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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



Dec 28, 2012 2:49PM
I never could understand why cars are sold the way they are. Everything else has a sales price, no dickering no BS. You pay the price and take the merchandize. Cars could easily be sold the same way, a sticker price, that is a real sticker price, not balony and a guy to give you the price they are willing to give you for your trade. They wouldn't need salesmen, they wouldn't have to give out bonuses just have clerks that take your info and check your credit and bid you goodbye with your new car. I'm sure the dealer would make just as much money and I can guarantee he would have a lot more customers once the word got out. Buying a new car has been compared to having a root canal. It has never made any sense.
Dec 28, 2012 2:42PM
# 11  Check to make sure what you sign is what you agreed too
Dec 28, 2012 2:39PM
need to explain the end of the video, this guy has no idea what math is.  He states "20 dollars a month on a 5 year loan equals 1200 dollars" ok great he's a math wizard; but then he has to add "plus the interest" what interest you just stated the addition to payment of $20 a month...wouldn'r that include the interest .. more morons that if I sold a car to I would love to WHACK upside the head to get on the reality plain.  I am waiting for Unted Way or some internet guru to come up with a better way of selling cars.  Car Salespeople in my experience have more integrity than realtors who are more than happy to inflate offers on homes and normally structure their offers to what they would like vs their clients.
Dec 28, 2012 2:38PM
I was a automotive sales and leasing agent for 10 years.  While here are some really bad dealers out there, not all are crooks.  There are definitely thing to remember.  1.  You will not get a BMW for the price of a Chevy not matter how rude you are.  2.  Do your home work on the new vehicle, as well as your trade.  You can deal retail to retail or wholesale to wholesale.  In other words.  Don't expect to pay wholesale for the new car and get retain trade in for your car.  Also, YES, you will always get the best deal if you are READY TO BUY TODAY.  3.  Remember:  profit is not a bad word.  That is what keeps the dealer in business.  The dealer actually makes more revenue from repairs than from sales.  My best advise is to buy your vehicle where you want to get it serviced. 
Dec 28, 2012 2:37PM
wow , this person doesn't have a clue . I have worked for car dealers for almost 10 years now , and this article is total b.s. (obviously this person has never worked for a car dealer ) .  Why not write an article about nuclear physics ? You're probably just as informed about that as well . Maybe you should spend a year or so working for a dealer , and see how the real world works and then write an article about this (once you know what the hell you are talking about !)
Dec 28, 2012 2:31PM

Well, I agree that car salesmen do less work for their money than just about anybody, except that is from the guy who hijacked the PC from IBM. IBM and Intel did ALL the work, and some other company wrote DOS, and an opportunist stole the whole package from them. On top of that our tax dollars built the internet, and Microsoft uses it to sell advertising and make yet more money.

So, you self righteous whatever you really are, whoever is without sin may cast the first stone.

Dec 28, 2012 2:19PM
It is not always better to sell your car first. You need to look at the difference figure if you live in a state like Washington where you only pay Sales Tax on the difference of the trade in and the new car. If you have a lot of equity in your trade in you may be better off taking a bit less on the trade and saving Sales Tax.
Dec 28, 2012 2:18PM

When I see ads on TV where a new car dealer is offering cars at up to $10,000 off, then I know that thay are OVERPRICED TO BEGIN WITH!.   I don't care if it is the end of year  model sale, inventory sale, or any other kind of sale,  anything that has that big of a discount is way over priced!!!    That is why people expect to negotiate a lower price on cars when they go to the lot.

Dec 28, 2012 2:15PM
There will always be lots of prey for car dealers....we have many, many dumb nuts who can see the train coming....and are so gullible it's unreal.
Dec 28, 2012 1:03PM
What a funny story.. I just wish people would stop pretending they know something they don't. case in point .. there is only a 2% mark up from what a dealer pays versus MSRP .. and about the guy that says check BBB. the difference between a bad BBB rating and a great rating with the BBB is a $499.00 membership with the BBB. also if your credit is not good the banks charge dealers a fee for those customers that has to be passed on to them.. bottom line find the car you like and if THE PAYMENTS are affordable then buy it.
Dec 28, 2012 12:42PM
i have a rolex i financed $24895 and i have insurance and a warranty. if something cost $1.oo to make and you sell it for $10.00 thats a problem even if its only $10.00
Dec 28, 2012 12:21PM
To all the car dealer folks making their points in these posts, I can agree with MOST of what you are saying. Just don't try and use the buying a TV, milk, or clothing comparison. It just DOES NOT hold water. The last time I checked I paid over $20,000 for my pickup truck. The last time I bought a TV $1500, milk $4.25, jeans $40. There is a BIG difference in these items prices so just don't go there with your comparisons.

Otherwise, I agree. Go into the dealership thinking the guys and girls in there are all jerks and your going to get ripped off, guess what will probably happen. And if you are stupid enough to buy from a dealer you do not feel has professional sales people, you get exactly what you deserve.

Do your research (on that new fangled internet thingy) treat the sales people the way you would like to be treated by YOUR customers and try to enjoy it. After all your getting a new car, shouldn't that be exciting and fun.
Dec 28, 2012 11:55AM
Do your research and THEN walk in the door with cash.

Watch them squirm like a kid looking at a piece of chocolate cake that Mom says they can't have until after supper. Then tell them YOUR offer and tell them THEY can take it or leave it.
Dec 28, 2012 11:37AM

i have been in the auto business for over thirty years in f&i and have never abused,pressured

or lied to a customer and have never worked for any dealer that would allow anything like that


the same msn writer is suggesting that you go to your friend at a bank. my friend there are alot

more bankers in jail for fraud and other white collar crimes than any car dealers. remember the

fees they were charging and abusing people with bad credit.


my point is this ediot has to write something that will catch your eye. some of the dealers in my

area have been in business 75 to 100 plus years, as you know deceptive and dishonest companies

do not last that long. remember dreamaway?

i do know there are some dealers out here that do business as you have stated but check the bbb

and check them out and listen to their offers.and compare them to the other offers you may be

surprised and save some money. at least you will know and not just wander into a bank and

think their profit is no concern. this is what this article is telling you to do and assume everyone you speak to is a crook. you are the one making this decision.



Dec 28, 2012 11:13AM

You missed one of many more.  Documentation fees.  Sometimes

as much as $500.  This for doing the paper wook.  LOL

Dec 28, 2012 10:30AM
This article forgot to mention the part about how the dealer's representations are knowingly false.
It's called fraud,  folks.  Most salesmen engage in it with the implicit approval of the dealer or his general manager.
Best bet:  look at the dealer,  buy through a broker.

Dec 28, 2012 10:29AM
I recently bought a used car from a dealership that we cater food to weekly.  I learned a few things while I was dealing with them.  One thing is that a car fax report DOES NOT SHOW EVERYTHING.  If a person takes a car for repair to a back yard mechanic, it will NOT show up on the report.  Another thing is that  warranty work done while the car was under warranty may not show up either.  This is a vehicle summary report that only IVH users (dealerships) Use.  You can ask for it and should give it to you.
Dec 28, 2012 10:24AM

OMG - yet another out dated thieving dealership story.  Believe it or not, it's not the dealership that makes car buying a hassle, it's the consumer.  They read these goofy stories from goofy people like this writer, and go into a dealership with a chip on their shoulder.  Those who go through life always expecting to be ripped offf, will be,  just ask them.


The internet has leveled the playing field for both dealer and consumer. 

Dec 28, 2012 10:13AM
also like i said edmunds nor kelly blue book will buy your car so they can sy anything. auto trader .co will buy it so go there.
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