5 Car Salesman Tricks to Watch Out For

Car saleswoman selling car to couple
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If you're like most people, you don't have a high opinion of car salespeople's honesty. A recent Gallup poll asked respondents for their perception of the honesty of various professions. Car sellers ranked near the bottom, alongside members of Congress, advertising practitioners, and business executives.

No wonder Americans find car buying stressful. One Edmunds.com survey found that 33% of respondents would rather go to the DMV or do their taxes than participate in the car-buying process.

Going in unprepared can make a tense situation that much worse. To find your perfect car and close the deal without succumbing to pressure tactics, you need to be ready to cope with common car salesman tricks.

1. The Lowball / The Highball

This tactic works two ways: the lowball is when the salesperson offers a ridiculously low trade-in price on your vehicle, and the highball is when the salesperson offers you one of their own vehicles for a ridiculously high price. They are trying to get as much money out of you as possible, and if they learn you’re a sucker early on, they’ll keep repeating this tactic at each stage of the negotiation process.

2. The Hard Sell

This is probably the most stereotypical technique associated with car salespeople. The hard sell is a method through which the salesperson aggressively, directly, and forcefully attempts to make a sale.

Examples of the hard sell include questions like, “What do I need to do to get you to buy a car before you leave the lot today?” and statements like, “You’d be crazy to walk away from a deal like this.”

3. Meeting Your Needs (for a Price)

Did you admit to the salesperson that you need a certain monthly payment? They might be only too happy to meet it—but also drive up the sticker price of your new ride. Did you say that under no circumstances will you sell your old car for less than $15,000? They might be happy to do that, but they might shorten the duration of the dealership’s standard warranty.

Each time a dealer is glad to meet a demand, be careful: they will probably figure out a way to make up for it somewhere else.

4. Straight-up Lies

This behavior is totally unethical, but it happens. In order to pressure you into buying a particular vehicle, a salesperson might say that there are no other lots in town that sell this particular vehicle, that an offer made expires today, or even that someone else already put down an offer on the vehicle, in an effort to make sure you don’t try to bargain the price down.

5. Bait-and-Switch

A bait-and-switch happens when the dealership advertises a certain deal—for example, a truck for $20,000—but when you get there they tell you that they’ve sold out, and the only available trucks they have on the lot are $25,000 ones.

Anytime a dealer advertises something that they don’t actually have available and then attempts to convince you that you should purchase their available, more expensive model instead, that is a bait-and-switch.

Bait-and-switch is illegal, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t dealers who try to get away with it.

How to Prepare for These Car Salesman Tricks

Lower your stress, and safeguard your financial health by preparing ahead of your car-shopping trip.

Do Your Research

The best way to get ready for any negotiation is to do your research. Use tools like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) to research fair market prices for the vehicle you're interested in. KBB can also tell you how much to expect for a trade-in on your current car, if applicable.

Use a car loan calculator to figure out what interest rate you can expect based on your creditworthiness and to determine a repayment plan that will work for your budget.

The more information you have, the better positioned you will be to get a deal and a great vehicle without harming yourself financially.

Be Careful What You Say

Just like in a court of law, anything you say can and will be used against you. Don’t be too loose-lipped about how much you're willing to pay and what terms you're willing to accept. Let the negotiation process do its work.

Know Your Limits

Figure out a realistic budget, and stick to it. Did you find a $40,000 car of your dreams, but your budget is only $36,000? Don’t try to rationalize it, and don’t let the salesperson pressure you—just walk away.

Bring a Friend

Let’s face it: some of us are much better at talking tough than others. If you know that you have a hard time saying no, consider bringing along a friend who is better at hardball negotiations.  

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