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Avoid the Dealership Game

Entrepreneur, writer, mom, and experienced digital marketing professional.

Everyone Loves a New Car

Sleek design and flawless paint.

Sleek design and flawless paint.

I Needed to Buy a New Car

Buying a new or used car can be intimidating. It can also be time-consuming and drain your wallet, but knowing car-salesman tricks can help you get through the purchase process faster and save a significant amount of money.

At the time I was driving a 1996 Pontiac Bonneville, which I loved and hoped to drive for many years. However, the car developed mechanical problems, and $2,000 worth of repairs did not fix the problems. I could have used that $2,000 as a down payment on another car, and it was a hard lesson to learn.

The Bonneville had developed a vacuum leak issue (or so I was told) and it became dangerous to drive. For no apparent reason, the car would surge forward and I was afraid I might unintentionally run into someone or something. The car became a liability and had to be replaced.

This was the first time for me to purchase a vehicle on my own, and I dreaded the experience. However, I have a natural curiosity and I studied different methods to navigate the sales process, and I saved thousands of dollars in the process.

Be Prepared for Delay Tactics Used at Dealerships

I went to Half-Price Books and picked up a couple of paperback books on dealing with salesmen. I spent about $20, and the information I learned saved me thousands of dollars and many hours.

Do These Two Things Before You Visit the Dealership

Before you ever visit a dealership, make a copy of your driver’s license. Right next to your copied license write the following, “Permission is not authorized to run a credit check”. Take this note to every dealer that has a car you want to test drive.

The note puts the dealership on notice that they do not have permission to run your FICO credit score. If they run your credit report without your permission, they might charge a higher interest rate based on the credit score.

Hold Onto Your Driver's License

One of the reasons they will ask for your license is to ensure you are current with the state and actually know how to drive. If you don’t take a copy of your license then they will have to make one for themselves.

When the salesperson walks away with your driver's license, you cannot leave. You can’t get up and drive off even if you want to because they have your license. This is a delay tactic to keep you at the dealership.

Getting the deal

There is no reason to sit down in a sales office before you have test driven a car.

There is no reason to sit down in a sales office before you have test driven a car.

Do Not Get Comfortable in the Sales Office

The car salesman wants you to be comfortable, and to enjoy their coffee and soda. However, the longer you stay in the sales office, the more the salesperson will learn about your finances, and the vehicle you can afford. This information can increase the amount of your overall loan.

The Sales Manager Wants to Close the Deal

The salesperson's job is to make the sale. The salesperson can increase the loan amount through premium upgrades, a low-ball offer on your trade-in, or through a high-interest rate auto loan.

Tips on Financing a Car

The dealership interest rate could be double or even triple the annual percentage rate of your credit union. Shop for interest rates before you set foot on the dealership lot.

Know Your Credit Score

Good credit will save you money. Check your credit score and find out who has the best terms, before you speak to a salesperson.

Good credit will save you money. Check your credit score and find out who has the best terms, before you speak to a salesperson.

Know Your Credit Score and Save Money on the Car Loan

My credit score was 750, and I knew that financing would not be a problem. The salesman told me the best they could do was 10%. I knew my credit union would have a much lower rate, but I didn’t tell him that.

I financed the loan through my credit union for 4%. Knowing the value of the loan and the interest rate saved me thousands of dollars.

Maintain a Poker Face With the Salesperson

I spent several weeks visiting dealerships (never once giving them my driver’s license, always a copy) but I could not find the vehicle I wanted. I really wanted an SUV, but truthfully I didn't know much about them. I had gone to lunch with a co-worker and loved the stadium-like view from her Cadillac SUV. My view from the Bonneville was a view of someone’s tailgate.

Do Not Get Excited About the Test Drive Experience

I test drove a Chevy Tahoe at the first dealership I visited and fell in love with the SUV.

Here’s another tip. Do not show any affection for the car you test drive. If the salesman knows you love the car, it puts him in the driver's seat. The advantage of knowing that you love the car gives him the opportunity to sell you upgrades, also known as premium add-ons. Those premiums can be very expensive.

There Are Advantages of Buying a Used Car

I prefer to buy a one-year-old car for a couple of reasons.

  • The car is probably still under warranty, depending on mileage.
  • The car has already depreciated in value for a year.
  • A one-year-old car is more affordable than a brand new model of the same car class.

Do Not Discuss Your Trade-In Vehicle

Do not tell the salesperson if you have a vehicle to trade-in. If he asks you about your car, be very noncommittal about trading it in. This is a source of bargaining power for you later in the process. Do not give up this power.

Do not give him keys to your car. Do not allow your eyes to twinkle if he makes an offer on your car which will lower the cost of the one you want to buy. Do not engage any further conversation about the value of your car. This is a final part of negotiating the price of the ‘new’ car you want to buy.

I knew the value of my Bonneville and I didn't owe any money on the car. I did some research and the value was $5,000. Keep in mind that I was having problems with this car. However, I also knew that if the dealership wanted it, they could make the repairs and still make money reselling the car.

More Games That Car Salesmen Play

I test drove the Tahoe and met with the Sales Manager. He wrote a dollar figure on a piece of paper and handed it to me. I then successfully negotiated the sales price down another $1,800.

The $1,800 price reduction could have easily become part of a low-ball offer on my trade-in value IF they knew I had a trade-in.

Most Credit Unions Offer Lower Interest Rates

I left the dealership and went to my credit union the next day to get financing on the Tahoe. However, when I called the Sales Manager to confirm the price, I was told that he offsite and the dealership could not honor the price we had negotiated.

I followed up with a call to the salesman and told him, “If you want to play the Missing Man Game, that's fine. However, I will give you 30 minutes to confirm the price we had agreed on or I will buy a Tahoe from another dealership”. It was ironic how the manager was able to call me 10 minutes later and confirm the price.

Purchase Order Authorization to Buy a New Car

I received financing through the credit union in the form of a Purchase Order which essentially is an electronic way of moving money without handling any cash. I met with the Finance Manager at the dealership the following day to complete the purchase of the 2000 Tahoe.

Don't Fall For the Premium Upgrades

The Finance Manager asked if I was willing to trade in my Bonneville. I definitely wanted to trade-in my car. The truth was that I actually couldn’t wait to get rid of it because I was afraid to drive it anywhere. I told him that if he wanted to make a deal, I would accept $5,000 as trade-in value and not one penny less.

The real benefit of having an approved Purchase Order from my Credit Union took away their bargaining power on my trade-in.

They offered me less, but I stood my ground on the trade-in value. They accepted, and it saved me $5,000 on the loan value.

The Finance Manager attempted to talk me into financing through the dealership by offering an upgrade on the Tahoe. However, I didn’t need any fancy upgrades and I held my ground on financing through my credit union.

Ending the negotiation

Do you know what the vehicle has been exposed to? Pay for the vehicle history report.

Do you know what the vehicle has been exposed to? Pay for the vehicle history report.

Run a CarFax Report Before You Buy a Car

Before you sign any loan paperwork, run a CarFax Report. You need to know if your car has been in an accident, flood, or other type of chaos. You also need to know that the title is clear. Unreported accidents will not appear on the report, but this report will reveal how many different people have owned the car and in which states it has been registered.

The most important thing you can do when buying a new or used car is to do your homework. Know before you go. Know your credit score, know where you can get cheaper financing, know the games that salespeople play, know what you can afford and never, ever negotiate monthly car payments. That is a suckers game, but I’ll write about that in another article.

Financing your shiny ride

Profit margins. Strike through any fields the salesman leaves blank.

Profit margins. Strike through any fields the salesman leaves blank.

What You Should Know About Dealer Add-Ons

Don't believe everything you read on the internet. If you see a car posted on a dealer website and it has everything you need, beware the Dealer Add-On, it may not be included on the website but will be posted on the car. A dealer add-on is also known as a Supplemental Sticker. This sticker inflates the cost of the car.

A dealer add-on is also a profit center for the dealer. It may have features that you want on the car, but the likelihood is that the features are overpriced. For example; splash guards, window tinting, a tailgate on a pickup and even alarm systems and an interior protection package. This "protection package" is basically Scotch Guard and you can do that yourself to protect the upholstery. You can get the windows professionally tinted somewhere else for 50% of what a dealer will charge you.

Read the warranty to ensure it is truly bumper-to-bumper.

Read the warranty to ensure it is truly bumper-to-bumper.

Extended Warranty Protection Doesn't Last Forever

Within a few months of purchasing my Tahoe, I found a bumper-to-bumper extended warranty posted online. It wasn't very expensive, and my truck was only a year old.

In the first two years, the throttle body got clogged. The truck would flat-out die as I approached a stop. I took the Tahoe to the dealership on three separate occasions to fix the clogged throttle body.

I received a Cancellation Notice from the warranty company in the third year of ownership. The company was terminating contracts with 'older models', and mine was not even grandfathered into the program. I was ticked off, but there was nothing I could do about the situation. I couldn't even get my money refunded.

The extended warranty originally gave me some peace of mind about my purchase. However, once it was terminated—the loss was mine. I had considered it part of protecting the value of my vehicle, but it turned out to be worthless.

I still have the Chevy Tahoe, and it still runs great and is very reliable. I have never owned a vehicle for this length of time, but I don't want car payments and I'm serious about regular vehicle maintenance. I have been lucky in finding the right auto mechanic whenever I need to have parts replaced.

Enjoy Your New Car

Knowing some of the salesmen tactics before you visit a dealership can save you time and money. Make sure that you got exactly what you bargained for before you leave the dealership, and don't pay a penny more. Once you drive the car off the lot, you own it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How transparent were you regarding your car that was unsafe to drive (as you said) when you traded it in?

Answer: The car had obvious problems when starting. It was loud (very loud), and the entire car rattled. They took it for a test drive and had no issues with driveability, safety, brakes or anything else. They made me a full trade-in offer, which I accepted.

© 2012 Michelle Orelup


Rich on May 18, 2020:

Pretty easy to tell who are in the car business by the comments. Want to learn more about the way dealers operate? Go to youtube and type in KEVIN HUNTER in the search line. You can thank me later.

Janice on July 05, 2019:

Thank you! I haven’t purchased a vehicle from a dealer in over 30 years. I purchase from private owners only if they let my mechanic check it out.

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on April 16, 2019:

Wut, in response to your comment, being nice is just one aspect of the buying experience - and it works both ways. You're being overly dramatic by stating that I am teaching people to be toxic to sales people. I am educating people so they don't get taken advantage of by a car salesman. There is a clear difference.

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on April 15, 2019:

Hayden Honeycutt, because of the research I did prior to walking in the lot, my overall experience was quite good. These tactics are still used by salespeople, and you’re quite lucky to have never dealt with them.

Walking onto a dealer lot requires much more than knowing your budget, your monthly payment, and trade-in value.

Hayden Honeycutt on April 15, 2019:

This article is the exact reason why the car buying experience is going to be a poor one for you if you follow this plan. In referencing the article that the "Salesman is playing a game." If you go in doing what this article is instructed you to do then you are the one playing the game. Play that game with any car salesman and you are going to have a very time consuming visit. No car dealership can run your credit with your drivers license. They will defiantly need your consent before running credit. If you will go into the dealership and just be nice and friendly and tell your sales person what exactly you are trying to accomplish then they will do their best to achieve that goal for you because yes they do want to make the sale. That's their JOB. That is how they feed their family. Most dealership pay plans are biased off volume of sales for the month. With that being said then if they know upfront what you are trying to accomplish then they are going to go to work for you. I am not saying go in blind to a dealership. Do your homework and find out how much your trade is worth in good condition on KBB and find the car you want and look at other dealer prices online. Make sure you compare apples to apples. Protection Packages are not dealer installed options. They are installed at the port before they hit the lot. That is how the manufacture sends the car. Not sitting down, not giving trade information and thinking that the salesman is not your friend makes the sale process much harder. I can insure that a salesman is nothing without a good customer relationship because the best advertising is word of mouth. This article is garbage and is the pure reason why the person who wrote this article will never have a good experience at any dealership with these tactics.

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on February 04, 2019:

SubaruLare, this author does have a clue, but thank you for your comments. I commend Subaru on their tactics and customer satisfaction. However, I can assure you other brands, other dealers, other salesmen still use these tactics. Online buying has eliminated some of the nonsense, but for people that walk onto a lot, this still goes on.

SubaruLare on February 04, 2019:

As a Subaru Salesman of over 10 years I can tell you for sure this article will get a potential car buyer no where. The car sales itself and good salesman consults the buyer to make sure they have all the information to make an educated decision for themselves. Dealerships depend on Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). If clients aren’t 100% satisfied dealerships and their salesman are penalized so it wouldn’t be advantageous to disappoint or frustrate clients. This would be a great article for potential buyers in the 1980’s before the internet when dealerships weren’t held accountable for customer satisfaction. This author doesn’t have a clue and will only guide you to paranoia and mistrust. Buy a Subaru and you will experience a very transparent and professional process.

Wut on October 07, 2018:

This article is terrine advise. Be nice to your sales person and be straight up with what you are trying to achieve. With you playing games they will have to play games back. If you are just a straight shooter your deal will get done faster and no games will have to be played. The salesman is a person trying to feed their family doing a job. They aren't out to rip you off like the entire world thinks. Most sales people rather give you a good deal and a good experience so you are happy and tell your friends and family about how great it was so you send them more customers. Yes like any other business the dealership is trying to make a profit on cars that's not a bad thing. You are coaching people to be toxic customers in which you will not recieve a good deal I guaruntee it.

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on January 13, 2018:

In response to 'Anonymous'. I have helped several people purchase cars since this article was published, so the information is still relevant.

Respectfully, the majority of car buyers in the U.S. are not Maserati buyers. Also, most dealers wait for walk-up buyers, they do not prospect as you do - aside from necessary advertising. And as you stated, "Most sales reps out there (like myself) are trying to complete the sale no matter because it is almost always better to get a high number of sales and reach bonus at the end of the month than to try and get a huge profit on a smaller amount of cars."

It's the high-pressure sales pitch that customers want to avoid. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous on January 12, 2018:

This information is too old -_- Most of the suggestions on here are now forced by law (in FL) or by high brand manufacturers (I.E. Maserati, Alfa Romeo). At my dealership in FL we spend most of our time prospecting. When we do have a customer we want them in and out as fast as possible. In the new digital era the longer you take at the desk means you will get bored and start searching other offers. Regardless of where you go to buy a car another dealership will have the same car listed online for a better price (although the online price may not always be true). Maserati requires that we have a car fax on all of the vehicles on our lot even though we have 4 different manufacturers that we work with. As far as the Tahoe incident I have never heard of a situation like this and if a situation like that did arrive, after fixing the same issue 3 times on a new car you can begin the process of Lemon Lawing the car (in FL) where you get back 115% of the MSRP of the vehicle. Dealer add-ons are meant to make the dealership more back end money for sure, however things like the protector are not simply scotch guard. It is a warrantied exterior and interior protection. If anything happens to you paint or if you get any stains in your car we will fix, repair, or clean it and charge the company via the warranty (named the protector). We do play many games as far as money is concerned, however so do the customers.... If a customer ever told me directly "I want to pay $40,000 out the door for your $37,000 car knowing that taxes and fees are going to be added" I would instantly sign the customer up even if the dealerships gross profit on the car is $200. However because the customer and the dealership both want to make the best deal possible the games begin, and unfortunately the dealership has the ball in its court due to the fact that it is a daily routine there. Lastly the sales rep you are with doesn't know how much the car was invoiced at, they can't finish a deal with you and they aren't trying to screw you over. Most sales reps out there (like myself) are trying to complete the sale no matter because it is almost always better to get a high number of sales and reach bonus at the end of the month than to try and get a huge profit on a smaller amount of cars. Because of this there is a point where the sales rep ends up being a customer lawyer and tries to force the managers to reach the sometimes unreasonable demands of the customers.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 04, 2015:

I positively can't stand the nonsense. That said, one of my biggest strengths as a negotiator is my ability to walk away.

Useful hub.

Jeff M from Newington NH on March 25, 2014:

Great Hub! I used to sell cars and I hated how the customers were treated by management.


Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 01, 2014:

I don't quite follow. How did he give you a copy if he lost it?

Sue on March 01, 2014:

Salesman took my registration to make a copy and then said he lost it! He gave us a copy of the copy and had an arrogant attitude. Obviously, he lost me as a customer. How smart is that?

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on February 17, 2014:

Unfortunately there are a number of Games that sales people use to manipulate our time and try to manipulate our choices. Thanks for commenting and I hope your next experience is much better.

HyperChicken on February 17, 2014:

I wish I would have read the section about the Driver's License sooner. I went to Tampa Hondaland today to test drive a CR-V and the salesman deliberately kept my license. This accomplished 3 things for him: 1) Forced me to interact with him an additional time (Preferably, for him, in person) 2) Gave him the opportunity to be a hero, as I'm sure most people fall for this. and 3) I can't test drive vehicles at other dealerships until I get that license back. I LOVED the 2014 CRV. However, this not only means I won't be buying from that dealer, but I won't be buying a Honda. I realize these scumbags are everywhere, but Toyota & Nissan haven't done me like that, so I'll be in a RAv4 or a Rogue instead.

Thanks for the awesome tips!

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on September 07, 2013:

sallybea, I think it's safe to say that most of us are jealous of your experience. It seems that US dealers think it is their job to keep you warming the chair in their office. I've purchased four cars in the last 28 years and the dealership experience hasn't varied much between the time spent test driving, negotiating or finalizing the paperwork. Maybe I should go to the UK for my next car!

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on September 07, 2013:

lifelovemystery - interesting article since I have just purchased a new car. At no time was I ever offered a chair - ha, or asked for my drivers licence. I expect things are done differently in the UK. I also did not need to buy the car on credit. As a result of this I believe I got a very good deal. One never knows with cars though. I bought my previous one on an auction and I have to say it was terrific for five years but when it let me down recently, I bit the bullet and got rid of it before the sieve started leaking money.

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on September 03, 2013:

You are so right! When I bought my Tahoe in 2001 they REALLY wanted me to keep it for the night.

That's a Suckers Game!

Thanks for your post, and nice to meet you.

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on September 03, 2013:

Some excellent tips here - you've done well. I would add just one thing - if you aren't willing and able to simply walk away from any deal offered you will be taken for a ride. Once you've fallen in love with a car to the point you're not willing to walk away, you've lost the game.

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on September 02, 2013:

Thanks breatheeasy3. Have a great day!

Breatheeasy3 from USA on September 02, 2013:

Such an amazing and informative article. Very good stuff.

P.S. Thanks for visiting my page

Geoff222 from Central Florida on September 19, 2012:

An interesting story and I think there is more to the story I'm sure

Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 21, 2012:

Thanks Eliza! I dread the day I have to replace my vehicle but I do look forward to the negotiation!

Lisa McKnight from London on March 21, 2012:

I really enjoyed reading this hub on a rather dry subject. You injected your own story style and a sassy streetwise voice really came across. I'm trusting you here! Good advice.

Rahsaan Shareef on March 08, 2012:

Nice Article

sagebrush_mama from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound! on March 07, 2012:

Excellent hub! I learned a lot, and will definitely keep the credit union option in mind next time I'm looking for a vehicle.

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