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How to Counter the 5 Tactics Car Salespeople Hope You Don’t Know

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Vilified more than lawyers, car salespeople are trained in tricks of the trade designed to get you to spend more money. They’re not all the stereotypical car salesman memes are made of, but it is still a good idea to prepare for the tactics you may face when buying a new or used car.

5 ways to turn the used car salesman’s tactics to your advantage

1. Focus on the overall cost, not your monthly payment

Many people go to the dealer with only two numbers in mind: down payment and monthly payment. Here are two more you should know: total cost of the car and annual percentage rate (APR). This means doing a little more legwork before you go car shopping, but it could save you a lot of money. Here’s how:

  1. First, use a car affordability calculator to find how much car you can afford. Stay in the conservative range to make room for dealer fees, car insurance and more.
  2. Second, get preapproved for an auto loan. This is the best way to find out what APR you deserve, not the rate the dealership finds for you.
  3. Now, you’re ready to test drive cars under your set maximum car price and monthly payment.

If the salesperson tries to steer you back to monthly payment only, firmly ask for the car’s total price and their best APR offer. A low monthly payment can still disguise a long loan term, add-ons and more.

2. Set a car-shopping time limit

Car buying can be a stressful process that takes all day. About the time the sun sets and the moon rises, you may be willing to say “yes” just so you can go home with your new car. The car salesman knows this and sometimes purposely leaves you waiting. Take a break for coffee, a meal or even a night to think things over, before you find yourself tired, cranky and hungry. If the dealer doesn’t reserve cars and you’re on the fence, we recommend leaving anyway — in all likelihood, the car will still be there in the morning.

3. Cut off leading questions

Car salespeople ask leading questions, such as “Do you want the technology or appearance package on the car?” This “assumptive close” assumes you’ve made a decision on this car at this price. Counter with: I’ll decide on that after I choose a car. If the salesperson then wants to skip straight to the monthly payment including leather seats or Bose radio, don’t agree or sign anything. You’d be agreeing to everything that goes into that payment including the price of the car, the value of your trade-in, plus loan term, APR and the price of any add-ons.

You could respond, “That sounds lovely, but I need the price of the car, my trade-in and everything else in writing first.”

4. Ask for a different salesperson

We all know the hard sell — the stereotypical smarmy used car salesman who’s practically on top of you in the name of making the sale. He’s more worried about getting you to buy a car right now than he is concerned that you’ve found the right car for you. He may say that he’s got family obligations and needs to leave soon, or simply that he has other things to do. It all boils down to now or never.

If the salesman doesn’t back off and you really like a couple of the cars at that dealership, find a sales manager and ask for a different salesperson. If there are other vehicle options at another dealership, go there.

5. Keep your cool

A common car salesman trick is to come back to where you’re waiting for news on whether you’re approved for an auto loan and start off with “Great news!” This is a lead-in to get you excited about a monthly payment that may be within your budget but is padded with extras you may or may not want including:

  • Extended warranty
  • Guaranteed asset protection (GAP)
  • Packages covering everything from the car’s appearance to technology upgrades

Ask to see the monthly payment without all of the extras, and confirm your APR — remember, you won’t know if the rate is a fair offer unless you have your own preapproval for comparison.

FAQs about tactics of the used car salesman

Why do used car salesmen have a bad reputation?

The stereotypical used car salesman — someone clad in an ill-fitting tweed jacket, pushing junkers for high prices on a lot filled with balloons — is probably a thing of the past, but it’s still a competitive industry. Salespeople working on commission are motivated to keep your business instead of letting shoppers find their way to the lot across the street. Be polite but firm when you ask for specifics: You want the prices, monthly payment, APR and term, all in clear writing. Remember, salespeople are working long hours, weekends and holidays included, often putting their lives into the hands of hostile customers during test drives. Many truly enjoy earning customers’ trust and helping them.

What should you not say to a car salesman?

You should not tell a salesperson that you need a car right now. If they think that you don’t have options, they’re not going to drop the price or negotiate with you as much.

Can you trust a used car dealership?

There are many reputable dealerships where you can get a fair price on a used car, but it’s still important that you do your own research. Find out the industry or “book” value of the car you want — and don’t be afraid to use your smartphone as you shop, looking up competitors’ prices. You can and should talk the dealer down to the book value and negotiate the best car loan rate for you.

 

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