car from any source without first taking it to an independent mechanic for an unbiased inspection.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money



Feb 5, 2013 1:48PM

Major sized dealerships,you know the ones with multiple franchises are the best at fleecing the consumer. A friend working for one of these said it was required to go early Saturday morning once a month with all the franchises present. They gave major cash prizes to the finance department of the month for the highest number of loans at the highest rates ! 10 to 15 grand was not unusual to the winning group ! Basically the sales people have the job of making you feel you got a good deal and then everything changes when you are sent into finance. If you see purple shirts with white collars and expensive bling watches on them, sit back and watch the show, first ,it's your credit not high enough to get the rate and you must puchase extended warranties, no we will finance you better, don't come in with a check from your own credit union or bank, lets write a policy to protect your loan to be paid if you fall off a ladder and die !

Basically the goal is to never let you buy it for what was shown and agreed to with the sales person. For you, get the invoice for the exact car, shop that exact car and do everything to get it at that price have your own finance setup so you absolutely know they can't do you in finance and refuse every cherry they try throwing at you. And never ever show happiness or emotion about the car selection you made and always be ready to walk and tell them sorry i'm going to shop elsewhere next week. One last idea, shopping on the last day of the month is fun as the dealership is trying to "PAPER" as many buyers that day to meet their goals for that month and you just might find them flying around trying to get your deal done. 

my familys been in the business for over 40 years......i sell cars is spot on.......we have a saying in the business....."buyers are liars"    and its true.....all these articles brag about how bad we people are.....its the consumer that lies about there credit, how much they make, and what they owe on there car there trading....see it everyday of my life.  We are people that have a product. We want to sell that product for a profit. We have bills and overhead you cant even begin to wrap your lil heads around........lets look at it this way......try goin to work today and when u get there your boss says.....lets see make 18 dollars an hour.  Today your goin to make 10...hows that sound?   You wouldnt like it....and either does anyone else!  Were all out to make a profit and pay our bills too!.....are there bad dealers....some......but most folks are just normal people tryin to make a living...Its idiot arcticles like this that make our jobs hell.
Feb 5, 2013 1:37PM
To all those sales people who are so darn honest and upfront, let us hear about how you treat women buyers the same as men. Can't wait for your we treat them the same claim. Not.
Feb 5, 2013 1:29PM
Cash rules here, eliminating the parasitic commissioned snake oil sales person 
Feb 5, 2013 1:21PM

I worked at one of those non negotiating places called carsense.  This is proof of how stupid the consumer is.  They love buying cars from these places but are willing to pay thousands of dollars more for it.  How does this make sense?? Consumers are morons.

Feb 5, 2013 1:14PM
wow msn has all the answers, you guys are my heroes, - morons
Feb 5, 2013 12:57PM
funny...this got posted a few weeks ago. this is a joke. Not all car dealers are crooks. they're in the business to make money just like everyone else. if you're not comfortable, say no and walk away.
Feb 5, 2013 12:35PM
I have been to a dealer that still pulls the old bait and switch yrs ago, and they still do it today.  I was looking for a new truck, went into the dealership asking about their advertised "special" that was in the local ad, only to be told, "we sold that one yesterday".  It had been advertised for weeks before and after I went into inquire about it.  I told the salesman it was a bait and switch, he got mad and told me it wasn't a bait and switch, I showed him the ad, told him "here is the bait, and there is the  switch" as I pointed to another truck that cost more than double the price of the advertised truck. Needless to say, I didn't buy anything at that dealer haven't went back to them.  So, yes the bait and switch still happens, just be prepared to walk away, or spend more if you can afford it, or want to spend more.  As far as the rest of the article, it should be common sense to most adults who have purchased cars in the past to shop around for cars and loans.  Don't fall for the whole, it may not be here tomarrow line.  And if you feel pressured or just don't like what they are offering, walk away.  Its BUSINESS, not friendship, your not dating the sales person, or finance person. Just keep your wits about you and you will do fine, if you like the car buy it, if not, move on.
Feb 5, 2013 12:25PM
In my experience the dealerships main goal is to separate you from your money, it is interesting how defensive all of these car sales people are. I for one appretiate someone exposing the underhanded methods they use to accomplish this. It may be different in other parts of the country but you better cover your rear if you come to Utah.
Feb 5, 2013 11:27AM
It's the idiots that write these stories and the so called news service that publishes them and get paid for it that are the people ripping us off. The only thing they seem qualified in writing about would be an article on really bad reporting.   
Feb 5, 2013 11:08AM
The reason for a sales person asking what monthly payment you hope to be at is to help the CUSTOMER look at cars that are in their budget.  It really narrows down the difference between a person who has done their homework and one who has absolutely no idea what they are doing.  A good salesperson will educate an uninformed customer in a professional and rational way.  If you have done your job properly you can sell cars to both the educated and uneducated customer.
Feb 5, 2013 10:34AM
I work in the auto industry as a sales representative and i can tell you 100% that everything listed here is false.  of course it's a retail business, but manufacturer's offer flats, and dealers pay you SALARY, not 100% commission.  This is the approach of the 1980's that they're rehashing because some idiot that works for the paper needed an article and didn't want to put forth any actual work or research.  

1)  MANUFACTURER'S decide the rebates, incentives, and markup on a vehicle, NOT the dealer.

2) with advertised rates, you're shown up front 100% of the time what rate and term you're financing for. if you decide on a loan you can't handle, that's the CONSUMERS fault, NOT the dealers.

3) nobody is putting a gun to your head and FORCING you to buy accessories

4) KBB has literally NO sources as to where they come up with their numbers, and also went under new management last year.  The blackbook auction reports, edmunds, NADA list their sources and give an accurate depiction of what people are paying for those makes and models in your area based on condition and mileage.

5) I've never seen or been to a dealer that shows ONLY monthly payments without the price, trade, tax and tags.  This is an imagined scenario in order to fill a quota for the employer of the article.  BS.

6) Your credit score is YOUR responsibility.  The BANKS are the ones who ultimately decide if you are approved or not, NOT the dealer

7)  If you sell your car privately, it will be more difficult without having it through a shop, safety inspected, state inspected, and run through by a professional mechanic, and 99% of sellers will LIE to get more for the vehicle they're selling.  DEALERS put them through a lengthy inspection, apply warranty, and resell them priced within the market.  Plus, by trading, you're able to transfer your tag with less hassle, which is cheaper than a new tag, and you're getting the tax advantage towards your new car.  Don't you think a buyer will try and talk you down on the price you want when you privately sell a car?  So you'll get... GASP.. the SAME number a dealer will give you.  

That's not to say there aren't dishonest people in the auto business, of course there are, but the approach to selling in 2013 is be FRIENDLY, not PROFESSIONAL.  anyone who is successful, has a loyal customer base, referrals, and repeat business KNOWS THIS.

Now that your entire article has been debunked, welcome to 2013 where car buying is an experience that the consumer enjoys, with all the information online and pricing shown up front, there's nothing to hide, nothing that CAN be hidden, and this entire article is void.

Feb 5, 2013 10:20AM
And another one is the old key scam.  This is how it works:  You buy a used car and it only has one "smart key" with it.  If you want a second as a spare, they charge you $325 for the extra one.  I checked with the previous owner of the car I bought and found out they had traded the car in two weeks previously  with two smart keys, not one.  That was $325 pure rip off profit.  Car dealers.........clean up your filthy act.
Feb 5, 2013 10:16AM

I've been to a place where they refused to tell me the total cost of the vehicles. Every one on the lot had the down payment required on the window, and the salesman had info for the monthly payments. When asked the price of the car, he kept repeating the payments. I practically screamed 'No! I want the TOTAL COST of the car.' He said he wasn't allowd to give me that information. Not allowed?! I walked off, saying how the hell do they expect me to buy something when you won't tell me what it costs. A few months later that place was out of business. I wonder why....

Feb 5, 2013 9:46AM

A couple of things which are not covered in the article.


First it is not necessarily a bad thing to let the dealer's F&I person arrange financing. Often times the dealer can actually get a better rate.  Also, since dealers often receive a payment for arranging financing, the dealer might be willing to sell the vehicle at a lower price.  The key is for the buyer to know the rate he or she qualifies before going car shopping and to let the dealer meet or beat that rate. 


Second, Credit Karma is a free service which provides a somewhat accurate approximation of a person's credit score for free.


Finally, the buyer should utter only one word in the dealer's F&I office, NO!  Every product sold in the F&I office is vastly overpriced and usually useless.  The buyer needs to understand that friendly face in the F&I office is actually the dealer's top sales person whose job is to get as much back end profit from the car buyer as possible.

Feb 5, 2013 12:43AM
mrmariner  I have a credit score of 819. When I bought my wife a new car I made a large down payment  after negotiating a price for the vehicle. When I got to the paperwork , I told my wife t get her purse because we were leaving. They had added $500.00 to the price of the car and tried to convince me that the $500.00 was because I did not get a rebate on  that car. My response was , OK , so why would I pay $500.00 for something I am not getting. The noise I was making attracted the attention of some other customers and the manager appeared like magic and they did a quick about face. We left and purchased the same car at another dealership after I told my story. Even when you tell them , I WILL NOT PLAY GAMES WITH YOU ,they will almost always try for the extra few hundred dollars
Feb 5, 2013 12:32AM
People keep saying auto buys trade-ins.  They don't really. They just refer you to a dealer who will. 

Feb 5, 2013 12:12AM

This article is worthless! Angela Colley has no business writing about something she has no clue about.

Most dealers are honest and reputable. My son who works for the Attorney Generals Office told me complaints about car dealers are at an all time low. Anyone who uses Angela's advice when going into a car dealer deserves to be kicked out. Be honest and courteous with the salespeople and they will in return treat you fair. If  you're looking for a fight, that's what you will get. My wife and I purchase a new car every two years and we have never, NEVER experienced anything like this worthless article states.

We treat the salespeople with respect and in turn they have always done right by us. Salespeople are human beings, most with families. I'm sure they are sick to death of cheap skate customers who come in and want to screw them for every cent and treat them rude.

Feb 5, 2013 12:06AM


Feb 4, 2013 10:42PM
Iam a car salesman. I am sick of all of these articles.Just build your own car with a 5 star crash rating 35 mpg fuel economy that will drive for 200000 miles,yet safe enough for your family. Then you dont have to put up with all of us crooked salesmen.
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