How to Avoid Car Salesman Techniques and Tactics

How to avoid car salesman tactics and techniques and save money.

The car salesman has you at a disadvantage. You see, he hones his car selling skills five or six days a week while you only buy a car once every three, four, or five years.

They are professional. In comparison, you are a trepidatious amateur. That doesn’t mean they will lie to you, but they have many persuasive tricks up their sleeves.

Here I’ll share with you the nine most common car sales tactics and techniques these salespeople use.  After reading this article, it will ensure you recognize what they’re trying to do and let you prepare your response ahead of time.

Please don’t be too hard on them, though.  Car salespeople are only trying to put bread on the table!  My goal is to ensure you don’t get taken advantage of and buy a new car at the best possible price.

Nine Tactics and Techniques Used By Car Salespeople

Let me clear the air, I’m not saying all car dealers and the car salesman they employ are dishonest. Many professional car salespeople are making an honest living and actively trying to shake the stigma surrounding their profession.

However, many dealers run dealerships like juicers, attempting to squeeze every dime they can out of every customer that walks through the door. (Yeah, I can see you over there). Preparing before walking into a car dealership is always better because you never know who you will run into when walking through the door.

1) Bait and Switch Advertising

Bait and switch advertising is when you arrive at the showroom, a car advertised at one price is no longer available. “Since you’re here,” they’ll say, “This one is very similar,” pointing to one priced considerably higher.

It’s a frustrating practice, but one that’s becoming easier to avoid as more dealers put their inventory online. You can prevent most of this by doing your car shopping online. This way, you can find the specific vehicle you want, then call or email to check if they still have it. Yes, they could switch on you, but it’s more complicated and less likely. So to avoid becoming a victim of the bait and switch, check inventory on their website.

Read more detail on how to avoid the bait & switch car dealer scam.

It is vital to research new cars online before hitting the dealership. Doing so ensures you know whether it is the price you want. If it is, then go ahead and say, “yes.” If you’re undecided, don’t be afraid to take a couple of steps back.

Buying a car is a huge decision, one you don’t want to make a mistake. Keep in mind that it’s okay to walk away and take the evening to sleep on it.

2) The Car Will Be Gone Tomorrow

Sometimes they mean the car.  Sometimes it’s the deal.  Yes, it could be gone when you come back next week, but unless it’s the end of a model year, that’s pretty unlikely.  And likewise, they’ll be offering the same deal, or one very much like it, next week.

They’re trying to get you to decide on the spot.  They don’t want you walking out without buying, so they’ll give you this “now or never” challenge.  Please don’t fall for it.

Again, doing your research upfront is key to receiving the best new car deal.

3) Drawing Out the Car Buying Process

“Let me talk to my manager,” he’ll say before disappearing for maybe 20 minutes.  Is he talking to his manager?  Possibly, he may also be visiting the bathroom, grabbing a fresh coffee, and checking his email.

The idea here is to wear you down.  The salesperson wants you to get tired, make a mistake and buy the car so you can leave the dealership.

How to deal with it?  You have a few options.  Have your research and new car offer calculated before entering the dealership.  You will cut out most of the “back-and-forth” with the manager.

Or you could be very patient, get out your phone and check your messages while your salesman is doing his thing.  Last but not least, you could get up and leave.

4) Focus on the Monthly Payments

Focusing on the monthly payment is a prevalent sales technique for the simple reason that it suits a lot of buyers.  They’re not concerned about the vehicle costs.  They want to know if the monthly payment fits their budget.  Car salespeople like to start their fact-finding mission by asking what you’re paying now.

The problem with this is that it’s straightforward for the salesman to lower the monthly payment.  Just increase the down payment, extend the repayment period (or lease duration,) or both.  You may pay something very close to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) and not receive the deal you “think” you’re getting.

The way around this is to bring the conversation back to the price of the car.  And this is just as important when you plan to lease.  Don’t forget that you pay the difference between the agreed sale price and the residual value.  By bringing down the total price of the vehicle, you will lower your overall monthly payment.

5) Baffle You With Numbers

There are four numbers the salesman will bat around: the price, the down payment, the value of your trade-in, and the monthly payment you’ll be making. What they’ll do, though, is switch back and forth between these, making it hard for you to follow. (Sometimes, this goes by the name, “4 square method.”)

You can avoid this by doing your negotiations by email and agreeing to the price and down payment beforehand. Also, check that you know the value of your trade-in before having it appraised at the dealership.

Then, in the comfort of your home, work through the numbers and ensure you understand them before walking into the showroom.

6) The Hard Sell

Yes, some salespeople still practice this, even though it turns off many potential customers. They’ll follow you around the showroom, talking and asking questions all the time. They rely on the fact that most people are too polite to tell them to go away.

If you encounter a salesperson like this and you’re not comfortable, leave. There are lots of other legitimate car dealerships to visit. (And, of course, it’s another reason for doing all your car buying research over the internet rather than face-to-face.)

7) The Ben Franklin Car Salesman Technique

Ben Franklin devised a unique way to guide his decision-making.  He’d divide a sheet of paper into two columns.  On one side, he’d list reasons for making the decision; on the other side was why he was against the decision.

Car salespeople will sometimes use this technique to woo undecided customers.  On the “For” side of the sheet, they’ll write everything the customer has said they like about the car.  Some of these statements could be, “Plenty of room for the kids,” or, “I like the performance.”

Then they’ll ask the potential buyer what reasons he has for not buying the car, the “Against.”  Faced with a blank column, the buyer often finds it hard to list anything.  If he does, the salesman can then identify ways around those problems.

How to deal with this?  Well, be very clear about what you don’t like.  You’re not going to offend.  Alternatively, you could say something like, “Ah-ha, trying the old Ben Franklin close, eh?”

8) Hidden Fees

The monthly payment looks good, and you’ve said, “Okay, let’s do this,” or something similar. Then you’re presented with a much higher payment that is full of a bunch of fees.

These aren’t entirely bogus because you will need to pay title fees and others, depending on where you live. What you should watch for, though, is anything extra or excessive. Why would you need a “Vehicle Preparation Fee,” for example? Isn’t preparation part of the price? Check out my article on when a dealer prep fee becomes a scam.

The issue with these additional dealer fees is that by this point, you’ve committed, and it’s tough to say no, which is why they do it. Your best strategies are to (a) find out what fees your DMV charges and (b) ask the salesman to explain what they are for and why you need them.

10) Extras You Don’t Really Need

After you think you’ve done the deal, the salesman will walk you down the hall to meet with the F&I Manager.  “F&I” stands for finance and insurance, and this is the person who helps you complete all the paperwork that goes along with buying a vehicle.  Don’t be fooled.  The F&I Manager is one of the best salespeople in the building.

What they will also do is try to sell you a whole bunch of things you don’t need.  Glass protection, tire protection, rustproofing, and so on.  They argue, “You’ve spent a bunch of money on this vehicle.  Shouldn’t you spend a little extra to protect it properly?” Just say no.  You can typically pick up anything they’re trying to sell you at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

Closing Thoughts

Let’s be fair, dealerships exist to sell cars, and they need to make a profit. The problem is that the salespeople are very good at persuading and influencing the vague and uncertain. By sharing these nine car sales tactics with you, (notice we didn’t call them “dealer tricks“), we’re trying to level the playing field.

As I have noted several times, the most important thing for you is to prepare before walking into that showroom. Know what you want and what you’re willing to pay. Be prepared for the car sales professional to bring their “A” game and a full array of tactics to bear on you. All you have to do at this point is be polite but firm.

It’s also essential to understand the car buying process. That’s why exists, so please take full advantage of the information we provide.

The number one tip for saving the most money when buying a new or used car is always to take your time and “DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST!”

I recommend using an online referral service such as Ryde Shopper, Edmunds, Motor Trend, and Cars Direct before walking into a car dealership. Their free online price quotes will automatically help level the playing field with the dealer and let you know right away which dealers are willing to be more flexible on price. Please consider them the next time you buy a used car online. They will save you a lot of money.

About the author
Carlton Wolf is the author and founder of Auto Cheat Sheet.My name is Carlton Wolf, and I’ve been in the car business since 1994, both retail and wholesale. I created the Auto Cheat Sheet to better educate buyers about the deceptive sales practices used by many dealerships throughout the country. Please understand that not all car dealers are dishonest. However, you never know who you’ll be dealing with, though. I’m willing to share my knowledge and experience with anyone who listens. Keep in mind that I’m a car guy, not a writer.