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5 Tips on How to Beat the Car Salesman

A young Caucasian couple talking with a car sales agent that illustrates 3 ways to beat car dealers at their own games.

If you’re a pro at negotiating when buying a new car, you’re ahead of the game. For the rest of us customers, it’s like going to the dentist. Consumers hate the process because we know it can end up hurting more than we thought. Shopping for auto insurance is easy compared to buying a new vehicle.

The reason for this is that a good many customers are intimidated when they walk into a dealership. Will we get the best deal? Is our credit good enough to get what we want? What are the monthly payments going to be and can we make them every 30 days like clockwork? How much is my trade-in worth and will they give me a fair amount for it?

Then, if that’s not bad enough, the intimidation factor creeps in the moment you’re swarmed by a half-dozen, hard sell salespeople asking you if you like the color of the model you’re standing next to in the showroom.

Unless you know what you’re doing or how to beat car salesmen at their own game, they’re in the proverbial “driver’s seat” and, as a consumer, you’re just along for the ride. And, even though most of us have a pretty good idea of certain things we’re supposed to do and not do when buying an automobile, it can still be a struggle – especially if you’re facing a tough negotiator – to score a point.

So, here are five common situations customers are likely to encounter the next time you enter the new-car-buying realm and some tips for handling them. How you respond can keep the conversation headed toward the best price you can get.

1. Getting the Most for Your Trade-in

Most sales reps have eyes like an eagle and can spot you pulling up to the dealer lot in your current ride – which leads them to entice you with – “Is that your vehicle? Are you trading it in? Looks in great shape – we can give you $X,XXX for it.” Don’t be too quick to jump at his offer.

As a point of fact, it’s always best to not discuss the value of a trade-in before you settle on a price for the new purchase, but that won’t stop the sales rep from trying to get the upper hand, because he knows it works from time to time. He also knows that he can artificially exceed your trade-in’s blue book value to get you excited, only to make up for his apparent generosity on the purchase price of your new set of wheels. These are typical tools for sellers.

What you may want to respond with is – “Thanks, that sounds pretty good and I may consider your offer – but that’s separate from how we’re going to price the new vehicle.”

The sales rep will throw so many numbers at you; the last thing you need is to keep track of more while you’re negotiating the price. Besides, if you’ve done your research, you already have the knowledge of what yours is worth and can take it or walk away from the dealership. This may help put a point in your column.

2. Take a Look at the Factory Invoice

While it’s hard to buy a new automobile these days without a lot of extra costs, dealers can tack on silly fees to the window sticker that don’t necessarily make sense. Many are confusing and need clarification, a challenge or, at the least, a question. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask the dealer to show you the factory invoice, because that’s where legitimate fees are listed. You might face a little resistance at first – depending on the dealership – but, unless he has something to hide, he’ll show it to you if he wants to close the deal.

Keep in mind that in California a so-called “document fee” applies. However, unlike some other states, California regulates the fee at a flat $80. For more knowledge on fees that fall into the “legit” category, consumers can go to the Edmunds auto website for their guide to these fees.

So, when in doubt about all the listed fees on the sticker, ask the dealer for a look at the factory invoice. Then, point by point, ask for clarification on each added fee.

3. Your Monthly Payment Amount is Your Business

Asking you what you can comfortably pay each month for the ride of your dreams is a tactic that has been around for ages. The minute customers agree to a monthly loan payment, the salesperson will wrap what he now knows you can afford around the final price. Remember to stick to your budget!

Of course, a lot depends on your credit score, but don’t confuse the sales rep’s concern for what you can afford as an offer for credit counseling. What he’s trying to do is sell you a more expensive vehicle by extending the term of the loan, thereby lowering your monthly payments to the amount you just gave him, or he’ll do it by switching you to a lease.

Unless your credit report score qualifies you for a 0% interest rate loan that some auto manufacturers offer – don’t fall into his trap. Avoid going to the dealership without having first lined up backup financing at your bank or credit union for the best deal. Once you’ve settled on a price, it may even force the dealer into a position to offer you a matching or better rate. If possible, don’t use the dealership for financing.

If the salesperson hits you with this question, you may want to respond with – “Let’s talk about that a little later and focus on the price I can get.”

African-American couple wonders how to beat the car salesman as they shop for a new car

4. The Negotiations

As mentioned, it’s important to understand the tactics salespeople are likely to use when you hit the lot. It can be much like a sleight of hand magician. While your attention is over here (high trade-in value) the salesman sells you a vehicle for more than it’s worth. These are the tools of selling. How does it all work? Keep these tips in mind to get the upper hand:

  • Know your numbers – have a good idea of what your trade-in is worth, as well as a good idea of what your prospective new auto is also worth. Some believe an actual number is the best, while others feel that a range shows a willingness to compromise. Know what payment you are comfortable with and what your budget is, but keep that info to yourself.
  • Understand hidden fees – ask the question before you get in the chair what the additional fees are and be prepared to ask for either a reduction or elimination altogether.
  • Win-win – in most cases, a successful negotiation results in a win-win by both sides. You’ll need to know what places you are willing to compromise on going in and how much value each point has for you.
  • Be willing to walk – if there isn’t a successful end to negotiations, be prepared to walk away.
  • Keep emotions in check – Stay calm and focused throughout the negotiating process.
  • Use silence to your advantage – People feel the need to fill silence. Perhaps you can get your salesman to fill the silence with a better offer.

Salesmen receive abundant training in the “art of the deal.” You may feel at a disadvantage facing hard sell tactics, but being prepared and knowing your limits is your best bet.

Don’t let a salesperson and a sales manager play good cop and bad cop with you, either. Typically, your salesman plays the good cop and the finance manager plays the bad cop. It’s an old tactic that is fortunately losing traction, since it turns many people off. Be prepared before you enter the lot by knowing what the value is of the car you want to purchase. You can get that information from sources such as Consumer Reports.

5. Best Time to Buy a Car

Customers should understand that sales have their own ups and downs and peak seasons. Taking advantage of the times when the sales manager is looking to make a good deal is one of the ways to win. When are the best times to buy a car? Here are some tips:

  • End of the year – If you are a person shopping for a new set of wheels, the end of the year is a good time. Dealerships are anxious to empty their lots to make room for next year’s models, as well as avoid paying tax on the ones they have.
  • End of month – Again, some person is trying to meet a quota for their end of month report. You may get a good deal!
  • Mondays and holidays – These are times when the chances of making a sale are slimmer, so you’ll find eager sales people willing to make a better deal.

You can also save hours of time by making phone calls. Making a phone call before you hit the lots can reduce your shopping time by hours if you find out a lot doesn’t even have what you want.

When You Score the Deal, Find Affordable Car Insurance Online Today

Congratulations! You’ve followed these tips and made a better deal than you thought possible. Now you just need insurance to complete the package. Freeway can help you find affordable auto coverage. Get a fast and free quote for auto insurance online, call us at (800) 777-5620 or visit us at one of our convenient locations.

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