Avoid the Dealership Game

Updated on January 25, 2019
lifelovemystery profile image

Digital marketing professional with B2C and B2B experience in strategic marketing, lead generation, content marketing, SEO, SEM, and CRM.

Everyone Loves a New Car

Sleek design and flawless paint.
Sleek design and flawless paint. | Source

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.

I purchased a Chevy Tahoe in 2001. I had been 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 I would be purchasing a vehicle on my own, and I dreaded the experience. However, I have a natural curiosity and I found out how to navigate the purchasing process with a minimal number of delays, saving myself thousands of dollars along the way.

Be Prepared for Delay Tactics Used at Dealerships

The one thing I dreaded more than driving the car was dealing with salesmen at dealerships. I went to Half-Price Books and picked up a couple of paperback books on dealing with salesmen. I think I spent less than $20, but the information saved me thousands of dollars and many hours.

Bring a Copy of Your Driver's License

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”. You will need to take this to every dealer you visit. Car dealers know how to waste your time and they know how to size you up. Once they run your FICO credit scores, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. They may know more about you than you want, and they want 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. Another reason is to hold you hostage. I mean that literally—if you don’t take a copy of your license then they will have to make one for themselves. While doing this, you can’t leave. You can’t get up and drive off even if you want to because they have your license. It doesn’t matter to them how frustrated you may get in your cozy chair with your hot cup of coffee. This is a delay tactic.

Getting the deal

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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. | Source

Avoid the Sales Office—It's a Trap!

The second thing on the list is never sit down. Once you are cozy in a lounge chair, or if your kids have been parked in front of the dealership TV, just know that you have given up several hours of your time. The car salesman wants to find common ground so you will trust him.

I don’t care who the salesperson is, he or she is not your friend.

Their job is to make the sale, sell you on premium upgrades, low-ball you on a trade-in and inform you that because of your credit rating, they can only offer you a certain finance rate. The interest rate a dealership may offer you will likely be double or even triple the annual percentage rate of your credit union.

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 around the 750 mark, so I knew that financing would not be a problem. The salesman told me the best they could do was 10%. If I had been drinking a beverage, it would have ended up on his shirt. I knew my credit union would have a much lower rate, but I didn’t tell him that. I ended up financing the loan through my credit union for 4%. This 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.

I drove a Chevy Tahoe at the first dealership I visited and fell in love. Here’s another tip. Do not show any affection for the car you test drive. That is a suckers game. If the salesman knows you love it, the game just ended for you. He knows that you will buy premium add-ons, will wait endless hours and that you just won’t care about the interest rate he’s going to offer. You have bitten the line and he’s about to reel you in.

You have probably heard the saying, “Know before you go”. This applies to more than just cars and a little research on your part will save you frustration while you are on the lot. Personally, I never recommend buying a brand new car. My reasons are both financial and common sense.

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 it, be very noncommittal and completely nonchalant about your current vehicle. 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. Don’t be a sucker. Don’t allow any further conversation about 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 drove the Tahoe and met with the manager who then wrote a dollar figure on a piece of paper and handed it to me. I negotiated the cost down another $1,800. Now this $1,800 could have easily been part of a low-ball effort on my trade-in value, IF they knew I had a trade in.

I left the dealership and planned to get financing though my credit union the next day. However, when I called the manager at the dealership, suddenly he could not be found and I was told that the dealership could not honor the price I had negotiated.

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

Do not be a sucker. Do not let them waste your time, and don't them the treat you like a fool.

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 the next day to complete the purchase of the 2000 Tahoe.

The Finance Manager asked if I was willing to trade in my Bonneville. Of course I was, 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 benefit of having an approved Purchase Order took away their bargaining power on my trade in.

You must stand firm with these people, and you have to know each game they will play at each break in the game. They offered me less, but I stood my ground on the trade-in value. They accepted, and it saved me $5,000 on the new loan.

The finance manager attempted to talk me into financing through the dealership by offering an upgrade on the Tahoe. I didn’t need any sexy upgrades and held my ground on financing through my credit union.

Ending the negotiation

Have you ever walked away from a deal?

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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. | Source

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

Do you know why they want to talk about the payment you can afford?

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

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. | Source

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. I did have a couple of issues with the Tahoe.

In the first two years, the throttle body got clogged. The truck would flat-out die as I approached a stop. So on three separate occasions, I took it to the dealer and dealt with the problem.

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.

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 article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

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

    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


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    • profile image


      7 weeks ago

      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.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      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.

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      14 months ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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.

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      14 months ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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.

    • profile image

      Hayden Honeycutt 

      14 months ago

      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.

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      17 months ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      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.

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      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.

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      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 profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      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.

    • chloesdad profile image

      Jeff M 

      6 years ago from Newington NH

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


    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

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

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      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?

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      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!

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      6 years ago from Norfolk

      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.

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      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.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      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.

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Thanks breatheeasy3. Have a great day!

    • Breatheeasy3 profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Such an amazing and informative article. Very good stuff.

      P.S. Thanks for visiting my page

    • Geoff222 profile image


      7 years ago from Central Florida

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

    • lifelovemystery profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Orelup 

      8 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

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

    • ElizaDoole profile image

      Lisa McKnight 

      8 years ago from London

      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.

    • profile image

      Rahsaan Shareef 

      8 years ago

      Nice Article

    • sagebrush_mama profile image


      8 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

      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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