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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



Jun 26, 2013 9:11PM

I love sales-psychology and especially watching car salepeople work.

One of the best one's I saw isolated the buyer by asking which one of you is the buyer, thus also placing a subconscious thought in my friend's head about buying instead of browsing.

He also used all the little sales tricks such as 

We have a few of those left
We keep some of those in stock

By suggesting there were not that many of the type of car my friend wanted, it gave the salesman a little more leverage
Jun 26, 2013 9:09PM
I love sales-psychology and especially watching car salepeople work.

One of the best one's I saw isolated the buyer by asking which one of you is the buyer, thus also placing a subconscious thought in my friend's head about buying instead of browsing.

He also used all the 
Jun 6, 2013 8:24PM
Dealers without prices are not necessarily the bad ones. It's away for dealers, at least where i work, to strike conversation before zip through the lot looking for the cheapest Malibu you can find. We negotiate all prices once we know what kind of buyer you are. It's not shady, it's to save negotiation for when ALL information is on the table. Poor credit lenders charge extra fees that there is not always room to eat up. But we stand above the bad credit mogules like car city and right way becasue we use all real banks and lender, not a made up shady in house financing that allows them to sell cars 5 grand over value. We simply have to refrain from our bottom dollar, because we are already at it to get you in the car in those situations.
Jun 6, 2013 5:57PM
Dealer's like to focus on payments because buyers always want to pay way less than what the car is worth. Buyers always want a "Cadillac" for 5k. This is a dealer's defense for ignorrant buyers and to keep them from going to 10 more lots before they figure it out. Sometimes those lines about credit are the truth. Know your own situation. On the dealer's side of things, we would rather get you in wlith a good bank that has better rates, we WANT to try that first. Sub Prime lenders for people with bad credit charge insane fees. Which also can make the car a little more costly. There are more legit dealers than others for these customers as well. Warranty packages are legit and explained. If you couldn't figure out how to use rust protection, that is your own damn fault. Those warranty contracts have customer service numbers and instructions all over them. Don't bash talk dealers just because. Be smart, protect yourself, but at the end of the day we are legit business.
Feb 5, 2013 8:51PM
I first off want to say that i work in sales at a very reputable dealership.  If what this writer says is true, it's amazing that any dealership is still in business.  Its hard to believe any dealership can do this kind of thing and get any repeat or referral business.  We as a dealership are well aware that people are more educated about car buying now than ever before and it has helped our industry to become more competitive and consumers are benefiting by not getting ripped off like they used to.  I feel like this article was written 20 years ago and recently dusted off because the author had nothing better to do.  A lot of what's in this article is old news, and unfortunately puts many people on edge when buying a new car instead of them being excited to have that new ride.  Its not fun for them, its tough for us to break that stereotype. I'm doing a job like anyone else, trying to support my family and get people a nice new vehicle; does it have to be difficult? Some of this info is helpful, like selling your trade yourself.  Dealerships can only assume so much risk on a trade, its only worth what we can sell it for within 60 days, after that it goes to the auction and we may lose money.  MSRP is a great place to start negotiating, but realistically there is very little margin in a new car, sometimes less than a $1000. Loans are different based on the dealership, we don't loan money ourselves, we use local banks and credit unions and consistently beat rates that our customers come in pre-approved for, why wouldn't you want to use us if we can save you money? A lower rate is a lower rate.  As a sales representative it is my goal to make sure that my customer is completely satisfied so that they will not only buy their next vehicle from me, but will also refer their friends.  Any sales person that doesn't exude this same level of service isn't worth buying from, in that respect the author was right, just walk away.
Feb 5, 2013 7:15PM
there are "tricks to the trade" in every business as they are all in league with satan!  remember, god  said the the devil will rule the earth!!
Feb 5, 2013 6:56PM
There are predators and there are prey.

Predators, at least the most successful of them, have evolved or learned advanced sensing mechanisms to recognize, and the distinctive ability to capture, prey. Once their prey has been positively identified as qualified and competent the predator will employ a number of sophisticated techniques, including, but not limited to, manipulative language based on a series of well worn and carefully crafted open ended questions, in an attempt to gain control of and exert influence over its prey. The end game of the predator is typically to extract -as a means of transfer- as much of the available wealth of its prey as possible, for it is often shared with the pack, herd or tribe. As a result, both the predator and prey too often regard their relationship as a zero sum game. 

Every member of our species is potential pray for another. Most possess at least one, and some several, lines of defense against predation, The most effective of all lines of defense is a phenomenon called "advanced education". The advancement of personal intellect (learning) pertains to or embodies ideas, practices or attitudes that can lead to increased levels of enlightened thinking which often acts as a catalyst to surpass and defeat the firmly established and entrenched practices of the predator. The inevitable outcome of higher learning by the prey prospect can only be an alteration or movement away from a partisan asymmetrical relationship into a more symmetrical symbiotic relationship where one will see a break down of the ill-suited win/lose zero sum and its transformation to a more congenial win/win.


Feb 5, 2013 6:50PM
consumers are the biggest liars , if thier car is patched up they wont tell the dealer buyers are liars too!!!
Feb 5, 2013 4:31PM
Isn't this about the same as Obamaspeak?
Feb 5, 2013 4:16PM
Sounds like the chevy dealer in cocoa beach i dealt with.
Feb 5, 2013 4:15PM

Stacy Johnson? Obviously you know nothing about the Auto Industry. Would like to see you try working at a dealership. Its obviously your Degree in Journalism is a farce.


Feb 5, 2013 4:05PM
i would honestly rather eat bees then buy a car it  used to make me sick even think about it.  I purchased the last two cars I have owned (both yr old toyotas)  from one dealer and I would go back there in a minute even though I now live 6 hours away from his dealership.  This has been the only car salesman that I felt I could trust and always gave a me a fair price.   My current Toyota has 90,000 miles plan on keeping it a while.
Feb 5, 2013 4:02PM
obviously the "author of this article isn't too bright . This article is a load of crap ! Perhaps doing some research before writing an article is in order . Does everyone have the same credit ? How about the same income ? What about the debt to income ratio ? Also how do you get preapproved on a vehicle that a) you haven't even found yet ? and  b) don't know the cost of ? The reality of it is some of the things you call tricks are actually tools that dealers use to help morons like you purchase a car . An example of this is the monthly payment you mentioned . You would be the person that negotiates the price of a vehicle to $20,000.00 and then gets pissed off that the payment is more than $199.00 a month ! Whether it's payments or price the bottom line remains the same ! The math behind the payments doesn't change . As I always say six of one half dozen of another either way your there .
Feb 5, 2013 3:40PM
Doc fees are the rip off $499 for paperwork.  I know I do not negotiate price with the grocery store or at the drive through at McDonald's but they also don't charge me a cashier fee or drive through fee.
Feb 5, 2013 3:24PM

This is another outdated story. Some of the "tactics" mentioned in the story are as outdated as flip phones. When will people realize that everyone makes a profit; your barber, your dentist, your grocer, your internet provider, etc.

"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"-how long ago was that????

With the internet comes great resources for research, the consumer is no longer the "victim."

Move on, update your topics PLEASE!

Feb 5, 2013 2:46PM

I've worked in the accounting department in automotive since 2008, right in time for the huge crash. Yes, we make money off financing. A lot of the time its the only place we make money because there is hardly any to be made on new car sales. Check BBB, dont look at google reviews or anything like that, most people only write reviews when theyve had a bad experience. And those happen, EVERYWHERE. Just because 10 people have posted bad reviews doesnt mean its a bad place. What about the thousands of other people that are in and out of the store every day?

I also worked at a used car franchise for a little bit.. They were pretty stereotypical, very shady place.. But their reviews were good. So yes, do your research on the vehicle, your trade in, etc.
Go to a good place and you won't get screwed. But don't go in trying to make the dealership lose as much money as you can.. Work like that and there will be no one to supply you with transportation anymore.
Treat your salesmen with respect, and they'll do the same. If they still are too pushy or feel kinda sleezy, ask to speak with a manager or someone else. If all else fails, try somewhere else. We aren't all bad.

Feb 5, 2013 2:02PM
Cedit reporting Agencies should be banned from the US>  These agencies are probably bank rolled by the Banks and the Car Dealers.        
Feb 5, 2013 1:58PM
why always pick on car dealerships when there are other problems to look at. This is a dead horse subject anyway. every two weeks they bring back the same old thing. think of something new for a change.
Feb 5, 2013 1:55PM

Your advise is out dated. every customer is provided their credit score at the time of sale. Your advice for undervalued trade-in, does not list any of the current sites  that will buy your trade. Not one of the sites you listed for "help" will write you a check for your trade. So please take the time to research a topic before you write about it. Or find a job your qualified for.


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