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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 10:01AM

Follow the advice in this and you will need to shop for a car for 6 months or more. This isnt the 70's there is this thing called the internet and everybody prices are out there and everyone needs to wake up 700 credit score SUCKS!!!!!

Dec 28, 2012 9:58AM
Dec 28, 2012 9:32AM

I bought my truck at Carmax and went over every inch of it.  Found radiator problem and an oil leak.

They took the truck and fixed everything i asked for.  Good honest price and vehicle.  Bought an extended warranty to cover vehicle for 150,000 miles.  I am happy with the vehicle.  Paid cash and didn't finance. 

Good piece of mind

Fair pricing

Good experience

Dec 28, 2012 8:22AM
Even if you take the car to your own mechanic, there are things that even a great mechanic cannot determine like if the trans will breakdown in 15 days. They can only check the basics like look for rust, find out what aftermarket parts are on the car, if it had been in an accident.
Dec 28, 2012 2:35AM
This is the same old recycled story from 10-15 years ago, sooo not relevent to how the lions share of business is done today. For example, go ahead and get a loan from your credit union or bank, only to find out that the automaker is offering 0% financing on the model you want, do you then pay the profit to the bank because you read an old article on MSN? I don't think so!! How about the " this car won't be here tomorrow" scenario? If you fall for this, you deserve what happens to you whatever the outcome.Payments: well most people simply put, cannot afford to pay for a car in one lump sum, so a monthly budget is important, maybe it is not important to the author because they are financially flush( I don't see how they could be, with writing this crap) but to the vast majority it is a fact of life. Now on to the service contract or warranty as some call it (incorrectly I might add, warranty is something that comes included in the price of the vehicle at no extra charge to the purchaser, a service contract is an add on for people who may keep their cars longer, or drive many more miles per year and would use up the warranty too fast). Credit scores, now this is where it gets really funny, there is a new law called The Fair Credit Reporting Act, , which is a form that all dealers must show to consumers, and have them sign, that tells them their credit score, where it ranks with scores accross the country, and what it means to them as far as credit pricing.( HOW LONG AGO DID THIS GUY WRITE THIS ARTICLE?) It's insulting to people who know the truth, and misinformation to those who don't!!! Service Contracts, simple give me your name ph# and address, and I will send you the bill when my car breaks down outside of manufacturers warranty, I am sure you will be happy to foot the bill for me since you are trying to advise me not to purchase it!!! Pretty much all of the tactics you mention in this sorry article are from at least a decade ago, especially if you are buying from a franchised dealer, please stop writing this crap, it does nobody any good, and it does not look good for you as a writer, since there is not one original thought in its content.(By the way, just a question, you state in the article" when I bought my first car, the dealer did this" how old are you, 60, 70, 80? C'mon man!!!  
Dec 28, 2012 12:38AM
Take it to an independant mechanic for an inspection. Who does that? I have never in my life heard of someone doing that and I've been a mechanic for 20 years!
Dec 28, 2012 12:07AM
If you are buying a new car, have your credit run by a bank officer from the bank you do business with. It will be from no charge to about $30.00. They will give you a copy of the report. It will have your good, bad and ugly credit history along with your scores. If you have good fico scores you will get good finance rates. All new cars come with a mileage and months warranty. At least 36 months or 36,000 miles. Do not mix warranty repairs with normal maintenance repairs. On the purchase, look for end of year rebates, finance interest rates and two dealers for final price. The dealer deserves a profit like every other business you frequent. About 40 to 50,000 miles on any car it is ready for tires and brakes as well as all fluids drained, filters cleaned or replaced as well as the serpentine belt. Battery should be checked at every oil change. Todays autos are built better than ever and with computer technology and proper maintenance they will last ten or more years.
Dec 27, 2012 11:24PM
A dealer is required to give you a "credit score disclosure" so you should know your score before you go in the finance office.  I'm pretty sure Equifax charges everyone for a score.  If you pay a higher rate it could actually be because that is what the bank is charging you.   Hopefully the world is transparent enough with online reviews that you will know which stores to avoid.  Not all car dealers are "sneaky" as not all columnist are this incorrect. 
Dec 27, 2012 10:51PM

This whole article is a crock..... I work at a dealership and nothing like this goes on here.  We ask what "payment" works because people come in with unrealistic ideas that they can get a $60,000 vehicle for $500/month with $2000 down.  I didn't invent math and it doesn't take a genius to multiply $500 x 60 months and add $2000.  It doesn't add up to $60,000, does it?  A warranty is just like health insurance, you might never use it, but it's there when you need it.  Buy it or don't.  I'm not the one that has to pay the bill when something goes wrong with your car.  Your trade? It's not worth what you think it is... oh by the way, KBB doesn't buy trades.  So their numbers make you think that your hooptie is worth money when it's not.  If KBB says it's worth $6000, then it's actually worth $3500.  Just try to find someone who's going to pay $6000 for your car.  Oh and make sure that when it breaks down on them, they can come back to YOU to have it fixed.  Your Credit???  Don't blame me.... Your credit score is a 604 because you don't PAY YOUR BILLS.  I can't make up your credit score.  We run it through Experian, Equifax and Trans Union.  THEY tell US what your score is.  It also tells us that you don't like paying your bills on time.  Or ever for that matter.  So when you get a rate of 12% it's because your a roach and your credit sucks.   Commission?  Yes, we work on commission.  We get a whopping 18% of the total profit.  So if there is a $1000 profit on the vehicle after you grind me to the bone for an extra $10, $20, $100, I make a staggering $180 minus taxes.  WOW.... Where can I spend it all????   Bait & switch?  If you come in on an advertised vehicle for $199/month, don't expect to get the fully loaded luxury vehicle of your choice.  It's the cheapest vehicle on the lot.  Buy it. We don't care.  Just don't complain when it doesn't have all of the bells & whistles that you want.  WE don't switch you, you switch yourself off of the cheap car and blame us when your payment goes up by $100 because you want Nav, heated seats, leather, sunroof, bluetooth...  Seriously, come on.....   Oh, one more thing.  If you leave because you want to think about it.  Don't count on the car being there the next day.  You're not the ONLY one in the city that's out shopping for a vehicle.  I've watched many people leave, only to come back the next day and see that the vehicle is gone.  Yes, it happens.  Get over it, make a decision and go home.  Believe me when I tell you, you will lose your dream car.  I'm tired of people writing these articles that trash car sales.  How much profit is in that 42" flat screen that you just bought for $1500?  Probably $1300.  But when was the last time you went into Best Buy and asked for an invoice?  What's the invoice price on that new iPhone that you paid $699??? Did you get a deal on that?  Probably not.  Car salesmen are out to make a living, just like the next guy.  If you are going to try to grind them to the bone on $10, $20, $50.... maybe you are shopping out of your league.  If you can't afford $880/month, but your maximum is $850, you need to go home.  I currently sell over 30 vehicles per month.  I make a nice living.  I'm certainly not rich, but I'm doing fine.  I also don't put up with mooches that come in and follow the rules in this article.  I don't have time for that.  Try it.  See how fast they kick you out of the dealership.  Happy shopping!!

Dec 27, 2012 10:48PM
You see its these little stories that scare customers and put their defenses up when they visit a car dealership. Yet they will drive to a sushi bar and pay over $100 bucks for raw fish and seaweed, or maybe they will go pay $500 for a shirt that cost $10.00 to make in a 3rd world country and never question the price or even bring out A CONSUMER GUIDE. My personal favorite they will spend over $8.00 on a coffee just because it has a name with 5 syllables and there is 15 other people in the line doing the same thing. Do you ever pull up the window of ANY FAST FOOD place and say "ok, I know you said my total is $ 18.54, but I am on a budget and will offer you $ 5.00"... LOL!! My point is: Not all car dealers are bad or trying to rip your head off. It is a business and the people that work there DO have to feed their families just like you and me. Its funny to me because you are same people coming into our dealerships to haggle over $ 100 and free floor mats just to turn around give us a bad survey. A word of advice dear consumer, if you are going to shop online to generate a LEAD for an automobile. Only submit your information if you are ACTUALLY BUYING, because that dealership just paid money to receive your bogus lead. I am in this business and every year is gets harder to earn a living due to Over inflated values posted on sites such as KBB or NADA. What does matter on your trade-in is the following: MILEAGE, CONDITION, AND MARKET VALUE. and here is another friendly tip from your car guy, ME.. Your trade in value has NOTHING to do with your payoff. So just because you $30,000 doesn't mean you're vehicle is worth $ 30,000. The funny things once you enter your vehicle data, you never see a "SELL IT TO US NOW" button on those site, because they would be out of business. Manufacturers have decreased their margins to as low as 3% to maybe even 8% mark up. I can assure you that nice watch on your wrist would make you sick if you knew what the true "Cost" vs 'What you paid" actually is...or better yet you are actually paying for BOTTLED WATER just because it has a picture of a natural spring on it.. Come on people give car dealerships a break already.
Dec 27, 2012 10:41PM
dirty little secret about carfax.... If the report comes back clean, inquire where the car was purchased , and ask for documentation.Some dealers are buying at auctions in Canada and importing them across the border.  Wrecked cars are rebuilt and sold at dealer auctions.  This happened to a relative and the dealer basically blew him off. Beware Ford dealers in Western Wa. state
Dec 27, 2012 10:36PM
Salespeople do not get commission on tacking on charges such as extended warranties and rust proofing. This all goes to the finance department. Salespeople make very little on most new cars that they sell. Used cars can be a crapshoot based on a myriad of reasons.
Dec 27, 2012 10:18PM

I've found a favorite trick is to ask if you want to take the car home and drive it overnite.  Everytime I have done that I bought the car.  You feel like they are "trusting you" by letting a stranger drive a new car off the lot.


Dec 27, 2012 10:18PM
I get tired of reading articles where the person writing them is less than educated about the subject they are writing about. She has one bad experience and all of a sudden all dealerships are full of sleazy people trying to rid you of your hard earned money. Get a clue. Are there some bad dealerships? Sure. Stop being sheeple and go educate yourself and make an informed opinion based on fact and not what me or someone else says. Most of the junk on here is less than news worthy especially this article.
Dec 27, 2012 9:45PM
Why is the dealer always the bad guy?  Granted I have seen several dealers do things that are not the greatest practices, however show me one industry that has 100% perfect representation.  I have seen just as many if not more customers screw the dealer.  All the information available to the dealer is available to the consumer.  If you go to a dealership uninformed and make a bad decision that is your fault, not the dealers.  I personally would not make a $30000.00 purchase without educating myself.  Also why is it that the "Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price" not a fair assement of what the car is worth?  Do the manufacturer's not know what the vehicle is worth?  Are they just guessing when they put that number on the window?  You are telling me that the average joe with no working knowledge of the auto industry should go into a dealership and tell them that what the manufacturer says the vehicle is worth is not accurate and demand to pay less??? i think i am gonna start going to the grocery store and telling them that I refuse to pay the $3.50 on the milk carton.  I am only paying $2.50 for a gallon of milk.  How do you think that would work out for me??  I would not get my milk.  So why do people think it is ok to do that at a dealership.  The two most used statements from customers in a dealership are "what can i really buy this vehicle for" and "why should I have to pay for that, you can throw it in, the dealer can afford it".  How can the dealer afford it when we are posting all over the news that nobody should pay a price that allows the dealer to profit.  Why are we not posting aticles about profit margins on furniture or jewelry.  How come clothing stores are not criminals with sleezy reputations?  They mark items up over 100% in certain situations.  Meanwhile the car dealer that is a criminal is lucky to get a 3% profit.  Hmmmmm
Dec 27, 2012 9:45PM

The most profitable department in a new car dealership is the F&I (finance and insurance department).  That is the guy you see to do the paperwork.  Learn real fast to say NO.  Practice it.  Because these guys are persistent.  Nothing they sell at any price is worth it.


On the financing, get preapproved with the amount, term and interest rate.  And then after the dealer closer tells you their fantastic deal (it's not), tell him what you can get it elsewhere and if they can beat it, they get your business, otherwise you will use your pre-approved offer.  Don't let them say they will match it.  Make them beat it or you take your financing elsewhere.


On a trade in, the only time I have ever traded a vehicle is when I knew the vehicle had problems and either they were to costly to fix myself or did not want to bother fixing it.  Most older cars get wholesaled off sight, condition and mechanical check unseen so the dealer really does not care if there are hidden problems with the car.  Actually they expect it and that is reflected in their lousy price.  If your trade-in is in good condition, sell it yourself.  You will get a better price.


On the new car, I now only shop by email with the dealership's internet sales dept.  Get 2-4 dealers over the internet competing with each other.  Don't be afraid to play one dealer off the other to beat the crap out of them.  That way you will get the lowest price.  Also negotiate the "dealer documentary fee".  This has become a big source of income to many dealers as they charge $150 or so to do the paperwork to buy the car.  About a 20 minute job.  If you don't pre-negotiate that they will wait until you get in and sit down to sign the paperwork and then throw that at you, and this is after you have your heart set on the car and are very emotionally involved.   You want to make sure you are paying for the pred-determined price of the car, actual cost for license plates, actual sales tax and any other charges are zero unless otherwise pre-negotiated.

Dec 27, 2012 9:27PM
For the small price of wheel and tire protection any human being is an idiot for not taking it.  Look at how much tires cost now a days.  In most cases they cost as much as the wheel and tire warranty but that is good for X number of years and X number of miles.  Would you buy a car new without a warranty?  Heck no so why not warranty the new tires and rims for $400 over a 5 year period?
Dec 27, 2012 9:20PM
the person writing about buying cars isn't exactly right. first kbb and edmunds give a price they say your trade is worth but they won't buy your trade. auto trader .com tells you what your trade is worth and they will buy it. also when you trade your car at a dealer you get a tax savings that you won't get if you bring in the cash you sold your car for. also if you sell it your self get ready for all the crazies that are gone to show up. also the next time you get a flat from a nail and have to pay $250 for a tire,tell me then that tire protection is a scam. also 80% of dealers price their cars on the car window,if you're at a dealer who doesn't have prices on the window leave. and for all the people who do not have good credit try getting a loan on your own. the dealers can get you approved because of the volume of business they do with the bank and alot of the car banks who do bad credit won't deal with a consumer like Ameri Credit.also for all of us who owe more on our cars then they are worth,try getting a bank to cover that difference.and yes you won't get retail at a dealer you get trade and they sell for retail. also  they have to do all the services you didn't do to your car before they sell it.and the people who show up to buy your trade at your home won't pay retail last thing,if you are at a dealership and they won't show you your credit score get up and leave.last thing i will say is the best way to purchase a car is to go to a dealership find what you want get your trade looked at.let them see your credit and work your best deal. then leave.the next day the dealer will call and ask why you left,you say the price then they will give you your best deal so you will come back.
Dec 27, 2012 8:36PM
Join the 100% down club and financing isn't needed.  Say no to all the BS adders.  Sell your car do not trade.  Check BBB on dealer and consumer reports on vehicle.  Be prepared to walk and not look back if you feel uncomfortable.  Take a dis-interested unemotional friend.
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