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What Car Dealers Don't Want You To Know

When we think of people who sell cars, a certain stereotype comes to mind. It's an image of a slick, fast-talking wheeler and dealer who stops two large steps short of complete honesty. That stereotype is not 100% accurate, and there are straightforward car dealers out there. Many will exploit their customers, and even the best of them will look for the best deal for themselves. It's up to you to protect your interests, and the best way to do that is to be aware of the tricks and tactics car salespeople will try to pull on you. After all, your loss is their gain, and many dealers are sharks with no conscience about bleeding a customer dry.

Let's look at some of the most common dealership tricks.

Window Stickers Are Bogus
Ignore the window stickers on the cars on display. Those are inflated figures meant to conceal the legitimate market prices. A quick internet search will give you accurate price estimates for the car. The online price is usually several thousand dollars lower than the "Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price" (MSRP) displayed by the dealership. You absolutely, positively need to know the online estimate before looking at anything. Don't let dealers manipulate you into accepting their puffed-up prices as a starting point for negotiations.

"Take a Seat; We're Very Busy."
No, they're not! If your dealer wants to postpone a meeting indefinitely or makes you wait around for hours to "accommodate their schedule," don't fall for it. They are trying to create the illusion that the salesperson is incredibly busy, and his or her time is far more valuable than yours is. It's just an attempt to gain a position of dominance. Don't give in to their demands. You are the customer, and the customer is always right.

Our Lips Are Sealed (About Incentives)
Most car manufacturers offer rebates, special financing offers, and other incentives to promote their products to potential customers. Sales managers know all about these incentives but have no obligation or incentive to pass this information on to you. They will happily leave you in the dark about options that could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You should ask up front about incentives. It's easy enough to lie by omission, but straight up lying to customers is another matter altogether.

Information Overload
Have you ever wondered why buying a car involves so much fine print, so many add-ons, and a boatload of options? Salespeople take you on a long walk all around the lot and bombard you with numbers, percentages, and trade-in options. That's because they're trying to tire and overwhelm you, leaving you intellectually and physically vulnerable. The salesperson isn't trying to educate you. Oh no, he or she is actively trying to break you down by exploiting a phenomenon known as "decision fatigue." When mentally hit from all sides with choices to consider and decisions to make, you become increasingly impatient, and thus likely to make rash choices.

So, what should you do? Don't let them confuse you. Do your homework, come to the dealership prepared with a list of questions to ask, and make sure you get your answers.

Zero in on the Sale Price
Your monthly payments will be this, your interest rates will be that, and let's not forget your down payment. Don't fall for the hype. All that extra information can wait. Even talking about your trade-in can go on the back burner. Ignore the distractions. Steel your mind and negotiate the price of the car based on what it is legitimately worth, not your spending power. Don't start a conversation by revealing how much you've got for a down payment, or how much you can afford to pay monthly. This tack just gives the dealer information to use against you, and they will use it against you. If you keep the conversation fixed on the car's true value, which is the point that matters, salespeople won't be able to manipulate or confuse you. When that's settled, you can go on to the other details.

The Walls Have Ears
Here's a dirty little trick a salesperson may try to pull on you. During your discussion, the salesperson you're working with will get a call at the desk and will "have to take the call in another room." This call sometimes comes from a colleague of the salesperson, who is in another room. The salesperson will pick up the phone, explain that they must take the call in another room, and leave. The shark in sheep's clothing heads off, but the speakerphone on their desk phone remains active. It'll be on mute so you cannot hear any chatter from the other room, but the salesperson can hear you discuss your thoughts with anyone accompanying you. If you're alone and explain that you need to call someone to discuss your options, they may also try to pull their "bugging" trick.

Of course, you never want the dealer to know your absolute bottom line. The dealer wants this information and can use it against you. It's unfortunate that sales professionals are not above resorting to dirty tricks to get such information, but if you know the tricks, you can avoid the traps. Discuss important matters outside of the store or outside the phone coverage area.

Always Shop Around
Knowing the actual market price of the car you want (or similar models) gives you haggling power. Internet prices are substantially lower than the MSRP at the dealership. Do your research and don't start haggling downward from that inflated price point or else you're feeding yourself to the sharks.