Car Salesman Secrets to Know Before You Buy Your Next Car

These car salesman secrets can cost you a pretty penny, if you don't know what they're up to.

It's a pretty well-known fact that car dealerships are where some of the most high-pressure sales tactics happen. People generally expect a car dealership to be an arena of rip-offs, with many assuming that every little aspect of dealerships are designed to fleece people a little more. 

Truthfully, it varies from dealership to dealership—but there's a lot of truth in these expectations nonetheless. Even in the most reliable car dealership, there are some car salesman secrets you need to be aware of in order to ensure you get the best possible price. 

Getting a good price on a car is just as much about street smarts as it is about research. That's why dealers tend to avoid showing their cards in full, and why they are so tight-lipped about certain policies. Before you try to buy a car, make sure that you don't fall for one of these cheap tricks. 

"We're hoping you won't actually read the terms of the loan or do the math."

One of the scariest car salesman secrets out there is that a lot of dealerships actively encourage tacking on fees that shouldn't be there, or worse, choose loans that force you to pay more interest simply because it benefits the salesman the most.

Scarier still, some will actually use paperwork loopholes to get you to drive off the lot, only to call you back telling you that the loan "didn't go through" and that you will need to agree to a worse loan in order to keep driving.

Realistically, the only fees that you are legally required to pay tend to be the sales tax, the registration fees, and whatever state-regulated fees there are. If you notice any others, you can ask for them to get wiped off. 

"For the love of god, please do NOT use your smart phone."

Your smart phone is your best weapon when it comes to negotiating a good deal. One of the biggest car salesman secrets is that they don't want you to research the car's value on your phone, because it puts a massive wrench in their ability to pull the wool over your eyes. 

The way you can save money with your phone is twofold. 

  • First, you can find out your target car's True Market Value (TMV) on Edmunds.com and use that to barter. Knowledge is power here, and it's important to find out what the TMV on your car is before you even start haggling.
  • Second, you can search up dealerships with lower car prices and force the dealer to price match that. If you make it clear you can get it cheaper elsewhere, they won't really have a choice if they want to make that sale. 

"We are not giving you a good price on the trade-in. Sorry, not sorry."

Car dealerships have a lot of ways to make money, and it's not just by selling cars to consumers. Dealerships, without fail, will lowball the price they offer on trade-ins because they will resell them or scrap them for parts at a better price.

If your car is even in remotely good shape, you can bet that you won't get a good deal on it. One of the biggest car salesman secrets out there, though, is that they may end up lying to you about the current car's conditions just so that you'll accept a better price.

A better option, if you can wing it, is to sell your car independently. A person who's willing to buy from a private seller will pay you more than a dealership looking to improve their bottom line. 

"Those must-have upgrades on the car sticker? Totally just there to bump up the price of your car."

No, you don't actually need VIN etching or anything similar to that. They aren't must-have upgrades, not in the least bit. Most of them can be done for under $30 at home. 

A lot of car salesman secrets are kind of insulting to buyers, and show how far they'll go to take advantage of clients. For instance, the sales stickers on the lots are actually called "bumper stickers" because all the add-ons they put on there bump up the price needlessly.

"Those sales aren't actually sales in most cases."

This is one of the more well-known car salesman secrets, but it actually deserves to be mentioned at least once. The oldest trick in the sales book is to add $1,000 or so to the initial car price that the dealership wants to get, argue with the customer, and then take that extra $1,000 off.

This fools the buyer into thinking they got a better deal than they did. Those sales aren't really sales. They are a way to keep customers thinking they have the upper hand, and keep a reputation of being "easy to swindle" when they're actually cheating you.

If you've ever seen a sheet with a "four square" layout, they're trying to pull this trick on you. My suggestion? Walk out the door, because that's a very low-integrity way to do biz. 

"We're somewhat hoping that you'll ask us to finance."

Did we mention that one of the biggest car salesman secrets out there is that they don't just get paid for selling a car? The best payoff a dealer can have is when they finance the car that they are selling. It adds a nice little bonus check for them. 

Finance managers will do whatever they can to encourage a loan, even if it means using sketchy sales tactics. 

"We will mess with your head."

This isn't just a bunch of car salesman secrets; it's their literal business model. Whenever you're dealing with someone in sales, you have to assume that they will do stuff to try to posture themselves as the one in control—despite you actually being the one who calls the shots.

Some of the more common car sales tactics you will see that involve this rule include:

  • Pointing out what your current car doesn't have when offering a trade-in value. This is supposed to undermine your confidence in your car and the sale, with hopes that you'll accept less.
  • Asking you how much you want to pay versus how much you want the price to be. This is one of the easiest ways to get people to acquiesce to a higher price without them realizing what they did.
  • Trying to get you to buy a car you're not interested in. A lot of car dealers will try to unload cars that won't sell to buyers that they think are foolish.
  • Rattling off car stats during your test drive. Chances are, you won't know what those car stats mean. They know this, but do it anyway because it's a way of upselling the car.
  • Telling you that you have to decide about the car that day, or the deal is off. Legally, they can't do that. By law, you have three days to determine whether the contract. The only reason they say that is because it builds up urgency and gets you to buy. 

"We are not your friend. We're here to make money."

It's surprising how often car dealers will act like friends in order to get a good deal. It's even more surprising how many buyers will not realize that's what happening. Sadly, this is one of those car salesman secrets that people aren't aware is happening until it's a bit too late. 

Don't be fooled, they are NOT your friend. They are there to make a sale. 

"The 'bargain' cars we sell are anything but."

Here's a truth that most people will not want to admit when they're at the dealership: knowing all the car salesman secrets in the world will not help you if you end up buying one of the "bargain" cars they're selling. This is doubly true if you do so without having a third-party mechanic look at it.

The cars that are advertised as "bargains" or "just mildly damaged" are usually train wrecks of the highest order. These are cars that are so badly designed, so unpopular, or so rickety, the dealerships are literally hyping them just to get them off the lot.

The funny thing is that they still are overpriced, even at those "sale" prices. You'd still need to fix them—and chances are, they'd break down again. 

"At the end of the day, you control the sale."

All car salesman secrets boil down to this one single point: they need you. You don't need them. At any point in time, you can walk away and find a new dealership to do business with. 

Car salesmen can't walk away. It's their job. That's why car salesmen have so many secrets. They have to do everything in their power to get you to pay maximum dollar, or they get fired. 

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